The Chinese are a decent, hardworking people who are progressing rapidly on all fronts and the question arises: is China moving towards Christianity? The evidence suggests that the Chinese, like people everywhere, are fully engaged spiritually and are seeking spiritual fulfilment. Whatever circumstances arise, however magnificent the economy, people reach a point when they realise that material abundance does nothing to satisfy the longings of the spirit. And the more the restless spirit yearns for satiation and answers the stronger the pull towards a meaningful religion like Christianity; the one religion that through time has done more to elevate the human spirit and develop humanity generally - much more than any other.
Truth be told the Chinese have a built-in advantage over most races for by nature, due in part to their long and distinguished history, they are peaceful, hospitable, communal and believe in things that are fundamentally Christian. No doubt one could search and find exceptions to the Chinese being so categorised but one would be hypercritical and superfluous to make much of them.
When in the mid-seventies at university I studied the China situation, the belief was that China had between five and ten million Christians. While it is true that figures on Chinese Christianity have always been disputed, at least we can get a good idea of the present numbers from the Chinese themselves. In a recent statement from Beijing, China, Wang Zuoan, head of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, said that about half of China's religious followers are Christians or Muslims, with the other half Buddhists or Taoists, admitting the real total number of believers was probably much higher than the official estimate of 100 million.
The significant thing here to notice is that following harsh persecution from the 10th through 14th centuries when Christianity was perceived as an adjunct to colonialism, Christianity has steadily grown to where it is today and the trend is set to continue into the future as China interacts even more with the West and the Chinese believers become more open and assertive.
In all countries when your religion is seen as a barrier to your progress, or is perceived as such, when you might be bypassed for promotion, or not chosen for certain desirable appointments, then the tendency is to keep quiet about your faith and not let it become an impediment. This means that any survey carried out dealing with questions of religious beliefs will always be inaccurate and on the low side. This was so when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the number of believers rocketed, not because of new converts but merely because existing believers became more assertive and openly declared their religious affiliation.
So where is the evidence that China is becoming more Christian, and that as a society their principles and practices are flowing in that direction?
We should pause here to examine how Christianity and godliness is defined for in these definitions we get a flavour of the basis for our line of reasoning.
Sometimes Christianity and godliness are called by other names such as "true religion" and "duty of man" and such like but they all mean essentially the same thing, and they all result in proper moral behaviour that the Bible refers to as righteousness.
Here is how Micah puts it in the Old Testament:
"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8)
James in the New Testament puts it a different way:
"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27)
There are powerful and efficacious reasons why these great principles of living, these high morals are so very important; because of the effect they will have on a country. Instead of people tearing themselves apart and rabidly pursuing self interest, as a nation they are to affiliate to higher ideals so that all may progress together.
Here is how the Old Testament puts it:
"Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." (Proverbs 14:34)
It is noticeable that nearly every country in the world that has achieved "Developed Nation" status has done so while embracing Christianity or, in a few cases, Islam. No communist or pagan country has ever developed to become an "advanced nation" and that is something to think about.
So the benefits of embracing a humane, inspiring religion like Christianity is very clear, so how does China handle this?
The Chinese are a smart people and extremely quick learners and they are cognisant of all the social and developmental gains that can accrue from a proper, efficacious religion like Christianity. Undoubtedly they are aware of the appalling consequences of Christianity that in the past has been polluted by colonial association, and they wisely would want to avoid their enemies using religion to frustrate and undermine their development, but they are savvy enough to know how to manage the situation and reap the concomitant benefits.
China is a country in transition and rapid development and not just economically, and her leaders are managing that transition with a deft touch and a sense of destiny.
The former President of China, Hu Jintao, perhaps being aware that there needs to be a holistic development of each person - because man is soul, body and spirit - issued some Bible-friendly moral concepts during his time as President.
The eight moral concepts by President Hu Jintao are as follows:
1. Love the country; do it no harm.
2. Serve the people; never betray them.
3. Follow science; discard ignorance.
4. Be diligent; not indolent.
5. Be united, help each other; make no gains at others' expense.
6. Be honest and trustworthy; do not sacrifice ethics for profit.
7. Be disciplined and law-abiding; not chaotic and lawless.
8. Live plainly, work hard; do not wallow in luxuries and pleasures.
Except for one or two of these items one could be forgiven for thinking that they are based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, especially the 8 beatitudes as recorded in Matthew 5:3-12.
A quick perusal of these concepts, even by those with only a rudimentary grasp of the Holy Bible, will reveal that each and every one has scriptural underpinnings. When you make assertions or set out moral guidelines or ethical codes that fully accord with the Scriptures then by definition you are following a biblical pathway. Let us look more closely and these eight moral concepts.
1. Love the country; do it no harm. This is agreeable and endorsed by Psalm 122:6
2. Serve the people; never betray them. Strong sentiments and fully sanctioned as shown here in Ezekiel 48:19 and Matthew 20:27-28
3. Follow science; discard ignorance. A concept unreservedly approved as here in 1 Timothy 6: 20-21
4. Be diligent; not indolent. Fully commended as here in 2 Peter 3:14.
5. Be united; help each other; make no gains at others' expense. Most agreeable and supported by Psalm 133:1 and Proverbs 28:8.
6. Be honest and trustworthy; do not sacrifice ethics for profit. Essential to Christian living as shown in 2 Corinthians 13:7 and Hebrews 13:18.
7. Be disciplined and law-abiding; not chaotic and lawless. Approved fully as shown here in Job 36:10 and 1 Corinthians 14:33.
8. Live plainly, work hard; do not wallow in luxuries and pleasures. Great and laudable as affirmed in Proverbs 6:6-11 and 1 Timothy 6:17.
Each and every concept promulgated by President Hu Jintao is in accord both with the spirit and the letter of Holy Scripture and hence absolutely acceptable to Christians everywhere. This is the direction China has been urged to take and is taking.
We recently said a prayer for Boston, the USA city shattered by a cowardly bombing. We followed that with a prayer for Bangladesh and the families left devastated by the collapse of a garment factory resulting in hundreds of deaths. Happily there is no disaster in China but the need is great and the time is momentous and we should also pray for the Chinese, for we sincerely hope that they may, through the grace and mercy of Almighty God, find the riches and spiritual abundance and divine blessings they are seeking and end up feasting at the table of the Lamb with all the saints in glory. The longer and more onerous the search the sweeter the joy of success. God through Jeremiah said, "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)
Keep going China for what applies to a man can also apply to a nation, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way." (Psalm 37:23), and you will discover that you are nearer to that comprehensive, enduring, existential success that so many nations have found elusive.
Books by this author (non-fiction except indicated otherwise)
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013
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