Shifting Southward: Global Christianity since 1945
Dana L. Robert
From December 12 to 29, 1938, the most representative meeting of world Protestantism to date took place in Tambaram, India. Under the gathering storm clouds of World War II, with parts of China already under Japanese occupation, Hitler triumphant in Sudetenland, and Stalinism in full swing, 471 persons from 69 different countries met at Madras Christian College for the second decennial meeting of the International Missionary Council.
For the first time, African Christians from different parts of the continent met each other. The African delegation traveled together for weeks on a steamer that proceeded from West Africa to Cape Town and around the Cape of Good Hope to India. China, besieged by Japan and torn asunder by competing warlords, nationalists, and Communists, sent forty-nine official delegates, of whom nearly two-thirds were nationals and only one-third were missionaries. The women’s missionary movement, then at the height of its influence, pushed for full representation by women at Madras. Their persistence was rewarded with sixty women delegates sent by their national Christian councils, and another ten women in attendance by invitation. Europeans whose countries would soon be at war worked together in committee, as common Christian commitment overrode the tensions among Belgians, Danes, French, Germans, British, Dutch, Norwegians, and others.
The central theme that drew so many to India at a time of multiple global crises was “the upbuilding of the younger churches as a part of the historic universal Christian community.”1 With Protestant missions bearing fruit in many parts of the world, the time was ripe for younger non-Western churches to take their places alongside older Western denominations in joint consideration of the universal church’s faith, witness, social realities, and responsibilities. The roster of attendees reads like a who’s who of mid-twentieth-century world Christianity.2
Yet the 1938 IMC conference was a gathering of visionaries, for the global Christianity it embraced was a skeleton without flesh or bulk, a mission-educated minority who were leading nascent Christian institutions. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Europeans dominated the world church, with approximately 70.6 percent of the world’s Christian population. By 1938, on the eve of World War II, the apparent European domination of Protestantism and Catholicism remained strong. Yet by the end of the twentieth century, the European percentage of world Christianity had shrunk to 28 percent of the total; Latin America and Africa combined provided 43 percent of the world’s Christians. Although North Americans became the backbone of the cross-cultural mission force after World War II, their numerical dominance was being overtaken by missionaries from the very countries that were
Chilcote, P. W., & Warner, L. C. (Eds.). (2008). The study of evangelism : Exploring a missional practice of the church. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Created from amridge on 2022-09-28 03:23:49.