The Church of Jesus Christ in Asia - Challenges and Responses (Part I)

        Author: Wong Kim Kong


1.1 The Asian Church Today

With a multitude of many-faceted, profound and unprecedented struggles and changing scenarios at the close of the second millennium since the birth of God's Son, the Asian Church and the nations of Asia, both small and big, have by His grace, moved into the next millennium. Unexpectedly, the post-2nd World War period became a turbulent one in the socio-political and economic life of Asia in particular and the world in general. "Virtually every aspect of life is being tossed about, seemingly at the whims of forces far beyond our understanding and control. Economics, demography, technology, the social and spiritual fabric of society, all are undergoing foundational change at a rate almost too fast to follow,” says Bryan L. Myres of World Vision1

Indeed, the contemporary world community in general and the Asian nations in particular are groping for answers to serious problems facing humankind, the major ones being economic crises affecting quality of life, political turmoil, religious and ethnic conflicts (with accompanying shameful violence and continued simmering tensions), moral decadence leading to crime and killer diseases, phantom of nuclear holocaust, and ecological abuse threatening the very existence of life. As Dr Tan Kim Sai says, "The New World Order is nowhere to be found. There is instead more of a New World Disorder. The United Nations remains disunited. "2

The church, in spite of this turbulent 'yo-yo' scenario prevailing persistently for over some decades in Asia, has been able to weather the successive waves of storms and is currently pressing on to face a new phase of contemporary challenges of much complexity and severity. Not all countries in Asia view globalisation, though a reality to be grappled with, as void of a new set of problems emanating from cyber age technology and fast interactive systems. Along with all the good of globalisation, the church and the unsaved peoples of Asia are being exposed to Western-styled violence, pornography, occult, finance-related crimes using the computer technology, religious conflicts, cults and false values. The decadence of morality has its negative ramifications in all aspects of human life. The challenges faced by the Asian Church in the new millennium will, of necessity, have to be addressed in the context of the reality of the complex changes. With such phenomena threatening human life and institutions, disorder and fear, how is the Church, the "ecclesia" of Jesus Christ, going to face these challenges in these end-times and be the "salt" and "light" and God's agent to reconcile the Asian community with God and bring peace and transformation through the Gospel?

1.2 The Role of the Church

The premise of this paper is that the Church under any and all circumstances has a triple role to play for God's glorification, namely,

  1. To fulfill God's Great Commission by preaching the gospel in all the world (Mark 16:15),

  2. To demonstrate God's love through the Good Samaritan-styled social concern ministries to enhance quality of life of the poor and needy (Luke 4:18), and

  3. To prepare God's people by warning and teaching them "in all wisdom" and presenting them perfect in Christ Jesus at the coming of the Lord (Col. 1:28).

Knowing and believing that “With God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26) and His ways and thoughts are infinitely superior to those of ours (Isa. 5:8), the Church of Jesus Christ must seek our God who alone has all the answers to the predicaments being faced.


This paper proposes to identify challenges facing the Church of Jesus Christ in Asia and to make submission of possible responses that could help the church meet these challenges, while steadfastly pressing on simultaneously to fulfill the above-mentioned three-prong role, viz., fulfillment of the Great Commission of Christ, demonstration of God's compassion to the poor and needy and preparation of God's people for His coming.


3.1 This paper first provides a background to the Asian turbulent scenario. It then examines development and nation-building processes in the Asian nations in the context of their economies, political administration based on ideological beliefs, emerging human rights issues, social and demographic trends, and industrial and technological initiatives shaping societal transformation.

3.2 The paper then presents the spiritual scene of the Church by relating the advent of the Church in Asia, dimensions of its growth and impact on society at large and factors restraining it from further growth. It then provides an insight into the political and ideological impact on the Church and sufferings and persecutions as the test of the times. To what extent has the Church become a credible and viable force working alongside with national, regional and international entities to concurrently enhance quality of life and enlarge the borders of God's kingdom on earth is then looked into.

3.3 Finally, I would like to present my views on challenges, contemporary and potential, that have to be addressed by the Asian Church in particular, and the World Church Community in general. Some thoughts on how the Church of Jesus Christ should strategically respond in the wake of such challenges and bring glory to God are presented. Underlying all efforts in glorifying Him will be the need for a passionate determination to fulfill God’s Great Commission through preparation of His people to effectively evangelize till the coming of the Lord. As Dr. L. Myers has said, "The centre of gravity of Christianity has shifted from the West to the East."3 At the same time a revival and renewal has to be generated so that a burning desire for holiness and righteousness in God's people can keep them ardently waiting with confidence for the fulfillment of God's promise that, as Paul says, "…. He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6) and that the very God of peace will sanctify the church to "be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess.5:23). With end-times signs manifesting so clearly His imminent Second Advent, the urgency for seeking God to prepare the Church in Asia is of utmost importance and cannot, therefore, be ignored.


4.1 The forces of change can be better understood when viewed in the context of existing commonality and diversity of forces at work within and between countries in the region - in terms of area, demographic changes, prevailing cultures and traditions, multiplicity of languages and dialects, endowment of resources, political systems and structures dictating development strategies (such as uubanization, industrialization and the like), degree of technology and religious beliefs and their ramifications on quality of life and church growth. It is said that with upsurge in technology and the rich human resource potential available in some nations (and despite the lack of such upsurge as well in less-developed regions), Asia cannot help but dominate the third millennium economically and demographically.

4.2 Being a great continent, Asia, comprising 45 countries, is more densely populated than the other continents on the globe. In terms of size the nations range from Singapore (574 sq. km) to China (9.6 million sq. km). Population-wise the range is from Maldives (0.25 mil persons) to India (1.8 billion persons - accounting for 1/6 of the world's population). Please see Appendix "A" for area and population of Asian countries.

4.3 The majority of the peoples of Asia follow major world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism and other related sects or cults. The resurgence of religious commitment of these major faiths will certainly intensify their persecution against those who claim apostasy. Clash of cultures and civilization could be expected to create a greater potential for critical and troubled times ahead. Endowment of resources in Asian countries is not commensurate with existing levels of knowledge and skills to develop them. Thus, there is a high degree of dependence of Asian nations on the regional and international community and "Big Brothers". The multifarious cultures and practices add on to the already existing complexities brought about by widespread poverty and astounding gaps between the rich and the poor. Climatic variations and intensities create natural disasters of colossal magnitudes, bringing seasonal and ad-hoc sufferings with losses of life and property.

4.4 While most of Asia is under democratic political systems of administration, the communist ideology is significant in China, North Korea, and North Vietnam. Military rule has control of Myanmar and Pakistan. To complicate this scenario, it is startling to see widespread and persistent poverty in the very midst of the exceedingly rich few.

4.5 The Church of Jesus Christ set foot in Asia with the coming of St Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, in AD 52 to Kerela in India. Subsequent efforts by Jesuit pilgrims, followed by Catholic missions and later on by Protestant Reformation groups introduced Christianity to the rest of the Asian scene up to the early 20th century. Finally, the Pentecostal movement and missions (many with charismatic leanings) have since become aggressive in God’s Great Commission work, social concern ministries and giving much emphasis on the preparation and readiness for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. These efforts have had a lasting impact on attitudes affecting peoples' faith in God. Today we find that the church in each Asian country is very complex with diverse ecclesiastical and theological beliefs and practices.4


5.1 The countries with high economic freedom in Asia before the regional economic crisis of 1998 were Hong Kong (now an integral part of China), Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia. They were once termed the “tigers” of Asia. Nevertheless, these and all others had to face the onslaught of the unscrupulous manipulation and speculation of stock and money markets by the Western investors in 1998. It resulted in great depreciation of currency values and accompanying low growth rates with some experiencing even negative growth rates, massive unemployment and closure of many companies. With Japan's economy running into problems, loan-recipient countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, just to name a few, were adversely affected. The communist economies including those of China and North Korea began to see rampant flirtations with capitalism with open sales being the order of the day.

5.2 In the regional scene, ASEAN and APEC were looked upon as building blocks in the world economy. The need for regional ties in Asia became increasingly important in the wake of the EEC Common Market strategy to protect member countries’ interests. While these regionalism mechanisms were being reinforced to thwart the disastrous ill effects of currency trading and stocks and shares trading, the need to seek the assistance of lending agencies, such as the Central Banks, Asian Development Bank, World bank and the International Monetary Fund became imperative for some nations although it was feared indebtedness would increase and stifle development efforts. An exception was Malaysia that successfully fixed the exchange rate of the Ringgit at RM3.80 to the US Dollar, much to the criticism of the developed nations and some groups within the country. The decision miraculous paid off very well and the country was out of the economic crisis by the year-end of 1999. The critics, including the IMF concurred on the bold and intelligent approach. On the other hand, the immediate benefits of globalization trends were pulling nations in the opposite direction i.e. against regionalism.

5.3 Situations in some countries (among them being Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Pakistan) turned for the worse with riots becoming commonplace and the ruling governments being accused of corruption, cronyism, nepotism, and mismanagement. Unemployment became rampant, commodity prices soared, and food shortages were painful. However, economic strategies in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia resorted to mergers of banks and corporations and other businesses to ensure viability and to prevent collapse. Forecast of growth rates for the last quarter of 1999 indicated an upward trend though generally lower than the 1997 actual achieved e.g. Malaysia (3.0), Japan (0.9), India (5.8), and China (8.2) compared to actual growth rates in 1997 of (7.5), (-0.7), (5.0), and (8.8) respectively. Please see the comparative achievement of all countries in Asia & Australasia in Appendix 'B'. It is expected that countries still facing economic crises will invariably have to depend on the donor nations and other regional and international financial agencies to help enhance their credibility to manage the economy. While some segments of the Asian population progressed well, poverty and suffering increased among others. Some of the world's poorest countries are in Asia and most Asians are marginalised from the economic mainstream of development due to their lack of knowledge and inaccessibility to economic resources.

5.4 The break-up of the recent World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle clearly indicates the lack of readiness of some nations for trade liberalization that takes into account and balances the interests of all. This is a manifestation of maturity in decision-making and firmness on the part of developing nations in holding on to their "block views" respecting labour standards, anti-dumping laws and workers' rights. Such resistance to the 'big brother' mentality of the bigger and more advanced nations has been made clear, not only in regional forums, but also in the United Nations and other international forums. Regional solidarity has enhanced bargaining power and this is a positive trend in Asian and world politics.


6.1 Except for Japan and Thailand, the other Asian nations have had to experience some form of colonial subjection or other. Several of them are today either under military rule, one 'party-guided' democracy or totalitarian rule, while others are under democratic rule. While economic cooperation is being pursued through bilateral, regional groupings and international alliances, there also is the contradictory move to nationalism, parochialism and ethnic rivalries. Frank Ching says, "The onset of Asian financial crisis shows that geo-economics directly impacts geopolitics, with obvious security ramifications.”5 This confirms convictions of many that in many countries undergoing economic and financial crisis, such crisis had a direct correlation with political rule. The glaring example was Indonesia where dictatorship led to economic deterioration, racial and ethic conflicts in East Timor, Moluccas and Acheh and near-collapse of the economy. With the 3rd largest democracy instituted there of late, hope for redevelopment and peace is promising.

6.2 Political conflicts in Sri Lanka, Pakistan (now under military rule), Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Western Asia have given rise not merely to economic instability but, more seriously, they have also cut deep and difficult-to-cure wounds that remain fresh in the minds of victims to keep reminding them of deplorable atrocities related to ethnicity and religious strives.

6.3 As for ideological philosophies dictating governments, the fall of the Berlin wall leading to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe has certainly driven a clear message to the world and in particular to peoples still under communist and socialist ideological control. What impact this will have on the remaining communist nations - China, North Korea, Vietnam in Asia and Cuba - and the Church in Asia are yet to be seen. However, the search for alternatives is an ongoing process. But two opposing views have emerged. The first is the imminent creation of a unipolar world with democracy styled after the Western democratic model. The second is as expressed by Prof. Samuel Hungtington of Harvard University in that a multipolar and multi-civilisational world is developing and that this phenomena can culminate in chaos with the worlds power being shifted from the West to the non-Western civilizations.6 Which path will the church take? The means and the end must for God's glory uphold the tenets of peace and reconciliation as Jesus came to create "one new humanity in place of two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups into one body…" and thus being "built up together spiritually into a dwelling place for God" (Eph.2:15, 21-22).


7.1 What impact will the fall of the Berlin Wall have had on human rights thinking in Asian countries? The uprising witnessed at the Beijing Tiananmen Square incident demonstrated deep concern for "egalitarian-development" strategies based on earlier struggles for justice and equitable distribution of the country’s wealth. Was human rights restored in East Timur? Calls for reformation have been heard in some countries demanding justice, freedom of worship, equality in sharing of wealth and so on. A one-man rule gave way to the birth to the 3rd largest democracy in the world in Indonesia. However, while constitutions proclaimed equal opportunities in the economic realm and religious worship, certain groups, in fact, could not enjoy such freedom. In some cases, this has been due to wilful non-compliance by the implementing officials in bureaucracies.

7.2 A positive note is seen in responses by a few governments to be audible to criticisms, re-examine mistakes and make corrective actions, as evidenced by similar actions by the legitimised governments in the post-election era in Malaysia and Indonesia (the most recent ones to have had elections).


8.1 Social services in several nations significantly improved the quality of life of the peoples. It is said that in a short span of thirty years the developing world has increased as much as the industrial world did in the whole of the 19th century. Yet, in Asia we see some of the poorest living under miserable conditions. Apart from mismanagement and related factors mentioned earlier, poor endowment of natural resources, natural calamities, lack of education facilities, poor health are other contributory factors for persistence of poverty in Asian populations. The proliferation of educational institutions, (with twinning arrangements with ‘respectable and established ones' around the globe) particularly at tertiary level, has also brought unprecedented escalation of knowledge and skills much needed to achieve national vision of “developed” status.

8.2 Women have significantly moved vertically to higher positions in both the private as well as the public sector in recent decades, thereby enhancing their standing in society as well possessing the ability to complement the earnings of the male spouse. Those who have climbed up the political ladder have begun to play a supporting role in nation building, among them being Sonia (India), Chandrika (Sri Lanka), Megawati (Indonesia), Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan) and Suu Kyi (Myanmar). But this development, however, in some cases, is not void of some emerging problems such as neglect of motherly care for the little ones, waywardness and delinquency in children, or even unhappy families.

8.3 The population explosion is another fundamental problem. If it continues to increase at the rate of 2% per annum the world’s population will double by the end of the century and it will have climbed to about 8 billion persons. The population growth rate is highest in the poorer countries. Indeed growth of population and of poverty and malnutrition are reciprocally linked; poor families tend to have large numbers of children and so increase their poverty.

8.4 Clearly the present rate of population growth cannot continue indefinitely. It will have an adverse effect on creation. The environment will be exploited and the natural resources will be depleted. There will be increasing human suffering through hunger and diseases.

8.5 The rapid growth in population is altering the configuration of the population in ethnic and age balance of the world. At the same time, Christian families tend now to be smaller, multiple income and multi-generational. Smaller families are the result of fac­tors including the preference now to marry late, delay in having children or not all and, if they do, to limit the number of children in order to maintain desired social and economic life-styles. The general urbanization trend also imposes financial and housing restraints on family size in many developed countries.

8.6 Over time, there will be transformation of the population's ethnic configuration especially in the less develop countries in Asia where predominantly non-Christians. The other religious components of the population have been in­creasing. It is expected to grow even larger in the future. The percentage of Christians in the total population is likely to constrict as the percentage of persons in ethnic groups, which are essentially non-Christian, expands relative to those that are not.



9.1 Western technological innovations made over centuries were assimilated by the Asians within a short period of only 40 years. This has been a timesaving bonus benefiting Asian nations through accelerated industrialization and modernisation. On the other hand, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia have also innovated their own technologies as necessitated by local needs of governments and industry, a moral boost to their peoples.

9.3 The cyber technology has brought about a revolution that has made the world a global village. Asian nations have been blessed by such ready-made “hi-tech” knowledge and skills available at the doorstep for instant use and at affordable cost. Communicability has not only become fast but at little cost as well. Sales conducted through computers cut costs down and also are most convenient. The Internet has brought power to the home; the classroom is brought to the home. All this means that the development process is expedited automatically. It has been said that the net has been responsible for changing culture, even the "people's daily" the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China.7

9.4 China, Pakistan, India and North Korea were able to show the world their competency in space technology by their sending missiles. While they too have a right to do what the developed nations did, their actions nevertheless have certainly are cause for alarm too as they are weapons of mass destruction. Tension in the region has escalated.

9.5 While technology improved production, national wealth and quality of life, negative impact has been experienced viz. immorality via Internet, video industry, immoral living, disruptions in family, tensions, organized crime, gambling, tax cheating, drug traffic, pornography, fraud, and computer crime.

9.6 Robotic technology, bringing a breakthrough in heart surgery and Genetic sequencing (a revolution in genomics with hope of producing humans) among other innovations is said to revolutionize health care.


10.1 The Advent of the Church in Asia

Asia has the largest number of people unreached by the Gospel in the world. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Islam have been experiencing a revival (and with a militant one as seen in Indonesia and India in recent times) that has had a restraining impact on sustenance of 'evangelical' church growth in some Asian nations, the prominent ones being North Korea and the northern region of Vietnam, and Indonesia. Although Christianity in Asia came in through St Thomas in AD 52, it was the Roman Catholic Church that set foot as way back as the 15th century, followed by Protestant churches in early 20th century, yet it is amazing to find that today only 7% of the Asian population is Christian. It is said that 27 out of the 45 countries in Asia have a Christian population of less than 2% while the others have less than 1% the exception being the Philippines - 90%). Please see Appendix 'A' for proportion of Christians relative to those professing other faiths in Asian countries.

10.2 Restraining Factors in Church Growth

The dismal performance in Asian Church growth could be attributed to several causal factors as below:

  1. The stigma of imperialism that came alongside the colonizing powers - British, Portuguese, Dutch, Americans, French and the like.
  2. The colonial rulers were opposed to evangelism, their priority being the economic and political advancement. This attitude frustrated efforts of missionaries.
  3. The lifestyles of those in the apex of the colonial administration and the soldiers lacked moral standards and were repulsive to the locals. As such Christianity could not be 'sold' easily.
  4. The cultural overtones and 'westernism' and the lack of customisation of the new religion into the local cultural and social context did not make Christianity appealing to the local population. No concerted efforts have been made to study the local culture and lifestyle and this negative attitude on the part of the colonial ‘masters’ has also contributed to the slow pace in church growth in Asia in general. The fact that Asia is the stronghold of well-advanced classical religions - Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam and that many came from tribal faiths and traditional religions needed strategies that would enable the Christian faith to permeate into the web of local societies.
  5. In certain cases, converts have betrayed their calling and through their complacency have done injustice to missionary efforts expended thus far.
  6. Finally, there was the lack of understanding that Asians have a “holistic view” of religion, meaning there is no separation between the sacred and the secular. An example is Islam that brings all areas of life under the control of religion. On the other hand, the Bible is not presented in this manner that the believers of that faith have been accustomed to. Asians generally also believe that there is no faith that is absolute and unique. Such belief rejects the exclusive claims of Christianity that only through the Lord Jesus Christ one can go to heaven.

Although the above-mentioned factors contributed to making Christianity “offensive”, social concern ministries and good works in the form of social, welfare and infrastructure-oriented development programmes have endeared some of the locals to the Christian faith to some extent.

10.3 Contemporary Growth Environment

10.3.1 The churches in Asia are indeed in totality a small entity in a vast continent overpopulated by multitudes of people and with a large number among them living in poverty and lacking basics of living and indeed plagued by severe socio-economic, political and morality problems. Cambodia is dealing with the after-effects of genocide and India and Pakistan are struggling with the Kashmir border issue. Secessionist demands related to religious and ethnic differences in East Timur, Acheh in Indonesia, Tibet, Jaffna in Sri Lanka and South Philippines further create turmoil to an already unstable environment. Serious divergences in ideological beliefs have caused rifts in people's beliefs in political systems and patronage in Taiwan, North and South Korea, Myanmar and Vietnam.

10.3.2 Economic crises have escalated through soaring inflation, food shortages and rampant unemployment. Natural disasters such as earthquakes in Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia and floods in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the Philippines have accentuated sufferings of peoples. The Asian churches have to press on under difficult and trying socio-political and economic environments. Christianity in Asia is complex with a great divergence from one country to another in terms of ecclesiastical and theological diversities. Let us examine how the churches have been able to complement and supplement the needs of the peoples and the struggles faced in their efforts to bring their gospel to the unsaved, the newly saved and the Christian community. These trying times have certainly drawn God's people closer to God; they have also drawn others to seek help from the 'gods' of their respective faiths. In this process of seeking there have been multitudes that have to experience the saving grace of the Lord.

10.4 The Recent Phenomenal Church Growth

10.4.1 In terms of propagating the faith, church growth has been most phenomenal and encouraging in Indonesia, South Korea and China where it has doubled to 75 million Christians in the last two decades. The overall increase in the Asian Christian population, too, has doubled in the same period. Simultaneously, areas that had been closed to evangelism have opened their doors to the gospel. Cambodia, Nepal, Mongolia and South Vietnam have lifted restrictions resulting in many being saved. Countries such as North Korea, Bhutan, Tibet and Maldives have still not opened their doors to the gospel. Korea has evidenced exemplary church growth with the largest churches from different denominations in the world existing there. One particular church has 650,000 members.

10.4.2 The same time cross-cultural missions have begun to take root in the wake of emerging indigenous mission agencies. An estimated 25,000 nationals from Asia are serving in these ministries, they being largely Filipino, Chinese, Korean and Indian missionaries. Self-financing, and self-propagation has added more credibility to the local church that earlier was very dependant on Western sources of funds. The charismatic movement is becoming the in-thing in today's church growth. Affinity to the Bible is most encouraging.

10.5 Church Growth Undeterred by Sufferings and Persecutions

10.5.1 In the midst of encouraging expansion of God's kingdom on earth, severe trials had to be faced by churches operating in Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, Mongolia, Indonesia, China and some Middle-East countries. Restrictions imposed by authorities made evangelism and church planting difficult. As discussed earlier, although the political leadership in several nations outwardly declared freedom of worship, and constitutional provisions in several of them have allowed the practice of religions other than the official religion of the countries concerned, the reality has been far from such declarations.

10.5.2 The preaching of the Gospel encountered problems varying in severity and magnitude from one country to another. This trend was usually subtle though in some cases blatantly shown as evidenced in the reluctance or refusal in recognizing the official existence of the Church or church-related activities. In fact, there have been concerted attempts by influential groups to bring back newly converted Christians to their former faiths, particularly to Hinduism and Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam. The conversion from Islam has been declared to be even an act of apostasy - an offence that could be punishable with death. There have been some converts who faced severe persecution by authorities as well as family members. However, among them are those who have boldly stood up for their newfound faith. Such fervour and godly love has been boldly demonstrated by newly born-again Christians in other Asian countries and hailing from coming from other faiths, including Sri Lanka, India, China, Indonesia and Thailand,

10.5.3 The bureaucratic wings of Government in several Asian countries have been largely responsible for stifling church growth. A few countries such as North Korea are still closed to the gospel. In spite of all these obstacles the church has experienced revival and renewal as well as being purified and strengthened. Bible Training institutions have continued to produce church workers to equip the existing and new churches. In fact, Asian churches have become missionary-sending as envisioned by the Lausanne Movement.

10.6 The Communist Ideological Influence

10.6.1 Communism, a force that has been impeding missionary work in North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Myanmar, seems to be waning in its credibility of uplifting of the poor. The Christian “Good Samaritan” socio-political involvement that is part and parcel of Christian duty has indeed impacted the people under the communist regime. The threat of communism has been responsible for turning people to God, especially in South Korea (with 6 million fleeing to South Korea during the partition). Even Mongolia that had been the least evangelised country in the world began churches services in 1990.

10.6.2 House churches in contemporary Vietnam, China and North Korea have become popular vehicles of church growth. The charismatic meetings, in particular, have been forums for revealing to the unsaved God’s mighty power of healing and deliverance. They have had a good impact on people in search of godly living. Further, it has to be noted that the reality is demonic socio-political structures make inroads by Christians difficult.


The Church in Asia is beset with a multitude of challenges that are posed not just by political institutions but also by societal imperatives that not only threaten to stifle its growth but also, in certain situations, to bring the Christian faith to extinction. Placed on a continuum, such challenges begin with subtle restrictions to violent protests that have taken a big toll on human lives, liberty and property. An examination of problems encountered and proposed solutions can be meaningful only by weighing them in the light of God’s ultimate plan for redemption of His church that will have to be in a state “without spot, wrinkle or any form of blemish”(Eph 5:23) when the Lord comes. The real state of spirituality of contemporary churches vis-à-vis God’s expectations indeed has to be studied in earnest. The good news is that many evangelistic entities have decided to start energetic campaigns to proclaim the Good News to every part of the world. At the same time Doomsday prophets expect dramatic apocalyptic events to usher in the world's end.

11(A) Caesar of the modern world

(i) With the achievement of independence by Asian countries from colonial powers, the indigenous political successors are compelled to satisfy local demands of the indigenous populations. Political exigency demands a “newism” in political decision-making that must necessarily take cognisance of the reality of meeting the demands of local religious groups, the main ones being Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. These religious forces, with a high degree of representation at the echelons of the Government decision-making machinery, have of late made the Christian “advance" in reaching local communities with the gospel more difficult. In some countries, the governing authorities become oppressive and suppressive in their actions. Injustice becomes prevalent.

(ii) The church, in attempting to fulfil the Great Commission to “preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), has to tread carefully without causing concern to the political authorities looked upon as the custodians of religious rights of the indigenous peoples. The “foreignness” of Christianity, the “imported religion, however is waning. Although constitutional freedom of religion prevails, bureaucratic restrictions continue to stifle church growth in several countries.

(iii) The Church has a wide range of strategies of response to this challenge, they being,

(a) The Church needs to present a biblical view on justice and righteousness. The Christian politicians can assist in the development of practical policy approaches and strategies to political issues. They should propose solutions, which both seek to reform and, if necessary, replace institutions and practices that may have adverse effects on the nation.

(b) The Church must dare to articulate and proclaim the full truth about the injustice and oppression in the face of powerful persons, pressures and institutions, which profit by concealment of the truth. We must be willing to identify and condemn social, political and institutionalised evil, especially when it becomes embedded in systems of authority. Such recognition of hard truths is a first step towards the freedom for which people wait.

(c) There is need for global networking of churches and evangelical Christians in sharing of insights and experiences related to socio-political, religious and moral issues, dissemination of information, development of critical approaches and strategic methods. Working closely with the Religious Liberty Commission of WEF will certainly strengthen the solidarity of the evangelical presence and influence in these restricted nations.

(d) Positive networking with those in authority, supplementing Government efforts in providing relief in kind and cash for emergencies and the like can provide a good image that could help minimize opposition to church growth.

11(B) The Babylonian pursuit

(i) The Asian economic systems, which are influenced and dominated by western investments, are increasingly revolving around free-market capitalism. Even though the thrust of economic progress is development, resulting in overall growth and development of all sectors and dimensions of life, we cannot totally ignore the adverse impact that it could have on society if the implementation process is not considered carefully. There are inherent dangers in this trend. This includes the development of a self-centred acquisitive mentality. The whole market system is based on economic self-interest and motivated by human greed for more.

(ii) The absence of morality and ethical accountability on the part of the foreign investors will lead to an exploitative and unscrupulous manipulation of market forces, as seen in the recent economic turmoil in the Asian economy.

(iii) There is a need for concerted cooperation of the international Christian business community to combat such domination and manipulation of the money and stock markets. The Christian businessmen and the church must dare to articulate and proclaim our convictions and provide necessary financial rescue alternatives. By this, the true witness of justice and righteousness of Christ will be seen by the skeptical world.

(iv) There is a need for a new conception of the notion of human dignity, which is being denied. Economic innovations are usually dictated by an unclear political strategy. This means restricting decision-making power to a very small group of persons and bodies supposedly capable of dealing with all economic matters. What we are seeing is something larger than discrimination against extremely poor or delinquent population groups. What is taking shape is the deliberate exclusion of peoples, groups, countries and regions of the world. The economic exploitation must be denounced and human dignity must be restored.

(v) The International Christian Chamber of Commerce, a track of AD2000 and Beyond and its Asian and national arms in the respective countries could rise up to not only assist Christian ventures, but could also work with national and agencies such as APEC and other appropriate alliance groups to ensure maximum benefit for nations concerned, in particular the disadvantaged small and medium-sized industries.

(vi) The Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International and its counter-parts at regional and national could also play a more proactive role to get Christian businessmen together for mutual benefit as well as non-Christians to fellowship, discuss and formulate mutually-beneficial ventures. At the same time these forums could deliberate and assist evangelism and church planting programmes as well.

11(C) Widening chasm

(i) There is also the inequality in the distribution of benefits of economic growth. Even though many, especially urban and middle-class, have been much blessed, they are likely to be beneficiaries of further increases in wealth, and thereby widen further the income gap within the population. Therein lies the danger of further deteriorating the already serious ill effects of poverty on local populations. The minority, who usually have access to higher levels of education, financial skills and resources, are therefore neglected as their access to and opportunities to participate on equal terms in the free market system are either limited or sometimes denied. Thus the poor majority become poorer as the rich minority become richer still. The numerous forums initiated to address issues related to poverty and worldviews embedded in different religions and cultures have merely scratched the surface.

(ii) There is much-needed representation of Christian leaders in such forums at various levels of administration to voice out views to ensure Christianity, as is the case of other major religions, also has its due place in academic disciplines in universities and other institutions of learning and in development-related forums.

(iii) The National Evangelical Fellowships and other similar Christian organisations at national and Asian level have to work towards networking (informal or otherwise) as a humble start. Christians have to be visible "Good Samaritans" in their contributions to nation-building efforts and thereby earn credibility in the eyes of the authorities.

11(D) Lust of the eyes

(i) Another hindrance to bridging the gap in income and quality of life within the community in Asia is the obsessive concern with and pursuit of wealth, often at the expense of the spiritual and aesthetic. The increase in wealth, without a sound spiritual base and the freedom, which comes from unswerving commitment to the Kingdom of God, therefore, bankrupts the spirit. Thus, corruption of spiritual and moral values of society and the individual may become inevitable.

(ii) The Church needs to be increasingly challenged to develop a radical kind of Christianity that is willing to count the cost of discipleship, stewardship and fulfil its mandate to be the "salt" of the earth and "light" of the world.

(iii) The Church must develop "issue" studies and engage in discussion with government, authorities and civic organisations in making economic policies and legislation that will eradicate this disparity. If conventional solutions no longer respond to today’s problem, the Church needs to be pro-active in facing the following challenges:

(iv) There is a need for continuous worldwide evangelical respond and articulation of this issue. The Church cannot remain silent. We must become the advocates for the poor. There is a need for the development of international social clauses that may elevate the condition.

(v) There is a need for social and community development. Social and community development is a precondition for a permanent economic development and increases productivity and efficiency; better education strengthens competitiveness, higher wages boost the purchasing power, just distribution of land among many people increases productivity. The Church is called to continue to give mutual assistance, relief and development projects. The goal of economy is to serve life, which means to enable a decent development of the marginalised.

(vi) The Church must manifest the power of the Holy Spirit by breaking the principality of economic materialism and individualism.

(vii) The Church must be seen in the promotion and practice of economic sharing; exhibiting a deep sense of koinonia, diakonia and kerygma.

(viii) The people of God need to consider a radical change in lifestyle pattern.

(ix) An effective involvement of the Church will requires also a radical change in structure of the Church, corporate attitude of the Body and shape of the mission of the Church.

11(E) The golden calf

(i) It is reasonable to assume that as the Asian countries develop further, the general level of affluence will rise. The society would in this respect becoming increasingly materialistic and consumer­istic. Materialism has both positive and negative effects. The trend of materialism will be fostered by a combination of econom­ic development and rising affluence, changing life-style, and extra biblical values. The “prosperity gospel” being preached by modern-day preachers has had a negative effect on spiritual advancement of Christians. This is particularly so when “give-to-receive-God’s blessings” messages have tended to make believers to place importance to seeking material benefits at the expense of spiritual poverty. The rat-race syndrome is becoming commonplace in the church. At the same time it has to be noted that many Charismatic churches have been missionary-minded and giving-churches have contributed immensely to spiritual growth of the church.

(ii) There is a dire need for the church to shift away from this sorrowful state to become a community that trusts God and desires for holiness that could bring about transformation of Christians to be the “light” and “salt” of the earth - a Christian witness that can endear non-believers to Christ.

(iii) As Asian Christians, it is increasingly becoming a trial not to succumb to the psychological manipulations of material prosperity, so preva­lent in the affluent west, of acquiring more and more and all the time feeling less and less satisfied with life.

(iv) The Christian community has to guard against such tendencies, which could seriously impair the witness of the church. Such lifestyle of over indulgence can have a debilitating impact on the poorer countries of Asia.

(a) The Church must pay heed to biblical warnings and injunctions against covetousness (Mk 7:12; Lk 12:15; Eph.5:3; Heb.13:5).

(b) The Church must rethink the values regarding the believers’ standard of living and promote more just acquisition and distribution of their resources.

(c) The Church has the responsibility to promote simple lifestyle among her membership in order to contribute more generously to both relief and development of needy people.

11(F) Cry of the heart

(i) Asia is gripped with at least three interlocking crises. There is a growing oppressive poverty in the midst of affluence in some segments of society; the serious environmental stress; and spreading of communal violence as seen in Indonesia and Afghanistan.

(ii) Though some Asian countries are well-off economically and having a significant number of billionaires, a significant number of the world's poorest people live in Asia - and that too in despair and suffering. As Saphir Athyal said, "In a given country one sees oasis of riches in oceans of poverty."8 The truth, indeed, is that poverty is a common picture in more than one Asian country. Many among the poor have surrendered themselves into bonded service. Poverty has driven more to subject themselves to earn a living by immoral means. Crime is rising with the income gaps between the well-off and the poor within widening. This scenario of poverty lying at the doorstep of the church is, indeed, the responsibility of the "relief-arm" of the church. Indeed, it s a challenge to take over the good works of the "colonial" churches in providing welfare and social services.

(iii) The fast changing demographic and urbanisation-related scenario is constantly adding new challenges to the change. Except in city-state nations such as Singapore and Hong Kong and to some extent in South Korea and Malaysia churches are largely situated in the rural areas. They serve the segments of society in poverty and relatively disadvantaged in access to modern facilities - social, welfare and infrastructure-related amenities. But in recent years the scenario has changed the landscape with manufacturing industries moving to the rural areas.

(iv) The 'bread and butter' issue, being a really critical phenomenon and therefore demands that evangelism to be concurrently pursued with good works. Providing relief assistance, food and medical supplies, and other forms of help to farmers and other manual workers can certainly help to somewhat alleviate problems associated with basic needs of the poor and need. Such provisions will further help mission workers gain their confidence and thereby enable the gospel to permeate into the society they are working with. The church has to have this "Good Samaritan" burden to give for the sake of the poor, needy and the lost.

(v) Thus the church has to be equipped in terms of capability to address and move forward to face emerging needs of new dimensions and to address critical urbanisation-related problems such as Aids/HIV, prostitution (also children), child pregnancy, gangsterism, drug trade and abuse, child abuse and growing social ills - aimless loitering and promiscuit among the youth population. Awareness programmes will have to be expanded and intensified in order to combat these emerging problems. More Christian social workers will have to be mobilised to complement and supplement ongoing ministries by the church workers in these areas.

(vi) With modernisation of the peoples in the rural areas and migration of rural workforce into towns and cities, the rural church has to be equipped to handle the above-mentioned urban-related social ills before it is overtaken by events. Exposure and experiential-learning training is much needed to prepare churches for both 'preventive’ and 'curative' ministry. The migrant population too can benefit by 'preventive' knowledge that save them from becomes victims to such negative forces that accompany development.

(vii) Though in Christian compassion and justice we have a powerful antidote to oppressive poverty, yet these 'weapons' remain greatly underused. The Church needs to re-think her social responsibility to cooperate with, and even in some measure act as, agents of God’s common grace in meeting this human predicament.

(viii) There is a need to mobilise the Christian human resource in offering health care and medical development especially in the poorer countries where the catastrophe is most prevalent. Christian Relief and Development Agencies need to intensify and strengthen their support and involvement.

(ix) Global stewardship and sharing of resources become paramount in our Christian concern. There is a need for re-distribution of God’s harvest in a more dynamic and biblical context.

(x) The Church can play an important role in helping indigenous initiative for transformation. There is a need for appropriate education development, relevant technology and change of social structure.

11(G) Ideological impediment

(i) The converts to Christianity in China, North Korea, Mongolia and North Vietnam, being under communist rule, have had to face much persecution and repression, even to the point of death. The situation has now somewhat changed. The post-Cultural Revolution period that began in 1977 saw the Government less restrictive and house churches began to emerge. Such churches also were allowed in Vietnam (more in the South than in the North). The Myanmar closure of churches since 1990 military rule has allowed social-concern ministries in health, education and radio communication to operate. The "Three Self" churches were changed to three “wells” churches i.e. well-governing, well-supporting and well-propagating. In spite of the Tiananmen Incident that thwarted church activities, church growth has been spectacular, with a new vision emerging to model the church after the apostolic age church. Persecution has generally been reduced in all the communist countries, with reports that Mongolia is even persecution-free. The Cambodian church also after the liberation in 1979 has witnessed the emergence of the underground church, with church ground being completed unhindered in 1990.

(ii) This scenario indicates that now is the opportune moment for the churches in the Communist land to be given the needed support and boost by the evangelical bodies and other regional Christian organizations. This could indeed trigger off a take-off for the church in the Communist countries. China’s entry into the W.T.O. and bilateral industrial ventures have made the climate more conducive for God’s work to press with a renewed vigour. The best should be made out of the relaxation that has come about in imports and exports.

11(H) The billiard Christian phenomena

(i) Church congregations with large numbers warming the pews (and that too frequently on Sundays only) have accounted for lethargy and complacency. This phenomenon, prevalent prominently in the traditional churches has had a dampening impact on new souls added to the church. Furthermore, these churches lack inner power and this in itself is the cause for internal weakness. A prominent Church leader said that about two-thirds of the world church population has not yet come to the salvation experience. This causes concern as the challenge to the Asian church in this area is not an insignificant one. The non-operation of gifts of the spirit to manifest healing and deliverance and other miracles of God impedes church spiritual growth.

(ii) There arises, therefore, the urgency to bring about revival and renewal as has recently been done through evangelistic at national levels in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Where such meetings have already taken place there is need for more of them to keep the fire of revival already ignited to continue burning and spread to neighbouring regions in accordance with God’s end-times plan.


Click here to continue with Part II



[ Back ] [ Print Friendly ]