Friday, October 8, 2010

The House Church of China represented at the Lausanne Congress

The Lausanne Congress gathers in a couple of weeks in South Africa. It's a worldwide gathering of evangelical leaders. This is the third congress that's been held since they were started in the 70's. Around 4,000 people will attend from 200 countries around the world.

The other day a news article popped up talking about the Chinese house church participation in the conference. This is a big deal - the house church has never been represented before. The growth of the Christian Church in China is probably something that will go on the timeline of major events in Christian history through all time. In 1949 missionaries were expelled from China, leaving behind about 500,000 believers, most of them Catholic. This stat alone is a bit shocking - generations of foreign missions of all types really made very little headway when you consider the size of China. The church had entered China and died twice before. By the 60's the West though the church in China was dead again, and it does indeed seem that most of the tradition of the missionaries died in the communist clampdown.

However, in the 60's something inexplicable happened that I suppose you could only attribute to God because you really can't attribute it to foreign missions, who were effectively shut out of the country. There are crazy stories of how people discovered the Christian faith and began preaching and forming churches, and then mass conversions of stunning proportions followed despite intense persecution from Mao's government. Most of this was happening without Western awareness. Now, 40 years later, the church has grown rather organically from essentially nothing to somewhere between 40 and 100 million professing Christian believers (hard to track when they're still mostly hiding from the government). This is the largest and fastest church growth in the history of Christianity, and it gives China one of the largest populations of Christians in the world.

In any case, as I said, this is the first time that members of those underground house churches have been present at the Lausanne Congress, and check out this news about their presence there:
Lausanne committee of China has shared before that “after praying together, China’s pastors have decided to be responsible for their own expenses and won’t accept any foreign financial support in order to express their gratitude towards the overseas members who have supported them in the past. In addition, they also will fund-raise the traveling expenses for 100 pastors in the less-fortunate and neighboring countries.” “Of the 200 participating nations, (initially) only the U.S. and China did not apply for support from Lausanne International, then India and Sri Lanka were challenged from seeing China’s churches, so they also raised their point of not accepting any foreign supports.” 
 How cool is that? It's not like Chinese house churches are rolling in dough, and yet they came up with this idea themselves - to pay their own way and then to pay for others.

My trip to China this past summer did not touch the house church movement, and yet some students  would quietly mention that they believed Jesus or read the Bible. Other students were always surprised - they assume their world is filled with atheists and Buddhists. Friends and family that have come in contact with house church networks come back incredibly humbled by the quiet and unrecognized faith and leadership they found there. The older believers often came to faith miraculously and often were imprisoned for it. Amazing. We're watching history happen.

*For more info on the growth of the church in China, read the former Beijing Bureau Chief for TIME Magazine's book, Jesus in Beijing. Or just read an article from The Guardian on the topic this week.

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