The Christian Church in China – Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM)?
In the 1950’s in order to promote the idea that the Chinese Church is not controlled by or dependent on foreign mission groups Chinese Christians established the 3 SPM.
There are 3 very important principles for the Chinese church:
- Self government
- Self support/financing
- Self propagation
What is the China Christian Council?
It was founded in 1980 and is the umbrella organisation for all protestant Christian churches and seeks to unite Christians around their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It is a member of the World Council of Churches. It provides theological education in seminaries, supports the publication of the Bible, hymn books and other Christian materials. It encourages the exchange of information among local churches in evangelism, pastoral work and administration. It seeks to develop friendly relations with churches overseas. The CCC and the TSPM are known as “the two national Christian bodies”.
The Chinese church has been described as “post-denominational”. Denominations went out of existence in 1958 but there are still some differences related to past traditions.
What is the difference between a registered and an unregistered church?
A registered church has chosen to comply with the Government regulations for registration as a place of worship and has met 6 general requirements:
- A fixed place or building
- A name or title
- A management organisation composed of citizens who are believers
- A group of people who regularly meet there
- Officials and trained personnel/ Pastors who can lead religious services
- Their own legal source of income
Some churches do not want any kind of civil registration, others are committed to a narrowly defined set of religious beliefs and some may not qualify or are unable to meet one of the 6 criteria. There are many unregistered churches-mainly because they do not have a full time pastor or satisfy the financial and administrative conditions for being registered and these are mainly in the more rural areas.
How many people belong to the registered churches and how many belong to unregistered churches?
1% of the population are Christians-at least 20 million people. Although many church attendees are older and there are more women than men in the churches the church is growing rapidly and more young people are joining. Many churches now have Sunday school classes for children. Many churches do not have membership lists and so it is difficult to know the relative numbers. New churches are constantly being built and organized and the Government is returning to the churches those buildings that were taken from them during the Cultural Revolution. The Government is also paying compensation to some church groups for property confiscated during the Cultural Revolution.
What is required to become a recognized member of the church?
New believers must attend church for at least one year, attend a class for new believers and be questioned about their faith by the church leaders. New believers can usually choose a method of baptism-immersion or sprinkling.
What are ‘house churches’?
‘Home meeting points’ and ‘meeting points’ are often described as ‘house churches’. They do not usually have their own ordained pastor and rely on lay leadership for most of their activities. A ‘meeting point’ has its own building. Many churches start as ‘home meeting points’, grow into ‘meeting points’ and then become churches with their own building and pastor. Many ‘home meeting points’ are like Bible Study Groups belonging to ‘meeting points’ or churches and so do not register in most provinces.
What is the ‘Underground Church’?
A more appropriate description might be ‘churches which choose to remain unregistered’ which usually means that they do not relate to the local Christian Council or TSPM. The name is a misnomer as many of them are quite public.
What do Chinese Christians see as their greatest challenge?
Leadership development – the shortage of trained and ordained Pastors.
The church relies heavily on lay leadership.
Support for Christians in the rural areas.
What are the rights and freedoms of Chinese Christians?
All citizens can hold their own religious beliefs and engage in regular worship and religious activities. However the interpretation of this religious policy and its implementation in specific areas, especially isolated rural areas, are two different things. Church leaders work hard on a case by case basis to have believers legal rights honoured. Rights are most easily protected for members of the registered churches. Foreign visitors are free to attend church, to have informal contacts and friendships with Christians and to give money to the local church. Foreigners are not free to organize events, religious gatherings or services for Chinese Christians, and to proselytize.
Bibles and Christian resources Bibles are printed in China!!
Amity and the CCC legally print and distribute Bibles in China. To bring Bibles into China tarnishes the witness of the church and generates suspicions. The Amity Printing Press moved to new premises in 2008 and printing capacity for Bibles will rise to 12 million volumes per year and so the Amity Printing Company will become one of the largest printers of Bibles in the world both for China and for the world. Bibles can be purchased at most churches and the cost of the Bibles is subsidized and so is relatively low. The Bibles are the traditional Union Version used by Chinese congregations all over the world. Bibles are also printed in the languages of many of China’s ethnic minority groups as well. Amity also prints Hymnals and other Christian literature.
Can foreigners give Christian books and resources to Chinese Christians?
Yes, with care, sensitivity and discretion. We are not allowed to widely and indiscriminately distribute printed religious material without permission – but then we would most likely not do that in our home country either.
The church in China is growing very rapidly. There is a great warmth and respect for Christianity because of its emphasis on loving your neighbour and care and responsibility for others. Local governments are very supportive as the local church is heavily involved in social action and care.