In the beginning of July, I was blessed to attend the annual meeting of the Baptist World Alliance in Izmir, Turkey. The Baptist World Alliance committees and commissions are meeting every year on a different continent and every fifth year in a convention setting. I am a part of one international commission and when we meet together, I am privileged to hear from people from every continent.
In meetings like this, we affirm the historic “one holy apostolic and catholic church” as we are gathering, or Paul’s statement that there is only one faith, one baptism, and one Lord. Even though there are churches all around the world, for all practical purposes Jesus Christ has only one body, there is only faith, and there is only one church.
Therefore, one can talk about the global or the universal church. How healthy, how strong, and how fast is this church progressing? The answer is that if you are looking globally, the church is doing quite well and the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ that He will build the church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her is well attested. If you are looking separately, than one observes that in some areas such as Central America, Latin America, and Africa, the church is growing beyond anyone’s expectations. If you are looking to Europe and the United States, the church is in decline. One also has to make a further distinction between Europe and the United States, because in certain European countries such as France and The Czech Republic, church attendance varies from 2-5 % of the total population, while in the United States approximately 40% of people still consider themselves church attendees.
In Asia, the growth of the Christian church has also surpassed expectations. While denominations have almost disappeared, and one can see only churches aligned as Protestant or Catholic, the evangelistic fervor of the Chinese Christians has produced phenomenal results. When one talks with Chinese Christians, they agree that it is evangelism, but also in the words of a wise Christian sage is, “we are practicing what your missionaries have taught us and you are no longer practicing – prayer. We pray without ceasing asking God to pour his blessings on our work.”
When it comes to resources, the Western Church is still endowed with an abundance of resources. It is this abundance of resources that enabled many of the local churches to become involved in social programs. In listening to many people from the non-Western world, I find out that lacking the many resources that we have in the West, they preach the Gospel with great frequency and fervency, knowing that above everything else, it is the power of the Gospel that can transform human lives. In the West, frequently we hope that because of the many social programs that we do, the beneficiaries will see that they are done in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the people who love Him and love them.
As I read the gospels, I find out that this bifurcation was not practiced by the Lord Jesus Christ. He kept the two in close proximity. He preached the Good News, He took care to be the teacher of the multitudes, and then also made sure that their needs – either healing, clothing, food – were met. Yet to the multitude of 5,000 that came to Him after He multiplied the bread and the fish, He tells them that they should seek the food that comes from above, because while this food is perishing, the Word of God abides forever.