Christianity beyond the West

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At exactly the same time that Christianity went into serious decline in the West it entered a phase of rapid growth in the southern hemisphere. By the last quarter of the 20th century, Charismatic Christianity had become one of the fastest growing forms of religion in the world, second only to resurgent Islam. Like the latter, its success has tended to be greatest in areas that had formerly been under Western colonial control.

Before examining this latest phase in Christian history, this chapter takes a step backwards in time. Since its topic is Christianity beyond the West, it is important to remember that Christianity has never been a straightforwardly Western religion. The chapter begins, therefore, by looking at Christian expansion in the East and by bringing the history of Eastern Orthodoxy up to date. It then turns its attention to the global expansion of the Western churches after the 16th century, before returning to the topic of recent indigenous growth in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Asia.

Eastern Christianity and its expansion

There are some good reasons for regarding early Christianity as an Eastern rather than a Western religion. It emerges from the religion and culture of a Semitic people. It spreads rapidly into the western part of Roman Empire, but its most important centres are in the Greek-speaking East, not the Latin-speaking West. This orientation to the East is consolidated by Constantine's transfer of the imperial capital from Rome to Constantinople and by the gradual transformation of the classical Roman Empire into the Christian Byzantine Empire (see Chapter 3).

Christianity's centre of gravity might have shifted even further east had Roman plans to conquer Persia come to fruition. But Christian communities had in any case established themselves in Persia and further afield even without Roman assistance. Their survival depended upon the rulers in whose territories they were located. In Persia Christianity flourished so long as it had the support of the ruling Sassanian dynasty. With important intellectual centres in Edessa and Nisibis, Persian Christianity developed its own distinctive theological emphases under the

> influence of theologians such as Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350428) and Nestorius (mid-4th to mid-5th centuries). It was this

J tradition of thought that led eventually to the split, noted in u

Chapter 3, between the 'orthodox' Christology of the Byzantine Church and the 'Nestorian' Christology of the 'Church of the East' (also called the 'Nestorian Church'). Though based in Persia, Nestorian Christianity spread further east along the busy trade routes that connected the Roman and Persian empires with Asia. By about the 6th century, small Christian communities had been established as far afield as India and China, as well as in parts of Africa.

But the eastern extension of Christianity was inhibited by the existence of entrenched Confucian, Hindu, and Buddhist cultures that pre-dated Christianity and resisted its incursions. Without political backing Christianity was unable to do more than win over small, marginal social groups that had something to gain from conversion to a foreign religion not immediately associated with a dominant power. After the death of Muhammed in 632, Christian expansion was also inhibited by the growing power of Islam.

Though it drew on elements of both Jewish and Christian monotheism, this new faith proved far more successful in converting the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Middle East, and was soon winning converts in North Africa and the Near East as well (the Persian Empire fell in the mid-7th century). Whereas Christianity had appealed mainly to city dwellers and had kept intact the Roman economic system based on slavery, Islam appealed to those in rural areas as well, and promised a more thoroughgoing reconstruction of society. By bringing together military, political, and religious power in a compact alliance, Islam brought to an end once and for all the long-cherished hope of a Christian world empire.

As a result of its failures to expand, 'orthodox' Byzantine

Christianity became more entrenched around Constantinople. Still n confident in its status as the religion of God's holy empire on earth, i n it set about consolidating its position. Church and emperor worked t in the closest cooperation, their aim being to shape their earthly e kingdom in conformity to its heavenly pattern. The public life of = empire was scripted by way of elaborate rituals and ceremonies, e and a rigid social hierarchy developed in imitation of the celestial ^ hierarchy. It was within this context that the form of Church Christianity we now call 'Eastern Orthodoxy' or simply 'Orthodoxy' developed its distinctive identity. It viewed itself as the one true church of Christ and the apostles, and based its life and thought on the seven ecumenical councils of the church (from Nicaea I in 325 to Nicaea II in 787). Though the church in Rome and its pope began to make increasingly grandiose claims for themselves, Byzantium was never in any doubt that it was still the Holy Roman Empire and that the Pope had no authority over the Patriarch in Constantinople. When the West began to make liturgical and doctrinal innovations, including the addition of the 'filioque' to the creed (saying the Holy Spirit proceeds from 'the Father and the Son' rather than 'the Father' alone), Orthodoxy reacted with dismay. Such developments convinced it that its duty must be to guard the true faith against change and innovation.

This is not to imply that the Byzantine church lost its expansive drive; if anything competition with the West encouraged it to seek new converts. Though hemmed in by Islam on several sides, the Orthodox Church was able to direct its expansive energies into Romania and the Slavic lands of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia. Despite competition from Western Christianity, all these lands were gathered into the Orthodox fold after the 9th century. In the vast territories of Russia the church spread by two main means. First, through the success of monasticism as a self-propelled movement that was able to expand into non-Christian territory and establish bridgeheads of further expansion. Second, by the established strategy of entering into partnership with imperial ambition. This strategy proved successful when the Orthodox Church formed an alliance with the increasingly powerful dynasty based in Moscow and became a focus for the construction of Russian unity and identity. The Byzantine model of 'Caesaro-papism', of emperor working closely with church, proved adaptable to this new context. When the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, Russia was able to take over the mantle of Christian empire, with Ivan II styling himself Tsar (Caesar, or Emperor) in 1472, and Russia attaining the status of a Patriarchate in 1589.

Though Moscow might now consider itself the 'third Rome', n and though Russian Orthodoxy might now challenge Greek i n

Orthodoxy for supremacy, the Patriarch of Constantinople retained t considerable power. The Ottomans not only allowed him to remain e in office, but regarded him as the spiritual leader of all Orthodox = Christians within the extensive Ottoman Empire (including Greeks, e Bulgars, Serbs, Arabs, and Albanians). Ironically, the Patriarch's ^ power was challenged less by the success of the Ottoman Empire than by its collapse in the 19th century and by the subsequent exile of Greeks from Turkey. Though he retains the title of 'Ecumenical Patriarch' (patriarch of the inhabited world) and has an honorary primacy within Orthodoxy, the present-day Patriarch's diminished flock consists largely of Greeks living in Crete, the USA, Western Europe, and Australia.

In the modern period churches in the East struggled to maintain their power in the face of growing secular power just as they did in the West. An assertion of ecclesiastical power by Patriarch Nikon in mid-17th-century Russia led not only to reaction in his own church (on the part of the so-called 'Old Believers' who wished to retain traditional Russian customs), but to greater state control. The modernizing Tsar Peter the Great, who reigned between 1682 and

1725, abolished the office of Patriarch and turned the church into a department of state. A reassertion of conservative interests in the 19th century went together with a revival of the church under the banner of 'Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality', and led to massive reaction against both church and the ruling classes in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

Given Karl Marx's hostility to religion as an 'opiate of the people' and an obstacle to progress, and given Communist governments' attempts to establish total control over the lives of their people, it is not surprising that the church under Communism was often treated with ruthless hostility. In Russia, for example, the 46,000 churches of the pre-revolutionary era had been reduced to a few hundred by the late 1930s. But the state was also capable of changing its policy toward the churches when politically expedient, as Stalin did during the Second World War when he realized how useful the churches

> could be in motivating Russians to do their patriotic duty, and in colonizing areas brought under Soviet control. Given Orthodoxy's

J history of dependence upon political patronage and its tendency to u obey the governing authorities, it found itself equipped with few resources to resist state control. In Bulgaria as in Russia, Orthodoxy lost a great deal of credibility as a result of its collaboration with the Communist authorities, whereas in Romania, East Germany, and Poland, Protestant and Catholic churches demonstrated a greater ability to mobilize opposition to the state, particularly in the 1980s as Communism began to fail.

Since the collapse of Communism, Orthodoxy has been attempting to re-establish power in ex-Communist lands, often by way of active cooperation with the new political regimes. Its tendency to support neo-nationalism was demonstrated most dramatically in Serbia, but is also evident in several other countries, including Russia. In the latter, the church has been lobbying the government to prevent other forms of religion, including Christian denominations, from proselytizing ('sheep stealing'). In the West, Orthodoxy continues to play an important role in supporting the ethnic identities of immigrant peoples, but is also developing a new role as a popular religious option for small numbers of affluent and educated Westerners who appreciate its mix of ritualism and mysticism.

As for the Nestorian and non-Chalcedonian ('Monophysite') churches of the East, they too have suffered as a result of wider political developments, though their fate has been shaped more

Eastern Christian churches

1. Eastern Orthodox churches

Ancient Patriarchates: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem

Other Patriarchates and autocephalous (self-governing) churches: Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, Georgia, Czechoslovakia, America

Autonomous churches: Finland, Japan

2. 'Separated' churches

Church of the East (also called the Nestorian Church)

Non-Chalcedonian ('Monophysite') churches: Syrian Church of Antioch, Syrian Church of India, Coptic Church (in Egypt), Armenian Church, Ethiopian Church

3. Uniate churches (Orthodox churches that accept the authority of Rome)

There are Uniate churches parallel to the vast majority of the Orthodox churches listed above, with the largest groups in the Ukraine, Romania, India, Syria, and Lebanon.

by the energies of Islam than of Communism. The upsurge of exclusivistic forms of Islam in much of the contemporary Middle East threatens to eliminate the few remaining churches that still stand as a testament to those ancient forms of Eastern Christianity that refused to accept the 'Orthodox' consensus.

Western missionary activity

By the late Middle Ages, the Western church seemed to have reached the limits of possible expansion, especially when its attempts to push back the boundaries of Islam by way of the Crusades failed. But the late 15th century saw new possibilities opening up as increasingly powerful nation states, particularly Spain and Portugal, began to extend their empires overseas, most notably in the Americas.

> The latter development initiated the first phase of Western

Christian expansion overseas, a phase that spanned the 16th and

J 17th centuries and ended in the 18th. A number of features distinguish it from a second phase of Christian mission that followed a century later. First, this was chiefly a phase of Roman Catholic expansion. Although the Protestant churches inherited Christianity's universalizing and expansive drive, their evangelistic energies were initially focused within Europe rather than outside it. Second, it is almost impossible to distinguish political and religious motives, energies, and results in the first phase of Christian mission (Spain and Portugal were both Catholic powers; their monarchs were religious as well as political leaders and the Pope gave them full authority over the churches in the territories they conquered; the conquest of South America was undertaken for gold, slaves, land, and souls and under obedience to king, Pope, and God). Third, this mission involved the wholesale export of Western culture and institutions. To be baptized was to become a Christian and to accept Spanish or Portuguese rule. As in medieval Europe, it was more important to belong to 'Christendom' than to confess the faith on an individual basis. Finally, the faith was spread by conquerors, friars, and clergy. As yet there were no specially commissioned agents of evangelization called 'missionaries'.

Thus the first phase of Christian expansion remained largely medieval in its methods and assumptions, even though it was made possible by early modern developments, including improved transport by sea and the rise of powerful independent nation states. By contrast, the second phase of mission, which lasted throughout the 19th century and into the first part of the 20th, was more characteristically modern. Its approach was shaped by confessional Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant. Instead of creating converts whose Christian allegiance was chiefly evident in outward behaviours such as reception of the church's sacraments and membership of Christian society, modern mission sought a more n sincere and informed dedication of heart and mind. In doing so it i n had new, portable means at its disposal: Bibles, catechisms, t confessional statements, and hymn books. e

A further difference was that instead of relying upon clergy and e members of religious orders, the second phase of mission ^

rationalized the enterprise of evangelization by creating dedicated missionaries. The initial intention was that missionaries should be men drawn from the ranks of the clergy and specially prepared for their role overseas. In reality, however, a shortage of volunteers meant that lay people had to be trained as missionaries, and these were often men who wished to travel abroad with their wives. By the late 19th century, women were playing an increasingly important role in overseas mission, even though they still had to work under the nominal control of a man. Given that women were denied other influential public roles in the churches, the missionary call proved attractive to many (see the next chapter). Catholic women could join one of the new missionary orders, whilst Protestant women could join a missionary team, sometimes composed ofjust husband and wife. Many female and male missionaries were equipped with practical skills they could employ in the mission field, perhaps in

21. Two missionaries from the Universities' Mission to Central Africa set out on a journey in Tanganyika, c. 1902.

education or medicine - for in the second phase of mission the offer of the gospel often went hand in hand with the offer of some of the 'material benefits' of Western civilization.

The final difference between the first and second phases of mission was that in the latter missionary activity took place in looser alliance with political power. The association between state and church was still important, and modern mission was closely associated with Western colonial expansion. But a distance was often maintained between a Western regime and the missionaries who entered a country under its protection, and there could even be a degree of mutual suspicion and hostility. In some cases, where missionaries from a variety of churches were allowed to operate in the same territory, there could also be intense intra-Christian rivalry. But even when a state refused to throw its weight behind missionary activity, there is no doubt that the latter could benefit by association with colonial power. Missionaries were often the mediators between a colonial power and its subjects, and they provided access to some of the goods of the more powerful society -

material, cultural, and spiritual. Though there was also intensive missionary work in areas that did not come under extensive n

Western colonial control, such as China, it is probably significant i n that the results were less impressive than when missionary work i took place within the context of colonialism. Nevertheless, colonial ¡J"

context was not in itself a guarantee of missionary success. =

Christian upsurge in the southern hemisphere Si

The second phase of Western Christian evangelization had mixed and rather complex results. Biblical Christianity tends to judge success in terms of the number of individual conversions, whilst Church Christianity is more likely to take account of the degree of Christian penetration of society. Taking both criteria into account, the most thoroughgoing mission success must surely be in 'Latin' America, where ruthless religio-political conquest in the first phase of mission followed by more modern forms of missionary activity in the second resulted in widespread Christianization (as also happened in the Philippines). By contrast, the most notable failure has been in lands where Christianity was not backed by colonial power and/or where it was forced to compete with existing religious monopolies, as in China, India, and much of the Middle East. In areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where Christianity found itself in competition with varied forms of indigenous spirituality, there tended to be greater success, though thoroughgoing 'conversion' seems to have been less common than selective appropriation of the cultural and material goods that modern missionaries had to offer.

As well as being aided by alliance with the dominant power of the West, Christian mission could also be hindered by it. Converts could win some significant advantages for themselves and their families by accepting the religion of the colonial power, but they also risked separation from their own culture and people. The more a religion -like Islam or Hinduism - served as a marker of identity, the greater the risk that conversion would be interpreted as an act of cultural betrayal. This was another reason why mission did best where Christianity could be combined with indigenous beliefs and practices, as in Latin America and parts of sub-Saharan Africa. It also helps explain why the most spectacular upsurge of Christianity > outside the West occurred after the 1970s, when the withdrawal of Western colonial power eliminated some of the cultural barriers J to conversion (the role of rapid population growth must also be taken into account).

This recent Christian upsurge has involved many different sorts of churches: colonial churches (both Protestant and Catholic), independent churches, and new indigenous churches. It is associated, above all, with the pan-denominational movement of Pentecostal or Charismatic Christianity - which may influence or inspire any of the different types of church just mentioned, but which is most closely associated with Biblical Protestantism. The World Christian Encyclopaedia estimates that Charismatic Christianity has increased its share from 6.4% of global church members in 1970 to 27.7% in 2000, and that 71% of Charismatics are now non-white, with 66% living in the so-called Third World.

Since the Charismatic upsurge has been more or less contemporaneous with the spread of resurgent Islam, it is interesting to compare the two. Both have flourished in territories that were once under Western colonial control, and both have enjoyed maximum growth in the post-colonial era. Both have a globalizing tendency, and both represent indigenous movements of modernization. To be part of the Islamic or Charismatic upsurge is to be part of a global movement and to lay hold of the resources and sense of universal, triumphant purpose that entails. One's horizons and sense of identity are immediately raised from the local or national to the international, and power is enhanced accordingly. In both instances one also enjoys the benefit of becoming part of a movement of modernization that does not require one to sell one's soul to the Western version of modernity. Through membership one can lay hold of many of the benefits of modernity, including education, technology, and affluence, without having to embrace those aspects of 'secular' Western modernity that are experienced as most alien to one's own culture. n t n

The Charismatic Christian upsurge is differentiated from the t

Islamic upsurge, however, by at least two factors (both of which e make the former appear less threatening to the West than the =

latter). First, it has much more direct historical and cultural links e with the West. Second, it offers more by way of individual than ^ social or political empowerment. Charismatic Christians rarely have much interest in gaining political power, in establishing influence over organized politics, or in changing society by political means. They are generally happy to let secular authorities take care of such matters, whilst they concentrate on the more important business of transforming individual lives.

Such transformation comes about by way of the gift of the Holy Spirit. So central and defining is Charismatic Christianity's emphasis on the Spirit that some scholars refer to the movement as 'third-person Christianity'. As we saw in the last chapter, it has roots in the Pentecostal churches that developed in several parts of the West simultaneously at the start of the 20th century, and quickly spread elsewhere. In the 1970s a wave of 'Charismatic revival' affected churches in both the northern and southern hemispheres,

22. Charismatic worship in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

> and was regarded by its followers as the work of the Spirit gathering in a new harvest of souls. Like Christian Fundamentalists, with J whom they have much in common, Charismatics look forward with u eager expectation to the end of the world when evil will be destroyed and Christ will return to rule and gather His followers into glory. Unlike Fundamentalists, however, they believe that baptism in the Spirit and reception of charismata (gifts) seals one's salvation. In addition to offering guidance from outside by way of the infallible Word of scripture, God as Holy Spirit enters within. As we noted in the previous chapter, Charismatic Christianity represents a coming together of the Biblical and Mystical varieties of the religion.

As well as engendering eager hope and expectation about future blessedness, Charismatic Christianity offers its followers tangible blessings in the here and now. Those who receive the Holy Spirit are filled with miraculous new powers - to speak in tongues, heal, prophesy, resist evil, and perform God's work. In the process individuals attain a new sense of 'self and personal significance. They may feel empowered to take more responsibility for their own lives as well as those of others. Some may start their own Christian ministries and set up their own churches. Well-being is also enhanced through the action of fellow Christians, who may offer spiritual, emotional, and material support; and membership of a church often brings benefits of education, health provision, childcare, and welfare.

All these factors help the spread of Christianity in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Asia. Here, where traditional frameworks of life are left behind as individuals travel to the expanding cities to find work in the global capitalist economy, Christianity helps develop a sense of personal worth independent of traditional social roles, and strengthens individuals' resources for success in the new global capitalist economy. In situations of often desperate poverty and inadequate healthcare, it offers tangible support and material aid and, when all else fails, it offers a miracle.

Liberation Theology

In academic theology the most influential manifestation of the 'indigenization' of Christianity in a post-colonial context was the rise of Liberation Theology in Latin America from the late 1960s. Liberation Theology accused existing theology of being distorted by the privileged (Western, white, male) context in which it was produced. To counteract this bias, it favoured a 'bias to the poor', in which theology would emerge from contexts of struggle and oppression. The method it proposed was to begin with social analysis and social action (making use of Marxist tools) and only then move on to read and interpret the Christian scriptures. This would result in a theology done by the poor for the poor; and because their situation had similarities to that in which Jesus had lived and taught, they would be in a better position to interpret his words than Western academics. Liberation Theology was criticized by Pope John Paul II for being too sympathetic to Marxism, and by others for claiming to be a grassroots movement when in fact it was led 'from above' by academics, priests, and nuns. It inspired 'base communities' of Catholic Christians committed to doing theology together, and to bearing witness to God's Kingdom by way of appropriate forms of political engagement.

The globalization of Christianity

While turn-of-the-millennium Christianity declines in much of the West, it thrives in much of the South. It is estimated that > Charismatic Christianity may involve around half a billion people, the vast majority of them located in the southern hemisphere. Some J older indigenous and colonial churches are also doing well, not least because of their readiness to adopt elements of the Charismatic spirit. This means that for the first time there are now roughly as many Christians in the southern hemisphere as in the northern (around one billion in each). Since numbers in the South are still growing fast, due to high population growth as well as conversion, whilst those in the North are shrinking, the numerical centre of gravity of Christianity is shifting. Christianity has become a more global religion than ever before, and the long-established dominance of the Western churches can no longer be taken for granted.

A shift in the numerical centre of gravity of Christianity does not, however, inevitably mean a shift in the locus of control. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, which remains the largest Christian denomination (accounting for around 42% of Christian adherents in 2000), the existing leadership has actively embraced the globalization of the church. More than any previous

Pope, John Paul II (1920- ) became a global leader, travelling regularly to every part of the globe and working tirelessly to maintain the unity of the faithful during a period of rapid change. Whilst defending a conservative morality in the sphere of private life and sexual ethics, he built on the liberalizing work of Vatican II in relation to political life, carving out a new role for the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church as a defender of human dignity and human rights. Non-Western bishops and clergy now play a full role in the Catholic Church, and 'enculturation' (the incorporation of elements of indigenous culture into Christian thought and worship) has been actively encouraged. Yet Rome remains the centre of Catholicism, its leadership unchallenged. And the globalization of the Catholic Church takes place not just from grassroots - as in the case of Charismatic Christianity - but under the guidance of clerical authority, an authority that is ultimately accountable to the Pope. n t n

This is not to deny that the South may play an increasingly t important role in shaping Christianity, even in determining the e policy of the Western churches. Already it is evident that the =

growing conservatism of the churches in the West that was noted in e the previous chapter is starting to be reinforced by antagonism ^ towards Western 'secular liberalism' on the part of many churches in the South. Opposition to homosexual activity within the Anglican and Catholic churches, for example, has been strengthened by opposition on the part of African bishops in both denominations. Like Islam, Christianity may be in the process of becoming a global force of resistance to some of the dominant values of late modern Western culture. As in Islam, the liberal wing of the religion suffers a crisis of confidence in the face of the growing forces of conservatism. In both, post-colonial hostility to Western dominance may ally itself with intra-Western dislike of modern, subjectivized culture - often taking issues of sexual morality as a focus. Unlike Islam, however, Christianity is more likely to launch its challenge by way of personal witness and lobbying than by direct political action.


The geographic profile of Christianity has changed significantly over 2,000 years. In the very broadest terms, one could say that Christianity's centre of gravity in the first millennium lay in the eastern Mediterranean region and that it shifted west and north (to Europe and Russia) in the medieval period. Despite missionary success in parts of the southern hemisphere, first Latin America then parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, the Christian centre of gravity remained in the West and North (Europe, North America, Russia) right through to the 20th century. Only at the very end of that century did the growth of Christianity in the South begin to bring about a shift that established a more truly global profile than ever before. (Nevertheless, there are large parts of the globe where Christianity still has minimal support - even though there is now some Christian presence in every nation in the world.)

Taking this chapter together with the last, a pattern seems to have J become evident in the last few decades: decline of Christianity in more affluent societies, and growth in poorer parts of the world (it is estimated, for example, that 82% of Charismatics live in poverty, and analysis of the World Values Surveys finds that Nigeria, Uganda, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe are amongst the most religious countries in the world). Though it would be too simple to assume a straightforward link between poverty and Christian success, we have noted some lines of connection. Affluent late capitalist societies in the West encourage people to be self-reliant, creative, 'individual', 'enterprising', risk-taking, and concerned with personal well-being (material security makes this possible, and consumption- and service-based economies put a premium on such qualities). The impact on churches that demand conformity to the 'higher' authority of a transcendent God - rather than the cultivation of one's unique life - is negative. In poorer countries, by contrast, there is far less scope for people to turn their backs on social and ethical frameworks of support in order to cultivate their unique lives, and they are more likely to be involved in industries that put a premium on reliability and obedience rather than innovation and creativity. Here religion that demands conformity to higher authority fits much better with the shape of life. Nevertheless, as global capitalism and democratic ideals extend their reach into every part of the world, so the demand for personal empowerment grows - and Christianity succeeds best where it combines the directives of power from on high with the promise of a sacred power that enters directly into subjective-life.

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