All world religions face unprecedented times in the 21st century. The challenges are diverse and do not have easy solutions. The modern world has seen an amalgamation of global value systems and a similar confluence of socio-political ideologies and philosophies because of advances in information technology and the increased mobility made possible by modern day technology. It is feasible to find a representative of all the world major religions in each country.
This has meant that the observance of each religion is no longer a mystical matter left for the convents and monasteries, but has become one that can be easily and readily scrutinized and compared with alternatives – which by the way do not have to be religious. In considering these challenges, those that affect Christianity can represent to a fair degree the struggles the others are facing and can provide a platform for the discussion of these forces. Christianity is by design an expansionist religion. Jesus sent out his disciples with the express command to evangelize all the nations.
It is therefore the core duty of every Christian to spread the faith. Globalization is probably the most significant force affecting world religions, both serving and limiting the. Many technological changes took place in the closing half of the 20th century epitomized by the rise of the internet symbolizes the rise of the global village. Substantial changes include increasing ease of commercial travel by jets and high-speed trains, efficient telephone systems and powerful radio’s, the television set and a very efficient and diversified print and electronic media.
The world has enjoyed many benefits because of these and indeed, even Christianity has had powerful tools to take its message across the world. Many a televangelist and bible teachers go on air in daily or weekly broadcasts, some with a global audience. Taped messages are downloadable from the internet as podcasts. Even if it is not possible to get the message in real time, it remains available for anyone to get it and watch or listen to it at their convenience.
As commercial empires have grown into multinationals, so have efficient delivery networks, which now ensure the timely delivery of CD’s and DVD’s, magazines and newspapers to a global audience. However, these means for dissemination of information have not been available to just the Christian enterprise, they have also available to other establishments that have competing interests, usually commercial, and at times ideological that have employed them to good effect. A Christian watching television is not only watching popular televangelists preach the gospel, but at the comfortable press of a remote button, can watch virtually anything else.
These options do not always complement the message heard but at times even go against the Christian value system. A Christian therefore is under immense pressure to conform to the prevailing worldview, as he does not live in a shielded Christian community, but rather in an information razzmatazz for which he has to sift through consistently, if he is to retain and spread the Christian message. As Smart (2000) puts it, “Even if each tradition stays true to its own message, it will have to operate in a context of this federal world civilization. ” Secularization, which is a force to reckon with, has made it more difficult to proselytize.
Faith is regarded as a personal issue and hence attempts to discuss faith in non-Christian settings with the hope of making disciples have become an uncomfortable, if not offensive undertaking. Decisions about what faith to ascribe to are made personally and increasingly, privately. After all, isn’t Christianity just one of the options? As Smart (2000) explains, “Making religion a private matter can also lead to a religion’s becoming just a minor element in a total fabric of living”. Smart (2000) adds, “Just as a person belongs to the golf club, so that person may join a church.”
New age thinking has also made its blow on Christianity. Christianity claims exclusivity of access to salvation, and an exclusive personal God. One of the key new age values is tolerance to all religious beliefs and belief systems. Christianity therefore finds itself in a place where it must find a means of relating with the rest of the world religions, violating the fundamental belief in a single way to salvation. In addition, some of the practices of other religions meet the Christian threshold for classification as idolatry. This just serves to multiply the points of conflict.
Further on, the modern world, especially those parts where democracy is dominant, acceptance in matters such as homosexuality is encouraged. This becomes a difficult undertaking for a traditional Christian, as it is excruciating for them to reconcile the practice of the Christian faith with homosexuality and therefore will demand a renouncement of the practice of homosexuality before Christian fellowship can commence. Another area of difficulty for the Christian faith has been the place of women in leadership. Feministic influence has pervaded traditional Christian leadership set up where formal overall leadership was the preserve of men.
The Catholic Church still holds to this ideal, while the Anglican Communion has opened its priesthood in women. Protestant congregations and denominations seem to have much more flexibility in the matter, with a large number of women pastors and bishops, in some cases as the overall head of a denomination. Radicalization of faith has brought its share of problems to the world in general. Smart (2000) says, “Other sects are, in principle or in practice, at odds with society, and seek to change it radically, possibly by rebellion and upheaval. ” Many people view Christianity as a western religion.
Those who have any disagreements with the west therefore consider Christianity as a legitimate representative of the west. In countries where Christians are in the minority, militant religious fundamentalists have attacked them or their institutions as revenge against the west. State control has also had its punch at the Christian faith. Most of the socialist states such as the former USSR and China have had a very rigid stance against religion in general and Christianity has suffered as one of them. In others, proselytizing is illegal and attracts severe penalty. The spread of the Christian faith remains impeded thus.
The Christian message along with that of other world religions has become more difficult to sell in a materialistic society. People do not see why they should wait for a coming glory when they can have the good life now made possible by modernization, which has generally increased the living standards in the world, most pronounced in the western world. “Then again, the new forms of social and economic organization promised a richer life here and now” (Smart, 2000, p. 138) It will be interesting to see how Christianity evolves in the coming age when each of these forces will have had sufficient time to unleash their full impact.