China (MNN) — The Chinese Church is vast and diverse. Whether a congregation is rural or urban, young or old, underground or registered, it’s part of a growing movement of Christianity in China.
But that concerns some people.
“There are so many Christians in China, and some people say there are more Christians than members of the Communist party, and that means the leaders are a little uncertain or not clear what that means for their future.”
According to David Curry of Open Doors USA, the pressure the Church feels varies depending on local and national levels of leadership and how different individuals feel about Christianity. However, some of those movements recently became a little more unified.
“You’re seeing on this continuum of freedom and persecution, you’re seeing it more toward more regulation, more persecution, and certainly more tightening down on the expression of Christian faith,” Curry says. “In this particular case what you have is the state administration requiring underground churches to pop their heads up and get organized or registered in a coherent way.”
Churches are hesitant about what it might mean to come under state organization. Curry says it’s not necessarily the immediate future that’s concerning but the potential problems it could cause to have the names, numbers, or locations of Christians in one big database.
Why consolidate this information in the first place? Curry says the Chinese government is concerned about the potential for Christians to develop political motivations, but he also thinks these concerns are unnecessary.
“That’s not what the Christian faith expression has been in China,” he says. “It’s been about a faith movement that has undergirded morals in China and other positive things in that community, and I think that’s why for the last several years they’ve been allowing it to function and to grow [without interference].”
Another concern is that politicizing the Christian movement might cause problems within the Chinese Church.
We don’t want to see the other side and have a nationalistic Church. The Church needs to be built around who Jesus is and what he said and his teachings in Scripture. That’s the way we understand theology and the Christian worldview. However, the Chinese Church wants it to be very Chinese in nature.”
The problem isn’t patriotism; it’s nationalism. Curry says he has met churches and pastors all over China who are proud to be Chinese. Problems arise, however, when Christianity becomes a political tool.
“In some environments around the world, you have a nationalized Church, which means the Church is forced to sign off on and give cover to the government in a political sense,” he says.
At that point, it’s no longer about Jesus, and the Church becomes another government organization.
The Chinese Church is going to need your support and prayer over the coming months as this situation unfolds. Curry says they have a tendency to reflect “the American Church’s shallow tendencies,” and that will be challenged by this new push for registration.
“Pray that this kind of process will force them to check deep in their minds whether they’re Christians first or Chinese first,” Curry says. “That’s fundamentally the question every citizen has to answer; are you a citizen of heaven first because you’ve decided to follow Jesus, or are you tied to a political agenda?”
Pray that the government will recognize the importance of the Church’s influence on the country’s morality, not to mention its battle against homelessness and addiction, and drop the new push before it goes much further.