In this issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, we explore the spiritual journey of believers who are finding Christ and growing in Him through the ministry of the Catholic Church in China.
For many Protestants serving in China or among Chinese elsewhere in the world, the Catholic Church is seen as rather distinct from their own Christian communities. Historically the Protestant and Catholic churches have taken different paths in their development within China. Politically they are treated as two separate entities, each with its own United Front organization (in the case of Catholic believers, the Catholic Patriotic Association) serving as an interface between church and Party. Although both have suffered the stigma of being viewed as “Western” religions, the Chinese Communist Party has treated China’s Catholics, both within the “official” and “unofficial” churches, with particular suspicion due to their allegiance to the Vatican.
Theologically speaking, the Catholic and Protestant traditions diverge on many issues, and these remain defining factors in the ongoing differences between the two. However, as outgoing World Evangelical Alliance Secretary General Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe remarked recently following a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, we are seeing a new era in the relationship between Evangelicals and Catholics. According to Tunnicliffe, “While there are some ongoing tensions, this new era is an acknowledgment that there are many localized partnerships between Catholics and Evangelicals….” In China, particularly at the grassroots level, the traditional distinctions are becoming less defining as followers of Christ seek to grow in their relationship with God through involvement in Catholic communities.
Our exploration into Catholic life in China is ecumenical in the true sense of acknowledging the differences between the Protestant and Catholic Christian traditions while at the same time being open to learning about and engaging with the uniting work of the Holy Spirit as experienced in the Catholic tradition. Our guest editor for this issue, Tricia Bølle, occupies a unique role in this process as she serves both Catholic and Protestant believers in Asia and has experience interacting with many Christian faith communities. Her vantage point affords a view into the journey of China’s Catholics that Protestants working in China normally have limited opportunity to observe, but which is important in understanding the many ways in which God is working in China today. Our hope is that this perspective will serve as a catalyst for further dialog and, where possible, sharing of resources and insights.
Photo Credit: Gaylan Yeung
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio