Reports from around the world are coming in at a rapid rate detailing the amazing growth of believers and church congregations in the Global South. After living overseas in a third-world country for two decades and witnessing first-hand this incredible growth, I can confirm it’s true! These churches in developing and persecution-filled parts of the world are embracing Christ in radical new ways. What are the ideals to which these new church bodies are holding that may be causing this explosive growth? While there certainly is no magic formula to a God-driven movement, in this-two part article we’d like to suggest the Top 10 ways in which Global South churches are excelling and inspiring the Church of the Western World to greater depth and passion for God’s Kingdom on earth today.
Please note! We wholeheartedly acknowledge that the Western Church also embraces many of the following ideals. However, we would like to suggest that the Global South stakes its very existence in these principles and, despite its relative youth, has many valuable things to teach the Western Church, which is in the midst of its own challenges and trials in the 21st century.
1) Commitment to Church Traditions
The Global South values culture, tradition and longevity. They want something that’s going to last. Therefore, many church movements in the developing world are placing a carefully chosen and intentional emphasis on modeling their congregations after the historical Church. They educate themselves in church traditions for the sole purpose of spiritual depth. This often points to a New Testament-like sense of community among believers. It also results in a more liturgical, tradition-based approach to worship and discipleship. The longevity and association with Christians throughout history produces the connection to the historical Church these Global South believers desire.
2) Commitment to Structure
Many cultures in the developing world are hierarchically-based cultures in which people belong to certain classes and live their lives within a clearly defined construct. Therefore, they resonate deeply with the concept of God being a God of order. God has created the world in such a way that humankind has specific roles to play in His kingdom. These roles are based on their position in life and the gifts and abilities God has given them. Within the church, similarly, they follow the same belief of God’s divinely-appointed order and want to be crystal clear regarding their accountability and position in life and in church. Therefore, as they structure their churches, their systems of church governance, and the leadership within their church bodies, they tend to embrace a church hierarchy that reflects this cultural ideal. They know their place, they follow their leaders, and they give God the ultimate authority.
3) Commitment to Absolute Truth
We must tread lightly and carefully when making this point. However, it seems that cultures in the Global South tend to hold firmly to the idea of absolute truth. For these developing nations, Christians (and those of other faiths as well), have standards that remain consistent throughout time. They believe in God-ordained institutions that cannot be destroyed. They hold firmly to biblical truth and do not allow relativism to invade. Yes, there is sin and corruption even in the Church in these nation. But it is seen as exactly that: sin.
The rationalization, blurred lines of absolute truth, and “shades of gray” are lacking in the developing world. In these nations, believers cling to the fact that God has created us all male and female, marriage between a man and a woman is sacred, and we all have individual roles to play in the growth of the church today. Is there a commitment to absolute truth in the West? Certainly. However, the hope derived from this commitment seems so much greater in cultures around the world where, in places of severe persecution for the Christian faith, the stakes of believing Jesus is the only way are so much higher. We can certainly find inspiration in this commitment to standing for the things in which we believe.
4) Desire to Interpret Scripture in their Context
For centuries, the Bible has been interpreted and applied to the lives of believers by the Western World in their context and culture. This makes perfect sense since nations of the West have traditionally been the first to embrace Christ. However, the Global South is maturing in their own faith. As they do, they want to take their Scripture knowledge to a deeper, culturally-relevant level. Even while maintaining the absolute truth of the Scripture, we are seeing theologians from the Global South bringing fresh, new insights to the study of the Scriptures, seeing the Bible and its truths from their perspective. This is causing growth in the Global South Church, and perhaps the Western Church can also learn from these new understandings emerging from a diverse set of cultures from all around the world.
5) Desire to Cover Shame and Embrace Love in the Midst of Sin
Perhaps one of the most culturally-based and yet inspiring ways the Western World can learn from the Global South Church is in the way they deal with sin. In the Western World, we are extremely proficient in confronting those caught in sin. The West is good at both confronting in love, and, sadly, condemning them to a life outside the Church. Love comes in the form of counseling or recovery care and is often very genuine but perhaps comes at the end of the cycle of sin and repentance.
The Global South Church deals with sin in an entirely different way. Since most of these national churches exist within a “shame and honor” culture, their first response to sin and reconciliation is covering the shame of the person in sin, overwhelming them with love and care despite agreeing with them that their actions were wrong. There are real consequences of sinful actions. However, those consequences are meted out in an atmosphere of love and restoration to community. It is this love in challenging personal times that is drawing more and more people to the God who created love and also created a way to be reconciled to Himself.