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The History of Christianity: Brief Survey 5. The Rise of Christianity in the Developing World

Last update Jan 21, 2002

PDF (Adobe Portable Document Format) of the overhead transparencies used in this presentation are available on the download page



The topics and material in this session were taken from Chapter 14 in An Introduction to Christianity. Alister E. McGrath. Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge. 1997)


1. Introduction

2. Latin America

2.1. Summary of Christianity's Spread 

2.2. Latin America and Liberation Theology 

2.3. Rise of the Evangelical and Charismatic Movements

3. South-East Asia

3.1. The Philippines 

3.2. Japan 

3.3. China 

3.4. Korea

4. Africa

4.1. First Century 

4.2. Seventh Century 

4.3. Sixteenth Century 

4.4. Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries 

4.5. Christian Church in Africa Today

5. India

5.1. Summary of Christianity's Spread Through the 19th Century 

5.2. The Problem of Caste 

5.3. Christianity and Hinduism 

5.4. Independence and the Church of South India

6. The South Pacific

6.1. Oceania 

6.2. Australia 

6.3. New Zealand 

6.4. Relationship of Christianity with Native People



1. Introduction

  • 16th century: Christianity largely a European religion

  • Second half of 16th century: Catholic church established Commission for the Spreading of the Faith

  • Next 2 centuries: 

    • the Catholic church dominated missionary work outside Europe, led by the Jesuits

    • An evangelical revival in England led to evangelical missionaries in territories of the British empire

  • Early 1800's: most Christians lived in Northern Hemisphere, predominately Europe

  • Today:

    • most Christians live in the Southern Hemisphere

    • the numerical center has shifted to South America, southern Africa, parts of Asia



2. Latin America

2.1. Summary of Christianity's Spread

  • The colonial powers in South America were Spain and Portugal

  • They developed missions. The Jesuits were particularly active.

  • By 1800, South America was extensively Christianized

  • In 1970's 92% of the people nominally Catholic



2.2. Latin America and Liberation Theology

2.2.1. CELAM II

1968: Catholic bishops of Latin America gathered at Medellin, Columbia. CELAM II

  • Bishops acknowledged that church had often sided with oppressive governments in the region; in the future it would be on the side of the poor



2.2.2. Basic themes of Liberation Theology 

  • 1. emphasis on the poor and oppressed

    • Christian theology must begin with the “view from below”

    • “the poor are the authentic theological source for understanding Christian truth and practice” (Juan Luis Segundo)

    • “God is clearly and unequivocally on the side of the poor” (Jose Miguel Bonion)

  • 2. theology cannot be detached from social involvement or political action

    • “Theology has to stop explaining the world, and start transforming it” (Bonion)

    • true knowledge of God comes in and through commitment to the poor



2.2.3. Criticism of Liberation Theology

Criticism of Liberation Theology has included:

  • Marxism used as tool of social analysis

  • Scripture read as a narrative of liberation

  • Often equates salvation with liberation

    • emphasis is on “structural sin” of society rather than individual redemption



2.3. Rise of the Evangelical and Charismatic Movements

There has been a recent explosion of evangelical and pentecostal groups in Latin America. Reasons:

  • Salvation in these groups does not require membership in a specific church

  • Involves a “free enterprise, leveling form of ministry:” -- evangelicals fed up with their pastors simply go out and establish their own church

  • Pentecostalism often in tune with elements of popular culture: belief in spirits, exorcism of demons, conversion experience



3. South-East Asia

Except for the Philippines, Christianity in South-East Asia is best described as a growing minority presence.


3.1. The Philippines

  • 1521: group of 3,141 islands “discovered” by Ferdinand Magellan

  • Under Spanish rule, missionary work undertaken by the Franciscans and Dominicans

  • 1898: came under American rule

    • Today, the Philippines is the only predominately Christian country in south-east Asia

    • Catholicism is the dominant form for Christianity; Protestant missionary societies were established after end of Spanish rule in 1898



3.2. Japan

3.2.1. Summary of Christian Evangelization Through 19th Century

  • 1549: Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier landed at Kagoshima, Japan, began Christian evangelization

  • A long period of isolation began under the Tokugawa shotgunate

  • 1865: Japan again opened its doors to the west. 60,000 believers were still present

    • the greatest pocket of believers (20,000) was found in Nagasaki. They had survived despite intermittent persecution

    • Roman Catholic missionaries initially focused on bringing them back to orthodoxy

  • During the Meiji period 1868-1912 Christianity had a growing following



3.2.2. The Non-Church Movement

Uchimura Kanzo: founded the Non-Church Movement

  • He felt the traditional church structure was a Western accretion

  • The Non-church movement favored loosely organized Bible-study groups based on Asian teacher-pupil relationship



3.2.3. Growing Militarism of the 1930's

The 1930’s saw an increasing militarism

  • Shintoism and its rites declared patriotic rather than religious



3.2.4. Religious Bodies Law of 1939

  • 1939: Religious Bodies Law

    • required formal government recognition of churches; all foreign ties had to be cut

      • Protestants joined forces, formed Nihon Kirisuto Kyodan (Today it is still the largest Protestant body in Japan)

      • Roman Catholic Church also recognized


3.2.5. Atomic Bomb on Nagasaki Destroys the Oldest Center of Christianity

  • 1945: atomic bomb on Nagasaki destroyed the oldest center of Christianity in Japan



3.2.6. Christianity Today

  • Presently, about 1.5 to 4% population Christian. 

  • Christianity like "butter:" a western import. 

    • The colloquial Japanese term for Christianity: “it tastes of butter”



3.3. China

3.3.1. Summary of Evangelism Through the Early 20th Century:

  • 635: Nestorian missionary from the Eastern church may have arrived. They never achieved any success in conversions

  • 1294: Franciscan missionaries first reached China

  • Opium wars of 1840's: opened up the Middle Kingdom to some western attitudes

  • Western attempts to evangelize of limited success.

    • Christianity was western, un-Chinese

    • foreigners blamed for defeat of China by Japan in war of 1894-95

    • I Ho Ch'uan crusade of 1899-1900: fanatical opposition to foreign investment and religious activity

  • 1911: republic of China. Christianity officially tolerated



3.3.2. People's Republic of China

  • 1949: People's Republic of China

    • all western missionaries ejected

    • "cultural revolution" 1960's: Christianity suppressed by force

  • 1979: cultural revolution ended; some Christians had survived



3.3.3. Three Strands in Modern Chinese Christianity

There are three strands in modern Chinese Christianity:

  • 1. The Self Patriotic Movement (Protestant)

    • founded 1951

    • is the “official” church; state has considerable control

      • self-supporting, self-administrating, self-propagating

  • 2. Catholic Church. There are two "Catholic Churches" in China:

    • the government sanctioned Catholic Church which is independent of the pope (“Catholic Patriotic Association”)

    • a Catholic Church that remains loyal to pope (a problem; government requires churches be independent of foreign agencies)

  • 3. House Church Movement

    • strongly charismatic



3.4. Korea

  • 1883: ended a long period of international isolation with Korean-American treaty

  • 1884: American Presbyterian missions established

  • 1910: Japan annexed Korea as colony, imposed Shintoism

  • After WWII: massive growth Christianity

  • 30-40% Koreans now Christians, predominately Presbyterians

  • Western culture is seen as liberating, not oppressive



4. Africa

4.1. First Century

  • 1st century: North Africa (now Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) was part of Roman Empire

    • The city of Alexandria (Egypt) was a major centers of Christian thought


4.2. Seventh Century

7th century: Islamic invasions

  • Coptic church survived in Egypt as minority religion

  • Small nation of Ethiopia remained Christian



4.3. Sixteenth Century

In the 16th century

  • Islam dominant religion in North. 

  • In the South, native religions dominated

  • Portugal began occupying uninhabited island off west coast



4.4. Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

4.4.1 Missionary Societies and Groups Begin Evangelization

  • Late 18th century / Early 19th century: British missionary societies actively evangelized Africa

    • Baptist Missionary Society (BMS): Congo basin

    • London Missionary Society (LMS): southern Africa including Madagascar

    • Church Missionary Society (CMS): west and east Africa

  • In the middle 19th century: Catholic missionary groups arrived



4.4.2. Colonialism

The dominant feature of missionary work in the late 19th century was colonialism

  • Belgium

  • Britain

  • France

  • Germany


Several forms of Christianity therefore were established:

  • Anglicanism

  • Catholicism

  • Lutheranism



4.4.3. Two Type of Christians

Two Types of African Christians in the late 19th century:

  • Expatriate Europeans. They maintained Christian life of homeland

  • Indigenous Africans. They tended to be those on the margins of traditional African society: slaves, women, the poor



4.4.4. Problems

Problems faced by Christianity in the 19th Century:

  • It was difficult to communicate the distinctive ideas of Christianity 

  • Christianity created tensions with traditional African society

    • for example, the issue of monogamy vs. polygamy. Lead to the establishment of the United African Methodist Church, which allowed polygamy

  • was a threat to the traditional tribal power structures and loyalties

    • 1886 massacre of Christians by Baganda king Mwanga (region of modern Uganda)



4.5. Christian Church in Africa Today

4.5.1. Christian Population

Overall, about 48% of Africans are Christian

Countries in which the population is more than 70% Christian:

  • Central African Republic

  • Kenya

  • Congo

  • Lesotho


4.5.2. Christians and Muslims

Christian-Muslim “interface” 48% nominally Christian; 42.5% nominally Muslim



4.5.3. End of Colonialism

20th Century brought an end to colonialism and independence for many African states.



4.5.4. African Independent Churches

Rise of “African Independent Churches”

  • emphasis on retaining traditional African heritage within context of Christian faith

  • reaction against racism of some white European churches

  • often charismatic (healing, exorcisms, interpretation dreams)

  • emphasis on experience, symbolism rather than word

  • strict discipline over members

  • delight in hierarchical titles

  • conservative in bible interpretation

  • most are small and local; the largest churches however have branches in Western capitals:

    • The Church of The Lord (Aladura)

    • Kimbanguists. Founded by Simon Kimbangu, a young Baptist



5. India

5.1. Summary of Christianity's Spread Through the 19th Century

  • Tradition: apostle Thomas founded Indian Mar Thoma church in 1st century

  • There is good evidence Christianity was present by the 4th century, spread via overland trading routes

  • 1481: papal bull gave Portuguese king spiritual authority of Indies. Bishopric of Goa established

  • May 6, 1542: Francis Xavier arrives, starting Jesuit missionary work, translations of Christian works

  • Early 18th century: Protestant missions established

  • Late 18th century: growing political British power and Pope Clement XIV’s suppression of Jesuits favored British missionaries

  • The East India Company opposed missionary work (it might create ill will; threatening trade)

  • Charter Act 1813: gave British missionaries protected status, established Anglican bishopric at Calcutta

    • as a result, missionary worked expanded markedly (but was restricted to Anglicans)

  • The Uprising of 1857 (called the “Indian Mutiny” by contemporary English writers): engendered a growing resentment of westernization



5.2. The Problem of Caste

How to deal with Caste was an enduring problem for both Catholic and Protestant.

  • 1830’s: Anglican bishop Wilson opposed its persistence by converts; policy followed by other Protestants (except Lutherans)

  • Roman Catholics missionaries were divided: Irish opposed caste; French respected caste; Italians mixed

    • 1744: Pope Benedict XIV ruled Catholics of high and low birth should go to Mass at same church

      • Jesuits made 2 entrances and erected little walls in their churches



5.3. Christianity and Hinduism

5.3.1 Ram Mohun Roy 1772-1833

  • Concluded orthodox Hinduism corrupted

  • 1815: founded Atmiya Sabha

  • Advocated abolition of sati (often misspelled as suttee)

  • 1820: wrote Precepts of Jesus: Christianity embodies a moral code acceptable to Hindus

  • His was a Non-orthodox Christianity:

    • Trinitarian concept impossible for Hindus to accept; unitarian concept okay

    • Sins can be forgiven without the atonement of Christ (Brahmo theism rejects ideas of revelation and atonement)



5.3.2 Keshub Chunder Sen (1838-84)

  • Christ brought to fulfillment all that was best in Indian religion (cf Thomas Aquinas & John Calvin: Christianity brings to fulfillment the aspirations of classic Greece and Rome)

  • embraced doctrine of Trinity: Brahman indivisible and indescribable. Inner relationships trinitarian:

    • Sat (being) -- God the Father as “Being”

    • Cit (reason) -- God the Son as “Word”

    • Amanda (bliss) -- God the Spirit as “comforter”, "bringer of joy and love"



5.3.3. Raimundo Panikkar

  • A Roman Catholic

  • He wrote Unknown Christ of Hinduism

  • Argued for a hidden presence of Christ in Hindu practice, esp. justice and compassion

  • Believed many aspects of Hindu thought compatible with Christian understanding of Christ

  • Christian theologians should draw from Hindu thought rather than attacking it



5.3.4 Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya (1861-1907)

Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya was a Roman Catholic; wore robes of a Hindu holy man; thought it possible to be both a Hindu and a Christian. He argued 

  • Christianity in the past has used non-Christian philosophical systems to explain itself:

    • Thomas Aquinas used the philosophy of Aristotle

  • In the same way, Indian Christian theologians should draw upon Indian philosophical systems:

    • Vedanta was an expression of Christian theology

    • The Vedas was the Indian "Old Testament"


The Roman Catholic Apostolic Delegate forbade Catholics to read his work



5.4. Independence and the Church of South India

  • Sep. 27, 1947: India granted independence

  • Anglicans, Methodists, and several smaller Christian denominations then joined to form the "Church of South India"

  • Today, about 5% of the population is Christian



6. The South Pacific

6.1. Oceania

Oceania: the approximately 1500 islands of the Pacific ocean. Includes:

  • Polynesia (Hawaii to New Zealand, including Tahiti)

  • Micronesia (Hawaii to Philippines, including Marshall Islands)

  • Melanesia (south of Micronesia, north of Australia, including Fiji, and Solomon Islands)


 The voyages of Captain Cook first awakened interest

  • 1795: London Missionary Society founded; its primary mission: “the islands of the South Sea”

  • The establishment of mission stations impractical; instead they used missionary ships



6.2. Australia

  • 1788: a fleet from New South Wales arrived with convicts. Before the ship had sailed William Wilberforce (MP from Yorkshire; known for his campaign against British slave trade) had convinced British Navy at the last minute to allow a chaplain

  • 19th century: large numbers immigrants from Britain

  • 1897: “Bush Brotherhood" founded for the evangelization of the interior of the continent



6.3. New Zealand

1814: first missionaries arrived

1841: Bishop George Selwyn (1809-78) missionary bishop of New Zealand



6.4. Relationship of Christianity with Native People

The relationship of Christianity with native peoples has been an issue in both Australia and New Zealand:

  • Australia: Kuri (“Aborigines”)

  • New Zealand: Maori




Brief Survey of the History of Christianity


1. The Early Church to c. 700

2. The Middle Ages, c. 700 to c. 1500

3. The Reformation of the Church

4. Christianity in the West, 1750 to the Present

5. The Rise of Christianity in the Developing World