By John Piper
I do not doubt that what happened on September 7, two hundred years ago, will be celebrated in heaven for its epochal significance in world history. The first Protestant missionary set foot on Chinese soil on September 7, 1807. His name was Robert Morrison. He was a Scottish Presbyterian, and except for one furlough, he spent the next 27 years in China.
Persevering against the hostility of official opposition and the resistance of foreign merchants, Morrison baptized the first Chinese Protestant Christian, Cai Gao, on July 16, 1814. After the baptism of Cai Gao, Morrison wrote prophetically in his journal, “May he be the first-fruits of a great harvest, one of millions who shall come and be saved on the day of wrath to come.”
Last month The National Catholic Reporter carried an article by John Allen documenting the fulfillment of Morrison’s prayer. Here is what he wrote:
At the time of the Communist takeover in 1949, there were roughly 900,000 Protestants. Today, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, which puts out the much-consulted World Christian Database, says there are 111 million Christians in China, roughly 90 percent Protestant and mostly Pentecostal. That would make China the third-largest Christian country on earth, following only the United States and Brazil.
The Center projects that by 2050, there will be 218 million Christians in China, 16 percent of the population, enough to make China the world’s second-largest Christian nation. According to the Center, there are 10,000 conversions in China every day.
Admittedly, some estimate the numbers of Christians in China are as low as 40 million. Allen observes, “Even those conservative estimates, however, would mean that Protestantism in China experienced roughly 4,300 percent growth over the last half-century, most of it since the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and 1970s.”
Other China-observers think that even the high estimates are understatements about what is about to happen. For example in the August 7, 2007, issue of Asia Times, Oswald Spengler wrote:
I suspect that even the most enthusiastic accounts err on the downside, and that Christianity will have become a Sino-centric religion two generations from now. China may be for the 21st century what Europe was during the 8th-11th centuries, and America has been during the past 200 years: the natural ground for mass evangelization. If this occurs, the world will change beyond our capacity to recognize it. Islam might defeat the western Europeans, simply by replacing their diminishing numbers with immigrants, but it will crumble beneath the challenge from the East.
John Allen comments on the dream we have been hearing about for some time concerning the aim of the Chinese church to evangelize the Muslim lands on their backdoor step.
The most audacious even dream of carrying the gospel beyond the borders of China, along the old Silk Road into the Muslim world, in a campaign known as “Back to Jerusalem.” As David Aikman explains in Jesus in Beijing, some Chinese Evangelicals and Pentecostals believe that the basic movement of the gospel for the last 2,000 years has been westward: from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Europe, from Europe to America, and from America to China. Now, they believe, it’s their turn to complete the loop by carrying the gospel to Muslim lands, eventually arriving in Jerusalem. Once that happens, they believe, the gospel will have been preached to the entire world.
One of the lessons to draw from this anniversary of the arrival of Protestant Christianity in China is that we cannot measure the significance of our lives in our own lifetime. Robert Morrison could not see what we see. It is astonishing. May the Lord cause his word to run in China with great power. And may he keep us all faithful in our little sphere of influence. None of us is indispensable to the great cause of Christ. But if we will stand, and not give way under the pressures and pains of ministry, more good will come from our lives than we can know.
Here is a suggestion. A four-part video series issued in 2003, called “The Cross: Jesus in China” and produced by Chinese documentarian Yuan Zhiming, interviews many of the leaders of this revival. I have watched all four of these and recommend them for your awareness and inspiration. They are now available, amazingly, for free download at ChinaSoul.
Thank you, Father, for Robert Morrison and for the immeasurable fruit of his labor.