A pioneer in Chinese mission ministries and expert in China missions recently said the Chinese government has given silent approval to the rapidly growing "house churches" or those that did not register with the authorities. He predicted an increasing environment for growth of Christianity in the country with a quarter of the world's population.
Pastor Stephen Lei Chen was the founder of Mission in China International (MICI); since its merge with the Gospel Operation International, he held the role of Director of the Chinese branch of MICI, immersing himself in ministry work within various parts of China, establishing churches and training new leaders in the field. He is indeed a well respected ministry leader.
“As long as the (underground) churches remain modest, inconspicuous, and neutral towards the government, then they will not be suppressed by the authorities,” he frankly told Chinese-American Christians gathered at the New Jersey Missionary Alliance General Assembly held last month. "On a certain level, the so-called persecution events towards Christian churches in mainland China no longer exist.”
However, Pastor Chen later rephrased that the above conclusion was limited to the central government’s policy towards religion. On the other hand, the recent contributions to the stability and harmony of society by Christian churches are obvious, and recognized by those in power.
Besides, Xi Jin-ping, being in charge of the government’s military branch, no longer blindly pursued GDP, but instead paid more attention to the well-being of citizens and building harmony within society, and simultaneously tried to resolve issues in societal trust and corruption.
Pastor Chen believed that the new leader would advance the development of China and the harmony of society through the influence of Christianity. Thus, he is optimistic towards the creation of a more relaxed and open environment towards Christianity in China in the near future.
As for the numerous persecution events towards underground Churches in various parts of China, Pastor Chen thought that they might represent the antagonistic policies used by local authorities to target Christianity, and not necessarily represent the views held by the central government.
To this, he proposed a two-point personal view. Firstly, due to tensions in regions such as Xin-jiang, the local government must increase control over religious and social non-governmental organizations in order to maintain stability, thus inevitably affecting the underground Christians.
Secondly, social injustice has long been recognized as a problem area which the government would like to completely cure. To Pastor Chen, the injustice towards Christianity is a reflection of a larger social conflict in China, coincidentally.
“China is such a big country; in which line of work or in which industry would you not find injustice?” He retorted.
In regards to the needs and challenges of Chinese churches, Pastor Chen felt that the local and overseas Chinese churches must care more about the spiritual nurturing of their leaders and believers.
He used Beijing as an example to illustrate the explosive growth that the urban Churches were experiencing. Churches with hundreds of members are being established, and the numbers of church goers increase exponentially every 2 or 3 years; ministry in the educational sector is prospering, and the number of university student believers is 4 times the general believers, where there are more than 60 % of all university students showing interest in exploring Christianity.
Christians attend Sunday service at Shouwang Church in Beijing's Haidian district October 3, 2010. Shouwang is a "house church", a church that is not officially sanctioned by the government and houses smaller congregations.(Reuters / Petar Kujundzic)
However, Pastor Chen pointed out that there were still many hidden dangers in the prospering urban Churches. Many believers are still in their infancy stages when it comes to spirituality, eagerly waiting to be nursed; besides, there are many who are Christians in name but have not been reborn. Pastors and leaders also need to be equipped systematically.
He also stated that the coming ten years were crucial to churches in China, and he hoped that Chinese churches would continue to pray for and support the spiritual revival of China.
[Editor's note: Carol Lee translated the article.]