In Part I, I suggested that the Church in Egypt in 2012 may very well be in a similar position as the Church in China in 1950. The comparison should not be taken as a direct parallel, but rather as a relevant comparison. And I quickly add that my knowledge of the Church in Egypt is limited and modest. None-the-less, the comparison is note worthy, not only for the Coptic Church, or for the sake of Egypt, but potentially for the faith in the wider Middle East.
In 1950, as missionaries left China, the fear was that the Chinese Church was too young, weak, and small to endure the oppression of Communist ideology and Maoist machinery. The Gospel had advanced and then retreated, retreated and then advanced in China since the Nestorians arrived in China in AD635. In spite of 1300 years history, the Church was still an outside religion. That all changed dramatically when the missionaries left. The believers who have faced resistance and persecution, have earned the right among the Chinese to identify their faith in Jesus Christ as a Chinese faith. Evangelism, church structures, discipleship, leadership, and worship became Chinese in thought, form and style. And the Church prospered, grew, matured, and became mission-hearted. The Church proclaims the Gospel among the Han (majority) Chinese, among the minorities in China, and increasingly, among peoples around the Globe.
A insightful paragraph of Weber’s article quotes a Muslim Background Believer, who “sees a silver lining in Egypt’s lack of progress to equalize conversion laws. ‘Maybe God meant that our ID cards were not permitted to change because we can never be forced to leave—our IDs say Muslim not Christian,’ he said. ‘I believe this is the grace of God. I would be feeling sorry if I had changed my ID; I would have lost many opportunities [for influence].'”
The point made is that the Church, Copts, zabbaleen, and recent converts, is adapting with creativity, courage, and compassion. Like the Church in China adapting to the new communist China, today’s Church in Egypt is adapting to the new Egypt. This new Church appears to be earning credibility as a faith of the people for the people.
Consider the implications: while I am aware of exciting movements among Muslim peoples in Southeast Asia where the faith is taking root, this might be the first Church to become identified with the fruits of the Arab Spring. Can the Church even become identified as an Egyptian Church? Larger than the Coptic Minority? Fully Egyptian, even Arabic?
Just as the Communist rise in China preceded the surprising rise of the Chinese Church, so the rise of the Islamists in Egypt may precede the rise of the Egyptian Church. As Weber reports, “many of the most ardently Christian—former Muslims who now follow Christ and have the most to lose under an Islamist government—are the most eager to stay. They hold to their love of country—and to their belief in God’s promise in Isaiah 19: ‘Blessed be Egypt my people.'”