Five Challenges Met by Churches in China

Beijing Haidian Church
Beijing Haidian Church
By Paul WuJuly 8th, 2016

Since China established reforms and opened up its society for religion, new religious policies and the growing spiritual demand of the public triggered the revival of Christianity in China. According to a blue paper on religion published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on August 11, 2010, the number of Chinese Christians had increased dramatically over the past years, amounting to almost 230.5 million. As this number only included the number of registered Protestants in the country, some scholars estimated that there are at least 70 million Christians in China, which reached its peak number since Protestantism was introduced to China in 1807. Although things look good for the religion, churches in China still faces some challenges which hinders the development of its churches in the future.

I. Prejudice Against Religions

In mainland China, atheism is the mainstream of school education. Although many Chinese people are not real materialists, they hold some preconceived notions such as there is no God in the universe and man evolved from apes. In their minds, religion is something which opposes rationality and science and it is a synonym of ignorance and fatuity. Moreover, the anti-intellectualism sentiment popularized in some churches makes people feel that Christianity is stupid and created the existing prejudice against Christianity which was slowly strengthened and people started to become aloof regarding this religion. Some people have told me that they really appreciate the church's good deeds, but they cannot accept its stance that the world was created by God and think that Christianity is incompatible with science and out of step with modern civilization. In the future, atheism will likely to continue influencing most Chinese people and therefore, turn into a big challenge for the church's development. In order to achieve further growth, it is necessary for churches in China to encourage believers to get scientific and cultural knowledge, eliminate the people's view regarding Christianity being opposed to science and gradually lead them to believe in the existence of God.

II. Repulsion to "Alien Religions" Brought by the Revival of Sinology

In the past decade, a Sinological boom had spread all over China. More and more reports regarding the activities of Sinology have been seen on media in recent times. The revival of Sinology is of significant interest because it has popularized traditional Chinese culture and raised people's overall quality. However, with strong nationalism, the revival of Sinology actually aims to resist the invasion of Western culture such as religion. As a carrier of Western culture, Christianity naturally has become a target for the supporters of the quintessence of the Chinese culture (the so-called New Confucianism). The extremists even hate the "alien religion" to the core and itch to expel it from China. We can easily feel the tension between the two parties in many cases; such as the group’s resistance to Christmas Day and the objection to building a church in Qufu, the Holy Land for Confucians. On the other hand, some Chinese Christians lack the knowledge of traditional Chinese culture and when they evangelize, they attack Sinology blindly and hurt the feeling of lovers of Sinology seriously. In this way, they make traditional Chinese culture and Christianity totally incompatible. In the long run, the Sinological boom will continue and based on the enthusiasm for nationalism in several parts of the country, people may acknowledge Sinology more and more. As for churches, it is necessary to remove the impression of the faith being an "alien religion" and combine Christianity with traditional Chinese culture in order to connect it with keeping faith. In fact, it has been an unsolved problem over the past several hundred years, which requires us and future generations to seek for solutions.

III. A Great Shock Brought by Modern Entertainment

After the implementation of reform and opening up to the rest of the world, Western culture has been introduced into China, including entertainment culture with the color of post modernism. Entertainment culture spreads throughout the country via high-efficient media platforms such as the Internet, movies and television. This enables it to quickly become well-known among the masses. Postmodernism generally advocate individual liberation, opposing traditions and develop contempt for authorities. It also encourages people to deconstruct and spoof the classics, even religions such as Christianity. For example, The Da Vinci Code became a popular novel worldwide several years ago but it had triggered a big shock to traditional churches because it makes many people misunderstand Christianity seriously. Another example is "He who believes Brother Chun has everlasting life" (revised from "he who believes Jesus has everlasting life"), a network buzzword popular among young people in China. It is just a product of entertainment culture which reflects its capacity to silently transform its influence on the young generations. Obviously, it is impossible for churches to suppress entertainment culture, but just with young people's attention on it, we can lead them to know the truth through correct explanations by using the proper forum. For example, a sister started to feel interested in Christianity after watching the movie The Da Vinci Code and finally, became a Christian with the guidance of other church members.

IV. Alienation from Religions Due to Liberal Social Morality

As China's society becomes more open, people's attitude towards sex has shifted gradually. In the 1980s, people generally agreed that cohabitation, extramarital affairs and homosexuality were a shame for society, but today, people think they are not uncommon. Christianity stresses on family harmony and moralities, opposing all immoral sexual behaviors. These beliefs cause others to see Christians as stubborn and intolerant hypocrites. There are even some people who set themselves against churches. They attack churches' conservative teachings strongly and make an unmost effort to exaggerate a preacher or a believer's misdemeanors which could damage the church's reputation and trigger people's rejection towards Christianity. Churches must keep the Lord's teachings and never compromise sexual morality. Only when we undertake social responsibilities and make people realize the harm of immoral sex to society, family and individual, can more and more people understand their duties to families and thus lead an abstemious life.

V. The Pursuit of Beliefs Being Hampered by Materialism 

Over the past thirty years, great achievements in respect of the economy have been made and plenty of wealth has been accumulated due to reform and opening. However, Chinese people's spiritual life has not improved to correspond to these changes. On the contrary, values such as materialism and worship of money have become overwhelmingly popular. Many people indulge themselves in pursuing wealth and enjoying material life. They never think about spiritual matters or beliefs. Many brothers and sisters have told me that when evangelizing, people often treat the gospel indifferently. They only care about their work and daily life, never regarding beliefs as a must because beliefs are "useless". Even many workers in churches are pessimistic about the development of churches because it is so easy for people to keep away from the Lord in a society full of material desires. However, there is an old saying in China: "A thing turns into its opposite if pushed too far." Although materialism is a big challenge for the church's development, a challenge may inoculate opportunities many times. While being crazy over materials, a person’s spiritual life becomes empty and some of them even suffer from serious mental illness. If churches seize this opportunity and fill the people's empty hearts with the Lord's teachings; the combination of some of today’s current problems and our social values will be changed to some extent, ensuring the church's growth's will be promoted.

About the author: Paul Wu , from Gulangyu Island, Xiamen City. He was born in 1980s and converted to Christianity in November 2007 and baptized in June 2008. Now, he is an editor of a Christian journal called the Vineyard of Zhushutang Church, Xiamen City.

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