- Middle East
- Christianity originated in the Middle East and has been present there in varying levels of strength throughout the centuries. When Protestants began thinking globally in the early 19th century, the region was Muslim territory with pockets of Christians and Jews, and was ruled by the Muslim Ottoman Empire.The first Western Protestant presence in the Middle East came from England, thanks to the careers of three men, Henry Martyn (1781-1812), Joseph Wolff (c. 1795-1862), and Samuel Zwe-mer (1867-1952). Martyn surrendered his Anglican parish to go to India as a chaplain with the East India Company. A linguist, he eventually translated the Bible into Urdu, Arabic, and Persian, and also studied Islam. His brief life culminated in his tour of Iran, where he engaged in polemical exchanges with Muslim scholars. His Journals and Letters were published in 1837, and he emerged in the public consciousness as a missionary pioneer and hero.The son of a German rabbi, Joseph Wolff converted to Christianity, and with the support of the London Church's Ministry Among the Jews (CMJ), went to Jerusalem in 1821. As a result of his visit, the CMJ decided in 1823 to establish a permanent presence in Jerusalem, though it took a decade to accomplish that goal. Wolff spent the next 20 years traveling in the region, preaching and establishing small groups of converts. Building on Wolff's initial travels, a variety of churches arrived in the region, including the Church of Scotland (Jerusalem) and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (Lebanon). The Church Missionary Society (Anglican) had previously arrived in Egypt (1825), but it worked with the coptic orthodox church rather than establish its own centers. These pioneering missions made very little progress at converting Muslims, drawing almost all of their support from former Jews, catholics, and orthodox christians.The slow spread of Protestant christianity paved the way for Samuel Zwemer. A member of the Reformed Church in America, Zwemer was inspired by the work of ion Keith-Falconer, who had established a center in Aden (Yemen) only to die two years later. Zwemer and a few associates founded the independent American Arabian Mission. In 1890, he settled in Aden and took over the Keith-Falconer mission. From that initial base, he traveled throughout the Arabian Peninsula, anchoring his work in clinics and hospitals in Bahrain, Kuwait, Muscat in Oman, and Basrah in Iraq. Alongside the medical centers, he opened bookrooms that distributed Bibles and Christian literature, since direct proselytizing was largely forbidden. He returned to the United States in 1929. Through his many books and editorship of The Muslim World, he did more than anyone in his era to champion the Protestant cause in the Middle East.Protestant growth has been limited by the general hostility of local authorities to any evangelistic programs directed toward Muslims, and by the similar resistance of Orthodox and Catholic leaders to proselytization. However, a few Protestant groups have managed to emerge.The most successful Protestant effort began in 1854 with the arrival of three Presbyterian missionaries in Egypt. What is now known as the Synod of the Nile of the Evangelical Church drew the great majority of its early converts from the Coptic Church. In 1869, a group of its members left to found the Christian Brethren group in Egypt. Meanwhile, as Britain became more politically active in the region, an Anglican presence emerged, primarily to serve British expatriates.The initial American Board mission in Lebanon was supplemented by later missions sponsored by American Reformed Presbyterians and Danish Lutherans. These three missions merged in the 1940s to form the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. Outreach among the Armenian Orthodox led to the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches. Presbyterian work in Iran evolved into the Synod of the Evangelical Church of iran.In the 1840s, the Church of England placed an Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, choosing former rabbi Michael Solomon Alexander (1799-1845). His successor, Samuel Gobat (1799-1879), redirected attention from the Jewish to the Arab community, and was the first to ordain Arabs as Anglican priests. Responsibility for Anglican work in the Middle East shifted over the next century as political changes dictated, with a significant movement of Anglican expatriates from Palestine following the creation of the modern state of israel in 1948. in 1957, the diocese of Jerusalem was elevated in status to become an archdiocese. The work in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan became a separate diocese, as did the work in Egypt and the surrounding countries at a later date. in 1976, the Middle East became an autonomous province, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East.Today, Protestants constitute less than 1 percent of the population of the Middle East (from a Christian total of 7 percent). The largest percentage of Protestants may be found in israel, but even there it is less than 2 percent. The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Synod of the Evangelical Church of iran, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, and the Synod of the Nile of the Evangelical Church are all members of the World Council of Churches and cooperate with the Middle East Council of Churches (which is dominated by the much larger orthodox and Catholic participating bodies).In the 20th century, a variety of Evangelical groups from the United States have begun small works in the region. Several groups have targeted Israel, motivated in part by theologies that stress the role of Israel in God's end-time plans. Others have focused on Muslim lands. Among the more notable of the Evangelical groups now operating are the Christian and Missionary Alliance (that started in Syria in 1921), the Lebanese Baptist Convention (related to the Southern Baptist Convention), and the Assemblies of God.Mes-sianic Judaism is growing slowly in Israel.Beginning in the 1980s, the Middle East received renewed attention among Evangelical protestants following the identification of the "10/40 Window" by Luis Bish, international director of the AD2000 and Beyond movement. The movement aimed to reach all the world's peoples that had not yet been evangelized. Bish noted that thousands of such peoples, having unique languages and cultures, lived between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north latitude; quite a few were found in the Middle East. While the AD2000 movement has been superseded, the 10/40 Window remains an important concept in Evangelical missiology.See also Saudi Arabia.Further reading:■ Gerald H. Anderson, Robert T. Cotte, Norman A. Horner, and James M. Phillips, eds., Mission Legacies: Biographical Studies of Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1998)■ David Barrett, The Encyclopedia of World Christianity, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)■ Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World, 21st Century Edition (Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster, 2001)■ J. Herbert Kane, A Global View of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1971)■ J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann, eds., Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002)■ A. Scott Moreau, Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 2000).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.