It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”(Lamentations 3:26, NIV)
This year, the development of Christianity in China has come to a so-called “new normal.” The government has ordered the suspension of all forms of Sunday school and prohibited children from entering the church and participating in Christian gatherings. They stress that the State has the sole right to provide education.
They also prohibit churches from sponsoring schools and ban Christian teachers from teaching the Bible and other Christian content in class. Chinese Christians are prohibited from going abroad to participate in overseas Christian activities without approval. They intercept information about Christianity on the Internet and stop Christians from writing Christian content, and even try to exclude words like “God” and “Heaven” from literary works in general.
A few years ago, some churches were asked to remove the cross on top
of their church buildings. Recently, some Three-Self churches were asked to take down the hangings of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes from the church walls. The reason given is that the content violates the core values of socialism. Overall, the challenge is this new normal is encompassing. Beyond the external challenges of removing crosses, scriptural wall hangings or censoring digital communications, the government has begun interfering with the preaching content of the church.
Starting this summer, local ministers received notifications to attend “preaching training,” emphasising “how to preach” in this new normal. The focus of the training includes: how to guide believers to follow socialism with Chinese characteristics through their sermons; how to teach believers to embrace the core values of socialism; how to help believers have greater national pride and to be in line with Communist Party; how to make believers follow socialism.
To successfully complete this preaching training, local ministers not only have to attend the course, they must serve in accordance with the requirements of the preaching training in their Three-Self church. Otherwise, the worker is not qualified to receive a preaching permit that allows the minister to preach legally. Without the preaching permit, one cannot legally preach. All gatherings by illegal preachers will be deemed illegal evangelism and will be penalised as an illegal assembly.
For many years, the church has been required to abide by the principle
of ‘separation of church and state’ with Chinese characteristics. This meant that, ministers could not publicly criticise the government nor talk about politics in their sermons. Therefore, whether in worship services in the open church or in gatherings in private homes, ministers would only preach the Bible and avoid criticising the government or talk about politics. However, today, the rule of ‘the separation of church and state’ is taken away and ministers are required to talk about socialism according to government trainings and standards.
In the last several decades, Chinese ministers in both the Three-Self and House Churches, despite challenges, have received a certain degree of Bible education or pastoral training. Homiletics is a basic course required during such training. Although there is room for improvement, Chinese ministers are not far from other countries in the world in terms of preaching skills. So what do these preaching requirements with Chinese characteristics mean for a Chinese minister? Not only are these requirements unnecessary, they are also impossible to comply with. It is evident to all Christians the type of challenge these requirements bring to Chinese ministers today.
As this new normal is part of God’s sovereign plan, we believe that no matter the means the government takes to restrict the church, it is impossible to block its growth. As it is difficult for the Chinese church to expect God to immediately remove this yoke, they must seriously consider facing these new challenges and learning new lessons from God.
Radio gospel broadcasts have played an important role in the growth of the Chinese church these past seventy years. Past testimonies tell us that the broadcasted preaching programs had been nurturing people’s hearts in a timely manner like streams in the desert. People have not only fond memories, but also expectations for these gospel radio programs. Now with the new types of media (internet and smart phones), the traditional one-way Gospel broadcasts remain the primary channel for churches and Christians in remote and underdeveloped areas. However, with this new normal, accessibility of many WeChat and gospel websites have become extremely difficult. Spiritual resources in the virtual space are becoming more and more precarious. The preaching that people receive from the Sunday service at the Three-Self church is getting further away from the Bible. This motivates those who seek the truth to return to the radio and receive teachings that are rooted in the Bible. Some of the mainland ministers are finding that people are returning to the gospel radio programs for their Bible-based teachings as well as systematic Bible study. Perhaps the Church can take place through these Gospel broadcasts, and worship together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Since the publication of the Chinese Union Bible a hundred years ago, Chinese Christians have developed a deep love for the Bible. Although some churches in the cities have begun to not teach biblical truths, Christians still try to participate in other gatherings where they can receive good teachings. Small and medium-sized gatherings are easily reported to the police, and the ministers there are not free
to preach the truth. Smaller-scale Bible studies are now springing up all over. Although there are often no full-time workers in the Bible studies, Christians are reading the Bible and praying together once again. It seems what is most lacking at present is the use of Bible study materials that are contextualised for Mainland China. Due to China’s context and problems they are facing, overseas materials for Bible studies may not be suitable. Our prayer is to see more Bible study materials developed by Chinese Christians.
In the past few years, it was easier for Chinese Christians to obtain spiritual resources from overseas churches and seminaries due to the relatively relaxed government enforcement of policies. Therefore, they became familiar with discussion topics and the context of Western Christians. However, after surveying China’s brothers and sisters, they are in reality, more interested in discussing topics related to family issues, children’s education, and dealing with adolescents. This reflects the felt needs of Chinese Christians being more in family relationships and raising up their children, than with social issues. The emergence of the new normal now makes Chinese Christians pay more attention to how to raise their children in their own homes. For many Christians, they need role models that can be realistic about their answers to practical problems, and long-term empathetic spiritual companions to journey with them.
We are convinced that there is nothing too difficult for Him. The new normal is not only a problem faced by the Chinese church alone, but also a corporate responsibility of the global Church, to pray and ask for grace in spirit and truth.
May God’s will be done in China as it is in heaven.