Pastor Bob O'Bannon
This weekend is New Life’s annual missions conference. You might be aware that while the church seems to be on the decline in the United States, and certainly in Europe, it is actually growing rapidly in East Asia, particularly in China, which has been the scene of relentless persecution of the church in the past, particularly during the “Cultural Revolution” from 1966-1976.
Today, the attitude toward religion is much more open, though debates are ongoing about how genuine this new openness really is. The underground church is still considered illegal, and in some parts of the country, it would seem that persecution is stronger than ever.
In any case, the Holy Spirit is doing remarkable things in this part of the world. Some observers say that China could one day be the most prolific missionary-sending nation in the world.
Recently I’ve been reading two books that have helped me understand better what God is doing in China. I recommend them to you here:
A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China, by Rodney Stark and Xinhua Wang. This is the perfect introduction for anyone wanting a brief account of the church in China — including its history, present situation and possible future outcomes. Currently there are at least 60 million Christians in China (a conservative estimate), with a projection of almost 300 million by 2030 (p. 113-114). Extraordinarily, there are more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party.
Particularly striking is that the brand of Christianity flourishing in China is “intensely conservative” — not the liberal nonsense coming out of mainline denominations in the west. An explanation is offered: “Lukewarm liberalism simply could not generate the level of commitment needed to hold onto one’s faith in the face of considerable personal risk.” (p. 72). “People will seldom face the hardships of missionary service merely to do good deeds. Without the conviction that they were bringing priceless truths to those in need, the mission spirit quickly dissipated in liberal Protestant circles.” (p. 34).
This book reads pretty much like a textbook — pretty dry. But it’s still is a great place to learn about what could be the most significant kingdom event happening the world today.
China’s Reforming Churches, ed. Bruce Baugus. This book is similar to A Star in the East, but is much more exhaustive and gives specific attention to the role of reformed Presbyterianism in China. Because the “rate of numerical growth has effectively outstripped the development of the church” (p. 21), and because the church in China is in an “ecclesiastically chaotic state” (p. 134), there is a desperate need there for the deep roots of a well-ordered church that is provided in Biblical presbyterianism.
Various articles written by different authors cover such topics as the social conditions in China today, the history of presbyterianism in China, opportunities for Christian publishing, and the state of reformed theological education in China.
What is exciting is that acceptance of reformed theology is actually quite high in China. Asians seem to be attracted to the account of reality provided by reformed thinkers. Many Chinese are experiencing the emptiness of a materialistic culture, and wondering what can replace it. “One proposal that attracts a surprising amount of support is Christianity, and among those advocating this answer most vigorously are a number of university professors, lawyers, writers, journalists, and the like, who advocate a distinctively Reformed brand of Christianity.” (p. 22).
As Andrew Brown wrote in The Guardian, in an article titled “Chinese Calvinism Flourishes,” young people think it is “very cool to be Christian.”
Jesus said in Mat. 9:37, “There harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” That is perhaps more true in China today than in any other place in the world.