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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Silk Road of Christianity

Written by: on October 25, 2018

“The Silk Road, also called Silk Route, ancient trade route, linking China with the West, that carried goods and ideas between the two great civilizations of Rome and China. Silk when westward, and wools, gold and silver went east.[1]

I believe as ministers, evangelists and missionary-minded individuals, we have often been captivated with not just the command to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…,[2]” but also the question of, “how do we accomplish that mission?” I remember watching a movie many years ago titled, “Silk.” In it, it demonstrated the extreme difficulties that arose for a young man who was trying to trade silk with Japan. The movie intrigued me beyond words as my imagination tried to grasp just how troublesome and laborious is must have been to not only figure out trade routes in those days, but also to overcome the various communication roadblocks that early explorers faced. Last week we discussed in our bible class at church the implications of Philip teaching the Ethiopian in the book of Acts[3]; such a feat was not just interesting to the lessons on baptism that we were discussing at the time, but also on the role that this one conversion may have made for helping the Gospel to spread even further into the continent of Africa in that day.

For this reason, the very nature of this week’s reading, “The Silk Roads: A New History of the World,” was again, very intriguing for me. Though I still have some reading to do on this book, the very nature of showing the impacting nature of trade, religion, slavery, and even perspective has had on our world, is eye-opening and provocative to say the least. Though history has always been of interest to me, I am fascinated by the histories of cultures that have had a major effect on early Christianity; namely Rome. For this reason, to grasp some of Asia’s influence in bringing about the downfall of the Roman Empire, the reader was not just treated to an interesting history lesson, but also a valuable Christian history understanding.

“A massive Roman army sent to restore order was heavily defeated on the flat plains of Thrace in 378, with the Emperor Valens among    the many casualties[4].”

For some, this may not mean much in the grand scheme of things, however for myself, I see the role that the Roman Empire played in early Christianity…or perhaps, it is better to say, I see the role that the Roman Empire played working against early Christianity. From the Roman Empire we see Christianity adopted, which becomes the product known as the Roman Catholic church; and yet, shortly after its formation, the “empire” crumbles. I believe that history demonstrates that due to conflict, disputes, over-zealous reaches for power, and even weather conditions, the world was given a glimpse of how God can move His church throughout the globe, even in spite of world powers crumbling around it.

The history moved beyond Rome though, and later came to rest on the Crusades and the knights fight for the Holy City of Jerusalem[5]. What at one time represented a map of routes that were formed in the pursuit of trade routes and commerce, had now become representative of the methods for spreading the Gospel throughout the world, and also finding the best methods for funding and fighting for, what they believed at that time was a Holy war, the Holy City of God. Frankopan wrote, “Over the next two centuries, enormous effort went into holding on to the territories conquered during the First Crusade[6]…this message was powerfully articulated and widely circulated, resulting in large numbers of men making their way to the east.” The commerce had changed from gold, silk, or food to souls for Christ.

We all just came back from Hong Kong, immersed in a culture that was new to most of us, and privileged to share in the growth that the Lord’s work seems to be seeing there. Last week, I had a conversation Nana Lam via Messenger, in which we discussed the road that she has been on to take the Lord’s Word to the youth of Hong Kong. With the reading of this book, Nana proves that the Silk Road is still open for business in regard to the potential it has for connecting not just the West to the East, but more importantly, connecting the Christians of this modern age to the lost. While some seek out commerce, we seek out opportunity and access. However, it can also serve to show us that the limitations that used to be present, are in many ways, going away; and for those of us that pay attention to that fact, it means opportunity. Even in the small group that is the Elite 8s, we see a number invested in opening up the Christian trade routes of opportunity in China, France, Canada, the USA, and where ever it is that Mike’s closet is actually hidden.

Though I am taking out of context from the reading, I believe there was a phrase that could be used for inspiration from our reading: “In Persia, the British were intent on installing a reliable strongman who would serve their interest well[7].” The beauty of learning this kind of history is so that we are prepared to place reliable strong men and women in position when we see opportunities arise; this is not just a history lesson, but rather a course on being prepared for opportunity. Robin Williams said in the movie “Dead Poets Society,” “Carpe Diem,” or rather “Seize the Day!” Twenty years ago you heard about the need to smuggle bibles into China, and today, we seem to be seeing a sign that reads, “Open for business.” Will the church take advantage of this Silk Road and use it to spread the Gospel as Christ commanded us to do? I pray the answer is yes!

 

 

Bibliography

Britannica.May 27, 1999. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Silk-Road-trade-route (accessed October 25, 2018).

Frankopan, Peter. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World.New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

 

[1]Britannica.May 27, 1999. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Silk-Road-trade-route (accessed October 25, 2018).

[2]Matthew 28:19.

[3]Acts 8:26-40.

[4]Frankopan, Peter. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World.New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

[5]Ibid, pg 136.

[6]Ibid, pg 137.

[7]Ibid, pg 341.

About the Author

Shawn Hart

10 responses to “The Silk Road of Christianity”

  1. Greg says:

    Hi Shawn. I am glad you were able to encourage Nana and were able to communicate with her a little. I will admit that your “open for business” statement at the end didn’t sit well with me. This is probably due to the scrutiny, interviews and home visits that seem to be increasing over the last month. I have had 3 conversations this week with people that have had interviews with the police themselves, visas rejected or just lots of interest in what they are doing. I am not really giving you a hard time as much as I want you to know that as much as it did change in the last 20 years, the pendulum is swinging back toward the time of Bible smugglings again. I did appreciate your call for people to go and spread his Word like those in the past.

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Thanks for that Greg. My assumptions for Hong Kong may have been overzealous for China. I should clarify on what I was trying to say: I saw great potential for the future ministry in Hong Kong and hope that this same potential is given wings in future to China. I know there are still many obstacles to overcome in the pursuit of Christianity in both of those regions; however, I also saw much more going on than I ever thought possible. In the future, I am going to continue to pray for those serving over there that their ministry may be blessed and fruitful. Furthermore, I will continue to pray for their safety as they take a hostile gospel to a hostile world. God bless brother!

  2. mm M Webb says:

    Shawn,
    Great introduction and review of Frankopan’s work. I appreciate his Central-Asian focus and “melting pot” approach to where and how it all began. I’m not sure who really gets to claim the Garden of Eden, but it is all fascinating to think about over here in the Western world for sure.
    Speaking of the Crusades, how do you contextualize that for your congregation? I like the symbolism for sure, but I think the application must be carefully crafted by the Holy Spirit.
    I am glad to know China has the largest printing press of Bibles. That is exciting and I agree with you and pray the church sees the opportunity to extend the reach of the Gospel even more.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Shawn Hart says:

      You know Mike, I have never seen the Crusades as a truly “HOLY” war; however, I have seen that through those conflicts, God brought about change where change was needed, and He brought about education and a desire to search for the truth. Christians would use the crusades as a symbol of “what not to do” in the future of methodology of evangelism (though there are still radicals running crazy today that think war is the best approach to spreading the gospel).

      I suppose the greatest thing I saw in this readings was the realization that God is always there placing opportunity in our path; the question is, will we have the courage to seize it?

  3. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Shawn,

    I never understood trade routes until I visited both Italy and Jordan. With my own eyes I saw the “Appian Way” outside of Rome, and the “King’s Highway” south of Amman. The “Silk Route” from your writing is no less significant.

    What I appreciated most from your post was your assertion that the roads to/from Israel were MOST significant because of the spread of the Gospel. Right on! It’s not about gold, oil, or even silk. And I am sure you would agree, there is only one Way to travel for salvation.

  4. You really connected this to our trip, Shawn. I wonder how our friend Alex, from Hong Kong, would reply.

  5. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Shawn,
    Your last line intrigued me, even in Hong Kong, Alex and his associates would be mindful of an open for business statement. I like how you connected the crusades to your post. I have always seen two sides to the crusades, one they were a reaction to what was happening in the Holy Land, and two there were those who did not react in the way Christ would have been too happy about.

    Jason

  6. Shawn,

    Great post! Thanks for writing your thoughts this week.

    You stated that this book provides “a glimpse of how God can move His church throughout the globe, even in spite of world powers crumbling around it.” Yes, absolutely. I find it fascinating that despite serving a kingdom that is not of this world, God chooses to allow the church to spread using human systems, human networks, even the Silk Roads of the east. We pray for miracles, yet God’s way is also pragmatic. Just as He chose to incarnate himself in a man, He also limits Himself to the networks we create and utilize. What a way of humility.

  7. Chris Pritchett says:

    Very interesting how you connected this book to our time in Hong Kong and your conversation with Nana. Interesting to think of the new Silk Roads this book has opened up.

  8. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Great point Shawn. I like how you took the lesson we learned that Bible’s no longer needed to be smuggled into China, and helped us realize the WIN in that! Less persecution! Success in favor with the government. Bible’s in Mandarin hot off the press.

    And now we can influence them more with immersion via trade routes. amazing! this makes me appreicate ministries like SeaFarers all the more.

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