How did the Bible, which has changed millions of lives in China in recent years, reach this communist nation, and how was it translated, published and distributed? A month-long exhibition launched Wednesday in Washington D.C. answers these questions.
The exhibition titled, “The Word is the Truth: The Bible Ministry Exhibition of the Protestant Church in China,” was inaugurated at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington D.C. Wednesday, and covering the event was China’s official news agency, Xinhua.
In a recorded message, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter addressed the 300 international and American Christian leaders at the event’s opening ceremony. The exhibition, he was quoted as saying, “not only helps us better understand the evolution of Christianity in China but also the development of Chinese society.”
More importantly, Carter added, “the exhibit will promote fellowship between American and Chinese churches, and will promote understanding and friendship between our citizens.”
The event seeks to tell the story of the Bible in China, where churches are overflowing, through the display of various Chinese versions of the book, pictures, paintings, calligraphy, art works and historical documents. Although archeologists have found evidence suggesting that Christianity came to China as early as 86 AD, the whole Bible was translated into the Chinese language in the mid-19th century by an Anglo-Scottish missionary, Robert Morrison, who is regarded as the first Protestant missionary in China.
Xinhua quoted Elder Fu Xianwei, chairperson of China’s state-controlled Protestant church, known as Three-Self Patriotic Movement, as saying that the exhibition allowing communication and exchange between Chinese and American churches was historic.
The “Three-Self” in the name of the official church refers to “self-governance, self-support and self-propagation,” an idea that was originally articulated by Henry Venn, general secretary of the Church Missionary Society, and Rufus Anderson, foreign secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, in the 19th century.
The Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, also addressed the audience at the opening ceremony. The exhibition would help people gain insight into the “richness of Christian faith in China,” he was quoted as saying.
It is “indeed a blessing to the churches” in the United States, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., said.
The exhibition in D.C. will conclude on Oct. 2, and then travel to other U.S. cities, including Chicago, Dallas and Charlotte.
The story of Christianity in China is that of triumph of faith over persecution and hardships.
When China’s communists came to power in 1949, they expelled Christian missionaries while allowing churches to function under the government’s control. Chinese Christians faced severe persecution during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and the 1970s under Mao Zedong, who saw religion as “poison.” However, Christianity continued to grow like fire.
Churches are allowed to function since 1979 but only as long as they register with the government and thereby come under its control. However, hundreds of thousands of unofficial house churches, largely indigenous, exist all across the country. Evangelism is allowed, but only in state-approved religious venues and private settings.
Persecution of Christians continues with unofficial churches facing its brunt. With many Christians still not revealing their religious identity, the exact number of Christians in China is not known. However, according to some estimates the number could be around or over 100 million.
Chinese Christians are particularly known for their deep reverence and love for the Bible.