No More Followers

For most of us who have claimed the clues to the mysteries of life in the story of the Christian faith, we have rooted ourselves in the history of the Christian mission that moved from Paul's trips to Greece and Rome to the spread of the Christian faith to Europe and then to the United States. We have developed a great treasury of intelligent, scholarly, wise books. We claim Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Erasmus, Barth, Tillich and the list of theologians who have marked the way is long.

From the moment that ships set sail in exploration of the "new world" there has been the idea that Christians should be involved in taking the Christian message to those who had not heard it. The story of that Christian missionary work has not always been a good story. The methods and approaches of missionaries to the natives was often condescending and paternalistic, but Christians from Europe, and later from the North America believed that they were the ones with the answers. They were the teachers and givers.

Now, the Christian faith is in decline in Europe and is pretty much stagnant in the United States. The great churches in Europe are mostly empty, and the number of people respond "None" when asked about a religious commitment in the United States is growing. "Spiritual but not religious" is a very common response to surveys about religious interest.

At the same time, the Christian faith is very much alive and vibrant in the southern continents and in the Far East. Latin America, Africa, India and China have very dynamic Christian communities. Their numbers are growing. They now hold the majority of Christian people in the world. The mission countries are now sending missionaries to the United States and Europe.

The great challenge for Christians in Europe and the United States is to accept the leadership and guidance of the very people they have taught. The disciples are now more than the teachers. Now the teachers have to come to accept the guidance and decisions of the students.

The Christians of the Western Tradition who have thought for so long that they are the leaders now discover that the followers are not necessarily behind them. There is still an arrogance that we in the western tradition do not need to be told what to do by those in the southern and eastern part of the world. The Anglican Church held a conference and the bishops and leaders developed a request that the Episcopal Church in the United States not ordain any more homosexuals or gays for a while. Of course, the Episcopal church in the United States did not believe they should be limited by those Christians in Latin America, Africa and Asia. They went ahead.

Christians in Europe and the United States are no longer the head telling the rest of the body what to do and how to do it. There are no more followers behind us. The Christian witness will be guided and shaped by others. We will need to learn from them.

This is also a small example of what is happening in the larger political, economic and social realities in the world.