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Monday, December 03, 2012

Is China home to most of the world's Christians?

There is an interesting article at the Catholic News Agency's website about the condition of religion in present-day China. Particularly, it presents notable evidence that China will soon have a larger Christian population than any other country.

But in reading this, I am compelled to wonder if the Chinese might already have most of the world's Christians. Maybe more than all other countries put together.

Could that be even possible?

From the article...

During a recent book launch in Rome, a noted theologian said that China will be home to the majority of the world's Christians within the next two decades.

“Interfaith dialogue is something that China, which will have the world's largest Christian population in 20 years, lives with every day,” said Harvey Cox during the presentation at the city's Jesuit Gregorian University.

Cox presented the book “Catholic Engagement with World Religions: A Comprehensive Study, in dialogue with its two editors” on Nov. 30 with Cardinal Karl Josef Becker, a German theologian of the Vatican's the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The editors include Ilaria Morali of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who also presented the book, and Cardinal Becker.

Cox, who teaches at the Harvard Divinity School in Massachusetts, said the new book “will play an invaluable role” in determining “where we've been in the past, where we are now, and where we're headed.”

“There are two world phenomena happening right now,” he added. “The first is that we can't recognize Christianity as a western religion anymore and the second is that countries with the fastest growing number of Christians don't have a Christian culture or traditions.”

Keep in mind that Cox and Becker are speaking from a Catholic perspective. It is perfectly understandable that they will be presenting their beliefs strictly as Catholics. And though I myself am not a Catholic, I find it intensely fascinating that China might soon have more Catholics than any other nation.

But in terms of Christianity in general... and in keeping with the author's discussion of religious discussion among a variety of viewpoints... I can't but believe that China is home to most of the world's Christians right now.

It has been well known for decades that there is a significant number of "underground churches", or "house churches", which harbor a vast amount of followers of Christ - belonging to no denomination and whose members likely wouldn't even care about denominationalism at all - existing throughout China. We don't know how many Christians in addition to practicing Catholics there might be in that land. There are some who suggest that the population of underground Christians might number in the hundreds of millions. All of whom worship Christ outside the knowledge of the government of communist China. Each practicing their faith in the full understanding that if found out, they risk persecution, imprisonment, and possibly worse. Many are enduring unspeakable hardships even now.

And yet, the body of Christ as counted across the width and breadth of all the followers of Christ, is not only persisting in China but thriving. With a vigor and enthusiasm and sincerity that dwarfs the Christianity... or perhaps "churchianity"... in the western world. Including the Christians of the United States.

What if such hardship and persecution has led to the community of Christians in China becoming far more vast than all of the Christians of America, Canada, Latin America, Europe and Africa... combined?

Yes. Today. This very moment.

And wouldn't it be something if within the lifetime of many reading this blog, that the United States will see an influx of missionaries coming to America from China and other Asian countries to preach Christ to us, rather than sending "our" missionaries abroad?

Because Christianity in the United States... and I can only write about America in this sense because it is the land which I observe every day... has deviated and devolved into something that is fixated more on the material than on matters eternal. We have become a spiritually stagnant people and the church in China, to be honest, puts the "God and Country" brand of our American Christianity to shame. We go into our brightly-lit and brazenly decorated houses of worship every Sunday, listen to "positive preaching" and come out none the worse for wear until the following Sunday, with little or no real encouragement or holding ourselves accountable to God. The believer in China must seek out dim and dark rooms to quietly pray and sing hymns in total silence. But I have spoken to a number of believers from that land, and not one of them has been anything but cheerful and exuberant about their faith in Christ. For them, to seek after Him is absolutely worth the dangers of being discovered by their own government.

And I can't help but wonder what could be if that same eagerness and optimism borne out of love of God and others would catch on at last in my own country.