Christianity spreading south and east, to nations like China

The call to the church today and into the future is to get it right on the key doctrines of Christ, the Bible and salvation
The call to the church today and into the future is to get it right on the key doctrines of Christ, the Bible and salvation

With the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation behind us, we might speculate as far as we are able on the future of the church and society in the next half-millennium.

In looking ahead, some things are clear.

Very Rev Professor Stafford Carson is principal of the Presbyterian Church in Irelands Union Theological College in Belfast. 
He was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland 2009-2010

Very Rev Professor Stafford Carson is principal of the Presbyterian Church in Irelands Union Theological College in Belfast. He was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland 2009-2010

In the next 500 years, issues of faith and belief will still be prominent.

Atheism and humanism will not exclude and eliminate religious belief.

Many millions of people in the world will continue to organise their lives according to their faith commitment and religious values and will give evidence of the fact that they are creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

That will create tension and confrontation between people of faith and those who seek to suppress the expression of faith in public life.

In many parts of the world Christians are presently being persecuted and martyred for their commitment to Christ.

Christian faith is increasingly marginalised in the West and those who hold traditional Christian values can expect to experience pressure, exclusion, and even persecution.

In the future, theological issues will continue to be relevant.

Possibly the biggest theological issue will centre on what it means to be human. Developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, human enhancement drugs, and continuing issues of human rights, will make discussion of the doctrine of humanity unavoidable.

Christian leaders will need to present a clear understanding of human nature that provides a more comprehensive foundation than currently exists for addressing the major issues of sexuality, race, and threats to freedom of speech and religion.

What we can look forward to is the continuing growth and expansion of Christianity.

The centre of gravity of global Christianity has shifted from the North and West to the South and East.

With Africa and South America currently neck and neck in terms of the number of professing Christians, we have still to reckon on the emergence of China as a major centre for Christianity.

One reliable source reports that there are currently 10,000 Christian pastors in the Shanghai area alone who are seeking access to theological education.

The big question which one writer poses is this: Will the Christianity of the future be catholic or charismatic?

The reason why the Reformation succeeded was because it rightly diagnosed that the problem in the church was wrong theology, and they administered the necessary cure.

The call to the church today and into the future is to get it right on the key doctrines of Christ, the Bible and salvation, so that the church in the next 500 years will move in the right direction and fulfil its mission of bringing glory to its King and Head, Jesus Christ.

• Very Rev Professor Stafford Carson is principal of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Union Theological College in Belfast. He was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland 2009-2010