|Is Christianity's future in China?|
|Written by Sherry|
|Tuesday, 07 August 2007 15:57|
Take a look at this extraordinary editorial in today's Asia Times about the global implications of the Rise of Christianity in Asia. It expands on the John Allen article that Fr. Mike blogged about last week.
Ten thousand Chinese become Christians each day, according to a stunning report by the National Catholic Reporter's veteran correspondent John Allen, and 200 million Chinese may comprise the world's largest concentration of Christians by mid-century, and the largest missionary force in history.  If you read a single news article about China this year, make sure it is this one.
I suspect that even the most enthusiastic accounts err on the downside, and that Christianity will have become a Sino-centric religion two generations from now. China may be for the 21st century what Europe was during the 8th-11th centuries, and America has been during the past 200 years: the natural ground for mass evangelization. If this occurs, the world will change beyond our capacity to recognize it.
People do not live in a spiritual vacuum; where a spiritual vacuum exists, as in western Europe and the former Soviet Empire, people simply die, or fail to breed. In the traditional world, people see themselves as part of nature, unchangeable and constant, and worship their surroundings, their ancestors and themselves. When war or economics tear people away from their roots in traditional life, what once appeared constant now is shown to be ephemeral. Christianity is the great liquidator of traditional society, calling individuals out of their tribes and nations to join the ekklesia, which transcends race and nation. In China, communism leveled traditional society, and erased the great Confucian idea of society as an extension of the loyalties and responsibility of families. Children informing on their parents during the Cultural Revolution put paid to that.
Now the great migrations throw into the urban melting pot a half-dozen language groups who once lived isolated from one another. Not for more than a thousand years have so many people in the same place had such good reason to view as ephemeral all that they long considered to be fixed, and to ask themselves: "What is the purpose of my life?"
The World Christian Database offers by far the largest estimate of the number of Chinese Christians at 111 million, of whom 90% are Protestant, mostly Pentecostals. Other estimates are considerably lower, but no matter; what counts is the growth rate. This uniquely American denomination, which claims the inspiration to speak in tongues like Jesus' own disciples and to prophesy, is the world's fastest-growing religious movement, with 500,000 adherents. In contrast to Catholicism, which has a very long historic presence in China but whose growth has been slow, charismatic Protestantism has found its natural element in an atmosphere of official suppression. Barred from churches, Chinese began worshipping in homes, and five major "house church" movements and countless smaller ones now minister to as many as 100 million Christians.  This quasi-underground movement may now exceed in adherents the 75 million members of the Chinese Communist Party; in a generation it will be the most powerful force in the country.
While the Catholic Church has worked patiently for independence from the Chinese government, which sponsors a "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association" with government-appointed bishops, the evangelicals have no infrastructure to suppress and no hierarchy to protect. In contrast to Catholic caution, John Allen observes, "Most Pentecostals would obviously welcome being arrested less frequently, but in general they are not waiting for legal or political reform before carrying out aggressive evangelization programs."
These realities have been written about by evangelicals for 25 years but are now just being acknowledged by Catholics and the secular press.
While we've been endlessly debating the Second Vatican Council and it's implementation and ramifications, the world has revolved around us - and we euro-centric western Christians, are no longer at the center.
Of course, Africa and South American will also be vigorous centers of 21st century and beyond Christianity, so Sino-centric Christianity is hardly a slam dunk. And the US will remain the largest Christian nation in the world through 2050.
But as Catholics, we have to grasp that our fixation on the intra-western cultural battles of the past 40 years is only one important debate within true global Christianity. It has to be at least matched with an awareness of the fact that non-western Christianity is going to be at least as important, if not more so, in the next few centuries.