I’m frequently asked, “What is the current state of the church in China?” China is big news in the West, on many fronts. Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping are nose-to-nose in a global economic poker game. Who will blink first is what pundits debate.
In the U.S. and Canada, major television networks and newspapers have focused on issues facing Christians in China. Of particular interest is the Zion “house church,” also known as an “unregistered church.” Zion, the largest unregistered church in Beijing, where I preached some months ago, was recently shut down.
Such actions lead one to wonder if the church is generally under attack by the government or if these are just one-off events. Of course, churches are always under surveillance. While visiting a number of house churches in five cities, I asked if the government knew of their activities. Mostly I’d get a smile with, “Of course, we’re in China.”
Then recently, I met with more than a dozen house church pastors. I wanted to know if the current government crackdown was simply a ripple of minor religious consequence, a wave smashing about but eventually wearing itself out on the cultural shoreline, or if this was a rising tide.
(Note: what we referred to as the “underground church” is now called “house church,” although very much above ground. House churches are not registered with the government, in contrast to the “registered churches” which, while generally evangelical, are under varying levels of influence and control by the government.)
China-watching is dangerous, even for the most informed. Snapshots too easily turn into a kind of movie, as if occasional shots give context for the wider reality. The maxim “What you’ve heard happened has probably happened one time, in one place, and to one group“ warns us not to assume that what we hear concerning a few churches is happening everywhere.
For hours I listened to pastors and their stories. They were unwavering in their caution. What matters is that these pastors are on the ground, in the actual give and take of their Chinese world. Some have been picked up for questioning, some sent to jail, and others had their churches were shut down.
Even with their personal experience, they wanted me to be sure I didn’t give the world the wrong picture. When I told them of our national newscasts telling the story of the closing of the Zion church, they agreed it was factual, but also wrong to conclude it was country-wide.
Even so, recent reports tell of the government moving in on churches and leaders in ways not seen in recent years. Members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu were targeted. The Rongguili Church in Guangzhou, an unregistered church of some 5,000 that dates back to the Cultural Revolution and founded by Pastor Lamb, has been closed. These are a mix of realities that don’t easily lead to generalizations.
A country in speedy transition
China has rapidly moved from a primitive and pre-modern society to one of the top global powers, sophisticated and with worldwide social and economic influence. She has done in decades what takes most countries a century. China, now a superpower, will this year have the largest economy in the world.
China isn’t the only country in rapid change, but because of her size, economic and military muscle, and the stunning growth of Christian faith – and all of this under a Communist regime – it is important for the global church to understand that China matters for us all.
What, then, are the major factors in its influence on the witness of Christ, and its inevitable effect as China stretches her influence globally? I see six important elements stoking the fires of change, uncertainty and influence.
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Source: Christianity Today