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.Great. First Korea, now China. Yet another reason for Christian missionaries to Japan to feel inadequate. Can we blame/credit Wal-mart?
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. Islam might defeat the western Europeans, simply by replacing their diminishing numbers with immigrants, but it will crumble beneath the challenge from the East....
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.* (*See Luke Wesley, "Is the Chinese Church predominantly Pentecostal?" in American Journal of Pentecostal Studies 7:2 .) 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."...
Where traditional society remains entrenched in China's most backward regions, Islam also is expanding. At the edge of the Gobi Desert and on China's western border with Central Asia, Islam claims perhaps 30 million adherents. If Christianity is the liquidator of traditional society, I have argued in the past, Islam is its defender against the encroachments of leveling imperial expansion. But Islam in China remains the religion of the economic losers, whose geographic remoteness isolates them from the economic transformation on the coasts. Christianity, by contrast, has burgeoned among the new middle class in China's cities, where the greatest wealth and productivity are concentrated. Islam has a thousand-year presence in China and has grown by natural increase rather than conversion; evangelical Protestantism had almost no adherents in China a generation ago.
09 August 2007
Is China Globalizing Religiously, Too?
The Asia Times columnist who calls himself Spengler speculates about the history of world religions in China.