Monday, August 23, 2010
Christianity in China 2010
These are pictures of "our" church in Beijing, the Haidian Christian Church. They have four Chinese services and one English service each Sunday. This picture shows some of the English service worshipers crammed into a meeting room, where we met the first two years we attended. This year, they have rearranged the Chinese services schedule and moved the English service into the main sanctuary. The room was still completely full and had "standing room only" outside with televised services. It appears that the service is about 2/3 Chinese and 1/3 foreigners. There are several other churches in Beijing that are specifically for foreigners, requiring a passport to attend, but anyone can attend these English services. We were surprised to hear that Josh McDowell had spoken at Haidian the week before we arrived.
These are pictures of the Fengtai Christian Church, another registered church in Beijing. They have recently begun an English service, with about 100-125 in attendance. The services are at 2PM because the Chinese services take up the rest of Sunday.
These church buildings are all very large, relatively new and in different parts of the city. We were told that because they are registered, the government has financed them, not the members.
The building pictured above is the Chaoyang Christian church, the one we visited on a Saturday afternoon. The first thing we saw when we walked in was the Bible bookstore. You could buy a wide variety of Bibles, both in Chinese and English, as well as both languages, and other Christian study books. As in American Bible stores, you could also buy a variety of Christian "stuff", wall hangings, paperweights, plaques, etc. Each of the other registered churches we attended had a similar bookstore.
Each year, we puzzle over the apparent discrepancy between what we hear about the "persecuted church in China" and what we see in Beijing. This year, we had an opportunity to talk with two seminary students who attended the TIP program. One was from a registered church and had just graduated from his seminary and one was from a home (underground) church. We were most interested in what the home church student had to say, but they both agreed on the basic information. In order to make sure I didn't forget anything important, I recorded our conversation with "Paul" in my journal. Here is that entry:
"Today at breakfast we talked with Paul, a theology student going to seminary in Hong Kong, and got some helpful information about the church in China. He says the estimates of Christians in China are between 40,000,000 and 80,000,000 but it is probably around 60,000,000. 35,000,000 are in home churches and about 25,000,000 are in government approved (registered) churches. Paul said that he was from a home church in his province, although sometimes he works with pastors of government churches when invited. He explained that home churches are more intimate and have a lot of heart, but have poor facilities and organization. The government churches, because they can operate in the open, have much better facilities and organization. Pastors from government sponsored churches are able to get seminary training, but home church pastors are not, so they do not have as much Bible knowledge.
He explained that the local government leaders determine how the church is treated in each community. If the leader is friends with the Christians, they are treated well, but the leaders can be "crazy" if they don't like the people who are Christians. Christians have an easier time in the large cities that have more foreign influence, but in the outer provinces treatment varies a lot. He says that pastors from government sponsored churches must work only in their own congregation (and we have heard from others, only in their own buildings) unless they go through a large amount of red tape. Home church pastors have much more freedom. Paul explained that he is able to go to seminary only because he is going in Hong Kong. He would not be allowed to attend in Mainland China because he is from a home church."
This explanation has helped me to understand the differences in what I see and what we often hear. The bottom line is that China is a large country, with local officials sometimes interpreting the "law" as they choose. These seem to be some of the horror stories we hear. I also have talked to a young Chinese man here in America whose family had been treated brutally for economic reasons as well.
We have also been told that membership in a registered church requires quite a bit of effort. Once someone has accepted Jesus as their Savior, they must participate in the church, take part in Bible classes and become known to the pastor and congregation for six months as a requirement for baptism. Baptism is a requirement for membership, and to partake in communion. During a service with communion, the pastor asks all those who have been baptized to stand, and those standing are the only ones offered the elements.
As China is becoming more and more tied to the West economically, they are becoming more and more influenced by Western culture -- and religion. We heard reports this summer that the Chinese government is beginning to encourage religious beliefs because their research has shown that religion is a common factor in economic growth in the West. This, of course, can lead to the idea that religion is a works based ideology that is beneficial for prosperity.
We spent most of the month of July reading and discussing Bible stories with one of our students and it seemed that her conclusion was that the Bible was a good guide for living. We are praying that the Chinese people will see the need for spiritual as well as economic prosperity.
Posted by Travel_with_a_purpose at 12:24 PM