When Christians in America talk about China it usually is a conversation filled with a sense of foreboding focusing on how hard it must be to follow Jesus in a country that has not historically been seen as friendly to Christians. What I found in on my recent trip was that it is very possible that Christians in the west are the ones who are really at a disadvantage. Why? In many ways it is just too easy to be a Christian in America and other western countries where Christianity has historically been strong.
Consider that on Sunday morning we went to church in Beijing. This church has 5 services each Sunday. Eight hundred in the main auditorium and 500 in an overflow. It is packed for all five services. What was really incredible was that people stood in a line for half and hour before each service just to get a seat. It was near 90 degrees out yet they waited patiently. Twenty minutes before the service and the place was packed. In most churches in America people regularly come in late and leave early.
When the worship team started the singing on the part of the congregation was inspiring. They nearly took the roof of the place. Everyone was engaged and seemed to want to make sure that Jesus knew they were praising Him. There were no casual folks looking to be entertained. They were either legitimate seekers deeply interested in finding out about Jesus or in most cases, already following Him and glad to let the nations know that their Lord is King.
In speaking with the pastor I got an even clearer picture of what it is like for people to follow Jesus in China. There is very little in the way of programs that the church can do to impact the community. Organized church evangelism projects or even programs intended to serve the needy are frowned upon by the government. To actively evangelize is viewed as disturbing the balance and harmony of society. So the church can’t program that. Organized programs to meet the basic needs of people is the role of government. So no church food banks, or clothing drives, or other common ministries that churches carry out in the west.
So how is it that the church is packed and growing if it can’t do evangelism programs or serving ministry for the needs of people? Simple, the church can’t organize these things but individual Christians can do these things. And guess what! They are doing it. Without fancy programs and events and staff organizing things, these followers of Jesus are living out their faith, everywhere, everyday. As a result people ask them about Jesus. When that happens you are free to share the Gospel. If you see a person in need you are free to meet that need, just like the Good Samaritan that Jesus taught about in Luke 15. They are being living witnesses and doing what the Bible tells them to do. As a result Christianity in China is alive and well.
Is it harder to follow Jesus in China. Sure it is. But not for the reasons we usually think. It is harder to follower him there because it is too easy to follow him here. In reality I am not sure what many of us Christians in the west are doing can really be called following Jesus. It is far too easy. There is no cost to it, no deep personal investment. We look to Jesus to be our spiritual and emotional fix-it guy. If suddenly there were no church programs to do ministry I fear that Christian activity in the west would slow to a crawl. In China the opposite is true. They are not handicapped by our expectation that the church does everything. They are instead living for Him no matter what. Their lack of programs has meant that as individuals they own their faith deeply and follow Jesus gladly and with passion. Maybe for them it really is easier to truly follow Jesus. It is harder for them to do church than it is for us, but that is not exactly the same thing as following Jesus.