At the time of Chairman Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, Christianity in China seemed on the verge of extinction.
Less than four decades later though, not only has Christianity in China not disappeared, but by some estimates there’ll be more Christians in China come the year 2030 than in any other country in the world.
Purdue sociologist Fenggang Yang, author of the book, “Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule,” told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that “China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon.”
How soon? Yang said that “it is going to be less than a generation,” and added that “not many people are prepared for this dramatic change."
According to his estimates, by 2030 there’ll be 247 million Christians in China. While that will represent less than one-fifth of the population, it may—depending on how you count who is a Christian and who is not—be the largest Christian population in absolute terms in the world.
And remember, China is officially an atheist state that routinely harasses and persecutes Christians who get out of line.
This harassment is by and large an acknowledgment by the Communist government of Christianity's ability to shape a culture. William Jeynes of California State University at Long Beach has written about how, on the one hand, Chinese officials are warily open to Christianity, because they see the link between Christianity and the West’s economic success.
But on the other hand, they also see a link between Christianity and Western freedoms, which is why they try to control the practice of Christianity.
While Chinese officials and scholars see these links, the West is increasingly blind to them. At the same time that the Telegraph was telling readers about the rise of Christianity in China, it was also reporting on the controversy over British Prime Minister David Cameron’s calling Britain a “Christian country” during remarks at the Easter Sunday reception at 10 Downing Street.
As soon as the remark was made, Cameron was accused of “fostering divisions in the UK.” Fifty “prominent public figures including novelist, diplomats, Nobel prize winners and playwrights” signed a letter to the Telegraph in which they said that “Repeated surveys, polls, and studies show most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities.”
They wrote that “although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalize their contribution when it is equaled by British people of different beliefs.”
Well, to put it mildly, that is a comically absurd reading of British history. Still, it reflects the opinion of many, if not most, opinion-makers in Britain and Europe. And if church attendance is any guide, it also reflects the beliefs of most Europeans.
That leaves me wondering: is the United States closer to Britain or to China?
How ironic is it that in this country, more and more, the faith of our Fathers is seen as the enemy of human freedom. Yet the Chinese communist leaders understand Christianity for what it is: a culture-shaping source of human freedom.
And not only freedom. The West’s superiority in economics, education, charity, and even technology and science, can all be traced to Christianity and the Christian worldview. Come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to outstanding resources on Christianity’s powerful influence on all that is good in Western society.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: April 28, 2014