On January 8, China will downgrade COVID-19 from Class A infection to Class B infection, reopen its door to the outside, and remove anti-COVID measures at ports of entry for many imported things, as announced on December 26, 2022. This signifies a great shift in COVID-19 prevention policy during the past three years.
Churches and Christians in China have experienced ups and downs in 2022. It's a time for us to recall the past year and prepare to take on the task of rebuilding in a new era.
As we begin 2023, the editorial team of China Christian Daily has selected the top 10 Christian news stories of 2022 based on the number of views, keyword searches, shares, and prominence of articles.
Below is part 1, Nos. 1-5 of CCD'S top 10 news stories of 2022.
1. The Chinese church and Christians under the pandemic
The effect of COVID-19 upon the Chinese church and Christians was everywhere throughout the year of 2022. Since March, lockdowns devastated Shanghai, Xi’an, Zhengzhou, and Hainan Province, forcing in-person services and small group gatherings to a halt.
The months-long citywide lockdown in Shanghai started from late March and early April, creating secondary pain including mental issues and financial pressure in daily life. All church activities were transferred to be carried out online but Christians stuck to their faith during the difficult time.
During the Passion Week, many churches launched their own serial devotions. Easter was celebrated on the Internet. Churches and Christians in Shanghai volunteered in community services and served as “group leaders” to help elderly people and migrant workers, who were unable, to shop online.
A great breakthrough came in December as the authorities allowed COVID-19 patients to be in quarantine at home. Most in-person Christmas celebrations were cancelled due to mass infections amid an intensifying spread of Covid in big cities and small places, while some celebrated in advance to avoid any emergency. Many Christians and church workers got infected one by one, affecting new year services and annual visitation ministry. On Christmas Eve and Christmas, some churches conducted “hybrid” celebrations as believers gathered in groups together to watch the recorded or live-streaming service. Some sent Christmas gifts by delivery to their congregations.
2. As the Administrative Measures for Internet Religious Information Services came into force, registered churches across China obtained official permits and house churches suffered from more restrictions.
Released by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) on December 3, 2021, the Administrative Measures for Internet Religious Information Services took effect on March 1, 2022. According to the regulations, a church must obtain a license to carry out online ministry. Those churches who had been doing online ministry before the enforcement must go through relevant procedures within six months from the effective date.
At the end of February, SARA released the application form to complete the permit formalities. It stipulates that the applicant can be a religious body, religious school, venue for religious activities, or other organization. It also notes that they must each have an Internet religious information reviewer. Since then, Internet religious information service license examinations took place in different provinces and areas such as Jiangsu and Shanghai.
In May, the first batch of official churches in Fujian, Zhejiang, and Guangdong obtained the Internet religious information service licenses. Relevant training programs or exams took place in Inner Mongolia and Shandong. During the month, Gansu, Qinghai, and Guangdong released the notices of applying for the licenses. A large percentage of churches across China had successfully acquired permits.
Meanwhile, many TSPM churches started to build their own websites or apply to live stream services and publish Christian resources, as the new religious information required. Beijing churches and Hangzhou churches released their own applications.
Some Christian entrepreneurs also embarked on the business of “a self-built system” which provides training for religious information reviewers, ICP filing, building an official church website or WeChat mini program, and live-streaming services, etc.
However, censorship of online religious content tightened up as keywords like gospel, Christ, church, and Bible became sensitive. An official account containing the word “gospel” was blocked permanently on WeChat on April 18. The operating staff then registered another account which soon became an “unnamed account”. No Christianity-related account can be found when searching “gospel” in WeChat. In the Chinese Christian community, abbreviations and pinyin are seen more and more often in chats and posts to avoid blocked keywords, such as Yesu for Jesus, JDT for Christians, and JD for Christ.
Several Chinese Christian websites were commanded by their servers to delete mass articles that contained religious keywords. Jona Home, a famous Christian resource website, closed down permanently in April after 21-years of service. Even an online Bible website of China’s government-sanctioned church was blocked late May but became accessible again.
3. Resist heresies and cults which enticed Chinese believers
On the eve of last Easter, the cult "Shincheonji" from South Korea once again "successfully" launched a new wave of "mission" through online platforms. It was said that a lecture named War and Peace in the Last Days about Matthew 24 would be held on April 9. Shanghai Community Church issued a notice to remind its congregation to resist the recent rampant Shincheonji cult. Several local churches and scholars also posted similar messages.
While he was delivering a street lecture, Japan’s former Primer Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated on July 8 by Tetsuya Yamagami. The alleged assassin admitted that the murder was linked to the Unification Church where his mother had donated much money, bankrupting the family. Reports showed that Abe himself, his grandfather and father kept a close relationship with the religious movement and his wife had a position in the church. The incident aroused the harm of heresies and cults caused to society among the Chinese Christian community. In May 1997, the Ministry of Public Security listed the Unification church as a cultic organization, according to chinafxj.com, a website promoting China's anti-cult policies under the State Council, said Global Times.
Local pastors from Shanxi and Heilongjiang revealed that a heretic organization named “X Devotion” crept into small groups of registered churches to seduce believers.
During the past three years, local authorities in China have banned the heretical Korean “Berea Church”. The “Berea Church”, originally from the Berea Movement launched by South Korea’s Sungark Church, was listed as a heresy by the Christian Council of Korea (CCK) around 2014. In October 2022, its chapels were demolished in different parts of China.
4. Delegation of the Chinese church attended the World Council of Churches 11th Assembly in Germany.
Seven Chinese church delegates from China Christian Council (CCC) participated in the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) held in Karlsruhe, Germany, from 31 August to 8 September 2022, under the theme “Christ’s Love Moves the World to Reconciliation and Unity”. More than 4,000 delegates from all over the world attended the assembly.
CCC joined the WCC under the leadership of Bishop K. H. Ting in 1991. Since then, the Chinese registered churches have participated in the assemblies, and some representatives have been elected as members of the WCC central committee and the executive committee.
Ms. Gu Jingqin, interim chief of the overseas relationship department of CCC, and Rev. Dr. Lin Manhong, associate general secretary of CCC and academic dean of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary (NJUTS), were elected as members of the WCC Central Committee, the chief governing body of WCC between assemblies. Rev. Dr. Lin Manhong was elected as one of the 25-member executive committee.
Headed by Rev. Wu Wei, CCC president, the Chinese delegation took part in various activities of the conference including holding a special workshop titled “A Journey Towards Unity in a Chinese Context” and renewed their friendship with many old friends and made some new friends. This was the first international visit of CCC & TSPM since COVID-19.
5. The Asia 2022 Congress was conducted by the Lausanne Movement in Thailand to rethink the church and its mission.
About 600 Christian leaders from across Asia gathered in Thailand under the theme of “Rethinking Church and Mission: God’s Agenda for Today” from October 17 to 21. The Asia 2022 Congress was jointly hosted by Asia Lausanne, Asia Theological Association, and Asia Evangelical Alliance.
During the week, more than 30 speakers contributed to five Bible expositions centered around John 15:9-17, seven plenaries addressing key issues, and 15 seminars. Every day there was also worship and prayers. Specifically, a session on the partnership of Asian churches with the world church was conducted simultaneously with seven different continents or regions.
The gospel was preached to hundreds of millions of Asian people in the past century, but the good news finds it hard to penetrate into Asian cultural heartlands where Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Shinto are more dominant. The sixth plenary talk themed “Penetrating Asia's Cultural Heartlands with the Gospel” explored how to spread the gospel in the multi-religious Asian culture.
Dr. Yoshiyuki Nishioka, research director at the Tokyo Mission Research Institute, contrasted the current two types of gospel transmission— the propositional approach and social service approach, and presented the new approach, witnessing, in his lecture. He explained how to preach the gospel to Asians by “witnessing” with illustrations. Dr. Chansamone Saiyasak, president of Mekong Evangelical Mission, responded with three core values to proclaim the gospel in the Asian context: harmony, relationality, and circularity.
In another lecture, an Indian Bible scholar urged the Asian church not to follow the path of rationalism within the Western church, but instead seek to recover the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.
Karen Luo, Ruth Wang, and Grace Zhi contributed to these reports