Christianity is Thriving in China While Dying in the West: Suffering is a Major Difference
Maybe it should not be this way, but it is anyhow: the way believers respond to biblical truth is often determined by where they are at – by the environment they are in. Christians living in nations where suffering and persecution are the norm will often respond to Scripture differently than those living in the comfortable, affluent and self-centred West.
Consider China for example. The Chinese government is again ferociously cracking down on Christians there, with churches being closed, believers arrested and tortured, and people even being paid to turn in their believing neighbours. It is even rewriting the Bible to make it align with official policy and ideology.
As one professor from Duke University notes: “The government has orchestrated a campaign to ‘sinicise’ Christianity, to turn Christianity into a fully domesticated religion that would do the bidding of the party.”
While anti-Christian bigotry in the West is certainly on the increase, it is not yet as bad as it is in so much of Asia and the Middle East. But we seem to ignore the issue. I have penned a number of articles on suffering recently. Given that it is mainly Westerners who come to my website, it may not be surprising that these pieces are not read very much, shared very much, liked very much, or commented on very much.
It seems most Western Christians are not interested in the topic of suffering – even though the Bible speaks to the issue time and time again. Sometimes I wonder what it would take to interest Western believers, to really get their attention, and to cause them shout loud “amens” to what I have written.
Perhaps a lead-in paragraph like this might do the trick: “Christians, do you want to experience a revitalised love relationship with the Lord, see the church profoundly reinvigorated, help the lost become eager for the gospel, and mightily impact the surrounding culture?”
I hope that all Christians would get excited at something like that, and say, “Count me in brother!” But what if I continued by saying, “OK, then one sure way of seeing all this happen is if we start really suffering for Christ. As the opposition and persecution really starts to hot up, these are the results we should expect to see.”
Hmm, why do I think that at this point most Christians would find something else to attend to. I likely would have lost the great majority of them. If this scenario is even halfway accurate, then I have made my case. We in the West just do not want to think about nor talk about suffering. We are far too keen to have our ‘best life now’. And we have far too many preachers happy to give us this distorted and unbiblical message.
While the Bible does not necessarily encourage us to seek out suffering, nor pray to get more suffering, there is no question that it everywhere attests to the great value of suffering. Such hardships and trials separate the sheep from the goats, they refine God’s people, they help them to grow spiritually, and they bring them closer to Christ and his sufferings.
Let me return to the situation in China. There the persecution is so intense that believers have no choice but to seek to memorise the Bible – yes the whole Bible. As the title of a brand-new article puts it, “Chinese Christians memorize entire Bible in prison: Gov’t ‘can’t take what’s hidden in your heart’.” Let me quote from it:
Chinese Christians imprisoned for their faith are memorizing Scripture passages smuggled to them on small pieces of paper because prison guards “can’t take what’s hidden in your heart,” one former prisoner revealed. In a recent sermon, Wayne Cordeiro, pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, Hawaii, shared an experience he had on a trip to China, where the church went to train leaders.
The pastor shared how 22 Christians from the Hunan Province took a 13-hour train ride to attend the leadership training held at a 700-square-foot hotel room. Out of the 22 Christians present, 18 had been imprisoned for their faith, the pastor revealed. “If we get caught what will happen to me?” Cordeiro began by asking. “Well, you will get deported in 24 hours, and we will go to prison for three years,” the Chinese Christians responded.
After beginning his lesson, the pastor realized he only had 15 Bibles to pass around, so seven people went without. “I said, ‘turn to 2 Peter 1, we are going to read it.’ Just then one lady handed hers to the person next to her, and I thought ‘hmm interesting,’” he recalled. As the Christians began reading, he quickly realized why she had given her Bible away: she had memorized the whole book.
“When it was done, I went over to her at a break and said, ‘You recited the whole chapter,’” he said. She replied, “In prison, you have much time in prison.” “Don’t they confiscate the Bible?” he asked. She said that while any Christian material is indeed confiscated, people smuggle in scripture written on paper and hide it from the prison guards.
“That’s why we memorize it as fast as we can because even though they can take the paper away, they can’t take what’s hidden in your heart,” she explained. Following the three-day training session, one Chinese Christian man asked Cordeiro, “Could you pray that one day we could just be like you?” “I looked at him and said, ‘I will not do that,’” he replied. “You guys rode a train 13 hours to get here. In my country, if you have to drive more than an hour, people won’t come.”
“You sat on a wooden floor for three days. In my country, if people have to sit for more than 40 minutes they leave. You sat here for not only three days on a hard wooden floor, in my country if it’s not padded pews and air conditioning, people will not come back. In my country, we have an average of two Bibles per family. We don’t read any of them. You hardly have any Bibles and you memorize them from pieces of paper. I will not pray that you become like us, but I will pray that we become just like you,” he concluded.
Yes Cordeiro’s responses are 100 per cent spot on. Simply look at what Western Christians have memorised. It would not be much of Scripture, but they likely have down pat the words to the latest trendy pop song or film. They would have plenty of worldly entertainment memorised, but would have little clue as to what is in their own Bibles.
That in good measure is why the church in the West is so anaemic, so ineffective, and so unappealing to the world. It is just like the world. The article finishes by quoting from American pastor Francis Chan:
Francis Chan said he believes the reason the underground Chinese church has grown so large is that Chinese Christians “actually believed they could make disciples and start these gatherings because Jesus was enough.” “I started to think, ‘This is what made the underground church in China unstoppable. If you have a group of people that actually embrace suffering, how are you ever going to stop them?'” he asked during the “Rethink Church/Rethink Mission” event at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Virginia, in October.
Chan argued that the problem with churches in the West is they are “so stoppable the moment it gets too difficult.” “What if you actually go, ‘I want to suffer for Christ?'” Chan asked. “Will you suffer to obey these things? Will you actually sacrifice? Because it’s a lot easier to come somewhere and be fed than to love [others] as much as Christ loved you, as much as the Father loves the Son, and to break bread with [others] thinking, ‘Christ was tortured for me; would I do that for [others]?'”
And what made Chan see things this way? Suffering. After seeing how believers so greatly suffered in so much of the world, he quit his megachurch leadership in California and opened a few small house churches. I spoke to this recently here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/07/04/francis-chan-christian-discipleship-house-churches/
So will we learn from our Chinese brothers and sisters about what real Christianity is? Or will it just be more business as usual? It is up to each one of us to decide.
16 Replies to “Christianity is Thriving in China While Dying in the West: Suffering is a Major Difference”
Amen. I spoke to a brother recently who expressed to the effect that, ‘Well, suffering coming upon the Church would be good, as it would wake everyone up’. This was in regard to taking (or not taking) action against suppression of religious freedom.
I kind of think it was in not quite the right sequence; shouldn’t it be, we go out of our way to suffer *now* as we fight, so we do not lose religious freedom in the first place?
Thank you Bill, another insightful yet sad & oh so true article. Years ago I heard that Chinese Christians pray we won’t have it so good we forget God.
Just my opinion but the church died spiritually in 1953. That’s when the 501c3 tax exempt status was ushered in. To get this status pastors had to sign an oath to the state not to discuss serious sins such as abortion, homosexuality, pornography, etc. Shortly after prayer was gone, abortion legalized, pornography legalized, & on and on it goes. The church of Satan in the U.S. recently acquired it’s 501c3 exemption. I’ve read 95-99% of the church is 501c3. I fear that the only way to bring the church back is persecution. Whenever I try to have a serious discussion with Christians serious sin they go silent and want nothing to do with praying about these things let alone literally doing something like phone calls, petitions, contacting politicians, etc.
I love garlic and know that unless garlic is crushed it won’t taste or have the nutritional benefits as the whole clove.
Out of the presses of pain cometh forth the best wine. [author unknown]
God bless you for the awesome articles that remind us how much we have fallen. “Lord, Jesus forgive us, we know not the evil we have embraced through our silence.”
Voice your Australian religious freedom concerns.
Ask a man whose wife is being gang raped and children beheaded for Christ’s sake, how excited he is about the new superhero or Star Wars movie and see what he says.
American Christendom has the luxury of being enamored with all the same utterly vapid and meaningless frivolity that has swallowed the pagans around it.
There is hardship and oppression coming to Christians on this continent that we think can only happen somewhere else.
Because well… ya know… WE live here.
Just as “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” (Thomas Jefferson) so too must the church from time to time endure persecution. As the blood of patriots is natural manure to the cause of Liberty so too is persecution and the martyrs blood it produces natural manure to the cause of Christ. (Look how great the pre-Constantine conversion church in the west was in converting people and in strength of faith) Comfort becomes a poison to both liberty and Christianity choking off life from their respective trees. The west will soon enter Great persecution which will trim away the dead wood and give new life to the branches still firmly planted in Christ.
I have woken with our brothers and sisters in Christ that you have told us about on my heart! We read your post yesterday evening, then spent the evening reading back over your previous links that you have written over the years. Thank you, thank you Bill for shaking us awake! Our mighty God is looking down with His heart full of love on His suffering church at the same time that He looks down on us who are so fortunate – but so soft! God bless you, Bill, for this powerful challenge – and call to prayer! – to us all!
Many thanks Suzanna.
Thank you so much for this enlightening article and you’re right that we here in the west are very stoppable when difficulties come up in our lives. and we lose out as we don’t learn the value of our roots going down deep into Christ. I’m finding the difficulty of so many distractions is so very true also. Thank you once again and may we all learn the value of suffering that causes us to go deeper with god
Spot on. Comfort and safety is our default mode in the west and we are constantly being ‘told’ that these are our ‘rights’ too. Those rights have long been stripped away in the East and Middle East for certain sections of the population.
The old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is oft quoted but rarely embraced.
I have just one little issue around Francis chan being quoted and used as an example…currently he appears to have gone a little awry from what I read.
Thanks Dallas. I am certainly with you in your opening lines, but not so much with your last ones. To be honest, I am no fan of heresy hunters, and they are a dime a dozen. Having a somewhat different theological perspective does NOT make you a heretic or an apostate. There is not nothing in this article to show that Chan is an apostate. All we have is another ornery cessationist who thinks that all non-cessationists are of the devil. Charismatic Christians are not heretics, apostates, nor Satan’s spawn – they are simply charismatic Christians. But please have a careful read of these articles for much more on why we really need to ease up on this unhelpful – and often Pharisaical – heresy hunting:
And all this from someone who is very concerned about sound doctrine and good teaching, as anyone reading this sight can see! But thanks for your thoughts.
Sorry Bill. My intention was not to indicate Francis Chan IS an apostate and I didn’t mean to imply I believed this to be so. I just like to look at several positions and then draw my own conclusions over time. In short, to be discerning. I will check in and see where Francis Chan is over the next while. Not sure all cessationists think non-cessationist are devil spawn or that all cessationists believe ALL the gifts have ceased either? Thanks for your pieces for me to read.
You might like to have a look at this clip too. Regards – Dallas
Thanks again Dallas. No probs – I can appreciate that you may not think Chan is a heretic or apostate simply because he is open to charismatic Christianity. But of course far too many people do think that way (including the person who penned the piece you shared with me!). And these folks tend to say this not only about Chan, but about anyone else who dares to differ with them on these matters. Thus even I am clearly an apostate or worse in their eyes because I am not opposed to all charismatic or Pentecostal Christianity.
Can such forms of Christianity have unhelpful and dangerous excesses and extremes? Sure, as does ANY expression of Christianity. But a theological position should not be judged just by how some of its more extreme or loopy proponents run with it. I do get rather tired of folks throwing the baby out with the bath water in these areas.
And to be honest, one really need not seek to educate me about cessationism, for the simple reason that I was one of the biggest, most vocal, and most dogmatic cessationists around for many years! I was only way too happy to pronounce anathemas on anyone who dared to be open to charismatic Christianity. Over the years however I have shifted a bit on some of these matters. But I speak to all this much more fully here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/10/18/on-strange-fire-part-one/
And here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/10/18/on-strange-fire-part-two/
So you can read all about what I have to say on these things in that 2-part article. And as I said there, it is not my intention to let this site become yet another theological boxing ring, where anti-cessationists dump on and condemn all cessationists, or where cessationists dump on and condemn all anti-cessationists. But thanks again.
Dallas I take truth when it is presented even if the source has problems on other things. Agreeing with someone on one thing does NOT mean you agree with everything that drips from their lips. Some have problems with arminians or Calvins etc but if they are speaking truth on a particular point I will quote them. You’d be surprised how many non christians speak truthful things. I will run with the truth when it is spoken even from people who don’t get much else right. although I prefer sources that get much right. Sometimes having secular sources can be a benefit to getting through to non-christians. God will put his truth out there even in the unlikeliest of lips. as they say “sometimes from the mouths of babes and fools”. God once got a donkey to speak wisdom to a human! (though that was prior to the modern democrat party)
Interesting … reading how the Chinese Christians memorise the Bible reminds me of the last 15 pages or so of the novel “Fahrenheit 451” where the book-readers (the ‘outcasts’) memorise various books, including the Bible.
As for how the church in the West is going, I was sent an email of the following web page: http://www.shangralafamilyfun.com/funny.html several years back by another couple at church … no doubt there is a bit of truth in this.
John that reminds me of something I heard once: “Most people wish to serve God … but only in an advisory capacity.”