Having read The Heavenly Man about Brother Yun, I am now fascinated to get the larger perspective in Jesus in Beijing. Written by retired Time magazine correspondent, David Aikman, who has been in and out of China since the 1970s, this book documents how the Gospel has come to China in three major waves over a period of nearly 1400 years.
The Gospel first came to China in A. D. 635, but it had all but disappeared by the end of the fourteenth century. The record of a large Christian community from this era was carved on a stone tablet which had been hidden in the ground for over 800 years, until its discovery in 1623. By the time of its discovery the Gospel had returned. Yet by the nineteenth century it seemed possible that Christianity was again in danger of vanishing.
It was not until 1807 that Protestant missionaries first arrived in China. And yet Robert Morrison only won ten converts in twenty-seven years. While the Gospel message in the 1800s was then preached in a purer form than was understood by the first two movements, a heretical new movement was also spawned, the Society of God -Worshippers. Hudson Taylor arrived in 1866. While God used the China Inland Mission, there were several anti-foreign backlashes, including the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.
By 1926 there were 8,325 Protestant missionaries in China, the most ever. Yet by 1949 Mao Zedong and the communists had forced out all foreign missionaries, leaving approximately three million Chinese Catholics and three-quarters of a million Protestants. Then there was the terrible persecution of the Church during the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guard attempted to eradicate all religion from China. The West feared that the Church in China had died and we did not know until the late 1970s what really happened.
In 1977 Christianity Today published an article entitled “Where Have All the Churches Gone?” A priest who had left China twenty-eight years earlier returned and reported that he saw no signs that the Chinese had any interest in religion. He looked for Catholic churches and found they had been turned into civic centers, schools, and stores.
Yet what actually has happened was that the Chinese church has grown to about 80 million believers. China is now one of the leading Christian nations in the world and yet the Chinese government officially is still atheistic. Yet the Church has an annual growth rate of 7%. They have had at least 3000 conversions every day for 40 years. In a sense Pentecost has been repeated daily for a generation. Aikman wrote in 2003 that Christians are everywhere and have even infiltrated the highest levels of government. No longer is Christianity a foreign religion. It reaches deep into Chinese culture and society and has grown “at a staggering speed since 1979.” “China is in the process of becoming Christianized.” It is projected that within three decades Christians will constitute 20-30% of China’s population. It is estimated that there are now 1000 underground seminaries in China which are training the next generation of leaders. But as recently as twenty-five years ago it appeared that the third wave of evangelism might also vanish.
Instead the Church in China has grown in spite of one failure and reversal after another. While we can today rejoice in the growth of Christianity in China, why did a sovereign God take 1400 years to do what he could have done in a day? Why did it take so long for this seed to produce a harvest? Why did he allow his Church to suffer repeatedly and so many of his preachers to be martyred? And how many of these heroes languished and died in prison never knowing the glory of God that would one day come to China? It all seems like such a waste. However, in God’s economy nothing is ever lost. It all appears to be such an inefficient plan, but the very process of conveying the message of salvation through human preachers seems foolish (1 Cor 1:21). God does not really owe us an answer, but we do owe him our faithfulness. Yet “persecution is the growing pain of the church. It is good for the church.” Pastor Samuel Lamb testifies, “The more persecution, the more the church grows.” In 1999 he asked the government to arrest him again. Chinese church leaders worry, “If things are too open it is not good. Under hardship the Chinese church will be healthy. I am concerned that some day when things are totally open there will be corruption.” They also worry about the egotistical, affluent lifestyle of American churches. And so God, through persecution, has kept his Chinese Church pure and prepared to carry the Gospel to the rest of the world.
In The Late Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey declared that the 200 million troops of Revelation 9:16 were Red Chinese soldiers who would fight at Armageddon. This conjecture was based on nothing other than the fact that in 1965 China boasted of an army of 200 million. Forty years later the reality is that there is an army of Chinese Christians marching back to Jerusalem with the goal of converting the Muslim world to Christ. Their goal is 100,000 missionaries, double the current total of American Catholic and Protestant missionaries working overseas.
The postmillennial world view is a long-term vision for the success of the Gospel. In contrast, dispensationalism is myopic. According to this near-sighted view the terminal generation was alive in 1948. Despite all its revisions, dispensationalism is running out of time. But time is on the side of postmillennialism.
We pray for revival, but revival is simply the acceleration of normal kingdom growth. While it is right to pray for the extraordinary work of the Spirit, we should not despise the quiet but steady yeast that permeates this world (Matt 13:33). Whether or not we ever live to see world revival, we should not be moved from our calling. We should always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58). When the Apostle Peter wrote that with the Lord a day is like a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8), he was not giving historicists a formula with which to calculate the date of the return of Christ. Rather he was encouraging us, though we are finite creatures and cannot see the big picture, that God inhabits eternity and his truth is marching on. That truth endures to all generations (Psalm 100:5; 145:4).