Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Global Christianity

I just finished reading the book, "Back to Jerusalem" by Paul Hattaway for my Christian History course.  When I began reading it, I was confused as to its connection to Christian History, but as I made my way through and thought about it, I realized that it couldn't have been more appropriate.

The book is the story of Chinese Christians.  These are men and women who have been through the most incredible persecution, yet believe in the calling that they have received from God.  Western missionaries took the message of Jesus Christ into China and in the 1920s and 30s, Chinese Christians began to hear from God that it was up to them to complete the mission that Christ had set forth in Acts 1 - to take the Gospel message to Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria and then into the world.

Their mission was to take the Gospel the rest of the way ... going west out of China into the countries between there and Jerusalem, finishing in Jerusalem.  They would evangelize countries that were filled with Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims.  At the same time, they would complete the evangelism of their own country.

In the 40s, Mao came into power and Christians began to be tortured and persecuted for their faith.  Pastors were thrown into prison.  The Cultural Revolution in China had begun and Christianity had no place.  Foreign missionaries fled the country and those that didn't also faced incredible persecution and imprisonment.  Eric Liddell, the Scottish runner whose story was told in "Chariots of Fire, died in a Chinese prison camp after having spent years there as a missionary. Many of the Chinese Christians who had heard the call to go west, were thrown into prison, beaten and starved, simply because they were Christian.

The book tells the story of some of the people that faced this persecution and describes in glorious detail the transformation of the church in China during this time.  Rather than fall apart, the church grew at an incredible pace.  When forced to eliminate any physical symbol of their faith, people simply gathered to tell their stories to each other - evangelizing and encouraging their friends and family.  Pastors had been stripped out of communities, but what might have become a leadership vacuum opened the way for the people of the community to do the work themselves.

During those dark years for Chinese Christians, Western missionaries assumed that the church had gone dormant, expecting to go back into the country and have to re-do all of their work.  What they found was a vibrant, rapidly growing community that continues to grow today.

Because of the persecution they have faced, Chinese Christians see their faith so differently than we do.  It is more important to them than anything. They refuse to deny Christ's lordship in their lives even if it means beatings and imprisonment, separation from their family or torture and starvation.  Nothing is as important to them as sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

As they speak of continuing the mission to take the Gospel into countries that will reject and persecute them, they are prepared to face anything for the name of Jesus.  When asked if they have plans in place to escape to safety, they are shocked at the weak-willed Western Christians who hide from danger when spreading the Good News.  One of their great concerns is that the younger Christians will grow affluent and find it necessary to protect their stuff so they won't feel as impelled to walk the path God has called them to.  They know that persecution has given them something that we in the West don't have - freedom from fear.  There is nothing that they are afraid of when it comes to evangelizing the world.  The worst has already happened and if it happens again - they will either deal with it or they will die knowing that they stood true to Jesus Christ.

This book is a challenge to us and a word of victory.  The church in the West is falling apart.  More and more theologians and world-wide Christian leaders are recognizing that the Western Church no longer has the influence or the power that it did at one time to change the world.  But, that doesn't mean that there isn't a strong movement of God in the world.  Africa, Latin America and Asia are rapidly become new centers of Christianity - growth is incredible.  The largest church in the world right now is found in South Korea.

Church doesn't look like anything we recognize.  These worshiping communities aren't necessarily Roman Catholic or Protestant.  They are developing their own way of doing things - holding to the basic tenets of Christianity and creating glorious new ways of lifting their faith.

Pay attention to what is happening on a global scale in Christianity.  It will (and should) challenge you to be bold in your witness and will excite you as you recognize that God is moving.

1 comment:

Dr.Joseph. said...

JESUS,is,for,You and Me.