Before you get started on this, update your mental map of the world. In six minutes, you’ll see how fast current events are outstripping our ability to understand and keep up with reality.
It’s big picture time again.
If you watch the papers or (God help you) TV news, you see the same seven themes being beaten to death:
Disasters – natural and man-made (as in “global warming”)
Except for the first two, these themes have all been inflated by the newsroom liberals. These latter five are part of the smaller picture.
That’s why you turn to this column now and then – in the hope (not always justified) of getting a glimpse of a larger reality … or at least a piece of a larger reality.
My offering to you this week: Further evidence that North Americans are hopelessly behind the times on what it means to be a Christian today. We have wildly under-reckoned the tremendous power that God is putting into our hearts and hands.
‘Thank God for Mao’
Until 1949, China was a classic mission field: a slow-growing church that was modeled on the Western church and run by Western-thinking missionaries and their Western-thinking converts. When Mao took power in ’49, there were hardly more than a million Christians in the entire country – 0.1 percent of the whole.
Please pardon my huge oversimplification of the complex Mao era, but he:
- killed the top leaders
- sent the pastors and other leaders to prison
- took over church buildings
- banned meetings
- deported Western missionaries, and
- sometimes confiscated Christians’ personal property or tortured them.
Stripped of all the traditional encumbrances, the new “streamlined” church took off, powered by the Holy Spirit and schleps like you and me. Small “house church” assemblies began sending out two-man gospel preaching teams – typically, two girls aged 19 or 20! (The usual send-off package: a one-way ticket and a couple of bucks for postage, to send back reports.)
As the new underground church began to multiply, the Christians often made the wry observation, “Thank God for Mao!” It began to be more and more obvious that the professional pastors and programs had actually been their main obstacle to growth, and the pews and pointy-top buildings were a waste of perfectly good lumber.
It’s astounding what amateur Christians can do when freed from institutional boundaries and claptrap and given a track to run on. We Westerners can hardly comprehend it. As the Chinese house churches grew past the 60 million mark about 1991-92, Western Christian communication channels simply stopped reporting accurate numbers. Too hard to believe. Now and then, in the last 15 years, wide-eyed U.S. leaders have discovered China and come out in print, saying, “Wow!There could be 60 million Chinese Christians by now!” (The same 60 million every year.) I’ve had to smile. It’s like a parade of 500 Columbuses rediscovering America.
Last month, China Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, finally admitted the truth. Based on a survey conducted by professors Tong Shijun and Liu Zhongyu of East China Normal University in Shanghai and an internal report by Ye Xiaowen, director-general of China’s Bureau of Religious Affairs, China Daily boldly stated that the numbers of Christians and self-identified “religious” people are far higher than the government has been reporting.
How much higher? I’ll spare you the tangled mess of official propaganda numbers, leaked real numbers, Protestant numbers, Catholic numbers, insider numbers and the formulas we use to balance them all. On page 45 of my 2005 book “Megashift,” I mentioned my well-founded estimate that China then had 115 to 120 million born-again believers, counting Catholics and Protestants (house churches plus Three-Self, government-approved churches). Based on the new numbers from China Daily, I can announce with a good degree of confidence that the true number of born-again Christians in China today is 200 million, and perhaps a bit more. That comprises 15 percent of China – making it now the largest church in the world by far.
(If you’d like to do the math, I commend you to the Feb. 21, 2007, edition of FridayFax 2.0, an online intelligence service to which I’ve been recently appointed a correspondent. Well worth the US$40 a year, even if I do get my fingers into it now and then. Read a free sample of that February issue.
Europe and North America are no longer the hub of Christianity. We’re now sitting and stagnating on the margin of the real church, where ordinary believers are expected to do miracles from time to time. They go out and preach, then they pray for some listener’s healing. Bingo. The bystanders become believers … and are formed into a new house church. Standard Operating Procedure.
Now the best part. It’s starting to happen in America!
Stay tuned in the weeks to come. God is upgrading his followers. Don’t get left behind.