briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

It’s Wednesday, May 8, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Christianity is increasing in Africa but declining in the industrial West: What these trends reveal about the reverse missionary movement and conservative theology

We have seen the future and it is largely African. We’re speaking about the future of the church and major new research indicating that by about the midpoint of this century, six of the ten nations with the largest Christian populations are going to be in Africa.

This is really part of a very big picture that is very big news, and the picture is multi-dimensional. On the one hand, you have resurgent Christianity in much of Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. You also have receding Christianity in much of modern secular Europe and increasingly even in North America. But when you look at the new report from the Pew Research Center, it really does point to fundamental changes in the demography of world Christianity.

Yomi Kazeem, reporting on the research, tells us there are already more Christians in Africa than any other continent, and that’s not going to change soon. The next sentence, “By 2060, six of the countries with the top ten largest Christian populations will be in Africa, up from three in 2015.” Let’s just look at those numbers, only three African nations in the top ten in 2015, expected to be six by 2060. Again, there are two simultaneous developments, Christianity surging in numbers and in membership in much of the world, but in the old world, especially in Europe, Christianity receding.

When you look at what Pew projects as the ten nations with the largest Christian populations in 2060, well the names of the nations are extremely telling. Number one, the United States, estimated then to have 262 million people identifying as Christians. After that, Brazil, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, Mexico, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

Now, in this report from Pew, there is also another very interesting observation, we are now looking at what some will call reverse missions. We are looking at the fact that during the first wave of the modern missionary movement, it was Europe and North America who sent missionaries to many of the nations listed here, even on this new Pew projection list. But it is now these nations who are sending missionaries to the United States, to Canada, and to much of Europe.

This reverse missions is something that wouldn’t have made sense to those in the leadership of world Christianity in the early 20th century. But it does make immediate sense to those of us observing Christianity in the 21st century. And in order to have this story, you really do need both of the dimensions happening simultaneously. Looking at Christianity, standing from the vantage point of the early 20th century, almost no one would have predicted the downfall of Christianity, the evacuation of historic Christian churches and denominations throughout much of Europe. We’re going to talk about documenting that evacuation in just a moment.

But at the same time, even the greatest hopes of the missionary movement of the early 20th century could not have foreseen the hundreds of millions of Christians who are identifying just that way in Africa right now, and the projections are that there will be multiple hundreds of millions of people in Africa by the midpoint of the 21st century who identify as Christian.

And beyond that, it’s really important to recognize that when we are talking about this resurgent Christianity in much of the developing world, there is one thing that it profoundly is not, and that is theologically liberal. We have seen the impact of this dynamic on the United Methodist Church, a church that has basically been rescued, at least in part, by new Methodists coming from other parts of the world, predominately Africa and the Philippines.

Looking back at the raw data in the Pew Research Center report, the size of the population of Christians in Nigeria, just taken as one nation alone, and by the way, Nigeria already has the largest Christian population in Africa, it is nonetheless expected to double by 2060. Now there are still other dynamics at work here. For one thing, the birth rate in Africa is still significant, unlike in much of the industrialized world.

We also have to look at the fact that when we speak of Christianity in much of the developing world, we have to acknowledge that a great deal of the energy behind many of these numbers, it turns out to be prosperity theology and the expanding influence of the charismatic and Pentecostal movements. But, at the same time, it’s really clear that there is a lot of authentic Gospel Christianity that is expanding in Africa.

And when we talk about that pattern of reverse missions, it really does come as judgment upon the nations of the west that are so rapidly secularizing. Just consider the list of those nations again in order, the United States, Brazil, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, Mexico, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia. Notice what’s missing, there isn’t a single European nation listed here. There isn’t a single nation, other than the United States, of the industrial west. You are looking at an African pattern, but we’re simultaneously looking at a very sad European pattern. And included in that pattern would not only be Europe, but also Canada.

Speaking of the decline of Christianity in Europe, specifically in the United Kingdom, Kazeem reports, “Meanwhile, the decline of Christian population in Europe is especially notable in Britain, where last year a survey showed ‘an unrelenting decline in Church of England and Church of Scotland numbers, only 14% of Britons identified as members of the Church of England.'” A simple note there is made, a record low. Similarly, the Church of Scotland fell from 31% in 2002, to 18% in 2018. So we really are looking at the evacuation of churches in Europe. That’s not an exaggeration.

And furthermore, another report came out indicating just recently that only 2% of young adults in Great Britain identify with the Church of England. That’s 2%, and remember that the Church of England is by England’s order a state church. It is the Church of England, but evidently people in England no longer know that, especially theologically. Only 2% of young adults, only 14% of the citizens of the United Kingdom identifying as members of the Church of England. And church attendance statistics are also indicating just about the same.

Recently on The Briefing we’ve talked about similar phenomena, including the fact that weddings and funerals are moving out of churches in much of Europe, and they’re moving into an entirely secular sphere and an entirely secular mode.

Part II

What does a historical debate between Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott have to do with the modern happenings of the Church of England?

There’s another big story that comes on the heels of this. Christian Today, from there in Great Britain, recently ran a news story with this headline, “Evangelical Anglicans demand answers after GAFCON criticism.” That might sound like a religious equivalent of Inside Baseball, and it is to some extent, but that’s actually a pretty explosive headline. You have Evangelical Anglicans, evangelical believers within the Church of England, who are demanding answers after Anglican conservatives were criticized by an Anglican leader.

As Christian Today reports, “Suggestions that a fellowship of orthodox Anglicans is fueling divisions in the worldwide Anglican Communion have been strongly criticized. The Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC) has written to General Secretary, the Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, asking him to explain comments he made during an address to the Anglican Consultative Council in Hong Kong, which drew to a close just last Sunday.”

Now here’s the interesting part of this story, you have controversy over this Anglican Archbishop criticizing GAFCON, that’s the group of conservative Evangelical Orthodox Anglicans that came together to form a Communion in the aftermath of the liberal action taken by the Episcopal church in the United States, in ordaining and consecrating an openly gay bishop. Let’s just remind ourselves, that was way back in 2003.

And the tepid response of the official Anglican Communion, and you look at GAFCON developing and what’s the link to the previous story? Well, guess where most of the energy for GAFCON is to be found. It’s going to be found in Africa and in other nations in the developing world where, once again, where you find Christians, and specifically where you find Anglicans, they are overwhelmingly not theologically liberal. They define marriage as the union of a man and woman, they are not going to accept the LGBTQ revolution.

And thus you have this headline. But those who observe such things should look at this story a little bit more closely. You have the group known as the Evangelical Fellowship and the Anglican Communion demanding that this Anglican Archbishop clarify and correct what he said in his criticism about conservative Anglicans being essentially schismatic, leading to a loss of unity within the Anglican Communion.

The point being made the Evangelical Fellowship and the Anglican Communion is that it is the theological liberals who are the cause of disunion within the Fellowship, it is not those who hold to Orthodox Christianity. You had this group known as the Evangelical Fellowship and the Anglican Communion coming to the defense of GAFCON.

So what’s the big story here? Well, in order to understand this, we have to go back to October 18, 1966, that was the meeting of the National Assembly of Evangelicals there in London. And it was the occasion for one of the most historic developments in Anglican Evangelical history. It was then that Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, the pastor of Westminster Chapel and the lead speaker of the Evangelical Assembly, called for what he termed a visible unity among evangelicals. To put the point bluntly, he called upon evangelicals in the Church of England to leave. He declared back in 1966 that the Church of England was theologically beyond reformation and he called for evangelicals to come out.

This led to an open confrontation with perhaps the most famous evangelical figure within the Church of England at the time, the Reverend John R.W. Stott, one of the most influential figures of English speaking evangelicalism throughout all the world. It was John Stott inside the Church of England, he was then the rector of All Souls Church in the heart of London, it was Stott who called upon the Anglicans to stay, evangelicals to stay within the Church of England and not to leave.

But the most important issue in this article is that John Stott was cited by this Archbishop as someone who would support unity at virtually any cost. But it was the leader of Stott’s organization now, the leader of the Evangelical Fellowship and the Anglican Communion, who responded to this quite strongly. That Evangelical Fellowship continues to define Christian marriage as the union of a man and woman. By the way, so does the official doctrine of the Church of England.

And the leader of the Evangelical Fellowship said that it was unhelpful, I’ll go on and say outright dishonest, to present John Stott’s position for the 1960s as a solution to today’s issues in the Communion. That’s the language of the news release. And then the leader went on to say this, “The current crisis in the Anglican Communion is caused by a different issue, same-sex marriage and partnerships, an issue on which the views of the Reverend Dr. John Stott were clear.”

Though few may recognize it now, this current headline brings us right back to the issues at stake in that debate between Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones and Dr. John Stott on October 18th of 1966. True, neither man then could have foreseen the precise issues that are of central debate now. But I dare to say, I think Dr. Lloyd Jones would have been far less surprised than Dr. Stott.

Dr. Stott called for evangelicals to stay in the Church of England as a conserving force of evangelical influence. And his hopefulness was largely grounded in the fact that evangelicals were beginning to have far larger representation in the pipeline producing priests within the Church of England. But he did not foresee, I think it’s safe to say, the revolution that would take place and the acceleration of that revolution in sexuality and morality, even down to the institution of marriage.

It’s historically illegitimate to go back a meeting in 1966 and say we know what those men would say now, but it is not illegitimate to go back to what they said in 1966 and say, “That’s what they said in 1966.” And that’s why it matters even now.

Part III

The problem of gay clergy and the LGBTQ revolution in the Anglican Church

But before leaving the Church of England, we need to look at another recent headline. This one appeared in The Guardian, a liberal newspaper in London. The headline, “The rebel priest: Gay people in the church are not going to go away.” Edward Siddons is the reporter. He tells about the Reverend Andrew Foreshew-Cain, who had been a vicar in the Church of England until his controversial exit in 2017 because he had married his same-sex partner, Steven, in 2014.

And thus we are told that the Church of England is now facing a quandary because it has openly gay priests, but it does not allow them to be involved in active homosexual relationships. This is, let’s just say the obvious, an awkward situation.

But the article written in The Guardian is to point to that awkward situation and say if the Church of England is going to have any future, it’s going to have to join the LGBTQ revolution and in a big affirming way. By the way, it is this article that points to the British Social Attitudes Survey indicating that only 2% of young Britons identify with the Church of England.

Just a few days ago on The Briefing, we talked about a similar parallel argument made here in the United States, that time at USA Today, the argument was made by Oliver Thomas. He made the argument that if churches in the United States want to have any young people in the future, those churches must embrace the LGBTQ revolution and again with enthusiasm. If you’re looking for Christian young people who are engaged with their churches, visibly identified with Christianity, ready to be known as claiming the name of Christ, here’s the point, you’re not going to find them in liberal churches.

This formula for supposedly saving Christianity in the future simply calls for the evacuation of the church of all Christian conviction and Christian belief and biblical authority on matters of morality and sexuality. But here’s the point, it turns out that the churches that evacuate themselves of the Bible are very quickly evacuated of people, and that includes young people. Indeed, it might include young people first of all.

There’s another point we have to note in this article in The Guardian, it is suggesting that churches that try to find a halfway point can’t stay in that halfway point. Having openly gay clergy, it turns out, who aren’t allowed to be involved in openly gay relationships and practicing their sexuality, well, it turns out that that’s not quite satisfactory to those openly gay priests, or at least to many of them.

The argument made in The Guardian is that the Church of England is simply going to have to get fully with the times. That’s another warning to us, mediating, moderating, compromised positions, when it comes to biblical truth, don’t work. Those who are pressing the church in a more liberal direction, they are never satisfied with a moderating position. They may accept it, but only for now.

Meanwhile, such a compromised position violates the principles of those who are committed to convictional, orthodox, biblical Christianity. Those compromised positions are fatal from the start. But here you see the fact that you have liberal media saying to the Church of England, “You better put up or shut up, you better actually move all the way into the full endorsement of the LGBTQ movement, or you’re going to be left behind.” But how exactly do you make that argument to a church that has already been left behind by 98% of the young people in the nation?

Part IV

Georgia’s governor signs fetal heartbeat bill: The holy provocation of recent pro-life legislation

But with that lesson very much in mind, we need to turn to headline news here in the United States. The news came from Atlanta that the Governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, has signed that state’s fetal heartbeat bill. Now, as you might expect, the response to this news is exactly what would be predicted. You have two polarized sides on this issue within the United States, those who are pro-life and those who are pro-abortion. Yes, I know those who are pro-abortion don’t want to be identified as pro-abortion, they’d rather be known as pro-choice, but the bottom line is the choice they are pro the woman’s right to choose to kill the unborn child within her.

But what’s really going on in these fetal heartbeat bills? That is the big issue that is addressed right now. And that’s because the opposition to the bill is becoming extremely transparent, as is the reason for the support of these bills. There’s a basic issue at stake here, it’s a fundamental fact, these bills are almost assuredly in direct conflict with Roe v. Wade. Thus, the opponents of the bills will call them unconstitutional. It’s not because they violate any wording in the Constitution having to do with abortion, because as you know, there is no such language.

But the bills are in direct contradiction to Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade states that a woman has a rather unconditional right to abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, almost the same in the second trimester of pregnancy. But these fetal heartbeat bills are now pointing to the fact that fetal heart activity can be identified as early as the sixth week of a woman’s pregnancy.

An example of the pro-abortion response is that that was offered by Toni Van Pelt, the President of the National Organization for Women. In a statement to USA Today, she said, “The fact is that women have a Constitutional right to safe, legal abortion, and these alarming legislative machinations are part of a calculated and well-funded national effort to drum up political support for anti-abortion candidates in upcoming elections. Meanwhile, women’s health, autonomy, and their right to the pursuit of happiness are under serious threat.”

I simply have to point to the moral atrocity of the head of the National Organization of Women talking about the murder of the unborn as tied to a woman’s health, autonomy, and her right to the pursuit of happiness.

But if these laws are in direct contradiction to Roe v. Wade, then why are they being passed? Well, it turns out that’s actually the point. These laws are setting up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade in the United States Supreme Court. The only real question is which law from which state the court decides to take as the presenting case. That’s something we’re going to have to watch in months and years to come.

But there ought to be at least the open, honest acknowledgement that that’s what these bills are about. But George Will, columnist at The Washington Post, points out that there is another big aspect to this that demands our attention. In his column at The Washington Post, he pointed out that these fetal heartbeat bills are, he says, “Wholesomely provocative. They are wholesome provocations in the abortion debate.”

What’s George Will saying? He is saying that these bills are forcing Americans to talk about the unborn baby. And to talk about the fact that advances in medical technology now allow the detection of heart activity in the developing baby within about six weeks. That’s a massively important, very profound observation. These bills are wholesome provocations. They are thrown in the face of a country that has been complicit in the murder of the unborn by the millions ever since 1973.

Will directs attention to the fact that viability, the point at which the baby is believed to be able to survive outside the womb, as the critical issue. But he says that’s an abstraction, why should that be the critical issue? Why should we not be talking about the fact that as early as at six weeks of development there is heart activity that can now be known.

Will is pointing to this again as what he calls a provocation. And he says, “One of their aims,” speaking of those behind the bills, “is to provoke thinking about the moral dimension of extinguishing a being with a visibly beating heart.” That is exactly the point. These fetal heartbeat bills require the country to talk about the fact that there is a beating heart within that womb as early as at the point of six weeks of development.

Now, of course, Christians believe that there is life and the promise of life and life that is sacred and worthy of our protection at the very moment in which the sperm and egg come together, fertilization takes place, and that new being emerges a new life with the multiplication of those cells. We believe in the sanctity of human life from the moment of fertilization all the way until natural death.

But this is an incredibly important provocation, this is a very strategic moment. A moment in which we have to speak to America’s conscience, and that means individually to the consciences of hundreds of millions of Americans.

Talking about a beating heart is an incredibly good way to begin. But it also brings out the very worst in those who want to defend abortion at any cost. Consider some of that response. Will cites a New York Times editorial from December 28th of last year. That editorial opposed the idea that “a fetus in the womb has the same rights as a fully formed person.”

But then Will goes on to say, “But the fact that this is a living being is an elementary biological fact, not an obtuse theological deduction.” Will then writes movingly, “Now delete the obfuscating and constitutionally irrelevant adjective ‘viable,’ and look at a sonogram of a ten-week fetus. Note the eyes and lips, the moving fingers and, yes, the beating heart. Is this most suitably described as a ‘cluster of cells’ or as a baby? The cluster-of-cells contingent,” said George Will, “resembles Chico Marx in the movie ‘Duck Soup’: ‘Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?'”

I want to go beyond George Will’s argument and say there is another aspect of this that Christians should very much keep in mind. It is the fact that at times, one of the most important aspects of Christian witness is to throw a question at people and demand that they answer it. Well, if human life does not begin, say at six weeks, with a visible detectable heart activity, then when does it begin? Does it begin at that moment of viability because advances in medical care have pushed that moment of viability back considerably, now even before the 20th week of pregnancy.

When exactly does personhood occur? When exactly does that cluster of cells become a human being? But, of course, if you take the pro-abortion argument to its logical conclusion, or if you even just let many pro-abortion spokespeople speak for themselves, it’s not at all clear why a baby, even at the moment it is born, all of a sudden becomes a person. And that leads us to some of the most horrifying headlines of recent months right here in the United States.

Sometimes Christian witness comes down to presenting people, collectively and individually, with a question. Well, if human life doesn’t begin at fertilization, if it doesn’t begin at conception, rightly defined, then when does it begin? If you can’t answer that question, no one should take your argument with any moral seriousness at all.

I think these fetal heartbeat bills are not only what George Will calls, “wholesome provocations,” I think they are even more than that. I think they are holy provocations. I think it is bearing witness to the glory of the Creator by pointing to even what we are now able to see in the development of the human life within the woman’s womb. It is nothing less than miraculous.

It doesn’t point ultimately to the dignity of human life, though, of course, it does point to that dignity. It points to the fact that this is a miracle explainable only by a divine Creator, who said in each and every case, “Let there be life.”

And, of course, in conclusion, we remind ourselves that Christians believe that in each and every case, we understand that human life is at stake. And understanding that, and understanding our Christian responsibility, we can understand why provoking, in this case, can be a holy calling.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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