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Practical or Political?

Key Challenges Facing China’s Urban Church

When China and its church are brought up in conversation, many people often assume that, since the church faces persecution, therefore the largest problem for believers must be their own government.

In a recent conversation on Faith Radio Network, broadcast on the first day of the Chinese New Year, host Neil Stavem brought up the question of persecution of the church in China. Here is an excerpt from that interview, which covered a range of issues facing China as it heads into the year of the monkey.

Persecution is a reality, and the government does limit what the church can do often, but yet I think when we get below that we realize that there are issues the church is facing today that, even if religious policy were changed tomorrow, some of those issues will still be there.

So what problem is the church in China facing?

One of the biggest ones that pastors cite today is materialism. As China has prospered, there’s no longer the cost associated with being a Christian that there was maybe 20 to 30 years ago. It’s easier to be believers, easier to come to church, but yet they find that the believers often are pulled away by this desire to make more money, and certainly their society pushes them in that direction. Pastors find that they’re really not prepared to deal with this onslaught of materialism that the church is facing.”

The good news about this, though, is that it is becoming easier for Christians to openly live their lives in faith without fear.

Christians [in China] have an ethic that the rest of the nation looks at and says, “We don’t really understand it, but we appreciate it.” The Christians often have the family life that other people envy. I think the Christians in many ways are a witness very winsomely to their neighbors. And the government . . . acknowledges, at least tacitly, that the believers are making a good impact on the society.

This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been attempts to persecute Christians and stomp out the church, but it is becoming more difficult for that to happen.

The church, for many decades, was hidden. You literally had to go find it if you wanted to find the believers. I remember my first trip to Beijing, over thirty years ago; literally I went to find a church on Sunday, literally I could not find the church.

But now, all of that is changing.

A few years ago my wife and I were walking down the street in Beijing and some young people came up to us and said “Jesus loves you” in Chinese and thrust tracts into our hands. The church was coming to find us, and I think that’s just kind of an illustration of how the church now is much more visible in the society. The government is distrustful of any social group that it cannot control, and that would include the church. At the same time, I think they realize that the church has become so widespread, particularly in the cities now, that to try to shut it down would just be futile.

You can listen to the interview in its entirety here.

Image credit: Christian Church by Brian Yap (葉) via Flickr.
Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

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