By Martin Roth, BosNewsLife Senior Correspondent
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife Columns)– My wife is Korean, and I have long been fascinated by the growth in Christianity in South Korea. From just modest numbers in the early 20th century it has evolved to represent, 100 years later, around 30 per cent of the population. Now we see something similar starting to happen in China…
One estimate is that there are now at least 70 million Christians in China – in a population of 1.4 billion – and that at current growth rates the number could soar to as many as 245 million by 2030.
Recently I exchanged emails with Dr. Carsten Vala, an associate professor at Loyola University Maryland, a research fellow at Purdue University’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society and a recognized authority on the growth of Christianity in China.
I expressed concern at recent reports of a crack-down, including a demand that churches remove some identifying symbols such as their crosses. “This crack-down is happening primarily in one province, where the provincial leader is said to be sympathetic to Buddhism, despite his atheist Communist Party credentials. He dislikes the prominence of crosses and of Christianity and has vowed to reduce its public visibility at least,” Dr. Vala explained.
He also made a pertinent comment on the unregistered churches that many Westerners assume represent the purest expression of Christianity within China. “Perhaps what’s most interesting is that many unregistered large churches are actually negotiating an unofficial existence in a few large cities.”
And the professor said: “Shouwang [house church] is the most prominent, but their government problems have largely developed in response to their decision to directly challenge out-dated state registration policies. Other large unregistered congregations continue to hold services without registering. Whether this grey area will continue under President Xi’s tenure is an open question, but in any case it’s not at all completely church versus state as many overseas commentators may imagine.”
One of the features of the South Korean church is that it is now quite vibrantly making its mark around the world. Korean missionaries seem to be everywhere, and Koreans often hold prominent positions in many Christian organizations, such as theological colleges and para-church groups. Might the same happen with the Chinese church?
To my surprise, Dr Vala said this was already occurring. “Chinese are founding churches all over the world, in part because Chinese workers are now all over the world…and in part because Chinese are doing business as entrepreneurs all over the world,” he told me.
“Chinese missionaries are also reaching out to Central Asian and Muslim countries albeit in small numbers, seeking to open up countries that Americans, Canadians or South Korean Protestants find it difficult to reach. Because Chinese come from a non-Western (or West-aligned) country, they have an easier time gaining entry to such countries.”
What has happened in South Korea has been a mighty demonstration of God’s power. It is now starting to look as if this may just have been a dress rehearsal for what He plans for China.
(Martin Roth (www.authormartinroth.com), BosNewsLife’s Senior Columnist, is an Australian journalist and a former Tokyo-based foreign correspondent. He is the author of “Journey Out Of Nothing: My Buddhist Path to Christianity” and of the Brother Half Angel series of thrillers, which focus on the persecuted church. BosNewsLife Columns distributes opinionated columns and commentaries providing a fresh perspective on issues in the news. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BosNewsLife News Agency or its parent company).