What were the stories that generated the most buzz among Christians in China in 2015? The editors at Christian Times have identified the top Christian news stories in China for the past year. The following translation of the original article has been posted to China Christian Daily. It’s a good reminder of the discrepancy between what many in the West think must be “top of mind” for Christians in China and what actually is.
China’s memories of 2015 remain mixed. China suffered from many disasters but also experienced positive changes. While facing much pressure of deepening reforms, China must take up more global responsibility in the future.
The Christian community also reflected the various characteristics of this era. According to factors such as importance, click rates, keyword searches, readers' sharing, etc., CCD has selected China's Top 10 Christian News in 2015. With this retrospection, we hope to draw a clearer picture of China's Christian community for the past year and consider how, with God’s guidance, to strengthen the churches in China.
1. Public Nature: The Building Codes of Religious Buildings in Zhejiang Province, the Public Nature of Christianity, and the Future Relationship between Politics and Religion
In 2014, the "Cross Crisis in Zhejiang Province" hit the headlines in China's Christian communities. This was followed by the issuing of the Zhejiang Provincial Codes for Religious Buildings in order to ask for social comments in May 5, 2014.
The code aroused much opposition. Many thought that it actually violated the principle of separating religion from politics and that the government had no right to intervene in the internal affairs of churches. Although the Zhejiang Daily published several articles defending the code from the perspective of the rule of law and the public nature of religious buildings, some pastors still argued that the code should not be a legal basis for demolishing crosses since building crosses should not be regarded as illegal construction.
However, Christian communities failed to make their voice heard. As of July, 2015, as many as 1,100 crosses in Zhejiang Province had been demolished causing a strain in the relationship between the local government and the churches. The Religious Building Code of Zhejiang Province was eventually passed and the Cross Crisis was left unsettled.
It was the first time that the Chinese press acknowledged the public nature of religious buildings. Today, the Chinese government cannot ignore the existence and rapid spread of Christianity in China anymore. It is necessary for the Chinese government to adjust its religious policies to acknowledge the public nature of Christianity. On the other hand, Chinese churches must to try to co-exist with different communities and find a better way to integrate into society.
2. Urbanization: Christianity's Transformation and Responsibilities in the Process of China's Urbanization
China has been urbanizing since 2000, and the process is still far from complete. Urbanization has not only influenced Chinese society greatly but has also promoted the development of urban churches in China.
Indeed, as a preacher from a city in East China said in an interview, churches need to adapt in this era to manifest God's power and grace. It is also believed that churches can play an important role in promoting social morality.
Pastors from various cities in China agree that China’s urban churches face four key challenges: the floating population, transient membership; leadership weaknesses on the part of the pastors; dating and courtship for young single Christians; and the churches' minimal participation in social services. They also agree that problems may be solved through offering more spiritual training for church members and influencing society with the love of Jesus Christ.
During the past 15 years, while passively adapting to urbanization, churches in China have also thought much about what they can do for society. In the future, with even more rapid urbanization, they should also think about their missions responsibilities. Urbanization presents a unique opportunity for Christianity because it is during this process that more and more people will realize their spiritual hunger and thirst, that the gospel can bring about moral transformation, and that Christianity can introduce new elements to Chinese culture.
3. Churches in the Countryside: Reverse the Decline of Churches in the Countryside and Explore Their Potential
Although urban churches have been growing rapidly in China in recent years, churches in the countryside still remain key. However, they are struggling to survive in the process of urbanization.
One of the major difficulties for churches in the countryside is the lack of training and support for preachers. It is reported that rural preachers receive very low salaries and some of them are never paid for their work. Moreover, most churches in the countryside pay little attention to further theological training for their preachers. Lack of money and training makes more and more young preachers leave the countryside and strive for a promising future in the city.
There are also some problems with the organization and format of churches in the countryside. In China, folk religions and superstition are very popular in rural areas and it is more difficult for rural people to understand Christian teachings. In this situation, churches in the countryside tend to become closed and backward.
But we cannot ignore the great potential of churches in China's rural areas. If they can successfully transform themselves, they can become a "spiritual holy place," a channel for rural modernization and a bridge linking the rural areas to the outside world. We have reason to believe that churches in the Chinese countryside will not only bring the gospel but also civilization to the rural areas.
4. Christian Education: Chinese Christian's Explorations of Christian Education
Over the past 30 years, the educational sector has grown in China. At the same time the number of Christians has grown. Since 2000 China’s Christian community has been exploring the issue of providing Christian education.
Until now, three different patterns of Christian education have developed: family education supervised by parents, church schools organized by church leaders, and private Christian schools run by social organizations and individuals. Each pattern has its own advantages, but they all are seeking to address the same problems.
For a long time Chinese churches and Christian parents attached little importance to religious education. The development of Christian education has also been hindered by the lack of qualified teachers and funding. In addition to those issues, there should be more attention paid to localization since most educators argue that in China, Christian education should be integrated with Chinese traditional culture. Chinese Christian schools should compile their own textbooks and develop curriculums with Chinese characteristics.
Although Christian education has developed rapidly in China recently, it has failed to win the trust of the Chinese government. How can this predicament be solved? How can we guarantee the legality of Christian education in China? These are problems that need urgent solutions.
5. Asia Homecoming Gathering: Asia Homecoming Gathering Held in Hong Kong
As a spiritual revival program launched in recent years, the Homecoming Gathering has deeply impacted Asian churches around the world, especially churches in Mainland China.
On July 7, 2015, the gathering was held in Hong Kong for the second time. Nearly 10,000 Christians from over 30 countries were in attendance. Besides preaching its three core values—the voice of the Spirit, unification, and hope—the gathering also highlighted the importance of Asia's spiritual revival to the whole world. Pastor David Demian, the organizer, testified of God's work in Asia. He pointed out that God needed Asia and Asia had its own mission. All Asian countries were members of Jesus's body and it was time for Asian countries to join together to light this world with God's wisdom and love.
The Homecoming Gathering also emphasized the importance of healing and reconciliation. Due to historical reasons such as the WWII, there is enmity between Asian countries. The meeting aimed to overcome hatred through many prayers and Japanese Christians' apologies to other Asian countries during the meeting. Church leaders and Christians from Japan expressed that they hoped to work together with other countries to spread the Gospel and glorify Jesus' name.
6. Mephibosheth Village and Its Founder, Xinwei: “the Founder of Mephibosheth Village Laid to Rest
Called by God, Sister Xinwei came back to China with her American husband, Steve Schroeder, in 2009. They established Mephibosheth Village, an orphanage for adopting disabled children throughout China.
Over the years, Mephibosheth Village has become a testament of great love in the heart of Chinese Christians that encourages more and more people to engage in charity. Both Xinwei and her husband believed that Mephibosheth Village is a home for those "worthless" children, where they can find hope for their lives.
In October 2013, Xinwei was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the following months, her condition grew worse and worse. Many people around Xinwei could not understand why God would let such a nice sister suffer from this terrible illness, but Xinwei never lost her faith. She shared God's grace and her experiences in Christ with her brothers and sisters in church. She told them that she believed that God has the power of healing her cancer, but she still thanked God even if she wasn’t healed. She believed that God's will is always good and heaven is surely better than this world.
At the end of her life, she expressed her own understanding of faith: to follow Jesus Christ and draw closer to him.
She departed this world on July 16, 2015, but many Chinese Christians were deeply moved by her story and saw God's wonderful deeds through her experiences.
7. Mission China 2030: First Mobilization Meeting of Mission China 2030 Held in Hong Kong
From the evening of September 28 to October 1, 2015, the first mobilization meeting of Mission China 2030 was held in Hong Kong. Hundreds of church leaders and workers from Mainland Chinese churches, including house churches, attended the meeting and shared the vision of transforming China from a mission-receiving country into a mission-sending country.
The meeting stressed that 2015 was expected to be the year when the vision of Mission China 2030 was presented, namely China's churches sending 20,000 missionaries around the world by 2030. The initiator argued that for over 200 years, approximately 20,000 foreign missionaries had come to China. China also hoped to send out 20,000 overseas missionaries and pay off its "gospel debts;" only by doing this, would China finally deserve the title of "Mission China".
During the meeting, many Chinese church leaders agreed that in order to achieve this goal, churches in China needed to transform through learning new church systems and church management from America and South Korea.
Meanwhile, several foreign pastors warned that Chinese churches must be alert as their growth in wealth and freedom could be the cause of sin as people often depend on themselves and turn away from God. They also argued that Chinese churches should strengthen their prayers, spiritual formation, and mission in the future.
8. Chinese Churches in Europe: Second European Spiritual Revival Meeting Held in Paris
While churches in China have begun to send missionaries to other parts of the world, overseas Chinese churches have devoted themselves to the revival of churches in Western countries.
From October 27 to October 30, 2015 the Second European Spiritual Revival Gathering was held in Paris. More than 1,000 overseas Chinese Christians from over 10 European countries attended. In the context of secularization, the decline of churches, and Islamic extremist terrorism, participants of the meeting prayed for France and encouraged each other to bring the true peace in Christ to more people.
Some overseas Chinese pastors thought that European countries are now suffering from spiritual decline and only through reviving churches can this situation be changed. They believe the growing number of churches and Christians will diminish corruption, reduce violence, and improve social security. But other pastors argued that the decline of European churches was nothing but a superficial phenomenon. In fact, the number of small churches has increased a lot in the recent years.
The unification of the state and the church has made Christianity a tool for maintaining the social order in Europe for the past 1,000 years. Now, churches are purifying themselves through restoring the leadership, seeking guidance of the Holy Spirit, and carrying out their mission.
The rapid growth in the number of Muslims has become an issue that must not be ignored by Christians. Overseas Chinese pastors in Europe now also consider how to face the challenge and change the future.
9. The 100th Anniversary of Samuel Pollard's Death: Chinese Churches and Society Pay Increasing Attention to This Foreign Missionary
2015 is the 100th anniversary of the death of Samuel Pollard, a British missionary who was sent to China over 100 years ago. During his 20-year stay in China, he made great contributions to the Miao people in Southwest China, including establishing the Shimenkan Church, spreading the gospel, inventing the written Miao language, and setting up schools and hospitals. With his faith in God and his dream of converting a nationality to Christianity, he transformed this uncivilized region into a heaven-like land successfully and even died for the cause.
His story was almost forgotten because of great historical changes that took place in China in the following years. However, on the occasion of this anniversary, Chinese churches and the whole society became more and more interested in Samuel Pollard's story.
His achievements were mentioned in the first mobilization meeting of Mission China 2030. Deeply moved by his life and work, many church leaders expressed their determination to make more contributions. Samuel Pollard's practical significance to this era was also acknowledged in academic circles. Scholars and researchers agree that what Samuel Pollard did over a century ago was a good example for today's rural construction and social transition in China.
Moreover, the Shimenkan Church reflects the power of religion for changing society in the past and predicts the salvation of Christianity for today's China.
10. Christmas Day: Churches in China Offering Services to Society During the Christmas Season
Since it is the most important Christian festival in Western countries, Christmas Day in China is a good opportunity to spread the gospel because many non-believers want to attend church to celebrate this popular foreign festival.
However, today more and more churches are trying to integrate into society and to take part in social activities. In 2015, many churches in China participated in community services during traditional Christian festivals.
During the 2015 Christmas season, two churches in Xuzhou organized a volunteer blood donation activity among its members. Their good deeds were highly praised by the Xuzhou Blood Center. A church in Wenzhou invited several sanitation workers to attend the church's Christmas celebration. During the celebration, sanitation workers shared the difficulties they face at work with the believers and the believers expressed their appreciation for their contributions in keeping the city clean. In Putian City, Fujian Province, a church also recognized the importance of sanitation workers. Church leaders invited 40 sanitation workers to church on Christmas Day and gave each of them a down jacket as a Christmas present.
Jesus was concerned about the underdog throughout his life and the early churches inherited this good tradition. Today, churches in China should also care more for the underdog. These caring-for-society activities held during the Christmas season of 2015 have given new meaning to Christmas Day.
Original article: 年终盘点：基督时报•2015中国基督教十大新闻 (Christian Times)
English translation: Top 10 Christian News in 2015 China: Gain Deep and Broad Understanding to China Christianity (China Christian Daily)
Adapted and reposted with permission.
Image credit: Joann Pittman, via Flickr
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