Within Chinese culture and society and within the Chinese church, an individual deciding to be baptized makes an important statement. We often hear of individuals who say they believe but are unwilling to be baptized. Some of the reasons stem from not feeling “good enough.” There is often family or social pressure—it is OK to believe but not to be baptized. The open identification with a Christian community often has greater practical implications at school, at work, in career prospects than we see in most western countries.
In a previous blog we discussed the figure “The Most Important Reason for People to Come to Faith.” The reasons people give for coming to faith and being baptized are identical. This is because these two are often treated as a single decision. So the figure also shows the most important motivations for contemporary Chinese to accept “baptism” and become a Christian. First is their desire for eternal life and a deeper understanding and experience of truth. Second is their willingness to see their own life change (including dealing with sin). Third is healing of the body.
Another very important finding is that while baptism may not help people eliminate an existing “inferiority complex,” that is “not feeling good enough,” it is an important and glorious declaration in an atheistic society. I believe that although Yang Fenggang’s research found that more than 80% of people in China have religious feelings or yearnings for religion, the purpose of their yearning for religion is often to seek knowledge and grasp “ultimate concern.”1 Within traditional culture, the worship of idols and belief in superstitions lacking clear moral guidance cannot provide truth about “ultimate concern” to people. Therefore, the spread of Christian thought among Chinese people is closely related to providing a clear “ultimate concern” to people.
Although the scope of the “2017-2018 Survey of the Status and Growth of Christianity in China” covers many areas, including “member analysis,” “believers’ theology,” “[church’s] operating mechanism,” and aspects of “religious life” and “belief motivation,” this paper only provides a preliminary analysis of the composition and contours of belief for Christians in China based on collating the survey data. However, by comparing these results with those of the 2007 “Spiritual Life Study of Chinese Residents” and the report in the “Blue Book of Religion 2010,”2 I can put forward the following five propositions for consideration.
The pursuit of metaphysical ideals is the primary reason for the growth of the Chinese Christian community.
Church life leading to Chinese experiencing an idealized, beautiful life, including the study of truth, fellowship of love, etc., is an important component of the growth of Christianity in modern China.
The implementation of “evangelicalism” in “informal conditions” is an important component of the growing Christian community.
The cultural background that upholds the idea that “writing is for conveying truth” is an important cultural factor for the growth of Chinese Christianity.
Christian thought on “ultimate concern” is an important factor that has caused Chinese to convert to Christ and has also been an important factor for the widespread growth and increase of Christianity in China.
In actual life, there are still a number of variables that affect the development of Christianity in China, mainly those due to the variable pressure resulting from changes in politics and policies as well as changes in other factors such as secular trends of thought, materialistic worldviews, and so on. But looking at the problem rationally, one finds that, although the amount of pressure from politics and policies is not consistent or constant in different regions and at different stages, the five factors mentioned above and the reasons for them will not change as the amount of political and policy pressure changes.
Similarly, although secularization and materialism can have an impact on the growth of Christianity, this impact is also uneven. Their influence on different regions and different Christian communities is inconsistent. On the contrary, the church (or individual Christians and groups) can use evangelism, life testimonies, and other such means to impact people who are influenced by secularization and materialism and lead them away from these influences. Therefore, secularization and materialism do not fundamentally pose a challenge to the above five factors and reasons. This is because man is a “living soul” (Gen. 2: 7). Secularization and materialism may dissolve and even dilute the ultimate concern for oneself and others, but it cannot fundamentally wipe out any person’s spiritual existence and needs.
The next and final blog in this series will be a discussion with the author about further implications of his research and his suggestions for what the future may hold.
- This term is based on the thinking of Paul Johannes Tillich and refers to religion as the greatest (ultimate) pursuit or human concern among other pursuits (morality, ethics, and morality) and is an act of the total personality.
- See “National Religion Surveys of China,” the third blog in this series, https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/blog-entries/national-religion-surveys-of-china/.
Image credit: Gaylan Yeung.
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