The Protestant Reformation began five-hundred years ago today with a courageous (and perhaps slightly crazy) Augustinian monk nailing ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther declared that his conscience was captive to the Word of God, and the captivity of his coscience awoke the consciences of others across Europe as the Reformation spread through Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Scandinavia, Scotland, and England. The heirs of the Reformation would take Protestantism to North America as they searched for a land where they could worship God according to their conscience. Then the modern missionary movement took Protestantism from Europe and North America around the world.
Five-hundred years after the ninety-five theses, where do most Protestants live today? Most of us would probably instinctually answer North America. We know about the secularization of Europe, and the largest Protestant publishing houses and seminaries in the world are based in the United States.
Despite our impressions, that answer is dead wrong. Where do most Protestants live today? The answer may be a surprising one: Africa.Where do most Protestants live today? The answer may be a surprising one: Africa. Click To Tweet
The Center for the Study of Global Christianity tells us that of the 560 million Protestants in the world over 228 million live in Africa. That is 40% of all Protestants. By contrast, only 61 million live in North America. Consider that in 1900, only 1.7% of Protestants lived in Africa, and most of them were white colonists. But by 2050, more than 50% of all Protestants will live in Africa!
No matter what you believe, the growth of Christianity in Africa should be considered one of the most significant historical trends in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But for those of us who believe and love the gospel of Christ, it is a thrilling epoch of Christian history to experience.
We can read about the early church and the advance of the gospel across the Roman Empire. We can read about how the gospel was taken by missionaries like Augustine of Canterbury and Patrick of Ireland to the barbarous tribes of those islands at the edge of the earth known as Britain and Ireland. We can read about the Great Awakenings that shaped America.
But we get to witness the passing of the torch to a new continent!
Unfortunately, as we have passed on the faith, we have also passed on the worst of American Christianity to our African brothers and sisters. African believers are being assaulted by the Prosperity Gospel, which promises health and wealth with a little Jesus and a lot of donations. They are being consumed by a charismatic movement that is unhinged from biblical authority, and many continue to practice pagan beliefs while professing Jesus Christ. As one scholar from Benin reports, “There’s a popular saying here: ‘Christian during the day and voodoo at night.'”We have passed on the worst of American Christianity to our African brothers and sisters. Click To Tweet
Yet, nothing is new under the sun, right? Where have we seen all this before? Preachers selling spiritual benefits when the coin in the coffer rings? A church that subverts the Bible as the supreme authority of God’s people? Nations “converted” externally while clinging inwardly to their pagan superstitions? Did anyone answer sixteenth century Europe?
Five hundred years ago, God moved on a man named Luther to reclaim the biblical gospel for his people. May he use us now, as he used Luther then, to reclaim, preserve, and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ!