When the “Chinese Miracle” is mentioned, people usually mean the amazing transformation of Communist China’s moribund and poverty-stricken Marist economy, into the prosperous and powerful, increasingly capitalist, “Chinese Tiger” that is modern China today.
There is another “Chinese Miracle,” however. That is the one I want to talk about: It’s the miraculous resurrection and phenomenal growth of the Christian faith in China during the past few decades, a fitting subject for this Easter season.
When the Chinese Communists took power in 1949, there were fewer than 1 million Chinese Christians on the mainland. Communist authorities soon forced the expulsion of foreign missionaries. All connections with or aid from foreign church organizations was also forbidden.
Communist authorities in the 1950s engineered the infiltration, subversion and control of organized Christian congregations. Virtually all rural churches were closed as part of “land reform.” City congregations were closed under the pretext of eliminating “denominationalism.”
By 1960, Shanghai’s 200 churches had been reduced to 23; and the 65 Christian congregations in Beijing had been cut to only four.
Chinese students in 1966 emerged wearing armbands having the words “Hong Wei Bing,” meaning “Red Guard.” Acting under the blessing of Chairman Mao, and carrying his Little Red Book, they were the vanguard of the Cultural Revolution. Acting as both prosecutor and jury, they executed summary judgment upon all who they deemed “counter-revolutionary,” attached to old ways, or influenced by Western thought, including believers. Bibles were destroyed, and believers came under intense persecution.
Christian faith and practice had to go underground, becoming personal and secret, rather than public or corporate.
Before President Richard M. Nixon’s famous visit to China in 1972, many Western observers believed the Christian faith had been completely eradicated. When the so-called “Bamboo Curtain” began to open a crack, allowing cultural exchange between Communist China and the West, China-watchers began to get a hint that Christianity was not dead, but still remained.
During the 40 years that have followed, we have witnessed a miracle. Not only did Christianity survive, but the Chinese church has experienced the fastest and most miraculous growth in church history.
Accurate figures are hard to verify. However, it appears that between 6 percent and 10 percent of China’s people are now followers of Jesus, perhaps more than 100 million. This means that China is now home to more Christians than most other countries in the world. Furthermore, the Chinese church continues to grow.
Although Christians still suffer a degree of persecution and pressure from Communist authorities, they are also gaining respect from government leaders. Christian morals and values are increasingly recognized as important qualities that aid Chinese society, rather than hurt it. Growth of the church in China has been so large and fast, one can even envision China one day becoming predominately Christian.
Throughout history, there have been many hostile cultures that eventually became predominately Christian, through the patient suffering, martyrdom and witness of countless believers. The most prominent example was Ancient Rome, which persecuted believers for the first 300 years of the faith’s existence. Eventually the church was legalized by Rome and became its official religion.
During this time of year when many celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, it is a good time to celebrate the resurrection of Christianity in mainland China. The Chinese church appeared dead and lifeless, apparently killed by its persecutors; but now it is alive and vibrant.
It is a powerful testimony. Persecution cannot kill faith, but merely breathes new life into it. In the end, being willing to die for one’s principles is more powerful than killing for them.
The Rev. Dr. Daniel Molyneux has ministered and traveled in more than 30 countries, is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fairfield and is a graduate of Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.