We may get discouraged as we watch the decline of Christianity in our part of the world. Meanwhile, in China, millions of people are coming to Christ and churches are popping up everywhere.
Average estimates put the number of China’s Christians at 100 million and growing. This gospel explosion presents a great need for both pastors and Bible resources. Across the country there are an estimated 60,000 believers for every trained pastor! This lack of shepherds—and resources to prepare more for ministry—creates a great challenge.
Spiritually starving people will “eat” almost anything. Many dear Chinese brothers and sisters have told me what Christian resources are available to them; much of it ranges from merely odd to worthless or worse. Most new believers don’t have a strong enough biblical foundation to know the difference between sound and unsound doctrine. For many, any resources from America with the word “Christian” attached is assumed to be right.
As president of Teaching Truth International, I have made 20 mission trips to China, where I teach theology and other Bible-related courses to pastors and church leaders. In February 2013, I had the privilege of delivering 12 copies of R.C. Sproul’s Essential Truths of the Christian Faith to some of these fellow laborers in Christ. Those who received this “theological famine relief” from TGC-International Outreach were thrilled almost beyond words, because even though Christian material is legal (with some restrictions), the demand is much greater than the supply. Christian books are still somewhat rare and theology books are rarer—especially those with sound doctrine.
When I share scriptural knowledge from the printed works of godly theologians, my students scribble notes like crazy as they try to take down what I say word-for-word. They want a detailed explanation of every verse, even every word. At the completion of one course, a student showed me his notebook with 126 pages of writing!
Western believers are usually surprised that China allows Christian materials. The political climate has changed considerably in the last 20 years, and though restrictions still exist, many have been lifted. The extent of religious freedom depends largely on the attitude of local officials, but overall Christians now have freedom to do things that once would have landed them in prison.
An example of this relaxed climate is seen at Haidian Church in Beijing, where I am blessed to teach Bible courses. This on-fire body of 10,000 believers has planted a start-up church in the shopping mall of one of China’s Hi-tech Zones. Open to all, the church blares Christian music to passers-by every day. In addition to its full church service every Sunday, they conduct a mid-day service each workday to preach the gospel to workers and shoppers who come in to hear the music. There is no opposition from government, nearby shop owners, or “offended” shoppers. This church plant has grown to 300 members. The gospel is unleashed and running wild.
In America we have religious freedom officially but not socially. It is increasingly unpopular in Western society to preach against sin, so that Christians are seen as bigots and “haters”. In China there is less official freedom, but you can strike up a conversation with almost anyone, anywhere about “religion.” People are eager to talk and many are receptive to the message that has been suppressed for many years. The gospel is flourishing in both the officially recognized churches (the Three-Self Patriotic Movement) and in unregistered “house churches”.
Western Christians might think America is the center of church growth and evangelism. It’s true that most funding for missions comes from the United States. But a recent study found that the 10 people groups most receptive to the gospel live in China and India. Another report estimated that 4,300 people leave the church each day in Europe and North America, while 29,000 come to Christ every day in China and Africa.
How will these Christians survive without sound teaching? TGC-IO addresses this need in China and other areas where the Holy Spirit is drawing people to Christ by the thousands every day.
The doors are open now, but who knows when they might close? Please pray that God will saturate China and other mission fields with biblical materials for these millions of new believers.
Rick Cornish is president of Teaching Truth International, whose purpose is to teach and write God’s truth for those who usually cannot get it, especially pastors, teachers and leaders who will then teach and lead others. Dennis Roberts is a free-lance writer and former reporter living in Valley Springs, California.