Student Question

How did global Christianity impact the main Christian families (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Spiritual/Pentecostals), especially their organizations, leaders, thought patterns, and/or practices, as well as their need for reformulation to be relevant to persons forged by the forces of our contemporary, post-modern world from 1914 to the present?

Quick answer:

Global Christianity recognizes the gradual shifting of congregational strength away from its traditional home in Europe toward areas such as the United States and the wider world. This has led to a transformation of ideals and values related to how the church engages its congregants and spreads the message of Jesus Christ.

Expert Answers

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The Christian church is changing. In 1910, Europe hosted over two-thirds of the world's Christians of all denominations. By the twenty-first century, however, that number declined to just over one quarter. Many emigrated to the United States and imperial outposts throughout the world. Also, after World War II, many of the free nations of Western Europe saw deep declines in the number of faithful. Outside of Poland, Eastern Europeans saw Soviet and client state secret police infiltrate and undermine churches of all types.

Meanwhile, in many former African colonies of Britain, France, and other nations, a few denominations, especially the Roman Catholic and Pentecostal churches, have found many eager to commit their lives. Swelling numbers encourage these organizations to pay more attention to their needs and concerns, both spiritual and worldly.

For Catholics, the changing of the guard was symbolized by the different approaches between Pope John Paul II and the current Pope Francis. Karol Wojtyla, who took the name John Paul II after becoming pope, was shaped by the twin evils of his country's experience under National Socialism and Soviet communism. He focused on European and American issues related to the Cold War, aiding US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in their efforts to liberate Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. After the fall of the USSR, John Paul II worked to craft a "third way" idea that could merge greater concern with the human condition with the benefits of free market economics.

Pope Francis, who hails from Argentina, reflects a Latin American populist tradition generally skeptical of the more industrialized world, especially the United States. This has led to a cooler relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and non Catholics, particularly in America, who strongly identified with the ideals and priorities of John Paul II.

Francis has also aligned himself with the academic, social, and political movements that seek to redefine social mores and priorities. He has been less inclined to support traditional Catholic doctrine on key issues, as well as free market economics, in favor of racially inclusive social theories and different economic priorities.

Other populist forces have widened gaps between "mainline" denominations and other Christian groups. Some, such as the Church of England/Episcopal Church, have de-emphasized traditional Christian doctrine in favor of an expanded notion of community. Others feel pushed toward a more strict version of faith as they perceive political and social changes as threats to their ideas of freedom of religion. Increased politicization of faith by all political groups, particularly in the United States, has contributed to polarization and conflict in the church community.

Global Christianity used to encompass leadership from Europe, and later the United States, and its top down style of spreading the Word through missions. As the rest of the world has vastly outstripped these two regions in growth of the faithful, the conversation has changed. Now, it must emphasize equal exchanges between cultures. In some cases, churches in Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere have much to teach areas such as Europe about true faith and the sacrifices necessary to live the life preached by the Bible.

The Orthodox Church historically has aligned itself much more with the state than its Western counterparts more influenced by St. Augustine's ideas of separation between the City of God and Civitas Mundi. Just as the Byzantine Empire harnessed Orthodoxy in its efforts to maintain itself and also to oppose the West, Vladimir Putin has done the same with modern Russia. Orthodoxy's influence going forward may very well be tied with how Russians and other Orthodox faithful view both Putin and his policies currently and from the later point of view of history.

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