CS Lewis makes the point that our expectations govern our responses. He memorably states:
“If you’re shown a hotel room you’ve been told is the Honeymoon Suite, your expectations will be high. If there’s no plush carpet, spa and champagne, you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’ve been told before the door opens that it’s a jail cell, you’ll be delighted to find even modest comforts.
Disappointment versus delight. Over the same room. But very different expectations.
This was highlighted just this week to me in two articles about the risks that the church faces, in two very different settings; China and the United States.
This stunning article, China’s Christian Future by Chinese dissident and Christian, Yu Jie, was published in First Things. And it’s a sobering, but joyous read. Yu Jie documents the harsh anti-Christian policies of the Chinese government all the way from Mao’s Cultural Revolution to the authority’s bid to unite the country under their own brand of Confusianism in 2016.
He observes that the collapse of the revolution’s ideals, coupled with the Tiananmen massacre hollowed out the peoples expectations of what their government could do for them. The growth of Christianity, filling that void, has however resulted in serious backlash. Yu writes:
An internal government document obtained by the New York Times in May 2014 shows that the church demolitions are part of a larger campaign to curb Christianity’s influence on the public. According to the nine-page provincial policy statement, the Xi administration wants to put an end to “excessive” religious sites and “overly popular” religious activities, but it names one religion in particular, Christianity, and one symbol, the cross. The strategy is easy to discern: first Wenzhou, then the rest of China.
However, Chinese Christians have refused to give in. One of the phrases I have heard most often among them is: “The greater the persecution, the greater the revival.” For Christian dissidents, cross removals and church demolitions are only the prelude in a story that repeats the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. They talk about how during the Cultural Revolution, the Christian population in Wenzhou actually grew many times over.
His article ends with this note of hope despite suffering severe persecution himself:
God let me live to witness and testify for him through writing. And for the 1.4 billion souls in my homeland, I shall continue. I do so in great hope. A growing faith in Christ, strengthened by the bonds of fellowship in church life, is breathing new life into my country. Neither the dead hand of Communism, nor the cynical imitation of Confucianism, nor capitalism, nor democracy, nor any earthly thing will determine the fate of my land. Christianity is China’s future.
There’s a man whose expectations of the gospel have been more than met. There’s a man filled with joy and hope, and is not looking to even democracy to be the friend of the church, because, as he argues elsewhere in the article, democracy is a rival to the Christian hope, not the friend of it.
Now I can only contrast this with the recent comments by American evangelical author and speaker Eric Metaxas, who has said that if you’re going to vote for anyone in the upcoming Presidential election, then vote for Trump, even if you have to hold your nose in doing so. Here’s an adumbrated version of what he said, with a link to the full thing. His reasoning is that at least Trump will keep the courts from over-reach as they zealously seek to implement the new post-Christian morality.
Of course we can’t simply compare US history and political system with China’s and simply bag out Americans who want their country to reflect their own version of Christian ethics, be it Left or be it Right . That would be reductionist. But it’s striking isn’t it, that for Metaxas Constitutional democracy is a friend of the gospel, whereas for Yu, who never experienced democracy in his home country, it’s a rival.
But what we can do is ask ourselves the question: Are our expectations of Christianity the Honeymoon Suite or jail cell? Our answer to this question will determine whether we exhibit the type of joy in the face of conflict that Ju exhibits, or the rising desperation, bordering on anger and despair, of the likes of Metaxas?
The church in the West may well be on the wane in numbers, but it certainly appears to be on the wane in terms of joyful zeal for the gospel in the face of a rising hostility. In fact, the numbers wane seems to be linked to this!
China, according to Yu, will have the largest Christian population on the planet by 2030, some 200 million people. And all of that in the face of government opposition, and a domesticated moggy of a government-approved church movement, which, given all of its advantages (the equivalent of signing off on anti-discrimination legislation etc), is less than one third of the size of the home churches.
Yu’s expectations of Christianity when he opens that door, are of a prison cell, because that’s what he experienced – a prison cell. But when you’ve always had the Honeymoon Suite and the porter comes to tell you they’re downgrading you to the economy sweet with twin singles, that’s when you start kicking up a fuss.
Maybe Metaxas should have a word with Yu. Besides when faced with what they’ve got, Chinese Christians would take President Hillary over their current President Xi any day.
Unless of course more democracy is part of the problem, and not part of the solution.