You've probably heard a lot about China in the news lately: How it's threatening peace in the Pacific by building military bases on artificial islands. You've heard presidential candidates warn that China may soon overtake the U. S. as the leading global economic power. But what you probably didn't realize is that China is ready to overtake the U. S. in another area: the size of its Christian population.
You see, despite years of often savage oppression, the church in China is growing by leaps and bounds.
Yu Jie, a writer and dissident from China, tells the story powerfully in the August issue of First Things magazine. Yu reports that since 1949, when the communists took over and Christian missionaries were expelled, the number of Christians in China has multiplied from half a million to more than 60 million today. If current growth rates continue, "by 2030, Christians in China will exceed 200 million ... making China the country with the largest Christian population in the world."
And Yu, who became disillusioned with communism after the Tiananmen Square massacre, might very well be a little bit cautious in his estimates. The respected Operation World prayer guide counts not 60 million but 105 million Christians of all kinds in the country, far outstripping the 70 million or so members of the Communist Party!
Either way, it's easy to see that the Chinese Church has been unbroken by decades of communist opposition. These days few Chinese outside the Party believe in communism, and the Church has begun to fill the resulting spiritual and worldview vacuums.
"Groups of young, well-educated, active professionals have gathered in urban churches," Yu says, "smashing the stereotype in many Chinese people's minds of Christians as elderly, infirm, sick, or disabled. These churches ... are a first step toward Christians assuming leadership in the development of a Chinese civil society independent of government control."
Perhaps that's why the regime has begun cracking down on Christians of late. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, "Over the past year, the Chinese government has stepped up its persecution of religious groups deemed a threat to the state's supremacy and maintenance of a socialist society. Christian communities have borne a significant brunt of the oppression, with numerous churches bulldozed and crosses torn down." Yet as Yu reports, "Chinese Christians have refused to give in." In fact, Yu says, "One of the phrases I have heard most often among them is: 'The greater the persecution, the greater the revival.'"
I am thrilled to tell you that many Christians in China are finding inspiration from one of my personal heroes - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who stood against and was executed by the Nazis. Yu says, "Chinese Christians also see in Bonhoeffer a man who dared wage war as an ant on an elephant. He found wisdom and courage in Jesus, knowing that Jesus exists for others, and those who follow him should do the same."
And that's what Chinese Christians, unbroken by this latest round of persecution, are doing - living for others, no matter what. The churches have a large and growing presence in serving their non-Christian neighbors in the name of Christ, Operation World reports. They're also active in evangelism, both at home and abroad.
And folks, they deserve our prayers.
© Eric Metals