My mother was born in 1900. It seems a long time ago, even to me (born in 1936). She was born in Guthrie, Indian Territory (later Oklahoma), and she was destined to live for most of the final century of the second Christian Millennium. I sensed in her a continual "what will they think of next?" amazement. There is a certain wonderment in a phrase used by all who lived the length of the same century.
I once wrote that Christianity was born in a "what's next?" context. Imagine the early church meeting and reporting all the things that were happening in Acts 2-12 - cripples healed, the dead raised, and thousands converted at single rallies. They knew they were a column of people set on fire for an age that was dry as a tinderbox. The world was powder-dry and ready for a firestorm. God moved. The fire came. The faith grew. Empires toppled. Jesus marched! It was the beginning of the first Christian millennium.
Now the third begins. The world is again powder-dry and ready for the fire of another mighty move of God - a new "what's next?" context. Where were we in 1900? Where are we now? And most important, what's next?
Leith Anderson in his new book, Leadership That Works, gives us some amazing insights into all that has happened for the Kingdom of God since 1900. In 1900, Korea had no Protestant church and the country was seen as doom for the gospel and impossible to penetrate. Today Korea is 30 percent Christian and Seoul alone has 7,000 churches. More Muslims have come to Christ in Iran since 1980 than in the entire previous millennium. In 1950, when China closed to foreign missionaries, there were estimated to be 1 million believers. Now there are an estimated 60 million. Africa was 3 percent Christian in 1900, but 20,000 new believers come to Christ every day in Africa, which in the year 2000 means 40 percent will be Christian. Christians at the beginning of the new millennium may number as much as 25 percent of Indonesia. There are now estimated to be 100 million Christians in Russia (five times the membership of the Communist party at its peak). There are 102 million Americans in church every weekend. Three thousand people are being born again every hour of every day of every year. Nobel Prize winner Robert Fogel of the University of Chicago says we are in the Fourth Great Awakening!
So, what's next?
SO, Happy New Millennium!
We are about to enter into a new age of gospel advance.
Near the end of the last century an English jingler of no reputation wrote on a gravestone:
When pictures look alive with movement free,
When men like fishes swim beneath the sea,
When men outstripping birds scan the sky,
Then half the world sore drenched in blood shall lie.
By 1918 this poetic prophecy had been fulfilled.
In 1842 Tennyson wrote in Locksley Hall:
For I dipp'd into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the vision of the world and all the wonders that would be;
Saw the heavens filled with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens filled with shouting, and there rain'd a ghastly dew,
From the nations airy navies grappling in the central Blue.
By 1950 this poetic prophecy was fact.
So let me add my own poetic guess about the next hundred years:
And I saw metallic novae, cutting orbits starry proud,
Children of my children's children in a Magellanic cloud.
And in Saturn's gassy rings lived a church and seminary,
Planted there by an interplanetary missionary.
And Baptists by the millions in outer space dispersion,
Evangelizing galactic pilgrims with their orthodox immersion -
A glassy colony of souls, lit by light of Vega's grace -
Gazing back upon our planet, from their colony in space.
But should the second-coming bring the century's constriction,
Grant me please the privilege of withdrawing my predictions.
By 2099, I expect all my prophecies to be fulfilled. But my favorite interruption for the hundred years ahead would be for the trumpet to sound and the dead to be raised incorruptible. After all, Christians have waited so long for His coming. May this next hundred years be the honored season of the dreaming ages.
Let Christ come in the century ahead!
Otherwise, we may be sure that the church will be alive and well in 2099, and wherever our children's children live, we may be sure that the Christian faith will be alive and the waiting church triumphant.
Happy New Millennium!
Calvin Miller is professor of preaching and pastoral ministry at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.