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(TRENDS in CHRISTIANITY – continued)

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TRENDS in CHRISTIANITY (4 of 16)

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Protestant Demographics and Fragmentations

In 2005, there were an estimated 800 million Protestants worldwide among 2.2 billion Christians – roughly 36 percent, leaving Roman Catholics at around 54 percent of all Christians and the various Eastern churches at around 9 percent. Organizationally, the Protestant 36 percent was fragmented into more than 33,000 groupings, with individual denominations having subtle theological differences that would take volumes to describe. The world was looking at the fragmentation that the Roman Catholic Church had feared for itself and for Christianity in the 16th century.

Protestants were defined as those belonging to a denomination that traced its origins back to the Reformation. Mormons did not. They believed that they represented the true Christian Church and that Christianity had lost its way in the second century CE and was restored by Joseph Smith in 1830.

There were the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists and those who broke from the Presbyterians: the Congregationalists. There were Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Geography played a role in this distribution. Lutherans were the largest denomination in Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and the Faroe Islands. They also had a presence in Iceland and Greenland (formerly ruled by Denmark) and in Namibia (formerly ruled by Germany). There were Lutherans also in other former German territories: Tajikistan, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea.

The Baptist movement began as a separation from the Church of England and devotion to the New Testament. Roger Williams is credited with founding the Baptist church in Providence, Rhode Island. Baptists have been described as subscribing to a theology that emphasizes the ages-old purification ritual of immersion in water, not for helpless infants but for people who are conscious of what they are committing themselves to. And they too have fragmented. In the United States the issue of slavery and the Civil War divided them. And, in the South, church going for whites was an important status event, and they preferred to exclude blacks, so there were white Baptist churches and black Baptist churches. By 2005 an attempt to bring the Baptists together existed in the World Baptist Alliance and many other Baptist associations, and there are autonomous Baptist churches, with Baptists numbering over 110 million worldwide in more than 220,000 congregations.

Presbyterianism developed in Scotland. It was Calvinist and a breakaway from the Church of England. And the Presbyterians had branched into different churches adhering to nuanced theological differences of importance to adherents. This included a breakaway in Kentucky led by the Scotsmen Thomas and Alexander Campbell, and Barton Stone, creating the Disciples of Christ.

Methodism developed out of the Church of England. It had been a revival movement, attempting to return to early Christianity and to the Gospels. It had left the ornate cathedrals for open-air preaching. And it succumbed to fragmentation, dividing into numerous organizations which at least held onto an identity as Methodist. Together, around the year 2005 they numbered approximately seventy million adherents worldwide.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, has been described also as the founder of Evangelicalism. Then, in the United States, Evangelicalism became associated with preachers from various corners of Protestantism, all concerned with Biblical authority, with an emphasis on the need to be "born again." A spiritual rebirth was thought to be needed, created by accepting Jesus as the Messiah and by receiving the Holy Spirit. In the 20th century in the United States the Evangelicals came to be associated with middle ground between the more "liberal" mainstream churches and the "fundamentalists."

The expression "fundamentalist" came to life in the U.S., between 1915 and 1920, with the publication of pamphlets titled "The Fundamentals: A testimony to the Truth." This was a Protestant movement. The Fundamentalists were opposed to theologians who viewed scripture critically. Scripture, they believed, was absolutely reliable because it is God's word. They opposed anyone applying to scripture his own metaphorical interpretation. Into the 21st century, Biblical fundamentalists in the United States and Russia have been described as around 27 percent of the population.

Pentecostalism as a movement, began in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was intensely emotional and included seeking the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues. Divine healing and miracles were also emphasized. Pentecostals are also fragmented into a variety of organizations.

Pentecostals have been expanding in Latin America, Africa, and Oceania. By 2005, a Pentecostal church in Seoul, Korea, the "Yoido Full Gospel Church," claimed a membership of more than 700,000. A Pentecostal church in the Philippines, the "Jesus is Lord Church," founded in 1978, is said to have a membership of 300,000. India saw a dramatic growth of Pentecostal mega-churches, including the "New Life Fellowship" in Mumbai and "Assemblies of God" churches in Chennai and Bangalore. In Indonesia, the country's largest Pentecostal denomination, the "Pentecostal Church of Indonesia," had an estimated 2 million members in 2001, and Pentecostal mega-churches have appeared in Jakarta and Surabaya.

Efforts by Pentecostals to convert non-Christians in Asia has generated a hostile political reaction, including government suppression in China of the "True Jesus Church" there. In Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, numerous physical attacks have occurred against Pentecostal and Evangelical churches and pastors. In Asian, majority religious communities regard Pentecostal expansion as a threat to their religion-based national identities. Just as some in the U.S. thought of their country as Christian, some in Asia wanted to think of theirs as Hindu or Muslim. For them, religious identity was combined with their tribal or community identity.

Copyright © 2010-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.