China will be the “world’s most Christian nation” in fifteen years, according to a report from the London Sunday Telegraph. While some have speculated that this is already the case. Thus alerting us that although the trend appears obvious, the specifics are less certain.
“It is going to be less than a generation,” Fengaang Yang, a leading expert on religion in China and professor of sociology at Purdue University, confided to the newspaper. “Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.” Or its wide range of implications.
Officially, the People’s Republic of China is still an atheist country. Although official churches are allowed to meet, and there is a rapidly growing underground movement. “Mao thought he could eliminate religion,” Yang allows. “He thought he had accomplished this. It’s ironic—they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”
“This is what the eternal God does,” one respondent observed. “Britain and Europe are in the decline line. So the power of God is moving towards the seeking people. Praise the Lord!” While seemingly more resilient than Western Europe in particular, the United States also seems to be in general decline.
Allowing for the growth of Christianity in China, persecution continues. For instance, a large church building was recently demolished. Given the explanation that the structure was too obvious, and for that reason, offensive. Persons are also imprisoned, and pastors singled out for abuse.
This recalls a time when our adult Sunday School class was visited by a missionary. At the question and answer time, I inquired whether he had any suggestion for our church. While drawing upon his experience overseas. He paused for a moment, apparently having not been questioned in this regard. He then suggested that perhaps persecution would serve to disperse the Christians who are reluctant to take on the great commission—to disciple all nations.
I more recently came across certain Chinese Christians’ use of the traditional expression “Next year, Jerusalem!” While previously employed concerning aliyah, the Jewish return to the Holy Land, these Christians implied sharing the gospel with those they would meet along the way.
When a certain pastor was cautioned that they would be persecuted in doing so, he allowed that the persecution that had already been experienced would serve as a preparation. So while the cost might be great, he thought the results would be greater.
Several related thoughts come to mind. (1) While our country needs God, God does not need our country. We have been abundantly blessed over the years, but cannot afford to take this for granted. Even now, there is ample reason for concern.
(2) God does not show favoritism. Consequently, “But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, ‘Let God be exalted’” (Psa. 70:4). Regardless of ethnic background, or previous circumstances.
(3) As we were recently reminded by the World Day of Prayer, prayer plays a critical role in fostering Christian piety, and engaging in service. As expressed with the routine of life, in keeping with the mystery of the ordinary. While not to the exclusion of more remarkable results. For instance, I sometimes feel impressed for no obvious reason to pray for someone, and then to discover that they were encountering some difficulty at the time.
(4) Prayer, however, does not rule out otherwise appropriate activity. Such as is related to sharing the gospel with others, and as validated by a holistic ministry—that addresses the wide range of human needs. Thus giving witness by both word and deed.
(5) “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Setting aside the prior inclination to conform to cultural expectations, and charting a new course. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
(6) Thus are we reminded that the criteria for the most Christian nation pertains not simply to the numbers of professing Christians, but the quality they exhibit. Which recalls a time when my wife and I returned from a relatively short term overseas assignment. One of our church members inquired whether it seemed good to get back to a big church. When I allowed that the church we were attending was not small, he then asked: “But were they genuinely Christians?”
“That did not occur to me,” I admitted. “What did cross my mind was whether we qualify.” Since their zeal appeared much more manifest than ours.
(7) “Declare his glory among the nations,” the psalmist enjoins, “his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (96:3). Then to welcome its occasion, as with the prospect for China. Likewise, as a precedent for ourselves.
All things considered, I recall an occasion when a Chinese government official invited me to teach at one of their universities. I was taken back by this, given the atheistic orientation of their educational system, and reminded her that I taught theology. She allowed that this was acceptable, if designated as western philosophy. “Of course,” she added, “we would not allow you to teach our children.” Since they were perceived as being more impressionable.
So let us uphold the emerging Chinese church in prayer, along with those it may influence. While not complacent with our own situation, but setting the course for spiritual revival. Amen.
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