Documented healings, creative miracles and resurrections from the dead. Such is the description of what is happening in Christianity in the Southern hemisphere in a book published about fifteen years ago entitled Mega Shift by James Rutz. There has been a steady stream of reliable reports of such happenings in the years since, which makes this worth revisiting. I believe the book has important implications for both the Church and the Messianic Jewish movement. However, there is another book which gives a larger and more balanced context for the best information in the first named book. It is The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins. This last book hit the heights of scholarship and documentation and won a Gold Medallion Book award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.
Documenting a Growing Supernaturalist Faith
Mega Shift describes a growing supernaturalist Christianity in many parts of the world. The documented healings, resurrections, supernatural signs and more are astonishing, and yet according to Rutz, very common in some parts of the world. Rutz claims that the kind of happenings found in the pages of the New Covenant Scriptures are taking place through a new type of church that will soon become, in his view, majority Christianity. What are the characteristics of this new Christianity? It is rooted in house congregations led by passionate leaders with radically committed members. These leaders may have little formal training, but they believe the Bible as it is read in the translations of their native languages. Many are linked in five fold networks with apostolic leadership. The leaders often start such groups because they believe they are called by God to do so. This Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds and will supplant more traditional forms of Christianity and denominational life.
Weaknesses in Authority and Accountability
Despite Rutz’s assurance that he is not vilifying traditional churches, the overall thrust of the book tends to disparage traditional forms of Christianity. Indeed, traditional Christianity is the old wine skin, and Rutz’s house congregations are the new wine in new wineskins. He approves of untrained believers just going out and starting groups, and even encourages them to do so. This brings some successes, but can also lead to terrible abuse and error. It also tends to create an anti-authority viewpoint. Indeed, the bibliography includes some books that promote such an attitude, which is contrary to the pattern of the New Covenant Scriptures. We must not be arrogant toward the historic churches and need the wisdom gained from history. In addition to being called by God, it is important that leaders be proven by other leaders before being sent to start communities.
A Different World View
In The New Christendom Jenkins documents the same growth in supernaturalist Christianity. This includes the huge growth of the house congregations in Africa and China, but he does not see them supplanting the older churches and denominations. He describes the same supernatural quality in most denominations in Southern Hemisphere Christianity, even including Southern Anglicans and Charismatic Catholics. Jenkins is not an advocate, but a serious historian-sociologist. He notes that Southern Christianity, which would formerly be called third world Christianity, is much more in accord with the world view and orientation of the Messianic Jewish original and the early churches as documented in the pages of the New Covenant scriptures. In contrast, much of Northern Christianity is more formal, skeptical, and even liberal than Southern Christianity. Northern Christianity is in severe decline, especially in Europe. A miracle working Christianity is seen in the North as something that may have occurred in the New Testament period, but is not for today and not to be sought. Stories from the Southern hemisphere elicit skeptical questions. It is a different world view, at least in part. Southern Christian groups have now begun to send missionaries to the north to revitalize and evangelize.
The Last Great Revival?
Jenkins predicts that Southern Christianity will soon be the character of world Christianity, and this Christianity will be the most dominant force in the world by the mid 21st century if not earlier, hence the phrase the new Christendom. It is already the majority and will soon be by far the majority of Christian groups. Southern Christianity is sometimes messy; there are false and true prophets, and real and contrived miracles. There are serious problems, especially from the non-accountable groups led by self-appointed leaders. This is also well documented. However, the thrust of the whole is beyond anything the world has seen.
From my point of view it is a tremendously positive development. Could this be the beginning of the last great revival expected by the Puritans before the return of the Lord? Soon this variety of Christianity will be facing off with even more intensity against an ascendant Islam. The skirmishes are already upon us. Tens of thousands of Chinese now plan to take the Gospel through the Muslim world on the way to Israel. Martyrdom will be part of it. We can anticipate the clash of light and darkness as Biblical faith and false religions and philosophies intensify.
The Challenge to Messianic Jews
These books provide several challenges to Messianic Jewish communities. First, we have to deal with the fact that the Gentile disciples of Yeshua who are called to make Israel jealous will have the orientation of Southern Christianity and not Northern Christianity. As Messianic Jews, we are called to unity with the universal people of God from all nations and to connect them to their responsibility toward Israel and her salvation. Relating to majority Christianity will change us into a Messianic Judaism that is more compatible with the South and more in accord with the first century original. This leads to my next point.
If Rutz and Jenkins are correct, then Messianic Jews must recover the original, more empowered life reflected in the Bible. In doing so, our Jewish traditions rooted explicitly in the Bible and in the Spirit of the Bible will be revitalized and become more meaningful. This will also bring a new effectiveness to our witness, for as Shaul said, his ministry was not in human words of wisdom but with demonstrations of the power of God so that their faith would not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.
After more than 45 years of Jewish ministry it is clear to me that great success in our witness will require much greater power, including; words that carry conviction, healings, miracles, prophecy, and more. So many Jews have come to the Messiah in just this way.
I would greatly encourage all to read and be challenged by these books.