|Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, China|
Why the interest in China?
So what about Christianity in China?
According to the official statistics from China Christian Council in 2010, there were 23 millions Protestant Christians in China, more than 30 times the figure for 1949 (about 700,000); 56,000 churches and meeting points; and 21 seminaries and Bible schools. But there are a few hundred thousand of house churches that are unregistered, with anywhere between 50-55 million adherents.
The Catholics are estimated to be more than 12 million, worshipping in 6,000 churches, and there are well over 3,000 priests and 5,000 religious sisters.
Relation between the Chinese Catholic Church and the Vatican has been strenuous because the Chinese Catholic Church selected their own bishops, who are not recognized by the Vatican. There are many Catholics who belong to the underground church, which remains loyal to the Pope.
I first visited the churches in China in the early 1980s. The churches were reopened after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the turbulent years when the Gang of Four ruled. All religious activities were suspended; pastors were denounced and sent to be reeducated and church properties confiscated.
When the churches reopened, they decided to stay together and form one post-denominational church. Most of the people who came to church in the 1980s were older people, who have been Christians. The pastors were middle-aged or older. I was impressed by their steadfast faith and perseverance during the Cultural Revolution.
In the fall of 2009, I visited the Chinese churches again and I was surprised by the phenomenal church growth. The priest at a church in Suzhou was only about 30 years old and the preacher was a young woman in her twenties! Some 2,000 people attended church that Sunday and the church could not accommodate all. Latecomers had to go to the conference rooms to participate in worship by watching close-circuit TV.
The largest church in China is Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, which can sit 5,000 people. It is located inside the city, surrounded by tall buildings. Dedicated in 2005, the Church has a nice choir and different programs for different age groups. Before the service, I went to the church’s bookstore to buy the Chinese hymnal, religious books, and CDs of sermons and hymns.
Chinese Christians love to sing and many come to church an hour earlier to learn to sing Christian hymns. Since the reopening of the churches, many new hymns have been composed by Chinese musicians. I was delighted to see that a bilingual version (English and Chinese) of the hymnal was published. This was a labor of love of the late Dr. Wong Wing Hei, who supervised the project when he was in his late eighties.
I wish I would be invited to speak about Christianity in China in seminaries and divinity schools to a large audience, even though it may not be 500.