- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2003

Will China become Christian? Veteran reporter David Aikman thinks so.

China’s current population is about 1.3 billion, which he says includes about 70 million Protestants and about 12 million Catholics. In 1949, when China had a population of about 500 million, 4 million were Christians.

“That is a 20-fold increase in Christians, but the population increased only 1.5 times,” he said.

“It is plausible that in 30 years, 20 [percent] or 30 percent of the population will become believers. That is a magic tipping point because it means that important positions within the government are held by Christians. The case that I am making is that China is going to be Christianized if that trend continues.”

The former Time magazine correspondent makes this case in his new book, “Jesus in Beijing.”

“A Christianized China may spend less time thinking of ways to outmaneuver and neutralize the U.S. than the military strategists of the current regime,” he writes. “This is not because they will have ceased to be patriotic, but because they will not see the world as a dog-eat-dog squabble between major powers.”

Mr. Aikman, however, cautions that China could still emerge as “an aggressive global superpower menace.”

But quoting from Thomas Harvey’s biography of Wang Mingdao, he says, “Regardless of which policy the Chinese government pursues, the church in China will profoundly affect the shape of Christianity worldwide for generations to come.”

As the former Beijing bureau chief for Time, he was struck in the 1970s and 1980s by the zeal of Chinese Christians and the growth of the Chinese church.

“Those of us who were China watchers were always interested in what would come out of China. I also talked to recent refugees. I began to hear stories as a journalist of many revivals taking place. I found out they were true.”

In the 1990s, he went to China several times, and met with some of the Christian leaders.

“In August 1998, there was a gathering of several house church networks,” he said. “The leaders tried to address the question as to how they relate to the government. They came up with a document. It was the first time they had come out with any statement as to how they related to China.”

That statement is available online at www.ccea.org.tw/~cmi /belief1e.htm. It was signed by Shen Yi-Ping, representing the China Evangelistic Fellowship; Zhang Rongliang, representing the Mother Church in Fangcheng; Cheng Xianqi, for the church in Fuyang; and Wang Chunlu, signing on behalf of one of the other house churches in China.

Last year, Mr. Aikman spent four months from a base in Hong Kong, observing the real status of Christianity in China. He traveled several thousand miles, met representatives of the “official” church — Catholic and Protestant — and spent many days with leaders and others in the house churches (some of which are basically underground). Mr. Aikman also spoke to several Chinese Christians who had been kidnapped by members from the Eastern Lightning sect.

He found out that Chinese Christians “have an astonishing sense of call to the Muslim world and the Arab world.”

“It is really striking. Americans do not stand the chance of being credible missionaries.

“Chinese Christians believe they are called to complete the last phase of the Great Commission. This involves evangelizing all of the nations and ethnic groups between China and Israel. This corresponds to the concept of the ‘10/40 Window,’ a concept of which Chinese Christians are aware.

(World evangelism identifies an area of Africa and Asia from 10 degrees latitude north of the equator to 40 degrees latitude north of the equator as containing 55 of the world’s least- evangelized countries, with 97 percent of their populations living within the 10/40 Window.)

“Chinese Christians are overwhelmingly evangelical and pro-Israel. They are also very removed from the intense sentiments of the Middle East.”

There is still persecution of Christians in China.

“In some of the inland areas, local officials are much harder on Christians,” he said. “The Communists know that almost nobody in China believes in communism. But if you have an alternative belief system, then even that likelihood goes down. The capitalists don’t care about Communists as long as they allow free enterprise to take place. Christians think much more deeply than others about corruption.”

“However,” Mr. Aikman added, “in the coastal areas, officials are much more hands-off. Christians are seen as contributors to the economy.” There is “a pragmatic realization” by the government officials, he added, that Christians work very hard and pay taxes.

“Many foreigners come to teach English and they share the Gospel. Yes, it is safe. The Chinese know what they are doing. The reason they put up with it is that Christian foreign teachers are of much better value than others. So while they are surreptitiously spreading the Gospel, there is a trade-off.”

Although China’s Communist rulers hope to reap the social and economic benefits of Christianity without losing power, the Chinese dragon, he said, just might be tamed by the Christian lamb.


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