Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lutheran membership climbs in world, Africa, but not South

Geneva (ENI). The number of Lutherans worldwide increased
by 5.4 per cent in 2004 to almost 70 million, much of this growth
in Africa, says the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation.
But while Lutheran churches throughout most of the African
continent registered an increase in membership, several churches in
South Africa experienced a decline, the Lutheran church grouping
has noted.

Good news.

But as I noted on a previous post, the LWF numbers are wildly inflated due to the baptismal records in the European state churches. European state churches are known to be in great decline as attendance figures hover around the 2-3 percent levels.

But why are the African churches growing. I'll bet the report also points to growth in South America and Asia.

I wonder if folks are most open to the gospel when they actually experience it as "good news." History has shown that Christianty flourishes in poorer countries, but has a fundamentalistic colour. Also, the Lutheranism (as well as the rest of Christianity) that is growing world-wide is a pentecostal style that emphasizes experience over knowledge.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Pentecostalism is a dynamic expression of Christianity that provides ecstatic experiences of God. I've called often pentecostal (or charismatics)"extraverted mystics" )a designation that has been met with derision among my more liberal friends)but they fail to deepen their understanding of the historic faith that has been passed down from generation to generation for 2000 years. At some point, experience needs knowledge to give it legs.

The pentecostal Lutheranism that is blossoming in developing countries will cause tremendous cultural division between north and south; especially around the issues of human sexuality. Maybe northern liberals will need to practice the inclusiveness they preach so fervantly by hearing the southern voices that so strongly disagree with them on some pretty controversial issues.

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