THE 20th TO THE 21st CENTURY: THE RISE OF A NEW CHRISTENDOM
Christianity was born in the East, and in its earliest centuries was as much - or more - a part of the Near Eastern and North African world as the European; and, well into the Middle Ages, Syrian Christian outposts extended to 'far Cathay'. It was only as a result of a number of historical forces — chief among them, the rise of powerful Islamic empires in the seventh century and after — that Christianity came to be regarded almost exclusively as a European religion, that it was Europe alone where an exclusively Christian civilization took form, and that it was from early modern Europe that Christianity ventured farthest out into the larger world.
Now, though, at the beginning of the 21st century, Christianity is truly a global religion. While most Europeans remain nominally Christian, the number of active Christians - those, that is, who attend church - is a minuscule minority of the population; and, with the exception of the United States, all modern industrial nations have experienced a steep decline in active religious adherence over the past 50 years.
(BUT THE USA IS LARGELY A SECULAR NATION IN ITS LAWS AND GOVERNMENT; IT WILL ONLY INCREASE IN SECULARIZATION AS TIME MOVES ON - Keith Hunt)
And yet Christianity is also spreading more rapidly today than at any previous point in its history; it already takes into its embrace roughly a third of the human race - more than two billion persons, if the generally accepted estimates are correct. The 'balance of power' within the Church — demographically and culturally, at any rate - has definitely begun to shift.
(MAYBE 2 BILLION PEOPLE CALL THEMSELVES "CHRISTIAN" - OVER ONE BILLION ARE ROMAN CATHOLICS - BUT TRUE BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY IS BUT A VERY SMALL NUMBER; AS JESUS SAID, THE LITTLE FLOCK, THE SALT OF THE EARTH - SPRINKLED HERE AND THERE - Keith Hunt)
Restorations and Renewals
That said, the old Christendom did not vanish at the end of the 20th century. The post-war years were a time of immense transition for many Christian communions, in some cases of arguably epochal significance, and — if a capacity to adapt to current conditions is a sign of life — many of the oldest Christian Churches gave plenteous evidence of continued vitality. For one thing, those years were marked by a genuine movement among all the major Christian denominations towards ecumenism: that is, dialogue among confessions, conducted in hope of an eventual reconciliation among the divided communions, as well as initiatives undertaken jointly by separated Churches. 1948, for instance, saw the formation of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the single largest ecumenical body, which began as an association of mainline Protestant communions, but which came soon to include Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches as well; and, while the Roman Catholic Church does not belong to the organization, it has often worked in concert with the WCC on any number of projects.
Ecumenical dialogues were also established between the Eastern Orthodox and many of the Oriental Churches, as well as between the Oriental Churches and Rome. Even more remarkably, perhaps — at least in terms of historical significance - were the relations that formed between Pope Paul VI (1897-1978), a pontiff profoundly committed to the reunion of the Churches, and the largely like-minded patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I (1886—1972). The two met in person in Jerusalem in 1964, and the fruit of this unprecedented embassy was a joint statement of 1965 that, among other things, rescinded the excommunications of 1054 on both sides (without, however, re-establishing communion).
(THE MOTHER TRYING TO RE-UNITE WITH DAUGHTERS; BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE THE MOTHER ROMAN CHURCH WILL NEVER RELINQUISH REMAINING THE TOP POSITION, AS THE TRUE CHURCH OF GOD, AND CLAIMING SUCCESSION FROM THE APOSTLE PETER - Keith Hunt)
[A meeting of Pope John XXIWs ecumenical council in St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. This meeting in 1962 of worldwide Catholic clergy was popularly known as the Second Vatican Council]
[The Catholic church of Shangyanjing village in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. As the sole Catholic church in Tibet, it has become a place of worship for some 600 Tibetan believers]
For his part, the pope's gesture was in keeping with the tenor of his entire pontificate, which was singularly devoted to the cause of Catholic renewal and Christian reconciliation, and with the ideals of the Second Vatican Council, which - having been convoked in 1962 by his predecessor John XXIII (1881-1963) - was already in session at the time of his elevation to the papacy in 1963. That council was, certainly, the single most enormous and transformative event in modern Catholic history. In part, it was the culmination of decades of a theological return ad fontes ('to the sources') by Catholic scholars who sought a patristic and early Medieval alternative to the rather arid late 'neo-scholasticism' that had dominated Catholic theology from the 17th century on; in larger part, though, it was a radical institutional revision of the liturgy (now to be celebrated in the vernacular rather than in Latin and with greater lay participation), of church administration (restoring an emphasis on the dignity and authority of local bishops), of Catholic exegetical methods (affirming modern biblical scholarship) and of Rome's relations with other Christians and even with other faiths.
The Eastern Orthodox Church also experienced its own theological movement ad fontes in the latter half of the century. A number of principally Russian theologians living in western Europe and America - men such as Vladimir Lossky (1903-58) and Alexander Schmemann (1921-83) - created what is often called the 'neo-patristic' synthesis (though it incorporated the thought also of a few Medieval theologians, most especially Gregory Palamas). Theirs was a very selective redefinition of Orthodoxy, one that ignored or rejected large portions of the Medieval and modern tradition; but it was both powerful and persuasive, and in an age when Orthodoxy's condition was one of constant political distress and institutional disarray, it was a revitalizing vision, and one that drew many converts from other Christian traditions in the developed world.
The Global South and Far East
Whatever vitality native European and American Christianity may still possess, however, the most enormous changes the Christian world as a whole will experience as the 21st century advances — barring entirely unforeseen and unimaginable events — will be those wrought by the rise of a 'new Christendom' in the Global South and East Asia. For while the forms of Christianity that have been exported to the far reaches of the earth are European and North American in provenance and substance, the manner of their reception in cultures profoundly different from those of the prosperous and traditionally Christian West ensures that they will come increasingly to reflect the 'cultural ecologies' into which they have been transplanted, and that other, native forms of Christianity will continue to evolve in their shadows. In the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, traditional communions — such as the Catholic Church - almost inevitably assume characteristics congenial to the spiritual expectations of Africans. And in many ways these expectations more closely resemble those of the world in which the Gospel was first preached than those of the modern West. Peoples who believe firmly in the reality of spiritual warfare are naturally hospitable to 'Charismatic' or 'Pentecostal' worship; hence a Catholic service may have all the appearances of a revival meeting, and include exorcisms, healing, prophecy and speaking in tongues, in addition to the Eucharistic celebration.
(YES INDEED ROMAN CATHOLICISM HAS CHANGED ITS SPOTS IN DIFFERENT WAYS, WITHIN DIFFERENT PEOPLES, IN DIFFERENT NATIONS. AND DOES CONTAIN HERE AND THERE ALL THAT WAS JUST MENTIONED. SO MAKING ITS APPEAL TO THOSE WHO LIKE BEING CHARISMATIC OR PENTECOSTAL..... REVIVAL TYPE MEETINGS AND ETC. - Keith Hunt)
Given the speed with which Christian conversions are occurring in the Global South, moreover, it would be somewhat absurd to speak of such practices as either anomalous or eccentric; they are rapidly becoming - in statistical terms - dominant expressions of Christian faith. At the beginning of the 19th century, in all of Africa there were perhaps no more than ten million Christians; today the number is around 390 million, and tens of thousands are added to that number every month. In Latin America - as a result of fairly robust birthrates, as well as of the success of Catholic renewal movements (many of them Charismatic) and of Evangelical and Pentecostal missions - there are over 500 million. And in Asia, there are perhaps 350 million.
This last number is somewhat uncertain, though: it encompasses not only, say, the historically Catholic nation of the Philippines, or democratic South Korea, where Christianity has proven immensely successful, but countries where the faith is discouraged or even persecuted. It is especially difficult to calculate the number of China's Christians with much exactitude, because of the odd oscillations of government policy between limited toleration and brutal repression.
The officially recognized Church in China boasts more than 20 million adherents; but the unofficial Christian communities - the underground Catholic Church and the Protestant household churches - are spiritual home to a great many more Christians, and estimates of the total Christian population of the country range between 45 and 90 million. However elusive the real number may be, though, few doubt that it is growing - fairly rapidly. It is also one of the distinctive traits of Chinese Christianity that its constituency is in very large measure drawn from the most educated class of society; it is even said that a considerable number of those in the ruling party are secretly Christians.
(AND SO THE FASLE CHRISTIANITY, BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION, IS MOVING ON, READY TO EMBRACE THE FALSE PROPHET OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION, WHEN HE COMES ON THE WORLD SCENE - Keith Hunt)
THE CHURCH OF SAINTS AND MARTYRS
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If Christianity today is the religion growing most rapidly and most widely throughout the world, it is also - not coincidentally - the most persecuted religion in the world. In Africa, the Middle East and Asia, in countries as diverse as Sudan, India,Turkey, Pakistan and China, the Church endures various degrees of oppression: in some places, chronic legal and extra-legal harassment; in others, sporadic episodes of popular violence; in others, enslavement; and, in still others, imprisonment, torture and death. The nation, though, where conditions perhaps most nearly resemble those of the early Church would almost certainly be China: where Christianity is growing among all classes, but especially among urban populations; where official policy is largely hostile to the faith, but inconsistent and somewhat capricious in its use of violence and intimidation; and where the majority of Christians worship in secret, in private houses.
Such parallels, of course, are never more than general. Ancient Rome possessed nothing like the state apparatus of the People's Republic, nor did it ever experience anything like the radical social and economic transformations occurring in China today. But, if the Church should ever prove victorious in China, it will be able - like the Church of the fourth century - to look back upon its own age of martyrs.
One such martyr, already particularly revered among Chinese Christians, was the man perhaps most responsible for founding the network of Protestant house churches in China, both before and after the revolution: Watchman Nee (1903-72), a free church Evangelical, much influenced by the congregationalist Plymouth Brethren of England.
Born Nee Shu-Tsu, he assumed the name Tuo-Sheng (Watchman) after his conversion in 1920, and became thereafter an indefatigable evangelist, founding churches wherever he went, and helping to establish the Chinese Local Church (an Evangelical communion committed to the proposition that there should be only one church in any city). He also became a prolific writer, producing books of scriptural interpretation and spiritual instruction - writings that placed a profound and distinctive emphasis upon the soul's union with and glorification in Christ, and upon the demands and delights of spiritual charity.
When the communists seized power, Watchman Nee did not desist from preaching and writing. After various harassments - including a deportation from Shanghai - Nee was finally arrested in 1952 and imprisoned, under the harshest conditions; and he was still in prison 20 years later when he died.
(AND SO IS THE GREAT DECEPTION, PEOPLE SINCERE NO DOUBT, BUT STILL SINCERELY WRONG IN THEIR THEOLOGY. SOME, AS IN PAST AGES, WILLING TO DIE FOR THEIR FAITH, THOUGH IT BE NOT THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS. YET SUCH COMMITMENT WILL STAND THEM IN GOOD-STEAD WHEN THEY RISE IN THE SECOND RESURRECTION TO HAVE THEIR DECEPTION REMOVED, AND TO SEE THE TRUE LIGHT OF BIBLICAL TRUTHS - Keith Hunt)
The Story of Christianity
Christianity has now entered its third millennium, and no-one - obviously - can foresee what shapes it will assume in the centuries ahead, what renewals it may or may not know, what divisions or reconciliations it may experience. What is certainly the case, however, is that the sage and confident predictions of the faith's imminent demise that were such a vogue in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and that one still occasionally hears ventured by inattentive observers today, will not be proved correct. In both absolute and relative numbers, the world's community of Christians is far larger than it has ever been; and its rate of expansion is as nothing it has ever known in the past. It may very well be the case that now, after 2000 years, the story of Christianity is still only beginning.
WELL IT IS BEGINNING TOWARDS ITS END, AS A FALSE CHRISTIANITY THAT SPRANG FROM ROME AND IS SPREADING AROUND THE WORLD. THE PROPHECIES OF THE BIBLE WILL BE FULFILLED IN DUE TIME. A RISE OF THE 7TH AND FINAL RESURRECTED HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE WILL COME TO PASS AS WRITTEN. SHE WILL THINK SHE DOES GOD'S WILL BY RULING THE WESTERN WORLD, AND PERSECUTING THE TRUE SAINTS OF GOD, AS IN TIMES PAST. SHE WILL THINK TO RULE THE WORLD IS HER DESTINY, TO BRING THE WORLD PEACE, BE IT ROME STYLE. THE WEST AND THE EAST WILL MEET IN BATTLE, AND JESUS WILL NEED TO RETURN, OR AS HE SAID IN MATTHEW 24, NO FLESH WOULD BE SAVED ALIVE.
CHRIST WILL COME, THE SAINTS OF ALL AGES WILL RISE IN A RESURRECTION; THE LIVING SAINTS WILL BE TRANSFORMED INTO IMMORTALITY; THEY ALL WILL MEET CHRIST IN THE AIR, IN THE CLOUDS. WITH JESUS THEY SHALL COME TO THE HOLY CITY JERUSALEM; AND SO THE KINGDOM OF GOD SHALL REIGN OVER THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH FOR THE GLORIOUS, WONDERFUL, AGE TO COME AS PROMISED BY ALL THE HOLY PROPHETS OF GOD SINCE THE WORLD BEGAN. IT WILL BE AN AGE OF THE RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS.