The Changing face of global Christianity: China

China’s youth once trundled across the countryside spreading communism. Now, they’re spreading God’s word.

[ Read it all, via NPR.]

Last year I was invited by another priest in the Diocese of Tennessee to give a series of reflections on “changing Christianity” during their parish retreat.  I enjoyed it a lot.  Part of what I spoke about was the changing demographics of Christianity around the world.  Technically speaking it has been incorrect to talk of Christianity as a “western” faith for quite a while, but we are finally beginning to catch onto what that means.

Nestorian Cross & Lotus
Not the first: Cross & Lotus from the ancient Church of the East in China

One big barometer of change are the increasing numbers of Christians in China, now thought to outnumber the official membership of the communist party.  When I was doing the research for my presentation, I found estimates claiming that, should current trends continue, there will be approximately 175,095,000 Christians in China by 2025 and that they will make up around 12% of the population, making China the country with the third largest population of Christians in the world, behind the US and Brazil (because of the sheer size of China, the same number is obviously a much smaller percentage of the population).  Some analysts predict that China will have the worlds largest population of Christians by 2050.

The question is, what will an economically powerful China with a large Christian minority look like?  What will be the ramifications for Christianity itself?  To put things in perspective, most historians I’ve read place the percentage of Christians in the Roman Empire at the time of legalization under Constantine, to have been between 10-15%.  We know the major influence Roman culture had on the development of Christianity… what will the Chinese influence be?

There are obviously many positives (from my perspective) in this news, but there is also the troubling matter of nationalism wrapped in theological garb which seems to be hinted at in at least some of the comments in the interview.  Is it any worse than “God bless America?”  I don’t know, but given the propensity of Christians to claim chosen status for their nations at various points in history (Rome, the Byzantines, English, Germans, Russians to name a few–all have claimed divine sanction for their policies and wars) it is something we need to be aware of.

So, what do you think, what might be some of the contributions of a surging Chinese Christianity?

  • Eric

    It is probably not a coincidence that the Chinese gov't is supporting a renaissance of Taoism/Confucianism as we speak.
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  • http://frjody.com Jody+

    Not a coincidence at all I'd say. China seems to have difficulty figuring out what to do with Christianity; I've heard some Chinese thinkers see Christianity as a key to the rise of the West, but as with all things foreign (or seen as foreign) there is a degree of suspicion, not least from the government that fears a fifth column or at least a large number of people with values at odds with those promoted by the Communist Party.