By Afe Adogame | October 31, 2017 — The Protestant world is currently preoccupied with commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, although with more celebrations in Germany, parts of Europe and the Global North, than in the Global South. This year, 2017, marks a significant watershed for world Christianity, symbolizing the historical trajectory from Martin Luther’s ecclesial revolution in 1517. Although what constitutes “the Reformations” transcends this experience, with hindsight of encounters within the Catholic tradition; this singular momentous event resulted in a huge coterie of church denominations and affiliations now existing within the fluid umbrella of Protestantism.
This historic moment affords an opportunity for reflexive nostalgia with regards to the impact of the Protestant Reformation in translating and transforming Christianity across the globe. It also allows us to cast a critical glance at the secularization process as a backlash, and most probably an unintended consequence of the Reformation. Attendant to this is perhaps another unintended impact, that is, the shift in the center of gravity of Christianity from the Global North to the Global South.
We continue to witness significant global changes in Protestant Christianity. There are now 560 million Protestants in nearly all the world’s 234 countries, with the two largest Protestant demographics in Africa (228,300,0000) and Asia (99,040,000) respectively (World Christian Database, 2017). The survey report also claims that “despite Europe being the birthplace of Protestantism, it is expected that by 2050, less than ten percent of Protestants will live in Europe. Today, Africa is home to forty-one percent of all Protestants. By 2050, it is expected that fifty-three percent of all Protestants will live in Africa.” But what does this mean for understanding the status, role, and impact of world Christianities, against the backdrop of the Reformations? There are perhaps many more questions to be raised and lessons to draw from these solemn ceremonies of commemoration.
Reformation within Christianity should be seen more as a continuous, dynamic process of renewal rather than as a one-off process.
First, how do Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans conceive of, understand, celebrate, and speak about the Protestant Reformation historically and in the contemporary era? To what extent did Global South Christians participate, receive, and critique the Reformation as a historical process and a discourse? How relevant is the Protestant Reformation in coping with their everyday lives and experiences? What lessons and promise does the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation have for Global South Christianities in their quest for social and political responsibility within the abstraction, one world? What lessons can be learnt from the former heartlands of Christianity that are now increasingly giving in to the impact of secularization and western modernity? In what ways, can Christians from the South partner and collaborate with Christians in the North in the quest for spiritual rejuvenation in a context that is in dire need of Christian mission and renewal?
These challenging questions are good to think about as Christians celebrate this landmark history of religious/spiritual revolution worldwide. Revisiting the Protestant Reformation as a boon or bane is expedient for grasping the past, present, and future transmission of Christianity as a cross-cultural and polycentric faith.
Reformation within Christianity should be seen more as a continuous, dynamic process of renewal rather than as a one-off process. Thus, revisiting the breadth dimension of reforming movements and post-Protestant Reformation, especially African and other Global South realities, offer new interpretive frames and pose new questions for the study of the Reformations within and beyond 500 years, but also for a better grasp of the dynamism, growth, and mobility of the Christian faith worldwide.