2000 years ago, Jesus and his disciples were walking at the far northern edge of the land of Israel at the headwaters of the Jordan River in the region of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks the disciples a question… “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples answer, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah or one of the Prophets.” Then Jesus asks the disciples THE question, “But who do you say that I am?” It was Simon Peter who answered saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” And Jesus responded by saying… “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but My Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this Rock (The Rock of his Faith Declaration) I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”
Do you ever wonder how that whole “On this Rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” thing is working out? I wonder about it from time to time.
I recently read an article that helped provide some insight into how the church is doing these days. Brian Douglas, a former professor at Boise State University and now a pastor on the staff at All Saints Presbyterian Church in Boise brought together some interesting information that gives at least a glimpse of the big picture of the life of the Christian Church today.
First, do the math. In a 2014 address at the Spurgeon Fellowship in Spokane, Michael Kelly described the growth of Christianity worldwide since the first century. While the church’s growth was initially slow, it has progressed steadily over time. In A.D. 100, there was only one professing Christian for every 360 non-Christians in the world. Today about one third of the world’s population claim, as Peter did, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
According to Kelly’s data, the church’s growth hasn’t just continued it has accelerated. In the church’s first 1,000 years, the ratio of Christians to non-Christians lowered from 1:360 to 1:270. By A.D. 1500, it was 1:85—almost triple the growth of the previous millennium in only half the time. Since then, the rate of growth has continued to rise steadily, with the ratios hitting 1:21 in 1900 and 1:13 in 1970 before reaching today’s 1:2. Today there are 2.2 Billion professing Christians in the world, over 30% of the people on earth, and that number is growing.
Now, study the geography. While Africa, Asia, and Latin America have been at the center of much recent church growth, consider contemporary China: in 1976, when Chairman Mao died, few envisioned hope for the life of the church in China. Now, however, just two generations later, Christianity has spread across China like wildfire. According to a 2014 article in the Telegraph, there were one million Chinese Protestants in 1949. In 2010, there were 58 million—a 5,700 percent growth in 61 years. If current rates continue, China is set to have more Christians than any other nation by as early as 2030.
There are also signs of similar growth in the Islamic world. Studies show that Christianity is growing faster in Iran than anywhere else on the globe at about a 20 percent increase per year. From very small groups of Christians hidden on the margins of society there are now roughly 1 million Christians in Iran. So ask yourself, “Why would people predominantly of Muslim background, leave the comfort and security of being Muslim, and convert to Christianity—a faith persecuted by the ruling regime? More pointedly, why would these individuals convert, when apostasy—or “leaving the Islamic Faith” is illegal and punishable by death?
The answer to that question is the same, no matter where you go in the world… even here.
We are Christians because we know and profess and provide a living witness to the truth that Peter proclaimed 2000 years ago; “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. And even now, Christ is building his church through us, in this time and in this place… to the Praise of his Father in heaven.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Mark