In the 1940s Christianity was a well-established religion in China, with about 2 million followers. In 1949 the Communist party, led by Chairman Mao, gained control of the country and began to purge all forms of religion from China.
In The Forgotten Ways Alan Hirsch writes, “As part of this systematic persecution, Mao banished all foreign missionaries and ministers, nationalized all church property, killed all the senior leaders, either killed or imprisoned all second- and third-level leaders, banned all public meetings of Christians with the threat of death or torture, and then proceeded to perpetrate one of the cruelest persecutions of Christians on historical record.” (p.19)
Once Mao’s reign came to an end and the so-called “Bamboo Curtain” was lifted in the 1980’s, foreign missionaries and church officials were allowed back into the country, under strict supervision and governmental control. Due to Mao’s systematic persecution of the church these missionaries assumed they would find a remnant of Christianity at best. Down from 2 million Christians to maybe a few thousand. Maybe less.
Instead, here is what they found . . . Christianity did not go from 2 million followers to a few thousand during this time period. It went from 2 million to 60 million people!
Amazed? I was when I heard this for the first time.
So the question is how did it happen?
After all, during that time period Christianity was an illegal religion. Christians were persecuted. They didn’t have any church buildings. They didn’t even have the Scriptures as we know them (the Bible was illegal so a few hundred house churches would get one smuggled copy and share the pages. Many house churches ended up with a single page from the Bible in their possession). They didn’t have a professional form of leadership – no seminary trained pastors.
When you take those facts into account their explosive growth is even more remarkable.
So the question that is begging to be asked is this: How did they do it? Theologian and author Alan Hirsch has dedicated his life to finding an answer to these questions. Here is what he has discovered.
The Chinese church had to condense and purify their core message. For an underground church, all of the clutter of unnecessary tradition and theology is removed because it has neither the time nor the capacity to bother with such things. The church must “travel light.” Therefore, all unnecessary complexities are extracted and in the process a miracle happens – the people discover their core message, and a movement is born.
Hirsch writes, “At the center and circumference of every significant Jesus movement [in the history of the world] there exists a very simple confession. Simple, but one that fully vibrates with the primal energies of the scriptural faith, namely, that of the claim of the One God over every aspect of every life, and the response of his people to that claim (see Deuteronomy 6:4-6). The way that this was expressed in the New Testament and later movements was simply, ‘Jesus is Lord!’ With this simple confession they changed the world.” (p.24)
“Jesus is Lord” is a phrase you may have heard before. It may even be something you have a “been there and done that” attitude about. But the statement “Jesus is Lord” is far more radical than what we think because it means the claim of Jesus over every area of our lives. Until people mistake you for Jesus Christ because everything you think, say, and do is exactly what Jesus would think, say, and do if he were in your shoes, then Jesus is not fully Lord in every area of your life yet . . . and this is true for everyone. We are all a work in progress. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” – Philippians 2:13 (NLT)
As Christians we should be progressively bringing every aspect of our lives under the rule and reign of God, so that Jesus is not just our Savior, but our Lord. Submitting to the Lordship of Jesus means doing what Jesus would do if he were in your shoes. It also means obeying his teachings not based on obedience for obedience’s sake, but out of love and gratitude for what Jesus has done for you. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For Christ’s love compels us . . .” — 2 Corinthians 5:14 (NIV) Therefore, the Bible should not be seen as a book of rules but as a love letter, showing us how to the way God, our loving Father who knows best and wants the best for us, intended us to live.
May Jesus not just be your Savior. May He be your Lord.
***Join us this Sunday at The Eastside Vineyard Church. This will be an extra-special night for a couple reasons. Craig Mayes is back in town and he will be preaching… and it will be our final church service at Heritage Church before we make our big move to Shelby Junior High. Join us! Sunday. October 2nd. 6pm. More info at tevchurch.org***