WHAT CHINA’S RISE COULD MEAN FOR THE GLOBAL CHURCH
What would the worldwide Church look like if Chinese Christianity were to emerge from its repression?
Will China really rule the world in the twenty first century?
According to projections made by Goldman Sachs, the Chinese economy will be almost the same size as the US economy by 2025 and by 2050 almost twice its size. The magnitude of a national economy is usually a predicate of its global influence so we might expect China to be calling the shots in due course.
Some commentators (like Will Hutton) dispute the sustainability of the Chinese model of capitalism without the infrastructure of personal liberty which has marked the Western approach; others (like Martin Jacques) believe China’s influence will grow not just economically but culturally. There remains a blithe assumption that as countries develop, they inevitably become more western in outlook and appearance, but Jacques contends the West may become more Chinese as a consequence of its ascendancy.
There are already signs that developing nations prefer the Beijing consensus of managed capitalism where few questions are asked about the internal affairs of other nations to the Washington consensus of free markets and onerous conditions for borrower nations.
It is hard to see the Chinese Communist Party maintaining its existing grip on a burgeoning middle class, though the Party’s coherence with the traditional Confucian value of a strong hierarchy is often overlooked by Westerners. The Church in China is growing at exciting and formidable rates, though largely in the unregistered sector. If this Church were to obtain essential freedoms in time, its influence on the global Church would be marked. If the last century belonged to American Protestant Christianity, the shift in global power may lead to a more Sino-centric Church.
From this distance it is not clear what this would look like, but it is reasonable to suppose that its faith will be influenced by traditional Confucian values like Western Christianity has been shaped by liberal ones. If so, we might expect to see a more disciplined and hierarchical Church, with stronger authority being exercised. The individual may become less important than the group; unity, harmony and stability will be cherished, with shame, not guilt becoming the chief indicator of sin.
Western Christianity has been so neatly ensconced in a Western view of the world that these changes would be unsettling. We should not fear a Sino-centric Church, however, as it may bring a new and welcome slant to the faith we share. A compelling argument can be made that the Church in the West has become too undisciplined and splintered by faction. The expression of faith as a means of self-fulfilment is more important than commitment to the group; individual entitlement is preferred to sacrifice. There may be an element of caricature in this description, but it is uncomfortably close to the truth to warrant attention.
A fresh emphasis on discipline, harmony and the priority of the group may be an attractive antidote to the slow descent from liberalism into license we are witnessing in the West.
Welcome to Christianity with Chinese characteristics.
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