I have seen many things in my time as a journalist. Despite reporting on all manner of crimes, deaths, and heartbreaking tragedies, few things have stirred my emotions in the last 11 years of writing. One exception was a video posted online during the summer of 2014. It shows Chinese Christians singing the hymn "Near The Cross" while watching government workers remove a cross from their church building. Though China’s constitution allows for “freedom of religious belief,” the Council on Foreign Relations says the Chinese Communist Party is on record as being atheist. As a result, individuals and organizations from all faiths are still persecuted and the removal of crosses is part of an ongoing campaign by government officials. In some cases, churches have been demolished and people detained by law enforcement. Regardless, it moves me to hear people weeping and wailing, and yet still finding it in them to praise God singing:
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
I thought about this video recently when news came of another crackdown on church crosses in China. According to an Associated Press report, about a dozen Catholics wept and sang hymns outside their church as a man climbed to the top of the building and sliced off its steel cross with a cutting torch. It toppled with a thud, an unforgettable sound to people devastated to see their government come after what they hold most dear. The cross is what Jesus willingly went to in order to die for their sins, not to mention the world’s (1 John 2:2).
What will our churches do if and when this type of government crackdown happens in America? Being in the so-called Bible Belt, I can easily assume it is the last thing on people’s minds where I live. Still, one never truly knows what he or she has until it is gone, and there is coming a day when churches may not have many members to do anything, let alone stand outside and sing hymns.
According to a poll conducted for Barna Group in January 2014, only 30% of Millennials have attended a church service in the past seven days. Fifty percent of Millennials have been out of church for the last six months. This is concerning for a number of reasons. First, the United States has an aging population that represents a significant portion of people living in the U.S. Granted, not everyone believes the same things, regardless of age. Some people are not even religious. But older Americans are statistically more religious than younger Americans. In fact, the Pew Research Center has found that one in four ages 18 to 29 “are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.” If young Christians are not active in and, therefore, not helping build the church, what is she going to look like when they are their parents’ age? Will this country’s churches become houses, offices, and libraries like in England? A number of missionaries and activists I have encountered have shared concerns about the growing secularism in the UK, a country that pastors such as Charles Spurgeon and John Wesley used as staging grounds for their ministries.
Another troubling thought involves the amount of money Christians in America contribute to missions. Donations from American Christians have aided countless missionaries, relief organizations, and church planting efforts worldwide. That includes China, a land where people yearn to be free and rest in the very cross their government does not want them to have on a building. In some countries, the people know nothing of the cross and what Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection mean because there are no mission efforts in their areas. My pastor has frequently told the story about a visiting missionary from the Philippines who was elated during a missions conference to see that our church supported the missionary who led his pastor to Christ. If Christians disappear in the United States, will less fortunate Christians in other countries be able to give on the same level as Christians in the U.S.? God only knows. And while we cannot underestimate God’s power in anything, we Christians in America owe it to the Almighty to be servants, to give, and to tell others what He has done for the world with His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16, Romans 5:8).
Being a member of a church is not a requirement for salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), and even though home Bible study can be a substitute for church, it stands to reason that young Christians have a lack of knowledge when it comes to the Bible, sin, and Jesus Christ based on aforementioned findings from Barna and Pew Research Center. The only way for our generation to know is for young Christians to step up and be missionaries to their peers.