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A Little Glossary Of Global Christianity PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 12 January 2011 15:26

I know that the various movements that I mention in some of my posts are difficult to distinguish from one another.  That makes it difficult for us to understand the implications for the Catholic Church.  So I thought that a mini glossary would come in handy.

Christian Traditions vs. Renewal Movements

First of all, the foremost scholars of global Christianity speak of six major Christian traditions in the world today: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Independent, Anglicanism, Marginal Christianity.

Within those "major" tradition are many hundreds of minor traditions.  For instance the largest "minor" Christian tradition is Latin rite Christianity which makes up the lion's share of the Roman Catholic communion.  Today, Catholicism is by far the largest major tradition, at just over 50% of all Christians.

What is most confusing for Catholics is the relationship and differences between 1) historic Protestantism, 2) evangelicalism, 3) Independent Christians, 4) "renewalists" (Christians who are charismatic in spirituality) and 5) a final category: Great Commission Christians.  The Atlas of Global Christianity lists Independent Christians as a "major" Christian tradition.  But Evangelicalism, Renewalism, and Great Commission Christians are not considered to be a "traditions" but are trans-national, trans-cultural renewal movements.

A lot of American confusion is because the historically Protestant US was and is also simultaneously one of the major centers of evangelicalism, renewalism, and Great Commission Christianity.  It is easier to distinguish these groups by their historical and cultural origins and when looking at it from a global perspective.


Independent Christianity:   A new "major" Christian tradition that is quite distinct from the earlier categories of Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant and emerged in the early 20th century.

The majority, but not all Independents are charismatic/Pentecostal in their spirituality.

Most Independent groups originated outside the west: China, India, Africa, the Caribbean.  What is typical of Independent Christianity is that local appropriation and interpretation of the Christian faith dominates.   That's why some scholars call this movement “indigenous” rather than independent.

Many Independent groups arose out of renewal or schismatic movements in the Protestant world and usually seek to separate themselves from Protestant denominationalism.   Independents are not "protesting" against Catholicism which is separated from them by 5 centuries of diverging development and is hardly on their radar.  They often describe themselves as Post-Protestant. Most Independents measure themselves against and are distancing themselves from 20th century Protestant practice and ecclesiology, not Catholicism. They are present and future oriented rather than historically oriented and are almost entirely uninterested in the issues of "authority" that many evangelical converts to Catholicism consider to be one of their primary issues.

Independent Christians value experiential spirituality and practice and usually seek an intense encounter with God.  This form of Christianity has a a strong oral tradition, a theology of personal experience, and of renewal of society with a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit, charisms, miracles, and healing in the widest sense.   Visions, oral story-telling, testimonies, music and dance all play large roles.  Independent Christians are largely urban.  They are most likely to found, not in the old European centers, but in the world class cities of the Global south.

Global centers of Independent Christianity are China (85 million, 98% of China’s Christians are Independent), the US (72.7 million) Nigeria (26.5 million) Brazil (21.3 million), the Philippines (19.5 million) South Africa (19 million) India (18.2 million)  Nearly 10% of all Africans, 7% of Latin Americans, 3.4 % of Asians, and 21.2% of North Americans are Independent Christians.

There are about 370 million independent Christians in 2010.  They grew from 0.5% of the world population in 1910 to 5.3% in 2010 – their growth rate being nearly 3 times that of the world’s population.  They make up 15.8% of all Christians today and are expected to grow to 19.6% of all Christians by 2050.

The AGC describes three global ‘renewal” movements that transcend denomination and tradition:

1) Evangelicalism:  a largely Anglo renewal movement within historic Protestantism

Evangelicalism is rooted in 17th century Puritan and 18th century Wesleyan movements in English speaking world and in the 17th and 18th century Pietistic movement in continental Europe.  Until well into the 20th century, the vast majority of evangelicals were English speaking and they have spread primarily in areas that were once part of the British empire.  They emphasized the recovery of message of the Reformation: the authority of Scripture, and the justification of sinners by faith in the work of Christ alone. Personal conversion, disciplined piety, creativity in pastoral structures to meet new situations, evangelistic zeal accompanied by impatience or suspicion of formal ecclesiastical structures.  Originally, they did not start new denominations but stayed as sources of renewal within historic Protestant denominational bodies.

The true church is seen by evangelicals as made up of those with personal faith in Christ and Biblical doctrine rather than apostolic succession is the center of unity. They tend to work cross-denominationally and within communions with mixed theologies such as Anglicanism. (Sherry's note: global Anglicanism is now majority evangelical.)

Evangelicals are typically in the forefront of mission to unevangelized people groups and cultures.  One result is that 2/3 of all evangelicals live in the Global south in 2010.  They experience fellowship in a spiritual bond based upon personal faith in Jesus Christ, a desire to be shaped by the Scriptures, and a commitment to obedience to Christ’s missionary mandate.  Theirs is a self-consciously Protestant and a heavily literate and verbal spirituality, anchored in the authority of the written Word.  Until the 1980's, most evangelical churches and organizations were anti-charismatic.  Today most evangelical groups accept members that practice a charismatic spirituality.

Evangelicals have grown from 80 million in 1920 to 263.4 million as of 2010 but their percentage of the global population has actually dropped from 4.6% to 3.8%.

In 1910, 48% of evangelicals lived in north America (46% in the US) and 43% in northern Europe (25% in Britain). Today 75% of all evangelicals live in the Global south.

2) Renewalists: A global renewal movement that emerged in the early 20th century amid a world-wide flurry of "revivals"in the Protestant world and has spread across major traditions.

The first decade of the 20th century saw a number of "revivals" such the famous Azusa Street revival under a black American preacher in Los Angeles in 1906, another near Pune, India under a famous Brahmin woman Christian, Pandita Ramabai (1905- 1907) and the great Welsh revival (1904-1905) which swept and transformed that little country.  Welsh missionaries brought revival to the Khassi Hills in northeast India in 1905 and tales of the Welsh revival also influenced the Korean revivals of 1903 and 1907.  There was another outbreak of revival in Manchuria in 1910.

Renewalism includes the “first wave” classic Pentecostalism and Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God as well as the charismatic “second wave” that swept through traditional denominations, beginning in mainline Protestantism in 1960, and reaching the Catholic Church in 1967.  The third wave of renewalism is found within Independent churches which are majority renewalist. Renewalism has a deeply global orientation and is a multi-dimensional missionary movement.

The 614 million renewalist Christians make up 8.9% of the human race in 2010.  22.7% of North America's population are renewalists as are 26.3% of Latin Americans.  42.7% of the residents of southern Africa belong to this movement as do 31.6% of South Americans and 9.3% of the residents of northern Europe.

Renewalism has readily moved across the "major" Christian traditions.  51% of Independents, 22.7% of Catholics, and 22.4% of historic Protestants are also part of this movement.

The 133 million charismatic Latin rite Catholics make up the largest single renewalist tradition in the world.


3)  Great Commission Christians (GCC's):  believers in Jesus Christ who are aware of the implications of the Great Commission, have accepted its personal challenge in their lives and ministries and are seeking to influence the Body of Christ to implement it. (definition from the AGC)

This group is fast growing and spans the globe but hard to measure.  Independent Christians have the highest percentage (about half) while Orthodox have the lowest (20%) and Catholics the second lowest (25%).

Countries and regions with the fewest Christians often have the highest percentage of GCC's.  The countries with the lowest number are those where Christians make up over 80% of the population and where most Christians are Catholic or Orthodox.  In south central Asia, less than 5% are Christian but nearly 80% of the Christians are GCC’s.

The 706.8 million Great Commission Christians make up 10.2% of the human race in 2010, the largest portion of which lives in Asia.

This little illustration from the Atlas of Global Christianity show that the three renewal movements do overlap but also remain distinct.



Catholics can be and are, in huge numbers, renewalists and GCC's.  Although some Catholics do regard themselves as "evangelical Catholic" what they usually mean by the term is something different than an evangelical Protestant means by it, especially regarding how they understand Scripture.

A Protestant could be an evangelical and a GCC but not a renewalist, for instance.  Many in the US move readily between historic Protestant, evangelical, renewalist, and independent groups or participate in two or more at the same time.  As do Catholics: just under 6% of self-identified US Catholics are "practicing" other faiths in addition.   That is, they attend non-Catholic services at least once a month.

As we say in Making Disciples, when it comes to understanding where someone is in their faith, never accept a "label" in the place of a story.  Dictionary terms like "Protestant" and "Catholic" can mask a wide variety of real life beliefs and practices.




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