ATLANTA- Opening on Friday as the second China Bible Ministry Exhibition in the U.S., the Exhibition organizers have a high expectation to its impact to American Christians.
The first day of the Exhibition has drawn a great attention, a few hundreds people came for the opening ceremony. Unlike the last Exhibition in Los Angeles, where there are many Chinese Christians, the majority of the audience in Atlanta is expected to be Americans.
One of the very few Chinese members from the Atlanta regional preparation committee for the Exhibition, Area Executive of East Asia and the Pacific of the United Church of Christ Global Ministries Rev. Xiaoling Zhu welcomed the Exhibition.
"I believe the Exhibition should have been organized in the United States even earlier. Many Chinese people do not even know that there are churches in China. Americans do not know anything about the church in China and so as the Chinese Americans here. This Exhibition is really needed because it allows more people to see the real situation of the church in China," Zhu commented.
As the Exhibition intends to "bring new understanding between Americans and Chinese" and to "create more dialogue between Christians in China and the United States," evangelicals are at odds with the Chinese Christian Council/ Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches (CCC/TSPM) over the religious freedom issues in China.
Many evangelicals have criticized the Chinese Christian Council/ Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches (CCC/TSPM) for misleading people in the West while some millions of house church Christians are under persecution. Some of them have even refused to recognize CCC/TSPM as part of the Christian body because it is charged to be used by the Chinese Communist Party for political agenda.
Zhu, who has become a Christian in Mainland China and came to America 20 years ago, however defended the "Three-Self" church movement in China, saying that there must be a reason.
"Speaking of the ‘Three-Self’ - the principles of self-governance, self-support and self-propagation of the gospel - the concept is actually first introduced by American and British," Zhu explained. "In the 18 th-19th century, the Congregational Church of the United States sent missionaries to China. The general secretary suggested that the church in China should have the ‘self-governance, self-support and self-propagation’ system. It is because the culture of China is very different from other countries; the church must be built according to China’s culture."
According to Zhu, the three principles of "Three-Self" are understandable when looking at the various factors in China. For instance, as China is huge, it is hard to support such a big church financially. Therefore, each church must be able to support itself. Zhu also pointed out that before the reformation of China in 1949, there were around 4,000 missionaries in China and only 1,000 Chinese pastors, forming a 5,000-strong team for evangelism. However, nowadays, all churches have their own pastors, elders and believers, and they take up the burden to preach and evangelize their people.
Zhu lamented that many people have a wrong concept that China is never opened to religions, but they must first try to examine the religious policy and the extent of religious freedom enjoyed by Chinese. He quoted the word Jesus said in the Bible, "Come and see," encouraging more people to look at the Exhibition.
Zhu admitted that the history of China, especially the period of Cultural Revolution, may have hardened the heart of Christians who, or whose family, were persecuted. To the evangelicals, he said, "Christianity is a religion of forgiveness. It is a faith to forgive other’s sins. As a Christian, how should we treat those who have given us hardships? We must try to reconcile with our actions, so that a harmonious society can be achieved in the world and peace will come on earth."
When asked about how foreign churches can help the Church in China, Zhu urged to put the priority on prayers. Particularly, people must concern about the training of pastoral ministers in China. Since the believers in China have grown a lot, a large number of people is needed to minister the churches.
Meanwhile, top theological seminaries in China have tried to send students to overseas to receive further training through sponsorship programs offered by some prestigious theological schools. CCC/TSMP is now in close contact with the Fuller Theological Seminary.