A spectre is haunting Communism. It is the spectre of churches without buildings.
If there were a Christian Karl Marx today, his Manifesto of Third World Christianity could begin with these words.
In 1973, in his last years, Mao’s persecution had reduced the number of Protestants in China to something in the range of 3 million people. The estimate today is 120 million. No one knows. This is a good thing. If the state cannot count them, it cannot persecute them.
Chinese Protestants have adopted a strategy used in the late Roman Empire. They are worshiping in homes and secret buildings. They stay on the move. In short: the churches do not have 9-digit zip codes.
The same strategy was used under the Soviet Empire before it collapsed in late 1991.
The same strategy has worked in the tribal states of the post-European empire world in sub-Sahara Africa.
The same system is working in Latin America, to the dismay of the bureaucrats.
This has received little attention in the West, because this strategy relies on invisibility. The West’s intellectuals suffer from a myth of modernism: “If bureaucrats cannot count something, it cannot be important. It it cannot be computerized, it cannot be socially relevant.” Call it the NSA’s blind spot. Call it the IRS’s nightmare.
The strategy is simple to describe: no permanent real estate. There are no permanent church buildings.
If you can’t find it, you cannot tax it. If you cannot find it, you cannot regulate it. If you cannot find it, you cannot subsidize it. If you cannot tax it or regulate it or subsidize it, the state cannot suppress it. It’s simple. And it is working, just as it worked from Nero to Diocletian.
There is a book that touches on this peripherally: Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom (Oxford University Press, 2002). It has received little attention from the humanists or the Christians in the West. They do not think it is important, because anything that cannot be taxed, regulated, or subsidized is too far outside the comprehension of ether Western bureaucrats or Western Christians.
Christendom means Christian civilization. The home church movement launches the church in a hostile environment. Eventually, it comes out of the shadows. Eventually, it becomes respectable. Eventually, it can afford church buildings. This is the moment of truth. Can it possess influence without possessing political power? Political power seems to be the nemesis of the church. Yet churches must speak to issues like infanticide, which they did in the Roman Empire. How can any institution speak truth to power, yet not become corrupted by power? This has been the conundrum facing the church for almost two millennia.
UNDER THE STATE’S RADAR
I begin with four principles of institutional survival.
1. Growth is not automatic.
2. Attrition is universal.
3. Growth must be greater than attrition for extension to occur.
4. Growth requires a plan.
These apply to every institution. To understand what is happening today in Black Africa, China, Latin America, and certain parts of India, consider the task facing a church planter.
This problem faced church leaders in Communist China in 1973. But, less well known, it also faced an obscure fundamentalist foreign missionary in India in 1991. He had just been thrown out of India by the government. Why? Because it was a way for the Indian government to quietly protest George H. W. Bush’s Gulf War. The decision had nothing to do with religious persecution. It was politically motivated. Anyway, this is the explanation given by the victim, David Watson.
I had not heard of him until about three years ago, when I stumbled across the video of the speech that he gave to a hard-core group in a Texas church. His presentation begins at 13 minutes. You have never heard anything like this: Watson Video.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)