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Perhaps the most remarkable statement I ever heard a man utter from the pulpit was: “He has a penurious epistemology, which tends to be myopic.” I was seated in the balcony of the church when that statement was made, and I could not restrain myself from laughing aloud. I nudged my wife Vesta and said, “I just might be the only person in the church who understood what that man said.”  What is a penurious epistemology?  A penurious epistemology is a theory of knowledge that is poverty-stricken or on the verge of bankruptcy. Such a view of knowledge, if it tends towards myopia, is simply suffering a bad case of near-sightedness. I’m afraid that the American church suffers from a similar sort of myopia.

Our vision tends to extend only to the borders of our own nation or at best across the Atlantic to western Europe. We tend to think that Christianity is fundamentally a Western religion. Such a view is penurious, indeed. The Bible, through the lips of Jesus, calls the church to extend the reach of the gospel to the corners of the earth — to every tribe, to every tongue, and to every nation. The whole world is the mission of the Christian faith. The strength of Christianity does not stand or fall with the strengths of the church in America or western Europe.

If in our ecclesiastical myopia we restricted our vision to the United States and Europe, it would be easy for us to become profoundly discouraged, particularly regarding Europe. The historians are saying that western Europe has now entered a post-Christian era where only a tiny fraction of the populace attends church regularly. The beautiful churches that dot the scene on the continent have become museums in many cases. 

Though there still exists a vibrant Christianity in the United States, we have also seen serious decline in the substance of our faith and commitment. The discouragement that ensues from an evaluation of what’s happening in America and in Europe is unwarranted, however, when we evaluate the church from a global perspective.

Though the Christian faith may be on the wane in certain sections of the West, there is a burgeoning vitality found in Korea, in Africa, in Latin America, and even now in China. The excitement of the discovery of the Reformed tradition in the Ukraine, for example, is contagious throughout the eastern part of Europe and into Russia. Sociologists and historians have predicted that by the year 2050 the strongest center for Christianity will be in Africa and Latin America.

The good news is that the inroads of the faith in these areas of the globe have been profound. The bad news is that there has been a lack of substantive doctrine feeding the people of these lands — as is often the case with fresh revivals and awakenings to Christianity. So often a syncretism exists in which superstitious elements of animistic religion are mingled and blended with the Christian faith. However, as these churches mature, we can anticipate an increase of sound theology with a diminution of elements of pagan syncretism.

One of the strongest churches in the world is the church in Korea, which has enjoyed explosive growth over the last forty years. The contagion of that Asian form of Christianity is penetrating all parts of the world. It is not an unusual thing to now see missionaries being sent from the Third World countries into Europe and even into the United States, as the ebb and flow of Christian fervor moves from one geographical spot to another. Many times I have heard people lament the spiritual aridity of America’s New England. The irony is that no part of our nation has ever had a more powerful visitation of the Holy Spirit than New England enjoyed in the Great Awakening during the middle of the eighteenth century. That Great Awakening, however, gave way to unitarianism and secularism. One wonders that if God pours out a profound blessing on a particular geographical region and that blessing is neglected or repudiated, does a kind of ichabod ensue in which God removes His lampstand from their midst, along with His glory (1 Sam. 4:20–22; Rev. 2:5)? We should take heed in this country that the profound spiritual benefits and blessings that we have enjoyed in our brief history may be removed and passed to other nations that are more receptive to the truths of God.

Here in the West, we have become immunized or inoculated against the deep things of God, living our Christian lives on a superficial plain of churchiness and religiosity. This type of Christianity will not do. It would be no surprise to me if we, in a very short time, will be looking to Africa, to eastern Europe, to Asia, and to Latin America to discover the real power of the Christian gospel.

The World Upside Down

The Church in Asia

Keep Reading The Church of Jesus Christ

From the November 2008 Issue
Nov 2008 Issue