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AMAZING GROWTH IN WHAT USED TO BE “THE HARD PLACES”
One of my good friends just came back from China after a trip to join with Chinese officials to launch the first officially approved study Bible in Mandarin, the main language of China. He also met some pastors in the official Church and attended a service in a large church building that was constructed by the government. The minister of this church said his biggest problem was finding a way to disciple the large numbers coming to faith in Jesus and attending his church. He was baptizing another 100 new converts the next Sunday.
My personal connections have been with the leaders of the unofficial Church in China. A few years ago, when I was just getting to know some of these extraordinary people, the majority of them women, I was talking to one lady who has a great heart for the Chinese missions movement known as Back To Jerusalem. Another person who knew her took me aside later the same day and asked if I knew much about her. He then explained that she has been an extraordinarily fruitful person for decades. “She knows what it is to lead 10,000 people to Christ in a day!”
DO THE CHINESE PEOPLE BELIEVE THEIR PRAYER, “THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE…” IS BEING ANSWERED? SURELY THEY DO!
My recent article about the Middle East provides another context for that question. Anyone can see that there is unprecedented growth in the numbers of people following Jesus. The figures are not yet statistically impressive, but with hundreds of millions of people in that part of the world, only tens of millions would be statistically significant. But the numbers are huge when compared to any time in the last 13 centuries. Do the faithful there believe that the Kingdom is coming? They certainly do! There was such buoyant faith in the meetings I attended in the Gulf and in Egypt.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT
Our context always shapes our perspective. Most people who live around where I live, in Europe (or islands off the coast of Europe, depending on your politics), would not think that the Kingdom of God is on the move. Marti and I have lived in Europe for nearly 50 years now. When we first came, it was during the exciting days of the charismatic movement. We attended meetings of thousands of people from many different churches and denominations and excitement was in the air. Soon after we moved here in 1971, over 25,000 people gathered in central London to proclaim the name of Jesus in the Nationwide Festival of Light.
About 15 years later I helped convene 55,000 people for a prayer meeting that grew to global proportions and became known as March For Jesus. I think it was 1992 when I stood on a stage in Hyde Park, London and looked over a crowd of 100,000 worshiping people. It certainly felt like the Kingdom was coming!
On the other hand, I recently read an article by a British journalist, similar to articles I have read from time to time, in which he quoted the official statistics of church attendance and concluded that Christianity is disappearing in the UK and Western Europe. He concluded with a well-worn sentence;
“Will the last person leaving the Church please turn off the lights?”
That’s the way it seems from his context. Context makes a difference. But I have to ask, are the statistics he is referring to reliable pointers to the health of the Christian faith? The picture I see is quite different. I see that:
Much of the vitality of the charismatic movement is now expressed in small groups and congregations that meet in homes, school auditoria, town halls, business facilities, warehouses etc. No one could accurately track the numbers.
If we simply poll the traditional denomination HQs and measure the numbers meeting in official church buildings, the results are negative and can be extrapolated to the point when they will be zero. But that picture is not representative of the Body of Christ.
Because it is no longer socially important to attend church, those who do, most often do so out of genuine commitment to follow Jesus.
There are church planting movements that are becoming more dynamic and statistically significant every year, especially in the Church of England.
Almost every church in our town has grown significantly in the past decade and there is more mutual respect and unity than any time in recorded history! I hear that in town after town in Britain.
I’M OLD ENOUGH TO DO A LITTLE HISTORY
When Marti and I first moved to London, we could not find a church with obvious spiritual life. But we did find a curate (if you are not familiar with that term, it is kind of a trainee minister) at a small church with a big building by the name of Holy Trinity Brompton. Nicholas Rivett-Carnac conducted small healing services and prayed for life in HTB. Today that church has world-wide impact through the Alpha Course and has packed multiple weekend services to cope with the crowds. It has also planted congregations that plant congregations that plant congregations… so that no one can count how many churches have been impacted.
I conclude from all this anecdotal evidence that “social Christianity” has died in the past 7 decades but that genuine faith and discipleship has grown many times over. I also conclude that the move away from institutional church and towards informal but consistent fellowship between believers is very hard to track and no journalists I know of have even made an attempt.
THE BLINDNESS OF HUBRIS
Speaking of journalism, there was a recent discussion about why the BBC should produce more religious broadcasting. In the course of that discussion the head of religious broadcasting, James Purnell, identified himself as an atheist. He also confirmed that the BBC would be increasing the number of religious programmes. However, in the light of “the steady decline of Christianity” they would be sure the programming is of a multi-faith nature.
One third of the world’s population identify themselves as Christians!! Where has this man been?
Well, he has been in the context of the “educated liberal elite” many of whom have somehow come to believe they are in the majority, even though they are a very small minority in this world. His response in a recent interview demonstrates the approach of so many of the liberal elite to religion. A broadcast journalist asked him, ‘Are you a religious man?’, to which Purnell replied: ‘I’m not…I’m an atheist but I think the issues around belief are incredibly important to how we live. But not important to how HE lives?
These are the people who feed us information about our world, either directly or indirectly.
But they do so from a sort of echo chamber of like-minded people and their context warps their perception and conclusions. Almost everything they say about the Christian faith has to be seen through the knowledge that they don’t know nearly as much about the world as they think they do. Constant immersion in the society of the highly educated elites dulls the senses.
TWO WAYS TO SEE THE WORLD
I am grateful that, over the decades, I have travelled to so much of the world on a very small budget. So I don’t often stay in hotels; I am not hosted by powerful people; I don’t travel on private jets or in first class. I usually live with local people at their level, eat their food, meet their families etc. On every continent and virtually every nation there is evidence that the Kingdom of God is growing—but that evidence is usually seen at grass-roots level.
Once a person becomes either rich or powerful they can no longer see the world like that. Sadly, most of our elite leaders have never lived at a time when they could mingle with normal people in different parts of the world. They don’t know what it is to see reality without it being “managed” with political or financial motives in mind. Wealth and power are terribly isolating!
All that is about context. You might continue to hear, from journalists and broadcasters in parts of the the developed world that Christianity is dying out. Sympathize with the predicament of their context, but more importantly, remember, their view is usually blinkered.
“THY KINGDOM COME” is being answered like never before in the history of mankind!
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