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10.05.05 02:09 Age: 7 yrs

New demographics compel mission rethink says world Christian leader

Athens (ENI). The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, on Tuesday urged churches to rethink their ideas about mission in the face of a global shift in Christianity from the northern to the southern hemisphere.

"Forms of expressing our faith that grew out of European culture are no longer normative," Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, told about 500 participants at a WCC-organized Conference on World Mission and Evangelism taking place on the outskirts of the Greek capital.

"We are being called to rethink our assumptions concerning the geography of mission," said Kobia, noting a shift to the south of Christianity's "demographic centre" - the point on the globe at which the numbers of Christians living to the north, south, east and west are equal.

"In the middle of the first century, this centre was in or near Jerusalem; in the following centuries it shifted to Europe, where it long remained," noted Kobia. "But statisticians now locate Christianity's centre of gravity near Timbuktu in the Sahara desert, and it continues to migrate southward."

Africa is one of Christianity's fastest growing regions and researchers have predicted that by 2100, the vast majority of Christians - almost 80 per cent - will live in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania.

Kobia noted the rapid growth throughout the world in Pentecostal and charismatic spirituality.

He asked, "Are we open to mission from directions we have not anticipated, borne by brothers and sisters who have received gifts of the Spirit that were never monopolized by European or American missionaries?"

The meeting in Athens is the latest in a line of world mission conferences that go back to 1910.

It is the first such conference in a country where most Christians belong to the Eastern Orthodox church, and Kobia urged "a new sense of unity" between Christians from Eastern and Western traditions.

The Geneva-based WCC has 347 member churches, mainly Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox. Representatives from Evangelical, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic traditions which do not belong to the WCC are also taking part in the Athens conference.