Various religious sects are in practice across the world today. People’s belief in the existence of a supernatural being who is the creator of all things has made most of the world population religious. Competition for membership, influence, control, domination, and power are at the heart of the future of world religions.
However, few religions have a huge following in the world, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. This paper focuses on the latter in an effort to answer the questions of its future, its compatibility with other religions, and/or whether it can remain stable if it incorporates other cultures and traditions into its discourse.
What is Christianity?
According to Chidester, Christianity is a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion that has its foundations in the teachings of Jesus Christ (5). The term Christianity denotes an anointed person. According to Placher, Christianity started as a Jewish sect that was practiced in the middle of the 1st century in the Middle East (8). The life of Jesus Christ as a man who was born and lived in Bethlehem in Israel and his verbal teachings are used as the anchors of Christianity as a religion.
Followers of the Christian religion are referred to as Christians, meaning followers of Christ. Christianity comprises the largest religion in the world. It has about 2.4 billion people who are spread across the world. Jesus of Nazareth is regarded as Immanuel who is deemed the redeemer of the world. According to Placher, Christians believe that Jesus Christ was a divine man who was born of a virgin through the influence of the Holy Spirit (12).
Jesus was therefore a human and God. He is equal to the other three Gods who are believed to constitute the holy trinity. Through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, Christians believe that all Jesus’ followers, both Jews and gentiles, have their sins cleansed. According to Chidester, Christians adhere to the teachings of a holy book called the Bible (7). The Bible is organized into New and Old testaments. As a religion, Christianity is based on the values of love for humankind and devotion to God as depicted in the Old and New Testaments.
Is there a Single Christianity or Christianities?
There is no single Christianity. Although Christianity is a monotheistic religion, it has experienced divisions over the years. These divisions have resulted in various wings of Christianity, ranging from the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants. As Chidester confirms, protestant churches are divided into a variety of denominations that fall under Christianity (11).
These ‘Christianities’ are practiced in different ways that include asceticism, mysticism, monasticism, work ethics, and faith. Within the last two millennia that Christianity has been around, divisions that are based on heresy, doctrines, and administration have changed its face. According to Placher, in the 15th century, reformation of Christianity divided the Western Christians into different denominations (16). Led by Martin Luther King in 1517, some Christians protested the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church.
Various scholars, for example, Knox, Zwingli, Calvin, and Simon criticized the doctrines of the Roman church. The result was the splitting of Christianity and the formation of protestant churches. These divisions have resulted in different Christianities, including the Jacobite Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Eastern Church, the Coptic Church, the Protestants, and the Nestorian Church.
Through colonization and civilization, Christianity has spread across the world. For example, despite the views that Christianity is declining in Europe and America, it still holds the largest followers in these continents. Christianity also dominates the Asian continent. It has a huge following in Armenia, Philippines, Georgia, and East Timor.
Brazil, Canada, South America, and Alberta have recorded an increase in the number of Christians. Although Christianity is declining in terms of adherence to the religion in countries such as Australia, France, New Zealand, Germany, and Quebec, a 2011 religion survey indicated that 76.2% of Europeans are Christians (Placher 19). In America, the survey reported that 86% were Christians. In Oceania, 73% of the people professed Christianity.
A huge percentage of Africans living in the south are also Christians. Christianity has been vibrant in recruiting members from other religions such as Islam and converting traditionalists through the inclusion of their traditional ways of worship. However, Placher reveals how Northern African Muslims have vehemently opposed Christianity over the years (19). Surveys show that Christianity converts 16000 Muslims in Africa daily, a situation that amounts to 6 million Muslims annually (Placher 19).
This conversion has been happening, especially in the northern African countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Nigeria. People of divergent backgrounds such as China, Vietnam, Nigeria, Korea, India, and Mongolia have embraced Christianity due to its close association with civilization. The values and teachings of Christianity seem to traverse cultural and ethnic boundaries across the world.
Is Christianity Compatible with other Religions?
Christianity is compatible with other religions. According to Placher, the fact that Christianity remains the most widespread religion in the world indicates that it is able to incorporate different religions and their values into its system (23). For example, although Africans, the Chinese people, and the Romans had their traditional religions, Christianity ventured in and became part of these nations. Compatibility of a religion is engraved on its values, doctrines, and beliefs.
For compatibility to be realized, the gap between the beliefs of the two religions must be closely related. One religion must also be tolerant to the ideals of the other. A good example of compatibility of Christianity and other religions is evident in terms of how it has incorporated traditional African religions into its system of worship. Africans in different countries believe in supreme beings whom they worship in sacred places.
When missionaries introduced Christianity, Africans had initially opposed it (Chidester 19). However, African ways of worship such as the use of drums were incorporated into the worship. Hence, Africans embraced Christianity. The values of African traditional religions such as love, unity, charity, and hope were similar to Christianity values.
Today, a big percentage of Africans are Christians who worship God in an African way. Christianity is also compatible with the Islamic religious traditions. One of the most treasured values in Christianity is love for man. Christians should care for their brothers as they do to themselves. This value makes Christianity a tolerant religion. In most countries in Asia, Africa, and America, Christians live together with Muslims.
In fact, religious leaders from the Muslim community have been incorporated in state councils and administrations of countries that are predominantly Christians in Africa such as South Africa and Kenya. For example, both Christians and Muslims believe in the books of the Old Testament.
Muslims and Christians also believe in an all-powerful supreme being. In addition, both Christians and Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet. However, Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was just another prophet while Christians believe that Jesus was the promised messiah and God the son who works hand in hand with God the father and God the Holy Spirit.
According to Placher, the values of charity include love for God and neighbor, tolerance, and humility (26). These values are taught in Islam and Christianity. The values have enabled the coexistence of Christians and Muslims in most of the countries. However, Christians abhor some teachings of the Islamic religion. For example, Muslims believe that if a faithful dies in the fight for the religion, he or she is accorded a permanent place in heaven.
Allah also rewards the killing of enemies in the Islamc religion. As a result, radicalization of Muslims under selective reading of the Quran has resulted in terror groups that wage a Jihad war against other religions. Christians have therefore associated Muslims with terror in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, and the United States. This observation is a threat to the relationship between Christians and Muslims.
Christianity is also compatible with the Jewish religion, namely Judaism. Christians have coexisted peacefully with religious Jews over the years in countries such as Israel, the US, and Canada. According to Chidester, the teachings of Christianity are closely related to those of Judaism, despite some eminent differences (22).
Since all Abrahamic religions such as Islam and Christianity have their foundation in Judaism, similarities of worship outweigh the differences. Religious Jews believe in values such as kindness, love, humility, and charity. Christians also observe these values. Religious Jews also believe in a supreme God just like Christians.
A holy book called the Bible forms the religious basis for Judaism. Teachings about Jesus form the only difference between Christians and religious Jews. According to Placher, religious Jews believe that the promised messiah will be born in King David’s lineage while Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the promised messiah (31). This difference reveals how religious Jews are still waiting for the messiah who will make the world a peaceful place for humanity.
In fact, Chidester points a conflict between Christians and religious Jews in countries such as Israel (26). Such a conflict has resulted in bloody violence. During the time of Jesus Christ, Judaists challenged him (Jesus) concerning his claim that he was the messiah. A belief in Jesus Christ as the messiah is imperative in Christianity.
Can Christianity incorporate into its discourse other cultures and traditions and remain Stable?
Christianity can incorporate into its discourse other cultures and traditions and remain stable. This claim gains support from the story of the spreading of Christianity across the world by missionaries. A good example is how the western culture was incorporated into Christianity to a point where Christianity became synonymous with western civilization.
In fact, the culture of Christianity in Europe was embraced in literature, music, philosophy, and even in education (Chidester 37). Christian churches were the basis of the first universities that trained medicine, law, and science. Christianity was at the heart of colonization and civilization. The African culture has also been incorporated in Christianity, although it (Christianity) continues to grow as the largest religion in the world. After colonization, most African countries resisted Christianity, terming it as a western ideology.
However, incorporation of African values and ways of worship has seen most of the African countries embrace Christianity. Christian work ethical aspects have been incorporated in many nations (Placher 31). The provision of important services such as education in Christian schools and health services in Christian hospitals and the embracing of family values have made other traditions accept Christianity.
Christianity has also embraced architecture from other cultures in building of churches and places of worship. Dressing, music, language, and presentations from other cultures have also been incorporated in Christianity. Today, some bishops wear completely shaved heads, dreadlocks, and modern hairstyles in churches. These cultures have not changed Christianity.
Incorporation of other traditions such as the western and African tradition in Christianity has not changed it. Christianity remains the same even after incorporating other traditions. For example, Christianity has incorporated western dressing styles, for example dressing in suits, miniskirts, and uncovered heads in women who visit places of worship.
However, it is still a stable denomination. In Africa, the use of traditional African instruments, polygamy in marriage, and use of African language in worship have all been incorporated in Christianity. The binding tenets of Christianity include Jesus Christ and the Ten Commandments (Chidester 42). Christianity will remain stable if the incorporated culture believes in Jesus Christ as the promised messiah.
The modern culture of music, for example the use of rap, jazz, hip-hop, and reggae have been incorporated in Christian worship. Christianity has also embraced the modern use of information communication technology such as the internet and computers in places of worship. Today, Christians can read the bible from iPods, mobile phones, and tablets. Besides, they attend to church services online or by watching the television.
Tithing is also done through electronic money transfers in some Christian churches. This move has not changed Christianity. However, incorporation of seemingly Bible contravening teachings such as homosexuality and gay marriages by the Anglican Church bishops in England and Africa is likely to shake the position of Christianity in terms of the culture of marriage. Incorporation of religious and traditional values from other cultures and religions has enabled Christianity to appeal to large numbers of people.
For example, by embracing western and African values, Christianity appealed and converted many non-Christians. However, there is a need for Christianity to learn and embrace the values of spiritual communalism as witnessed in Judaism and Islam. This step will reduce the tremendous subdivisions, especially in the protestant churches.
What is the Future of Christianity?
The future of Christianity is still bright across the world. Despite the fact that Christianity is declining in an alarming rate in Europe, it remains far ahead of other religions. According to Chidester, the witnessed decline in Christianity in the west can be attributed to the increase in the number of people who are turning to be atheists across the world (46).
The rate of conversion of Christians to other religions remains low. This observation implies that the decline in religiosity across the world will equally affect other religions such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and traditional worshipers. A decline in church attendance in Europe and America is more attributed to the declining importance of religion across the world. It does not imply a withdrawal from Christianity. Most of the Christians who decide not to attend church services remain Christians or atheists (Placher 32).
They rarely join other religions. Increased dominance of capitalism in the world, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Socialist Republic in 1991 has resulted in a decline in the importance of institutionalism across the world. People rarely value institutions such as churches. Rather, they focus on individuality.
However, Chidester affirms that Christianity remains the only state religion in various countries for example, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Argentina, England, Vatican City, Greece, Malta, Monaco, Finland, Georgia, and Liechtenstein, just to mention a few (51). It also estimated that 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity each day in Africa. This finding points to growth of Christianity in Africa as it declines in the Western countries.
A distinction between western and African Christianity reveals both growth and decline in terms of the number Christians. The result implies that the number of Christians remains constant. For example, Christianity is growing in France, Russia, India, Algeria, Iran, Turkey, and Morocco.
In fact, Chidester confirms that Christianity is far from extinction since it has the ability of synchronize other traditional religions and modern technology into its values and systems (57). The ability of Christianity to incorporate most facets of modern civilization is likely to keep it afloat over the years. Decline of Christianity in the west will therefore not imply its extinction.
Christianity is the largest religion in the world. Although it is declining in the west, its future remains bright, owing to its compatibility with other religions and traditions. Besides, Christianity has the ability to incorporate into its discourse other cultures and traditions as a way of embracing modernity. Christian values have been found tolerable by other religions. Hence, they have been instrumental in the modern civilization. Christianity with therefore remain a great religion in the world for many more centuries.
Chidester, David. Christianity A Global History. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000. Print.
Placher, William. A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction. Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1983. Print.