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[COMMENT: China watchers have been predicting for a few years that China will become a Christian nation by the mid century. Maybe sooner. In the meantime, the West is dying because Christians are dying (spiritually) and unable to rise to the challenge which God has put before us for several centuries -- to put the Truth even before Himself.
God is creating a free-will covenant, in which all sides must be apprised of the terms of the covenant and of the members. God has introduced Himself and given us His law. We then are to choose this day as to whether we want what He is offering. That choice means that we must put truth ahead of God, assessing whether the offer is true, who the true God is, and whether we want to follow Him. God has set it up that way. That is the nature of the freewill covenant.
Those hard choices are made more readily in times of trouble because the stakes are clear and less clouded by comfort-defending.
But note also that it seems to be the newly rich who are
converting, those who know that the riches of consumerism do not give the good
life. May God increase their numbers!
Robert L. Moore
Special to the Sentinel
July 15, 2007
Christianity in China has come a long way since 1870. That was the
year that violent Chinese mobs in the city of Tianjin, enraged by rumors
that French missionaries were kidnapping babies, massacred every
Christian they could get their hands on. In those days, China's
citizenry saw Christianity as a tentacle of Western imperialism, and as
such viewed it as a threat to their country's very existence.
But the role of Christianity in China today could hardly be more different from what it was then. While doing research on Chinese society in Beijing this summer, I met a surprisingly large number of recently converted Chinese Christians. And I wasn't the only one aware of the rising tide of Christian conversions. When I visited the South Cathedral, Beijing's oldest and most famous church, a young priest bragged to me that 300 young people would be baptized after the coming Sunday's Mass. "That won't happen in the U.S.," he said.
The evidence is undeniable: Despite the government's official doctrine of atheism, its general disapproval of religion, and its occasionally ruthless suppression of those Christian groups that it views as threatening, millions of Chinese are now choosing to convert.
The driving force behind these conversions is a sense of spiritual emptiness. China's new dominant ideology is not communism but consumerism, a consumerism that leaves many middle-class Chinese feeling somehow empty. It is these newly prosperous Chinese who are most strongly drawn to Christianity.
A story typical of the many I heard this summer is that of a professional woman who works for China's government-owned television network. She told me that she became interested in Christianity after getting to know an American with whom she practiced English. Later, influenced by a Chinese Christian professor at her school, she joined an underground Protestant church. He introduced her to a "sister" in his congregation whose kindness very much impressed her.
She had felt that her life was rather empty at that point. "So you get good grades," she said, "so what? So you can buy things, so what? So you have a good husband and a child, so what? Christianity offers something more in life, something of value. The people in the church are like a family to each other. They are also a source of comfort."
She had some difficulty with her parents, who were staunch Communists, but eventually they came to accept her religious conversion and even welcomed her Christian husband into the family.
China's contemporary churches come in various forms, both Catholic and Protestant, officially sanctioned and "underground." The government, for example, recognizes the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association as the official Catholic Church. But this church, with its estimated 5 million members, is dwarfed by the underground Catholic congregation, which some say includes 8 million to 10 million members. In fact, the secrecy necessary for the survival of the underground churches makes their size difficult to ascertain.
Raymond Huang, an anthropologist at People's University who has been researching China's churches, calculates that the official figures drastically underestimate church memberships. He believes that the Chinese government estimate of 20 million Protestants should be raised to 30 million or 40 million. Others, less systematic in their research methods, would put this figure even higher.
Churches are not simply promoting new ideas in China, but are also making the church wedding -- once a rarity -- into a fairly common ritual. In the past, Chinese weddings emphasized the transfer of one family's daughter into the household of her husband. Contemporary church weddings, on the other hand, emphasize the emotional bond between bride and groom, the giving up of their children by the parents, and the enrichment of the husband-wife bond with spiritual value. On my recent trip, I had an opportunity to witness a church wedding, complete with earnest preacher, tearful bridesmaids, and culminating with the bride's over-the-shoulder toss of her bouquet.
There is no reason to expect the majority of China's 1.3 billion citizens will soon become Christians. It would be surprising if even as many as one-tenth of the population were to make this conversion, given both official and unofficial resistance to this still somewhat "alien" doctrine. However, it cannot be denied that more Chinese are choosing Christianity than most observers would have imagined possible as recently as 20 years ago. And the growth of China's churches, rather than slowing down, seems, as of now, to be picking up steam.
Robert L. Moore is a professor of anthropology at Rollins College and director of international affairs at the college's Holt School. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2007, Orlando Sentinel
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