Evangelical growth and Israel

Things may not be as bleak as they seem, for both Israel and her Christian friends.

Christian Quarter, Jerusalem_521 (photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
Christian Quarter, Jerusalem_521
(photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
As the Chinese proverb wishes, we find ourselves living in interesting times! Powerful global shifts are occurring which will change our world forever. The former powerhouse of the European Union is struggling for survival, as many of its member nations face bankruptcy. The United States has its own economic struggles, even while China and India are on the rise. Christianity is in decline in Western societies. The Middle East is experiencing major turmoil. For many Christians, the future looks bleak.
However, exciting developments are taking place which might escape our attention, since they are occurring outside the West. For Western Christians, secularism and Islam seem to be taking over on all fronts. But if we look to the Southern Hemisphere, we see the new vanguard of Christianity.
American scholar Prof. Philip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, has researched and documented an unprecedented religious revolution now taking place.
While Western churches are shrinking, in Latin America, Africa and Asia it just so happens that Christianity is thriving.
In Africa, the number of Christians has more than tripled in recent decades, from 140 million in 1970 to 490 million in 2010. If recent growth rates continue, by 2050 Africa will be home to more than 1 billion Christians. While Europe today remains the home to the most Christians (some 590 million), it will be overtaken in coming years by Africa and Latin America.
What unites all these new expressions of Christianity is simple faith in the Bible and an expectation of the supernatural move of God.
According to Prof. Jenkins, the fastest growing stream of Christianity is the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.
What started in 1906 as a small revival in a humble Los Angeles church has turned today into a global movement of more than 700 million believers, Jenkins finds. He predicts that if this dynamic growth continues, we will soon see the number of Pentecostals and Charismatics swell to over 1 billion.
He also foresees the centers of world Christendom shifting from Geneva, London and Rome, to places like Kampala, Sao Paolo and Manila. Even in Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in terms of population, the evangelical Church is experiencing an ongoing revival for over 30 years now.
Interestingly, liberal theologies hardly exist in these regions, and neither does Replacement theology.
According to Jenkins, while liberal Protestantism never truly represented mainstream Christianity, it is rapidly losing what significance it had.
In our own travels as representatives of the Christian Embassy, we have witnessed this changing dynamic. We see that revived churches of the south not only share a simple trust in the Word of God, they are also united in a deep love for Israel and the Jews. Some years ago I asked a leader of one of China’s underground churches where their love for Israel comes from, and he replied: “We just read the Bible.” It is that simple.
All of this carries the potential for major political changes in coming decades. In some countries, revived Christianity already constitutes a significant portion of the population.
Sooner or later, this will translate into political influence and broader support for Israel.
Already last year, we saw Nigeria refuse to vote automatically with the Palestinians on statehood in the UN Security Council due to Christian influence on its government. Other nations, like Brazil and the Philippines, could soon follow suit. These are nations with influence in their respective regions and within the Non-Aligned Movement, which in recent decades has habitually bowed to pressure from the Arab/Islamic bloc to vote against Israel. But the “Flat Earth Society” at the UN may soon be a thing of the past.
Even in some Muslim majority nations, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, there appears to be a new, positive attitude emerging towards Israel. Part of this is a realization that Israel has much to offer them in terms of development and aid. But one former Muslim from Uganda recently confided that many black Muslims in Africa know that Islam has always had a built-in prejudice favoring Arabs over blacks and others. This, too, is causing many African Muslims to reconsider their faith and turn to Christianity in unprecedented numbers.
So things may not be as bleak as they seem, for both Israel and her Christian friends.
 Dr. Jürgen Bühler is executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org