I genuinely believe China is and will be the new home of Christianity. Even before the pandemic, the Christian faith was challenged and in today's fight against the viral infection, even more so. Modern living has in the Western world significantly reduced the appetite for faith. With the global virus, delivering the Christian message has been forced to adapt with virtual and online worship, services and even virtual weddings. These dramatic times demand dramatic change.
In China, it appears the exact opposite is true. This an exciting time and an opportunity to enhance the Christian message. With each year the number of Chinese born Christians is rising and Christian communities are flourishing. There is also a certain uniqueness to Chinese Christians and the blossoming Christian faith in this country. One could argue that it is indeed a purer form of faith than that of the modern Western ideologies, which since their inception have merged to become one and the same with governance. Chinese Christianity has remained a pure faith, a single belief, without political influence or any other external pressure.
I believe this is partly due to the core ideologies of China. Buddhism, Confucianism, Legalism and Islam. All of which have been widely practised since the age of the dynasties and have moulded and shaped human existence, policy, law and belief. The introduction of Christianity was always going to be 'the new boy on the block' in this respect. Legalism and Confucianism were always perceived as the dominant faiths to provide structure, precedence and moral guidance within China. With the advent of Communism this regime adopted similar principles under a slightly different ideology. Therefore, Christianity remained an isolated minority and unhindered by politics or external actors. In contrast to the West where the Christian church was the political and religious power house, above the law and indeed driving reigning monarchs and governments. One only has to look at religious wars or the power of the Vatican to see such influences in action.
China was introduced to Christianity around the 7th Century and its foothold continues to grow stronger today. Despite facing strong resistance during the Tang Dynasty and then battling with close to 2000 years of varying acceptance, Christianity in China could be classed as booming. Despite the past de-establishment and classification of being made illegal the need for the faith to operate 'underground' became the spine of the Chinese Christian Church, and in many ways has remained so.
Only in recent times has the faith successfully emerged to form a visible Christian community with open worship and an even larger Christian community, with many people still worshipping privately. Such House Churches emerged before the 1970’s and would form the ‘underground’ movement, when open worship led to persecution. Many house churches have remained in place today and continue to hold sermons although predominantly in rural regions.
Due to the size of its population, China has become the second largest Christian nation after America. In the 1970’s (when such religious restrictions were relaxed) there were 4 million Chinese Christians - today there are 5.6 million known Chinese Catholics. Even more astonishingly is the number of Protestants in mainland China, which is rumoured to be at well over 115 million believers, but officially accepted at being closer to the 40 million mark. The reason for this uncertain number appears to be undetermined due to private home worship. Furthermore, the combination of more traditional religions with Christianity is also a factor in its increasing popularity. Buddhism, Confucianism, Mohism and Legalism all go hand in hand with Christianity, and in many ways add value to each other.
This growth is further supported by some astonishing commercial facts. The city of Yiwu produces most of the worlds plastic Christmas trees. The market is strong and continues to have record sales for the home domestic market. Christmas markets in Shanghai and Beijing are the new norm, with seasonable artisanal goods, like cinnamon rolls, maple syrup, moose milk alcohol and of course turkey being in huge demand.
The positive trajectory of Christianity in China is impressive. It is not the numbers that reinforce this as China is a huge nation. It is the clear evidence of public opinion and freedom of choice that I find fascinating. There are of course challenges to be faced. The Renaissance period in Western history was the peak of Christianity, but it too had a darker side. Indeed, there are even weekly religious spikes of violence in countries that could be seen as too liberal. Personally, I am very optimistic about our growing faith in this beautiful country. When you look at the achievements of this great nation we can only wonder what can be achieved in the name of Christianity in the years to come.