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Religion Library: Protestantism

Missions and Expansion

Written by: Ted Vial

Most Protestant Christians—both liberal and conservative—now recognize the need to empower indigenous Christians in their own efforts to spread the gospel and serve the Church. The days of the lifelong missionary devoted solely to evangelism are largely over, and most Protestant missionaries today serve and support indigenous ministries or have a profession or trade that enables them to live and work within a cross-cultural context, thus becoming part of the community rather than its superior.

The centuries since the Reformation have been full of effective mission work, and the results can be seen in the growing churches all over the world. It is estimated that in 1900 there were 9 million African Christians; in 2000 there were 380 million. Christianity is likely the largest religion in sub-Saharan Africa. The first Protestant missionaries in India were from Denmark, and landed in 1705. Today there are about 30 million Christians in India, or 2.5 percent of the population. Current estimates are that there are roughly 9.8 to 13.5 million Protestant Christians in China. Many scholars, both secular and religious, have documented that in recent decades the "center of gravity" of Protestantism, as well as Roman Catholicism, has shifted to the global south. Philip Jenkins' groundbreaking work, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (2002), pointed out the seismic shift in the Christian center from a northern, European/American stronghold, to a much wider and deeper base of faith and ministry in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. He explored the nature of this southern hemisphere religious phenomenon in a sequel, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (2008).

Study Questions:
1.     How did unstable political and cultural settings contribute to the rise of Protestantism?
2.     What can be said about the relationship between immigration and Protestantism's spread?
3.     How did Protestants interact with the indigenous population of North America?
4.     Where did Protestant missionaries travel throughout the world? Why is it often seen as controversial?


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