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Christianity and it's role today

The Role of Christianity Today

Christianity in today's world.
As of 2004, Christianity is the world's most widely practiced religion, with 2 billion adherents (followed by Islam with 1.3 billion, Hinduism with 841 million, and the nonreligious with 774 million). Christianity has many branches, including 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, 367 million Protestants in a number of traditions, 216 million Orthodox, 84 million Anglicans, 414 million Independents (unaffiliated with the major streams of Christianity), and 31.7 million "marginals" (Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter Day Saints (Mormons), etc.), these last being denominations which describe themselves as Christian but are not standardly recognized as such by other denominations.

Although Christianity is the largest religion in the world and there are massive missionary efforts under way, as a whole it is declining in terms of the overall population. While the population of the world grows at roughly 1.25% per year, Christianity is growing at about 1.12% per year. By contrast, Islam is growing at 1.76% per year. The slow growth can be attributed to most of the Christian population residing in affluent nations where the birth rate is quite low. By contrast, Islamic nations have a higher birth rate and by effect have a larger growth percentage.

Not all people identified as Christians accept all, or even most, of the theological positions held by their particular churches. Like the Jews, Christians in the West were greatly affected by The Age of Enlightenment in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Perhaps the most significant change for them was total or effective separation of church and state, thus ending the state-sponsored Christianity that existed in so many European countries. Now one could be a free member of society and disagree with one's church on various issues, and one could even be free to leave the church altogether. Many did leave, developing belief systems such as Deism, Unitarianism, and Universalism, or becoming atheists, agnostics, or humanists.

Protestant Christians
Others created liberal wings of Protestant Christian theology. Modernism in the late 19th century encouraged new forms of thought and expression that did not follow traditional lines.

Reaction to the Enlightenment and Modernism triggered the development of literally thousands of Christian Protestant denominations, traditionalist splinter groups of the Catholic Church that do not recognize the legitimacy of many reforms the Catholic Church has undertaken, and the growth of hundreds of fundamentalist groups that interpret the entire Bible in a characteristically literal fashion.

In the United States and Europe, liberalism also led to secularism. Some Christians have long since stopped participating in traditional religious duties, attending churches only on a few particular holy days per year or not at all. Many of them recall having highly religious grandparents, but grew up in homes where Christian theology was no longer a priority. They have developed ambivalent feelings towards their religious duties. On the one hand they cling to their traditions for identity reasons; on the other hand, the influence of the secular Western mentality, the demands of daily life, and peer pressure tear them away from traditional Christianity. Marriage between Christians of different denominations, or between a Christian and a non-Christian, was once taboo, but has become commonplace. Traditionally Catholic countries such as France have largely become agnostic, also with a large number of followers of Islam, which is growing rapidly, and similar trends are reflected in various degrees in Western Europe.

Liberal Christianity
Liberal Christianity grew rapidly during the early 20th century in Europe and North America, by the 1960s gaining the leadership of many of the larger US and Canadian denominations. However, this trend has reversed. At the turn of the 21st century, though secular society tends to consider the more accommodating liberals as the representatives and spokesmen of Christianity, the "mainline" liberal churches are shrinking. This is partly due to a loss of evangelistic zeal, partly due to drift of their membership to conservative denominations, and partly due to the failure of one generation to pass on Christianity to the next. Among the larger Protestant denominations in the USA, only the conservative Southern Baptist is growing. Evangelical para-church organizations have grown rapidly in the last half of the 20th century. The liberal Christian Century magazine has shrunk, while being replaced by its challenger, the rapidly growing evangelical Christianity Today.

The Enlightenment had much less impact on the Eastern Churches of Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy. Having to face a much more hostile secular society, especially during the rise of Communism, the church clung to ancient beliefs, even as its membership eroded.

Today in Eastern Europe and Russia, a renewing trend is taking place. After decades of Communism and atheism, there is widespread interest in Christianity, as well as religion in general. Many Orthodox churches and monasteries are being rebuilt and restored, filled beyond capacity; Protestants of many denominations are pouring in to evangelize and plant churches; and the Catholic church is revealing once secret dioceses and undertaking other steps to support Catholic churches more openly.

In South America and Africa, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity form rapidly growing movements that are increasingly sending missionaries to Europe and North America. This is also true of Asia where many of the underground house churches intend to send hundreds of thousands of missionaries out over the next decade.

As Modernism developed into Consumerism during the second half of the 20th century the Megachurch phenomenon developed catering for skeptical non-Christians by providing "seeker sensitive" presentations of Christian belief. The Alpha Course can be viewed as an example one such presentation of Christianity.

Christian Postmodernism
Since the development of Postmodernism with its rejection of universally accepted belief structures in favour of more personalized and experiential truth, organized Christianity has increasingly found itself at odds with the desire many people have to express faith and spirituality in a way that is authentic to them. What has thus far been known as the Emerging Church is a by-product of this trend, as many people who broadly accept Christianity seek to practice that faith while avoiding established Church institutions.

Another reaction of some Christians to Postmodernism is the advent of what might be called Postmodern Christianity.

A large and growing movement within the Christian church, especially in the West and most visible in the United States, is the evangelical movement. Most mainstream protestant denominations have a significantly active evangelical minority, and, in some cases, a dominant majority (see Confessing Movement). Evangelicals are "trans-denominational" and are more willing to have formal and informal relationships with evangelicals from outside their denomination than to have the same sort of relationship with non-evangelicals within their denomination.

Christian Evangelicals
Some evangelicals have been schismatic within various church organisations, leaving to form their own denominations. More often they are forced out. It was only by dint of sheer determination that John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was able to remain an Anglican priest against intense opposition. His followers separated in America, and in England after his death. Some Evangelicals claim that their beliefs are no less than true Christianity itself and that those within the church who differ from them may not be true believers. This attitude has led to much disunity amongst churches, especially those with a large modernist influence. Evangelicals cannot be easily categorised, but almost all will believe in the necessity of a personal conversion and acceptance of Jesus as saviour and Lord, the eventual literal return of Christ, a more conservative understanding of the Bible and a belief in the miraculous. There are many different types of Evangelicals including Dispensationists, Reformed Christians, Pentecostals, Charismatics and Fundamentalists.

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