On December 31, 2014, the mainland site Christian Times published a long article titled “Taking Stock at the End of the Year: Christian Times Top Ten Chinese Christian News Stories of 2014.” Topping their list, of course, was the ongoing church and cross demolition campaign in Zhejiang Province. But there were other events that caught the attention of believers in China, including a church scandal in Korea, a Mandarin-language evangelistic conference in Hong Kong, a celebration of the restoration of the church in Shenzhen, and the banning of two house churches in Foshan, Guangdong Province. We have translated the article and, since it is quite long, will publish it in two separate posts.
Taking Stock at the End of the Year: Christian Times Top Ten Chinese Christian News Stories of 2014 (Part One)
"Time flows by like a river." Time is a mysterious creation from God. No matter what occurs on earth, time continues to move forward like a surging river. Today, we are once again poised at the end of one year and the beginning of the next.
To mark the end of 2014, Christian Times has selected its top ten Chinese Christian news stories reported on for the year.
1. Churches in Wenzhou Encounter a Storm of Controversy over the Cross.
If a history of the Church in China is written, the Wenzhou cross controversy should definitely be included. In the early spring of 2014, we saw the first indication of church and cross demolitions in Baiquan county in Zhoushan city. However, at the time very few people predicted that this would evolve into a major event affecting hundreds of churches and crosses and that it would continue unabated even up to now.
Word on the street is that this incident has something to do with a certain high-level leader in Zhejiang province who did not like the large crosses on top of buildings. Many local Christians in that area, either directly or indirectly, mention this rumor. But, to date the specific reasons that led to these events still cannot be confirmed.
Since the beginning the situation has remained complicated. There are many factors involved, and differing positions and viewpoints among Christians. One thing that surprised everyone, however, was that not only were house churches, such as Sanjia Church in Longgang, Wenzhou, caught up in this storm, but many local government (TSPM-CCC) Christian churches were not spared either. Of course, compared to other places, the distinction between TSPM-CCC churches and house churches in Wenzhou is not so obvious. But, in this case both experienced the pressure together. This type of situation has seldom been seen since the Cultural Revolution.
Although since the Cultural Revolution stories have come to light of various degrees of persecution and restrictions against Christians all over China, the Wenzhou cross controversy this year is the only event that has lasted for several months and involved thousands of house churches. This is the greatest challenge in church-state relations that has emerged since the beginning of the reform era (改革开放). Therefore, both the church and the government need to examine this situation and engage in serious reflection.
2. Corruption Case of Pastor David Yonggi Cho of Korea Shocks Chinese Christians
Less than a week after the Spring Festival holiday, while many people were still struggling with their "post-holiday blues," a piece of news came from South Korea that shocked countless Christians; so much so that many questioned its truthfulness. On February 20, Seoul Central District Criminal Court found Yoido Full Gospel Church senior pastor David Yonggi Cho guilty of malfeasance and corruption worth 13 billion won (73.58 million yuan [US$12 million]). He was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for five years, and fined five billion won. The court also sentenced Cho's eldest son, Hee-jun, to three years in prison as a co-conspirator and ordered him to remain in court custody.
Yoido Full Gospel Church is Korea's largest church, and is also the largest church in the world. The church has had a far-reaching impact on many churches in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and the Mainland.
Bit by bit the details of the case have come out. In 2002, David Yonggi Cho exploited his position in the church to buy stock held by his son at a higher price than the stock was worth, resulting in a loss of 13.1 billion won to the church. In the process, Cho is also suspected of evading 3.5 billion won in taxes. Because of his behavior, thirty elders of Full Gospel Church collectively denounced both father and son as they stood in front of a court of law.
Former Full Gospel Church elder Ha Sang-ok, in a November 2013 interview said, "Over the past 14 years, I have met with Rev. Cho many times to try to persuade him to repent and return to being a great pastor, but the corruption has continued. That's why I had no choice but to disclose it to the outside world."
However, many more elders of Full Gospel Church expressed their continued support of Pastor Cho following the court sentencing, saying that the reason why Pastor Cho was unable to protect his integrity is because "we didn't do a good job assisting our senior pastor, our spiritual guide." Many believers also support Rev. David Yonggi Cho. "
Taiwanese Pastor Zhang Mao'song and some friends of Pastor David Yonggi Cho have disclosed insider details about the case: Pastor Cho did not intentionally harm the church, rather his son "deliberately deceived" him. Pastor Cho never personally profited from these investments. "We are saddened by these events, especially because a faithful servant who loyally ministered for nearly sixty years served God and yet experienced a family breakdown with a disrespectful son, which not only involved himself, but the whole church."
The Chinese church has engaged in discussion and reflection on this case from many different angles. Rev. Li Xiuchuan, the former Secretary General of the Chinese Coordination Centre of World Evangelism (CCCOWE) reflected on how high-profile leaders can avoid losing their integrity later in life. Rev. Stephen Tong thought back over the fall of many charismatic figures and believes the global church should carefully examine what exactly is the work of the Holy Spirit. There are mainland pastors who believe that this exposed the failure of the prosperity gospel as well as some pastors who talked about how the church should build a more systematic church financial system to avoid corruption. There are also some who talked about how pastors should raise their children. Some pastors referred to the need to watch out and pray more when leaders are humiliated.
The outside world has all sorts of opinions. Compared to these, Pastor David Yonggi Cho's attitude following the event instead shows us more clearly the true fruit of a leader after he has been disciplined. On the first Sunday service after the verdict, Pastor Cho apologized to believers during his sermon. He confessed that even the process had been painful and that this was his most difficult day in fifty years of pastoral ministry, it was also the most gracious day that God had given him. "The lesson I have learned through this suffering is that an individual should not possess anything. In my heart I believe, even if God calls me back today, I will go to the Kingdom of God. Status, fame, power, money…these, in fact aside from health, are not worth pursuing."
During the second Sunday service sermon and communion ceremony, Pastor Cho once again apologized to believers and pled for forgiveness. He spoke on how the experience of Abraham gave him the grace to confess his sin and repent in order to receive forgiveness. "Do not worry about your past. For 75 years Abraham sold idols, but when God called him he left everything to become a new man." Today, when I break bread, I will become a new person."
3. Hong Kong "Heavenly Song" Evangelism Conference Leads Thousands to Christ
The first "Heavenly Song" Evangelistic Conference was held in 2012 in Sydney, Australia, and has gradually developed its own enduring and distinctive "Heavenly Song" style: Pastor Yuan Zhiming's Chinese-targeted preaching style + a hundred-plus-voice choir + well-known testimonies such as the famous couple Sun Haiying and Liu Liping, the composer Xiao Min who wrote the "Caanan Hymns," and others + songs sung by many famous Hong Kong and Taiwan artists.
Even though the “Heavenly Song” events have all been held thousands of miles away from mainland China, they have attracted a lot of attention from mainland Christians. This is a testimony to the attractiveness of “Heavenly Song’s” evangelism style to Chinese. After having been held in Australia three times, in November of 2014 "Heavenly Song" came to Hong Kong.
On the evening of November 15, 2014, the Heavenly Song Music Evangelism Conference was held at the Hong Kong International Expo. As with past conferences, this one continued the emphasis on marriage and family. In addition to hearing from Wong Cho Lam and his girlfriend Leanne Li on how God has directed their relationship, Chinese diving champion Fu Mingxia and her husband Anthony Leung, the former Financial Secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and Sun Haiying and Lu Liping all shared their marriage testimonies.
Although the “Heavenly Song” conference was a one-time event, nearly ten thousand people attended. Most of the participants were mainland Christians and more than a thousand people made a decision for the Lord. This will also go down in the history of the Hong Kong church as the first evangelism meeting to be entirely in Mandarin. Pastor Yuan wrote in his blog that, "This is the first time numerous Hong Kong churches have held an evangelistic event together in Hong Kong especially for mainland Chinese. This is the first time Mandarin was used without translation for a large-scale evangelistic meeting. This shows the heart of Hong Kong Christians who love God, love others, and love their compatriots. On the afternoon of the 16th, more than a thousand mainland church leaders and believers together with Hong Kong church leaders gathered at Kowloon City Baptist Church to pray for Hong Kong and China."
From this evangelism conference we see that, just as Pastor Yuan said, China's crop has already matured. Now is the great season of spiritual harvest. Pastor Yuan shared with mainland Christians about the topic of "mission." He reminded everyone that God has given every Chinese Christian living in the 21st century a mission and calling. We must not forget this. He encouraged and called on Christians in attendance to respond to the Great Commission of Jesus to spread the gospel. In the end, there were nearly a thousand Christians at the conference who accepted the call to dedicate their lives to spread the gospel.
4. Shenzhen Christian Church Holds Celebration of Thanksgiving to Commemorate Thirtieth Anniversary of Worship Reinstatement
When Deng Xiaoping visited the United States in 1979, US President Jimmy Carter privately made three requests: "I know there is no religious freedom in China, and I hope you will amend the constitution to guarantee freedom of religion. I also know that you ban bringing Bibles into China. I hope you will allow Bibles in. You also do not allow foreign missionaries into China. I hope you will allow missionaries in." Deng Xiaoping gave an equally frank reply, "I agree with you on the first two, but we do not need foreign missionaries." A year later, China amended its constitution to implement religious freedom, stipulating that citizens enjoy the freedom of religious belief, and lifted restrictions on the Bible. Document No. 19, issued in 1982 gradually re-implemented religious freedom and churches around the country reinstated church worship. This was one of the important policies of the Reform & Opening up period (改革开放).
Shenzhen Christian Church was one of the beneficiaries of this policy. In August of 2014, Shenzhen Christian Church held a celebration of thanksgiving to commemorate thirty years of worship restoration. The local church arranged to have the famous Overseas Chinese Christian worship team Stream of Praise lead the "Our Love Makes the World Different" evening of worship at Shenzhen Stadium. Thousands of people attended the event. At the end of the celebration, a thousand-person choir comprised of members from thirty Shenzhen church meeting points stunned the audience with a singing of the "Hallelujah" chorus. To hold such a magnificent public Christian event in China is truly a pioneering work on the part of Shenzhen. In addition, this was the first time that Stream of Praise were allowed to give a concert in China. Many well-known people in religious circles were in attendance and noted that the growth of the church is one of the substantial achievements of the Reform & Opening up period, and that they hope the church can become an even greater blessing for society.
The chairman of the Shenzhen Christian Council, Rev. Dr. Cai Bosheng, gave a presentation on thirty years of growth for the Shenzhen church. On May 27, 1984, the first restored worship meeting point was opened at Heping Road. At the time, there were only seventy people who came to worship. There was only one pastor, one evangelist, and one small 120 square meter church. Thirty years later, Shenzhen has thirty registered meeting points, which accounts for two-thirds of the forty-eight religious activity locations in Shenzhen. There are seventeen ministers, seven elders, and twenty-seven evangelists. Each year there are over 2,000 people baptized in the city. Currently, there are more than 100,000 believers in the city. Church workers have received regular training in worship, building fellowships, conducting print ministries, theological education and social services. They have achieved encouraging results.
In addition to its youthful vibrancy, a salient characteristic of the Shenzhen church is that different churches are not too wrapped up in historical baggage; there is great hope for unity. Dr Cai said, "Shenzhen is a city full of innovation and inclusiveness. Shenzhen churches are willing to be united and loving. There is mutual love between Shenzhen church congregations and church meeting points, and love between brothers and sisters. Whether within the Three-Self system or outside of it, registered or unregistered meeting points, brothers and sisters of different backgrounds and characteristics seamlessly connect to show each other care, inclusiveness, acceptance."
One of the other highlights of the celebration was the simultaneous launch of and opening ceremony for the "Shenzhen City Christian Social Service Center." The center received an award from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, identifying the "magnificent turnaround" of the Shenzhen church and its beginning to take on the responsibility and mission of organized social service
5. Two House Churches in Foshan, Guangdong Are Banned as Illegal Social Organizations
Foshan is a small city located in central Guangdong Province. Aside from its economy, it is most known for famous historical martial arts figures such as Wong Fei-hung (1847-1924). But, in late September 2014 this ancient southern town attracted the attention of Christians from all over the country.
On September 21 at about 9:00 a.m., two Foshan churches, Olive Tree Church and Ark Church, were simultaneously raided during their Sunday services. Six church workers were detained. One of the most puzzling things about this incident for local pastors was that at the very start the coworkers were held on the charge of "disrupting social order under the fraudulent name of religion." But at 10:30 p.m. that night, they received an arrest notice stating that they were being held and imprisoned in a detention center according to Article 300 of the Criminal Code which states, "Whoever forms or uses superstitious sects or secret societies or cults or uses superstition to undermine the implementation of the laws."
On October 17, the Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Civil Affairs Office in Foshan City issued an updated announcement on its official online "Government Affairs Announcements" section saying that they banned the illegal social organizations, "Foshan Ark Church" and "Foshan Olive Tree Church." The announcement stated that the two churches" were not legally registered according to law and under the name of a social organization began conducting unauthorized activities such as developing members, collecting donations, and illegally gathering for teachings in violation of the "Regulations Governing the Registration of Social Organizations" in Article 35 of the State Council provisions. According to the provisions of the State Council "Regulations Governing the Registration of Social Organizations" and the Ministry of Civil Affairs "Interim Measures Banning Illegal Non-Governmental Organizations" they are now banned."
After the publication of the announcement, a Christian scholar of non-governmental activities told the Christian Times that this case is notable and also expressed his concerns. First, he said, prior to this it was very rare for house church workers to be detained on the pretense of "forming secret societies and cults," so people are taking notice (some pastors point out that this is the first time an urban house church has been charged with a "cult crime").
Second, although the ultimate reason for the ban is not because the churches were found to be "secret societies and cults," the current announcement not only seems to adhere as much as possible to a "handle according to law" reasoning process under the currently existing legal framework, but is also a rather stringent model of legal enforcement. But in the end these two churches were still banned, which is something that had seldom happened before. Previously most actions against house churches were only verbal prohibitions against meeting or settling the matter by leaving it unsettled.
He believes that "there is a close relationship between the Foshan case and the future trend of the manner in which house churches will be treated. It might also provide a significant reference for the future treatment of house churches." These references include whether in the future the treatment of the house churches will fall within the purview of the rule of law, and how to deal with future conflicts between the very real house church status quo and existing Chinese religious administration laws within the scope of the rule of law.
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