Chinese Theological Review 14

Update on the Church in China

Bao Jiayuan

I am so thankful to God for giving me this opportunity to be with you today. It is so wonderful and exciting to see so many old friends of the Chinese churches here and at the same time to make many new friends. I have known many of you for years. l know you have prayed for China and for the Chinese churches with hearts of deep love. We have been encouraged and always feel your support through this true partnership. Through these various ministries with you we are together on God's mission. I am here today to share with you about the church of China.

China is a vast nation, which is home to one-quarter of the world's population-a population of more than 1.2 billion people. Ninety-one percent of the people are "Han" Chinese and the remaining nine percent belong to 56 minority nationalities. China is undergoing social reform and tremendous changes toward the outside world in its rapid economic development. The rate of economic growth in China is miraculous. Chinese people on the whole are content with their standard of living. China is developing and changing as the Chinese church is growing and changing.

Me Chinese church is a church of the resurrection. I Peter 1:3-8 is a perfect example of the faith and witness experience of the church. Me faithfulness of the believers was tested in the years of trial and persecution during the Cultural Revolution. With more than twelve years of recovery behind us, the church now emphasizes internal restructuring and evangelism. The church in China is going through a consolidation process.

Two Christian Organizations Work Together for One Purpose, One Vision

The first organization is the TSPM (The Three-self Patriotic Movement). It is a purely Protestant organization that came into being in the 1950s. The purpose of its creation was to bring to an end the control of the foreign mission boards. The TSPM was responsible for raising a sense of dignity, self-respect and patriotism among Chinese Christians. The TSPM, according to Bishop Ting, was not an invention of Chinese Christians, much less of the Communist Party. The first person to put the three-self principles of self-propagation, self support and self-government into practice was Henry Venn, the head of the Church Missionary Society in England. Since 1980 the TSPM has played an effective role as liaison between the church and officials of the Religious Affairs Bureau to negotiate fur church properties confiscated during the Cultural Revolution.

The second organization is the China Christian Council. It was founded in 1980 to assist churches in China with spiritual and administrative matters and relate to the outside world. The CCC has a network of churches and meeting points at the county, prefecture and provincial levels. Its work is carried out through 12 commissions church administration, rural work, national minorities, overseas relations, publications, sacred music, theological education, women's work, Tian Feng editorial committee, propagation of the gospel and promotion for self-support.

The CCC and the TSPM are like two hands of the body. 'The two organizations work cooperatively for the same purpose-church unity-in this post-denominational period. Dr. Wenzao Han, president of the CCC, at the sixth National Christian Conference held in 1997 called all Chinese Christians to give concerted efforts to building up the Body of Christ and to fulfill God's mission in China "by believing in and practicing the three-self principles". The new emphasis given to the three principles of governing well, supporting well and propagating the gospel by ourselves has been widely welcomed and supported by the churches.

What are the challenges in this area?

1. To assess past experience on the 50th anniversary of the formation of the TSPM in the year 2000 in order to give impetus to a new vitality in the life of the church and her ministries.

2. To encourage the younger generation to ask additional theological questions and gain better understanding in strengthening the selfhood of the church and formulating its witness in the new context of a changing society.

3. To renew our commitment to self-sacrifice in order to face many internal problems, difficulties and challenges within the churches themselves. We take encouragement in this from the New Testament churches.

4. To provide leadership training for church organizations at all levels.

The Churches Keep Growing in Mission

Today there are over 13,000 Protestant churches in China as well as 25,000-30,000 meeting points. We define a meeting point as a place of worship without full-time pastors or church leaders. Three churches were begun every two days from 1979-1989, and from 1990 to the present, five churches have been either re-opened or newly established somewhere in China every two days. This is a considerable achievement and testimony to the reality of God at work among us. Appropriately 70 percent of the churches are newly established. The membership of congregations varies from place to place, from dozens to thousands. In the seacoast provinces, where the economic situation is much better, there seems to be a competition in building large church buildings. This is a sharp contrast with the poor inland provinces where Christians are gathering in simple venues and at times, even in the open air, to worship. According to partial statistics, there were about 5 million Christians in China in 1991, about 7 million in 1995, and over 10 million in 1997. Today there are about 13 million Christians, making up about l percent of the population.

The Christian population has multiplied almost 19 times in the last 50 years. Many people believe there are even more than 13 million believers in China.

It is interesting to recall that when the first missionary, Robert Morrison, came in 1807 to China, he spent 7 years before he saw one convert. Then he won 10 more in the following 20 years. By 1900 there were about 95,000 Christians and in 1949 there were about 700,000 Christians, about 0.15 percent of the whole population. There are reasons why the church in China has developed and is developing so fast. But nobody would deny that the effective testimony of a Christian life in the new context, being salt and light, has made a difference. It is exactly like the church at the time of the apostles "praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).

Chinese Christians experience the gospel as a source of empowerment, for meaning in life and hope, not only for themselves, but also for their country. The China Christian Council challenges all Christians with the motto "Be a good Christian and a good citizen."

A church that bears no witness cannot glorify God, and a church that has no testimony is separated from the people. So when farmers were required to dig irrigation ditches, those dug by Christians were dug well and deep. Christians had the best grain when paying the compulsory grain tax. In most villages Christians are law-abiding citizens. Some government security officials have remarked that if all the people were Christians they would be out of jobs.

A testimony from Henan Province is as follows. A truckload of coal was dumped on the ground and was stolen by local villagers. After some investigation, it was clear that no Christian had been involved in stealing the coal. This fact was circulated with great appreciation. There are many testimonies of how Christians have good relationships with neighbors. An elderly couple bought a chicken. A young couple in the apartment below them raised chickens, but one went missing. The older couple bought and cooked a chicken, but when the smell reached the young couple's apartment, they charged upstairs, accused the elderly couple and despite the older couple's protestations seized the chicken, and ate it themselves. As they were sitting down to eat, to their embarrassment the missing chicken emerged from under the bed. Greatly embarrassed, the young couple went back upstairs. They found the elderly couple very understanding. Amazed the young couple said, "Why are you so kind?" The reply was, "We are Christians."

As the Bible story tells us, the miracle of resurrection itself spoke when Lazarus sat with Jesus. He did not say anything, but from John 12: 11 we know "it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus."

What are the challenges in this area?

1. Church growth has also been accompanied by internal tensions over power, leadership, theology and church ministries. Me current and projected numbers of believers and churches have extended beyond the existing capacity of ordained ministers, trained lay leaders, pastors, evangelists, seminary faculty and church educators. Therefore, we face the challenge of how to deal with internal problems.

2.There are quite a number of Christians in China who have been strongly influenced by the fundamental belief that personal spiritual growth must be pursued above all else. Therefore they tend to separate their Christian faith and witness from society. This creates a major challenge for the church and her leaders.

3. The third challenge is the sharing of resources among the rich and poor and among urban and rural churches. Christians need to be educated and understand that it is more blessed to be a giving church than a selfish one. They need to realize the blessing of sharing financial resources to enlarge church buildings in rural areas.

Theological Education Has Been Intensified on the Church Agenda

Today there are eighteen seminaries and Bible schools open in China under TSPM/CCC leadership. These can be divided into three categories.

1. National level: The Nanjing Union Theological Seminary with 150 undergraduates and 18 graduate students is the only one in this category. The Nanjing Seminary grants the B.A. and M. Div. degrees. The Extension Department at the Nanjing Seminary also provides a 3-year correspondence course in which more than 1000 students enroll each year.

2. Regional level: There are five seminaries (Northeastern, South-central, Eastern, Central and North) in this category. Students come from area provinces. For example, Beijing (North) has students from across north China, as far away as Xinjiang, from ten provinces and autonomous regions.

3. Provincial level: There are six seminaries in this category: Zhejiang, Fujian, Shandong, Guangdong. Anhui, and Yunnan. There are six Bible schools, in Shaanxi, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Inner Mongolia, Henan and Hubei.

In the past 12 years, over 4000 students have graduated from these seminaries and now work in churches all over the country. Currently there are about 1200 full time theological students enrolled in the seminaries and Bible schools thought the nation. At least 10 out of the 18 schools have expanded their capacity and facilities or moved to newer and bigger campuses since 1992. Many local Christian Councils are planning to operate local Bible schools or lay training centers to cope with the shortfall in lay training.

What are the challenges in this area?

1.The nation has approximately 2,000 ordained pastors: of these, one-sixth are women. Rarely do you see one pastor shepherding 4,000 Christians elsewhere in the world. The challenge is to equip a new generation of leadership and bridge the big age gap caused by many years of inadequate theological training.

2. The largest seminary library is in Nanjing Seminary with a total of 50,000 books. All the other seminary libraries have a total of only 100,000 books. Thirty-five percent of these are in foreign languages which most of the students cannot read. A major challenge is to equip the libraries with more books and modem computer facilities.

3. Another big challenge is to train the seminarians in a variety of extracurricular activities to balance growth physically, intellectually, socially, morally, emotionally and spiritually, in order that they might be effective ministers of the gospel in and outside the church walls.

4. Theology in China has generally followed the theology brought by western missionaries in the late 19th and early 20'" centuries. As a result it has not always fit the context of a changing Chinese society. The Church in China must DARE to leave the insights and theology of other nations and ages, and allow our own spiritual experience to blossom and bear fruit in our culture. Therefore, the challenge is to widen our theological ecumenical perspectives and stimulate students to have their own theological thinking.

The Laity flay a Major Role in the Life of the Church

Due to the limited number of ordained ministers in the churches, the priesthood of all believers has become the prevailing feature of the church. The influx of new converts into the churches has created

a major shortage of pastors. Lay leadership has become strong and active in the Chinese church.

However, the situation in rural China, where 70 percent of the population, and probably a similar percentage of Christians lives, is rather different. Lack of trained church workers has become a serious problem.

One county in Anhui Province with a population of 60,000, of which there are 30,000 believers in 68 churches. has only one woman elder and she is not theologically trained. Christ said, "I know my sheep and my sheep know me." In China the sheep may know the minister but the minister cannot know all the sheep.

So, the emphasis on lay training at the grassroots level is very important for the formation of the church. No one can give an accurate number of training classes initiated and sponsored by the Christian Councils or local churches, or the number of believers at different levels who attend theses classes each year. You must believe that there are hundreds of the short-term courses going on here and there every day. Actually some training classes are like attending a theology class or like attending an elementary or intermediate Bible school class. In some backward areas the national TSPM and CCC support local lay training by providing finances, facilities. teachers and textbooks.

The Commission on Rural Church Work assists lay leadership training programs through the following approaches:

l. Compilation of a series of teaching materials in accord with the area's context and educational levels.

2. Organization of evangelistic preaching teams to conduct training sessions for short-term training courses, as requested.

3. Providing financial support for facilities, teaching materials and books for lay workers.

4. Establishing more Bible schools and training centers as long-term support to meet the needs of basic biblical training.

What are the challenges in this area?

I . The majority of the churches and meeting points are situated in rural areas where pastoral care is very weak. The churches are not able to respond to the issues arising from the present context, and their teachings are not always relevant to the daily life of the people, so the congregations are easily misled by wrong teachings and heretical doctrines. The challenge is better education and training.

2. Many churches and meeting points in poor areas need funds to repair or construct their collapsed church buildings and enlarge their venues. The second challenge is providing adequate church buildings.

3. Financial support is needed for pastors who are working in poor areas with low incomes and for seminary and Bible school graduates who return to their hometowns in remote and mountainous areas. The third challenge is to encourage and provide financial support for these church leaders.

The Chinese Nicodemus Phenomenon

Bishop Ting has said, "Chinese culture is more open to Christianity today than it has ever been in the course of its thousand years' encounter." this interest in Christianity is experienced at a variety of levels, among farmers in the countryside, and intellectuals in the cities, among young people excited by China's opening to the world, and older retirees reflecting on the meaning of life, among women of all ages, and among minorities from the southwest to northeast. Many intellectuals are very sympathetic towards the Christian faith, Christian ethics and its values, and have helped in the past 12 years or so in the translation of hundreds of Christian theological books and classic writings. They do not like to observe the church traditions, nor are they church goers. Some of them do not even accept baptism. Dr. Philip Wickeri commented:

"What Chinese intellectuals have found in Christianity is a new way of putting their world together based on something very close to a classical understanding of the Christian faith. They are more interested in the formative and the constructive vision of Christianity. than the social expression of a Christianity which offers a moral vision open to all. It is inspiring to see that both Chinese farmers and Chinese intellectuals have rediscovered something in the formative and the transformative power of the Christian faith which has often been forgotten in the churches of the West."

What are the challenges in this area?

1.The so-called "Christianity fever" has challenged the church to maintain a dialogue with the intellectuals, which could be an essential ingredient for the inculturation of Christianity in China.

2. In today's more congenial environment, the church should be more open and tolerant in finding ways to approach those who are seeking the truth, join them in responding professionally and effectively to social ethics issues, and problems such as growing individualism, dogmatic materialism, the market economy, and economic globalization, etc.

3. The third challenge is that the church of China is called to present the Christian faith in a spirit of hope, service and witness and in ways that challenge contemporary morality.

Ministry of Christian Literature and Publications

The situation has completely changed from that of the 1970s when Bibles were scarce and were often laboriously hand-copied. The Amity Printing Company in Nanjing produces Bibles every year and hymnals as well.

In March 1999 the CCC celebrated the printing of 20 million Bibles at the Amity Printing Company. This considerable achievement has been made possible with the help of the United Bible Societies who have provided modern printing presses. Bible paper and technical aid. The Bibles and other Christian literature are distributed through 65 distribution centers across China. The centers were established and are operated by the CCC in order that believers may have the opportunity to purchase and order Bibles and other Christian literature at low prices. The most popular (printed in the simplified script which is used everywhere in mainland China as opposed to the traditional script which is only used by older people) costs only 12 yuan. Minority Bibles are printed in the following languages: Korean, Miao, Jinpu, Lahu, Wa, Lisu and Yi. The Amity Printing Company started printing Braille Bibles in 1997. Bibles come in a variety of sizes and the leather Bible with gold trim symbolizes the quality printing now being done at the Amity Printing Company.

Here are statistics for Bible printing from 1992-1999:

1992 969,147

1993 1,657,431

1994 2,307,737

1995 2,613,430

1996 3,307,279

1997 2,215,160

1998 2,913,112

1999 2,581,129

China is one of the largest Bible printing and distributing countries in the world. About 10 million copies of the Chinese hymnal have also been published and distributed for use throughout the country. The hymnal has some 400 hymns, one-fourth of which are indigenous Chinese hymns. Recently, a bilingual version of this hymnal has been published in Chinese and English. In addition, several Praise Hymnals and Scripture Hymnals have been written and published and widely used by local congregations.

Millions and millions of all kinds of devotional books, Bible commentaries. concordances, Study Bibles, Bible dictionaries and Bible encyclopedias as well as the Tian Feng church magazine have been published and used in the country. There is also an audio-visual ministry. The publication of the annotated Bible complied by Chinese pastors, which contains favorite notes on Biblical teachings, has received a favorable response from lay workers. The Bible Commission, under the supervision of the CCC/TSPM, issues Bibles to all Christians in China wherever they meet. From March 1992 to 1999 about 1.52 million Bibles have been sent to meeting points and Christians who are not affiliated with the CCC. The CCC makes great efforts to provide various services for the churches in order to meet the needs of the believers.

What are the challenges in this area?

1. First, to enhance and develop the distribution network in seeking to serve the people in the country, and to strengthen the Free Bible ministry in poor and remote areas.

2. Second, to support the Bible translation ministry for the minority languages.

3. Third, to equip churches, CCC offices, etc. with more modem communication and publication equipment.

4. Fourth, to publish more spiritual and devotional books, theological and biblical studies books and training materials for church workers to widen their theological perspectives and to prevent heresies from spreading in the churches.

Religious Policy Is Gradually Being Based on the Rule of Law

The Chinese government respects and protects the citizens' free choice of religious belief, adopting a policy of religious freedom guaranteed by law. In 1954 the first constitution established religious freedom. This constitution has been revised several times; the present one was adopted in 1982 after soliciting opinions from various religious circles.

Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in or not believe in, any religion.

The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or inter/ere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.

The significant steps taken by the Chinese government since 1978 toward the establishment of the rule of law have led to the gradual development of Chinas legal system and an environment of increasing social stability and order. Various regulations and guidelines have been introduced in recent years to strengthen and clarify laws on religious freedom, dealing concretely in Document 144 with "The Administration of Religious Activities of Foreigners within China," and in Document 145 of "Administration of Places of Worship," and so on. The recent signing by China in 1997 and 1998 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights is taken seriously by the Chinese government. The Chinese Government is in the process of examining what steps are required for ratification of the policies, which will have profound implications for the Chinese society, and the rule of law.

It is clear that the state follows the principle of separation of church from politics and education. The state treats all religions equally and religion does not occupy any special position. On the other hand all religions in China practice the principle of independence and self-administration without foreign control. The religions in China are no longer regarded as opiate, but as positive moral factors in society. China is a large country and sometimes it is quite difficult for the policy of the central government to be implemented clearly and fairly on all levels throughout the nation.

All officials do not have the same level of understanding of religions or religious freedom. Hence, it is not surprising that we sometimes hear reports from some regions concerning violations of religious policy. When these violations occur, one of the main responsibilities of the religious organizations is to present the case to the relevant governmental department. Usually, the problem can be quickly resolved. However, some problems are not solved and dialogue continues. China is pursuing its own way toward a legal society to change the old concept "Man is to rule the Law."

We are happy to see that today the overall religious situation is greatly improving. It can even be said that the present time is the most auspicious ever in the development of religious freedom in Chinese history.

What are the challenges in this area?

l. T here is no massive persecution of Christians in China today. A lot of what is being reported as "persecution of Christians" could better be termed "religious persecution" because it is directed toward cultic groups and activities. Other cases reported as persecution are actually cases of Christians who are penalized for violating the country's laws or regulations. Those laws may not be religious laws at all. If the same case happened in the US, the media would say it is" law and order". The challenge is to educate overseas Christians to understand the China situation and be able to understand the differences between correct and false reporting on the Chinese church.

2. It is true that government law requires registration for religious venues. That is a continual on-going process. It is also a fact that some Christian groups for various reasons meet and worship in unregistered venues. This can and does lead to harassment and occasional mistreatment at the local level because these groups are not registered and are therefore not guaranteed social status or religious protection.

The so-called house church movement or underground churches, persecuted church, and the government-sanctioned church are expressions used in the West and not by Chinese ourselves. These terms are easily misunderstood and misleading. Many reports in the west say that the CCC encourages and gives guidance in the persecution of the house church movement or so-called underground church. This is as far from the truth as it can possibly be. The challenge is to help our overseas brothers and sisters in Christ understand that these issues stated above are issues to be dealt with by Chinese Christians and not overseas Christians. We ask that you pray for us and let us handle our own internal church problems.

The Chinese Church is Part of You

It is not enough and not good for a church to be preoccupied constantly and narrowly with its own selfhood. The selfhood of any one church is bound to be impoverished if it does not originate in and relate to the universal church which gives particular churches spiritual nourishment. Universality and particularity means the two dwell in each other and enrich each other, to the end that the church throughout the world and throughout history enters into the full richness of Jesus Christ.

The China Christian Council desires to be related to any overseas church or church organization which respects our three-self principle and treats us as equals for the purpose of strengthening bonds between Chinese Christians and Christians abroad. We welcome true partnership with a heart of openness and by a way of legality, so that the collaboration will benefit both of us spiritually, theologically and I financially.

We are seeking a true partnership - a partnership for "God's mission in Christ's image" to proclaim the Good News of love, justice and reconciliation; not an organization or relationship which comes from an outdated pattern of missions which plagued, bound and blinded the Chinese church for over a century.

When Dr. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, visited China he remarked that evangelism in today's world should be responsible evangelism, which assumes an understanding of the culture in which it is set. But it does not mean to go everywhere just simply repeating what one has heard elsewhere. What might work in North America may not work in China or what is authentic to Britain may not be true to China.

Responsible evangelism will oversee and understand what is happening in a society through the eyes and mind of Christ.

What are the challenges in this area?

l. First, aggressive intervention of foreign groups outside China continues to advance their own political and religious agendas within our churches. In some areas such missionary activities have caused division and tensions among our churches and a revival of denominationalism. The challenge is for us to find effective and creative ways to communicate what methods and approaches are best for today's China.

2. Second, to reflect on missiology with a new perspective in a new century and find a constructive manner for doing the Lord's work in different countries around the world.

3. And thirdly, to strengthen the fellowship with the universal church in bonds of love through Jesus Christ. As St. Paul said: "But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" (Eph. 4:15-16).

The Message says it another way, "God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love-like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other, His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in Love" (Eph.4: 15-16).

Talk given in Louisville, KY, at the Consultation on Partnership between the China Christian Council, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 19-22 March 2000. English text.

Rev. Bao is an Associate General Secretary of the China Christian Council and a member of its Standing Committee.