John Piper: Rejoice over the reach of world Christianity, but don’t be complacent

Posted: November 17, 2009 by Scott Kistler in Missional Thought
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From his recent sermon, The Legacy of Antioch:

Meet the Global South

Let’s review the situation of the world today in regard to the spread of Christianity, and what this new term Global South means. The Global South refers to the astonishing growth of the Christian church in Africa, Latin America, and Asia while the formerly dominant centers of Christian influence in Europe and America are weakening. For example:

  • At the beginning of the twentieth century, about 71 percent of professing Christians in the world lived in Europe. By the end of the twentieth century, that number had shrunk to 28 percent. 43 percent of the Christians now lived in Latin America and Africa.1
  • In 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians, which was about 10 percent of the population. By 2000, the number of Christians was 360 million, about half the population of the continent. This is probably the largest shift in religious affiliation that has ever occurred, anywhere.2
  • There are 17 million baptized members of the Anglican church in Nigeria, compared with 2.8 million in the United States.3
  • “This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined.”
  • “The number of practicing Christians in China is approaching the number in the United States.”4
  • “Last Sunday . . . more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called ‘Christian Europe.’”
  • Kenya has more people in Christian churches on Sunday than Canada.
  • “More believers worship together in Nagaland than in Norway.”
  • “More Christian workers from Brazil are active in cross cultural ministry outside their homelands than from Britain or from Canada.” In other words, the churches of the Global South are increasingly sending churches.
  • Last Sunday “more Presbyterians were in church in Ghana than in Scotland.”5
  • “This past week in Great Britain, at least fifteen thousand Christian foreign missionaries were hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia.”6

“In a word,” Mark Noll says, “the Christian church has experienced a larger geographical redistribution in the last fifty years than in any comparable period in its history, with the exception of the very earliest years of church history.”7

The West Is Not Done in Sending Missionaries

This is a great cause for Christians to rejoice in the sovereign grace of God. But what it does not mean is that the day of sending missionaries from our churches in the West is over. That would be a tragic misunderstanding of the situation. Partnership in mission with the Global South does not mean that all the unreached peoples of the world can be reached by people who are in the Global South. Don’t buy into the idea that we should send our money, not our people. That would sound very much like: “Let them shed their blood, not ours; we’ll just send money.”

The point of the sermon was this: “The Legacy of Antioch is that it was a mission church that became a sending church through the partnership of Barnabas and Saul, who in the end were sent out by the church to which they were sent.”  Piper also highlights the need for Christian instruction after conversion:

In all your evangelism and church planting, don’t neglect to teach the converts and to take them deep into the gospel and build them up so they are stable and strong….

In other words, he would do what Barnabas and Saul did. They saw a great ingathering, and they taught and taught and taught. They strengthened the believers. They sank the roots of the people down deep. They brought stability. They built a foundation for missions.

All over the world (you read this in all the literature), the cry is for trained, strong, Bible-saturated leaders. What will your part be in raising them up?

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