A recent news story out of Mongolia claims that Mongolian Christianity may have reached, or is reaching majority status in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, compared to the growth of Buddhism, shamanism, and other traditional beliefs. The conclusion of the article is at best misleading and I have to wonder why it was written the way it was. The article notes that the growth in the number of churches (buildings and house churches) has far outpaced the growth of other religious temples and buildings. The implication is that traditional Mongolian beliefs are under threat.Is the growth of Christianity perceived as a threat to Mongolian society?
Reaching majority status implies legitimacy, especially in a culture like Mongolia. If Mongolian Christianity were to approach a true majority status then Mongolia’s traditional and folk religions would certainly be under threat.
Political or societal legitimacy is not the primary goal of church growth. Such legitimacy can often damage church growth instead of aiding it. This is a catch-22. Achieving political influence can help protect the rights of Christians and contribute to church growth, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the so called majority are really following Christ.
I don’t see the reported growth of Mongolian churches as a fulfillment of the Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1:28), and I don’t see it as genuine Christianity reaching majority status. Here’s why. From a research project we conducted in 2011 we learned that:
- 53-percent of self-identifying Mongolian Christians admit to using idols or images for the purpose of worship
- 69-percent of Mongolian Christians rely on astrology
- 59-percent of Mongolian Christians either believe in the Buddhist concept of rebirth, or are unsure if it’s false
- 27-percent of Mongolian Christians believe that Buddhism and Christianity are compatible religious systems. Syncretism of Buddhism and shamanism with Christianity is rampant
- Additionally, nearly one quarter of professing Mongolian believers hold a false view about the identity of Jesus. This is critical. Without a proper view of Jesus’ identity there can be no salvation
The aim of discipleship is spiritual growth. If more than half your church members are syncretizing Christian ideas with Buddhist ones, then it is true Christianity that is under threat, not traditional beliefs.
The only way that the Mongolian church can free itself from syncretism is for its church leaders to tackle the issue head on. They need well-grounded, biblically-based teaching and major campaigns to re-educate the church population on specifically why traditional Mongolian beliefs are incompatible with Christianity. They must strongly, persistently, and unapologetically make the case for a faith in Christ completely divorced from traditional and folk beliefs. This needs to happen in the Ger church, from the pulpit, and in all forms of Christian media available. If this problem is ignored, Mongolian Christianity will eventually go the way it always went centuries before—it will simply, over time, disappear.