Friday, February 7, 2014

The Chinese Church

The Chinese Church (7/2/2014)
Christianity in China is growing at phenomenal rates; this is even more incredible when the wider social context is taken into consideration.
Over the past few decades something remarkable has started to take place throughout the length and breadth of China: the emergence of a viable New Testament Christianity. Few secular sources report the unfolding of this dramatic event, which has the potential to change the entire social and moral structure of the nation if it continues unabated.[1]
Historical Background
China was certainly not a Christian nation and many Western missionaries focused their energies in the attempt to see China converted. Hudson Taylor is one of the more well-known missionaries who worked in China. Although many people laboured hard, the work was slow and the fruit was very little. Hudson Taylor soon realised that the Western missionaries could not continue in a front line role. Taylor felt that the Western missionaries had to let go of their control and allow the Chinese converts to reach their own people. The Chinese people were considered to be traitors who had become slaves to their western masters by their own people if they turned to Christianity. Hudson Taylor felt that the appearance and structure of Christianity had to radically change if the Chinese were to accept it since the church was full of western trappings that put up physical, social and spiritual barriers between the Chinese Christians and their own people.
In 1949 the emergence of communism soon led to the persecution of Christians, missionaries and Pastors. Christians were imprisoned, tortured or killed. Western missionaries were forced to leave the country or else face imprisonment. Church buildings were confiscated and converted into factories or warehouses. Bibles and hymn books were burned, the majority of leaders were imprisoned and many believers denied their faith in Christ in order to escape persecution. The Chinese Christians were left only with their faith in Jesus Christ. The missionaries who returned home had a sense of defeat and failure and felt that Christianity in China was dead.
However with communism weakening in later years, the evidence shows that Christianity spread and grew at a tremendous rates Instead of Communism wiping out Christianity, many believe it actually paved the way and removed the previous cultural barriers that had hindered the acceptance of the gospel:
  • “Before 1949 there was little infrastructure in China and linguistic, cultural and geographical barriers greatly hindered the advance of the gospel.”[3] The Communist government changed this: 
  • The Cultural Revolution removed much of China’s idolatry, temples and idols were smashed creating a spiritual void in the hearts of the people. 
  • The attempts of the government to remove God and the supernatural resulted in mass conversions when people experienced the reality of God and miracles. 
  • Train lines, roads and airports were constructed giving evangelists access to previously inaccessible areas.
  • Mandarin was adopted as the official language of China; formerly there had been thousands of dialects that had made communication of the gospel more difficult.
  • Large scale literacy projects were undertaken enabling multitudes of God’s people to read Gods word for the first time."[4] 
Paul Hattaway suggests that these and other factors relating to the Communist regime have led the Chinese believers to an increased awareness of the sovereignty of God. He suggests that the Chinese people’s experience of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is what helped them maintain their faith in the midst of opposition.
Despite living in the midst of a system dedicated to destroying them, Christians have learned to have no fear- not because they enjoy persecution and torture, but because they have met God and have been deeply transformed."[5] 
How did the Chinese Christians protect their faith in the midst of this opposition? The emergence of illegal house churches was certainly one of the key means of maintaining a Christian witness throughout this time. The state church was very much under the atheistic control of the government and many essential bible truths such as the Second coming of Jesus Christ were not allowed to be taught. The Chinese Christians who refused to compromise their faith strengthened and encouraged each other through secret meetings. 
Difficult social conditions meant that the Chinese believers were thrown completely on God to meet their needs and this could be the explanation for the tremendous power of God experienced among the Chinese believers. Again although evangelism was forbidden those who remained faithful to Christ’s command to preach the gospel were equipped with similar power to the early believers in Acts not only have they experienced similar power but they have also seen similar results. Recent stats show that members of the house church network are some 58 million and the net growth rate of each church group is between 12.5 and 17.5 % per year. The estimation is that there are approximately 30,000 Chinese people becoming Christians every day. Although this seems a lot it is seen in perspective when examined in light of the birth rate which is around 55,000 each day.
[1] Paul Hattaway, Back to Jerusalem, (Uk, Piquant, 2003). 1.
[2] Hattaway, Jerusalem, 8.
[3] Hattaway, Jerusalem,15.
[4] Hattaway, Jerusalem, 5.
[5] Hattaway, Jerusalem, 16.

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