Dr. Fenggang Yang is a Professor of Sociology at Purdue University and Director of the university’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society. He was recently interviewed in The Telegraph, and he made this remarkable statement:
By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon.
How soon is “very soon?” According to Dr. Yang’s calculation, China’s Protestant community, which had only one million members in 1949, will reach 160 million in 2025. The U.S. Protestant community is currently at 159 million, but its population is declining. Based on these numbers, then, “very soon” will be in less than 11 years!
Is that a realistic prediction? I have no idea. According to the article, there were 58 million Protestants in China in 2010, which already puts them above Brazilian Protestants and South African Protestants in terms of sheer numbers. Of course, one has to put these numbers in perspective. There are about 1.3 billion people in China right now, so this all these Protestants make up only 4% of the population, and if they reach Dr. Yang’s projected number in 2025, they will still be only about 10% of the population. Nevertheless, those numbers are quite remarkable for a country that is officially atheist.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Yang’s prediction has produced some negative comments from China’s Communist Party.
About a week after The Telegraph ran the story in which Dr. Yang’s predictions were reported, it ran another story that featured the comments of Ye Xiaowen, a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. He said:
It is completely meaningless to predict how many people might believe in Christianity in China in the future.
He also called Dr. Yang’s prediction “unscientific” and “not rooted in fact.” Interestingly enough, there is no indication of how Mr. Ye came to those conclusions.
I think the actions of the Communist Party indicate that Mr. Ye’s words might not reflect its actual beliefs on this issue. According to yet another story in The Telegraph, there are those who think that the Chinese government is trying to suppress the growth of Christianity. According to activists in Wenzhou, a port city in China, churches have been ordered to stop displaying bright red crosses or risk being demolished. The story also says:
A high-level government directive, leaked in late 2012, ordered universities’ chiefs to guard against a gang of “US-led Western countries” which were “infiltrating” Chinese campuses and “using religion to carry out their political plot to westernise and divide China”.
If these accounts are true, it seems that the Chinese government fears the rise of Christianity and is trying to do what it can to at least slow it down a bit.
Of course, I seriously doubt they will be successful. Indeed, according to Dr. David Jeffrey, provost at Baylor University, there might be a historical parallel to what we see going on in China right now. Here is how Dr. Mark Noll, Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, puts Dr. Jeffrey’s contention:
Once before, Jeffrey remarks, a great world power passed through tumultuous times as Christian ranks expanded on the margins of society. It was the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. In that turmoil the Emperor Constantine was converted and became, from the top of the imperial system, a supporter of Christianity as a new glue for the empire. Is it impossible to imagine that a new Constantine might exist somewhere in the junior ranks of the Chinese communist party?
I don’t know the answer to Dr. Jeffrey’s question. However, I do know that there will be those who receive the truth with glad hearts (Acts 2:41-47) and those who turn their ears away from it (2 Timothy 4:4). It seems that more Chinese people are doing the former, while many Americans are doing the latter.