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Church growing faster than ever but at great cost, Marshall says

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The church is expanding faster than ever in history, but it is not without a “horrible” cost, an expert on the persecuted church said at a seminar in Fort Worth, Texas, Nov. 2.
“We are living in the greatest age of the expansion of the church ever,” said Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, Freedom House, Washington, D.C., and author of the 1997 book, “Their Blood Cries Out.”
Citing the growth of the church in China from 1 million in 1980 to an estimated 50 million in 1999, Marshall said, “There is nothing in the Book of Acts that shows church growth on this scale. There’s nothing I know of in the history of the church in any country at any time which has church growth at this scale.”
The global growth of Christianity, he said, is not coming in Western Europe or the United States, but in places outside the West.
“Africa will soon be the continent, if not already, with the greatest number of Christians,” Marshall said.
“Christians in the world are more likely to be Chinese or Nigerian or Sudanese than to be Westerners,” he said, adding that about 80 percent of those in the church live outside the West.
“If the church diminishes in the West, in terms of the kingdom of God, that would be a sad, but a small thing,” Marshall said.
The cost of growth has been persecution of the church, Marshall said, which is a horrible, depressing thing that God nevertheless has used for good.
“These are evil, unjust things that should be fought,” he said. “But what is the other side? What is the good news of which this is the dark side? The good news is the spread of the gospel, the growth of the church, the power of the gospel in people’s lives.”
Marshall made his comments at a seminar on the persecuted church held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. A panel discussion included Marshall; Al Meredith, pastor of Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist Church; Karen Bullock, Southwestern professor of church history; and Getaneh H. Getaneh, a street evangelist who was tortured for his faith in Ethiopa.
Marshall reported to the 150 people in attendance several incidents that have occurred since the middle of September:
— The senior Roman Catholic bishop in China, who has spent 15 years in prison and has been repeatedly tortured, has disappeared, last seen with Chinese government security officials.
— A prominent national leader in the unregistered Protestant house church movement in China was executed Oct. 14 by firing squad, the second leader of this movement to be executed in the past two months.
— Chechnyan militants have kidnapped a young Baptist deacon and are demanding that his church sell its building and use the money to pay the ransom. The deacons’ predecessors have been kidnapped and beheaded.
— In India, a 26-year-old Catholic nun was raped and mocked for her faith.
— The Myanmar military government attacked 22 villages of a tribe who are mostly Christians. Witnesses said the military beat and stabbed to death many people.
— A Coptic Orthodox priest in Egypt was shot. A Coptic bishop faces from eight years in prison to the death penalty on charges resulting from his reporting that 1,200 members of his diocese had been tortured in August and September.
— In Vietnam, Sept. 17, security police raided a house church, arresting and interrogating an evangelist and two others.
— In a largely Christian Sudanese province, 700 people die from starvation each day. An estimated 50,000 mostly Christian children have been sold into slavery for “the going rate” of $50.
“We are talking about things that are recent — not 2,000 years ago, not 200 years ago, not even 20 years ago or last year,” Marshall said, “In these particular cases, not even two months ago. This is the situation that we live in now. It’s Nov. 2, 1999.”
An estimated 200 million Christians are exposed to persecution in about 60 or 70 countries, he continued.
And the persecution is worsening in countries like China, Vietnam and North Korea, the latter which Marshall said is “perhaps the worst situation for Christians in the world.”
Marshall also listed Islamic countries where Muslims who become Christians face the death penalty, including Sudan, Mauritania, Iran and Iraq. In other countries, he said, the threat comes from family members who have been shamed by the conversion.
“Often you are much more in danger from an uncle than you are from somebody else in many Islamic countries,” he said.
It is illegal to be a Christian in Saudi Arabia, he continued, and in Pakistan, blasphemy laws have been used against Christians.
In some countries like India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Butan, “increasingly aggressive Hinduism and Buddhism” persecute Christians, Marshall said, adding that in some countries like Ethiopia and Mexico, “Christians” persecute other Christians.
The reasons for persecution are political and theological, Marshall said.
“In the modern age, when the church grows, democracy grows. When the church grows, human rights grow. This is simply an empirical fact,” he said, citing a 1997 report by Freedom House.
In that report, 79 of 86 democratic countries were “culturally Christian.” The remaining seven included Israel, South Korea and Taiwan.
“The Christian faith affects the way we live and it affects the way societies go, and that worries them,” Marshall said.
He quoted two Chinese newspapers and Chinese police documents that write about the importance of squashing the churches because of what happened in the Soviet Union.
“If China does not want these things repeated in its own land, we must strangle the baby while it is still in the manger,” a Beijing newspaper said.
“Tyrants cannot have another king of any kind whatsoever,” Marshall said. “Another king means another loyalty. You have a loyalty to something more than them. That’s why they kill you. That’s why the church is repressed. The fear is real, because [Christianity] will open up a society.”
In a Far East Economic Review cover story on China titled, “God is Back,” a Beijing government official is quoted as saying, “If God had the face of a 70-year-old man, we would not care if he were back. But he has the face of millions of 20-year-olds and, therefore, we are worried.”
Marshall listed five ways that churches in America can be more involved in helping the persecuted church.
— Be informed and pray constantly. Marshall said the Internet can keep people informed of the world situation. He also noted, “No church should ever meet for congregational worship without praying for the persecuted church.”
— Make contacts within the persecuted church. “We can go there. … We can know them and they will change our lives,” he said.
— Publicize the plight of the persecuted church. He commended non-Christians Michael Horowitz and Abe Rosenthal who have “done more than any Christian” to draw attention to the problem.
— Pressure the U.S. government to take action. Last fall with a 98-0 vote, the Senate passed the International Religious Freedom Act.
— Include the entire church, not just the church in America, in our definition of the body of Christ.
“When we use the term church, what’s the image that comes to our mind?” Marshall asked. “The first response should be, ‘I am a member of these people we’ve talked about in Vietnam, or Ethiopia, or Nigeria or in Romania.’ God has made us one with one another, as one body; we share the same joys and the same sufferings.”

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  • Matt Sanders