The United States of America was established to be a “City on a Hill.” Our founders came to these shores in the hope of establishing a Christian nation that could be a beacon of hope and inspiration to the rest of the world. Hundreds of years have passed and something has gone wrong. The United States is still the hope of many hurting people, but we are no longer that shining city on a hill. Our nation has quickly forgotten its heritage and our fellow citizens have left behind the faith that made us special.
Now, a new wrinkle has been introduced to the mix. Christianity is exploding in China. A nation that is officially atheist is falling head over heels for the LORD of the Universe.
“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.
“It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”
China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.
By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted.
“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Prof Yang said. “It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”
Conservatives have long held on to the idea that America was special, largely because of our Christian heritage. What happens if the USA continues moving further away from Christianity while China begins to become not only more accepting of our faith but more faithful to it?
To be sure, China still has a long way to go. The Chinese government is still one of the worst persecutors of the church, but as the numbers of Chinese Christians grows, that attitude is changing. The government is realizing that the Chinese Church is a force to be reckoned with and has to deal with the church more gently than it has in the past.
Such fears may not be entirely unwarranted. Christians’ growing power was on show earlier this month when thousands flocked to defend a church in Wenzhou, a city known as the “Jerusalem of the East”, after government threats to demolish it. Faced with the congregation’s very public show of resistance, officials appear to have backed away from their plans, negotiating a compromise with church leaders.
“They do not trust the church, but they have to tolerate or accept it because the growth is there,” said the church leader. “The number of Christians is growing – they cannot fight it. They do not want the 70 million Christians to be their enemy.”
Life for Christians today is already quite different than it was for their parents or their grandparents. Chinese Christians grow more influential every day, and they are even changing things in the world around them. Chinese missionaries are working in North Korea and other Asian nations where it is much more difficult for Western Christians to gain access.
If China becomes the world’s most prominent Christian nation, does that change anything for American Christians? Can China go from atheist communism to a new “City on a Hill?”
These are interesting times that we live in…
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