I remember once hearing the Bishop of the Arctic preach. He said, “The Lord commanded us to go to ‘the uttermost parts of the earth’ to preach the gospel, so that’s why I went to the Arctic.”
I believe the Lord will not return until the Great Commission is accomplished. That means the gospel will need to be spread across the globe to every nook and cranny, every race and language, every nation and people.
When you look at the broad expanse of history we can see that this is exactly what has happened. Through all the vagaries of history, through all the problems and pitfalls the gospel has continued to be spread through the whole earth. First it was aided through the logistics of the Roman Empire. Then in the early Middle Ages it was the spread of the monastic movement. Then it was the missions to the Germanic tribes and the Slavs. Then the great Counter Reformation efforts brought Christianity to the New World. Nineteenth century colonization spread the faith in Africa and Asia.
Now we are on the cusp of all this work of the Holy Spirit blossoming into a global Christianity with global Catholicism as the key player.
We Americans tend to be extremely isolated. Our news is local. We are sadly ignorant of world trends, world news and world geography, but things are moving across the globe that should make us sit up and pay attention.
At this time those of us who are conservative Catholics lament what we seem to be losing. The fire of Notre Dame in Paris was a kind of symbol. We see Islamic infiltration in Europe. We see Christian morals disintegrating in America. We see corruption, lukewarmness, ambiguity and lack of direction from Rome. We think Western Christianity is caving in.
In many ways it is, and it may continue to crumble and fall, but what we don’t see is that this may simply be the death of a culture and a form of Christianity which has actually been on life support for a long time.
This is one of the reasons why I took the time to produce my podcast Triumphs and Tragedies –I wanted folks to listen and learn about the history of the church so they could see where we have come from, where we are and where we are going. You should listen to it! Twenty three episodes in which I rattle through one century per episode. You can listen and download here.
This is also why I am producing my new podcast series John Allen’s Future Church. This series explores ten trends that are sweeping the Catholic Church up in a tsunami of change in this century. If you want to see where the church is going and why you should be optimistic about the future listen to this series. The Introduction is available here on BreadBox Media and the abridged version of the first episode will be posted there soon. Each week there will be an abridged version posted at BreadBox for free. This version gives a good summary of the chapter. The full length version which lasts about 40-45 minutes is on the website here for Donor Subscribers.
In my study for Triumphs and Tragedies I could see that church history can divided into four 500 year epochs: The Roman Period, The Dark Ages, The Middle Ages, The Age of Revolution.
We are now at the end of that fourth epoch and are moving into a new phase. This means we are going through transition and transition and change are always a challenge. The temptation is to retreat into the old ways of doing things, but the Holy Spirit never retreats. God is always moving forward to complete the task of saving the whole world. I can see that the future is exciting and I hope to share some of my enthusiasm with you in Future Church podcast.
To get an idea of one of the trends that is affecting the church in the 21st century consider these statistics from John Allen’s book:
In 1900, at the dawn of the twentieth century, there were roughly 266.5 million Catholics in the world, of whom over 200 million were in Europe and North America and just 66 million were scattered across the rest of the planet. Most of this remainder were in Latin America, some 53 million.
In 2000 by way of contrast, there were slightly under 1.1 billion Roman Catholics in the world, of whom just 350 million were Europeans and North Americans. The overwhelming majority, a staggering 720 million people lived in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Almost half the Catholic total, over 400 million, lived in Latin America alone. Projecting forward to the year 2025, only one Catholic in five in the world will be a non-Hispanic, Caucasian. This is the most rapid, and most sweeping demographic transformation of Roman Catholicism in its two thousand year history.
When you consider these numbers (and these are just a few of the facts in Allen’s book) suddenly the petty quarrels Catholics indulge in on social media pale in significance. The arcane debates about the niceties of liturgy or the academic discussions about theological minutiae or our great indignation about this sinner or that remind one of the old “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” poke. Our concerns in conservative Catholic America suddenly seem like two old ladies arguing over a jigsaw puzzle in the parlor while a crowd of teenagers are having a happy raucous party in the basement.
Off our radar and below the surface God is working his purpose out as the water covers the sea.
Something great is going on, and I believe it is the completion of the Great Commission and that this century will see the final spread of the Christian faith before the Lord’s return and final triumph.
Go here to learn more about the Future Church podcast.