With literally hundreds of crosses falling prey to overzealous local officials in Wenzhou and neighboring cities, the region once seen as a bastion of extraordinary religious freedom is now the subject of worldwide attention due to an equally extraordinary crackdown on its churches.
Most of this attention has understandably focused on the complex relationship between government officials and Christians in Wenzhou. Theories abound as to who is really behind the crackdown. Months into the ordeal observers inside and outside China are still scratching their heads as they seek to answer questions such as, Why Wenzhou? Why now? What does this mean (if anything) for the church elsewhere in China?
Going beyond the questions surrounding the atrocities themselves, the events in Wenzhou do serve to shed light on the unique church culture that has come to characterize what is often referred to as "China's Jerusalem."
Lessons from Wenzhou
Recently a Christian in China wrote an article, "The Wenzhou Church Reborn from the Ashes," in which he examines what he believes are the valuable spiritual lessons that can be learned from the Wenzhou crackdown. His comments, translated into English on Chinese Church Voices, provide a glimmer of hope amidst the gloom that, based on most accounts of the situation, seems to have settled over Wenzhou.
One of the enduring historical lessons of the church in China is an understanding of the true nature and purpose of the church. Stripped of all the trappings normally associated with institutional Christianity, China's church in the 1960s and 1970s nevertheless grew beyond anyone's wildest imagination. The legacy of those dark years continues to illumine the path of subsequent generations of believers who have taken up the baton in a comparatively easier era to lead the church forward.
It is perhaps a return to this understanding that will stand out as one of the unexpected fruits of the current crackdown in Wenzhou, as the church again rediscovers its spiritual roots.
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