Writing on Chinese Christianity in the global context, researcher Todd Johnson contrasts two notable trends.
From 1900 to 2010, Christians as a percentage of the global population declined slightly from 34.5% to 32.9%. During that same period in China, however, the Christian (both Protestant and Catholic) percentage of the population increased from 0.3% to 7.9%.
“At the same time that Christianity in the global North has been declining,” writes Johnson, “Christianity in the global South has been on the rise. Chinese Christianity is part of that story.”
Johnson’s article, appearing in the autumn 2015 issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, highlights the counterintuitive nature of the growth of Christianity in China. The church grew most significantly during the period in which it was cut off from the global Christian community. In a post-denominational China, Johnson points out, most of this growth has taken place among “Independents,” primarily among China’s “house church” Christians.
Johnson cites this unique lack of denominations as a potential area where the church in China can contribute to the development of the global church. On the other hand, Johnson notes, as the influence of the global church upon the church in China increases, believers in China may themselves move toward the reestablishment of denominations.
Andrew Kaiser, the guest editor of this issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, picks up a similar theme in his review of Henrietta Harrison’s The Missionary Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village. According to Harrison, Catholicism in China was identified more closely with the indigenous culture during those periods when Western missionaries were limited in terms of their resources and authority. Conversely, the more Chinese Catholic communities were exposed, through missionary influence and institutions, to the global Catholic community, the greater the cultural divergence between Chinese Catholics and their neighbors.
Other contributors to this latest issue of ChinaSource Quarterly examine further the tension between the pull of a strong indigenous church tradition, cultivated largely in the absence of influence from the church outside China, and the current reintegration of the Chinese church into the global Christian community. In the process they look at the role of Christians from outside China as they seek both to affirm the unique gifts the Lord has given to the Chinese church while at the same time serving as bridges to the church outside China. This task calls for much humility, cultural sensitivity, and spiritual discernment.
More Chinese, or more global?
The 2015 autumn issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, “Serving in the midst of Change” is now available. Read it online or dowload it here.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio