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Looking to the Chinese Church for Encouragement

In the United States, many Christians have realized they’re no longer batting for the home team. America isn’t the “Judeo-Christian country” many thought it was. Some of these realizations are lamentable. But if we take a global view, Christianity remains both alive and flourishing, even in the face of exceptional adversity. This gospel growth should give us hope.

After all, does Christianity need a sympathetic government for its gospel to spread, for the kingdom of God to expand? Surely not, as the exponential expansion of Christianity in China suggests. We should be encouraged because the work of God is truly invincible, even in seemingly impossible circumstances.

More Christians than CCP Members

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Estimates vary on the number of practicing Christians in China today from a low, government-approved number of 23 million to a high of 100 million, reported by mainstream media outlets such as The Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph, and the BBC. Most of these Christians are evangelical Protestants. It is possible that there are already more practicing Christians in China than there are members of the Chinese Communist Party.

All this despite years of persecution by authorities determined to keep the Party’s monopoly on power. Up close, though, the situation is a bit perplexing. On the one hand, Chinese authorities have allowed a Chinese translation of the Bible’s English Standard Version. In fact, many Christian resources are legally available in China. On the other hand the recent cross-demolition campaign in Zhejiang Province demonstrates that the decades-old hostility to God’s people has not gone away. 

And Yet . . .

It’s estimated that in 1949 there were around 700,000 Protestants in China. But by 1952, most Western missionaries had been expelled. While we rightly remember the deaths of 1.5 million people during the decade of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), it’s now believed that at least 40 million died during the “Great Leap Forward” in 1958–1962. During both periods of chaos, many of those who died were Christians, especially during Mao’s Cultural Revolution when the church was targeted for destruction.

Despite these efforts, God remained with his people in China. And in the years since, it became clear that Mao’s carnage had inadvertantly produced something astonishing. Far from being wiped out, the church in China had grown exponentially; millions of evangelical Christians had appeared with little to no aid from the West, an increase without parallel in the history of the church.

While the level of persecution has greatly diminished over the past 30 years, those who profess Christ still may be disadvantaged socially, politically, or even physically. Indeed, some are still jailed for their faith. And yet this suffering has not hindered God’s work. Chinese authorities tried to eradicate Christianity in their country—and they failed miserably.

In fact, many Christian and secular sources agree that by 2030 there will be more evangelicals in China than in the United States. Contemplate that point for a second: In less than 15 years, there may be more evangelicals in China than in America.

Fruit of Their Labor

How does this knowledge affect how you see God’s work in the world today? That the face of God’s people will be that of Chinese factory workers rather than white Americans? China has certainly never been a “Christian country,” but it’s seeing revival on a scale that would be inconceivable to the faithful American and British Christians who left their homes in the 19th century to bring the gospel to the world’s most populous nation. While those men and women never saw the fruit of the lifetimes of labor, we are privileged to see it today.

I submit that we have neglected a God-sized vision for the global church. Yes, revivals were things that happened a long time ago—but they’re also happening right now, all around the world.

So how much difference, really, does a hostile government make? Does aggressively liberal, humanistic, and atheistic propaganda hinder the work of the gospel? Are God’s people hopelessly disdained and disadvantaged?

It seems the factors many of us in the West consider necessary for church growth are supremely irrelevant to the growing church in China. Ultimately, only God knows every reason why, but it’s at least safe to say our Chinese brothers and sisters have genuine trust in God’s Word to do God’s work. After all, they have no other option.

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