Today, two very significant reports have come out. The FIRST is from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reporting that 1 in 4 people worldwide are Muslims, and that their populations are strongly influencing Europe. That’s 1.57 billion people.
The SECOND report is from the American Religious Identification Survey stating that Protestants have decreased in number by a whopping 20% over the past 20 years. This shouldn’t surprise Southern Baptists, as the largest Protestant denomination, as the SBC has been on the decline for longer than that.
Obviously, this is alarming, but there are observations I’d still like to make:
1) Muslims like children more than Protestants — I know, this is an over-exaggeration, but not that much. The Muslim world has a birthrate of around 5-6 and in “the West” ours hovers just below and above 1 depending on the culture. Basically, they are having a bunch more kids. I don’t have time to go into this more, but I will say that this is sad and makes it clear that evangelicals have not had a robust theology of family and church for many years. This is one reason I LOVE the fact that UBC “proves” that we love kids again and again!
2) Protestant numbers have never really represented the number of true Christians. Essentially, we’ve always had fewer believers than our numbers would say. However, this is no cop-out. The SBC has claimed 16 million in recent past, with only 6 million in regular attendance. With the commercialization of Christianity, and the softening of the American pulpit (away from clear, biblical orthodoxy), we are prime to move forward only by persecution. History would bear this out.
When Constantine legalized Christianity (AD 313), and persecution all but ceased, the “saltiness” of the church began to weaken. There was another hundred years, or so, of councils and creeds that helped firm up biblical theology, but it must be understood that the rampant nature of heresy did not become as public until persecution ceased. Eventually, the common Christian was marginalized and the politicalization of the religious was established.
When the church finally sought to recapture biblical orthodoxy, the public religious life had become so corrupt, that persecution was the only possibility. That is what built up until the Protestant Reformation. The church throughout the world is suffering, and Western evangelicals will be persecuted before long.
3) The church worldwide is not subject to Western numbers. We are so “western-centric” that we might forget that the persecuted church worldwide is growing (in many of this Muslim countries, including China).
4) It’s time to be distinct…holy. Being holy means being called and set apart for a specific purpose, namely God’s purpose of a kingdom people. While these trends are wildly concerning, they are also encouraging. The lost world, including the very anti-Christian world, is in our own backyard. We have the increasing opportunity to display a sacrificial love, and proclaim a pure gospel right next door! Those that God will bring to Himself from every tribe, tongue and nation is bound less by geographic borders than ever before.
Know your culture. Know the religious landscape. But above all else, know your God!