News Articles

BWA team reports ‘vibrancy’ in churches in 3 Chinese cities

WASHINGTON (BP)–“Young people are filling the rapidly growing church in China which is infused with a joy, energy and vibrancy of faith, after nearly two decades of freedom of worship by the government,” according to a June 2 news release from the Baptist World Alliance recounting a “Friendship Tour” to China led by BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz.
The four-member BWA team — the fourth to visit China since 1979 — traveled to Beijing, Nanjing and, for the first time, Shantou during their April 26-May 5 visit.
“Since the churches were reopened after the years of persecution during the Cultural Revolution, Christian believers have flocked to the churches,” the BWA news release stated. “This growth continues unabated.”
Han Wenzao, general secretary of the China Christian Council (CCC), told the BWA team nine new churches are started every five days. The CCC counts 13,000 churches and 25,000 groups of Protestant Christians meeting in homes, for a total of 13 million baptized believers. Other estimates credit the church in China with as many as 50 million believers.
“Faced with all kinds of problems, the church is growing and the single reason is the power of the Holy Spirit,” Bao Ping Kan, director of the Yan Jing Seminary in Beijing, told the BWA delegation.
The BWA news release noted the “newness and size of the churches, especially in Shantou, was astounding.”
In 1842, Baptist missionary William Dean of America’s Triennial Convention went to Shantou to work among the Swatow-speaking people, the BWA news release recounted, and most of the work in Shantou today is credited to missionaries of the American Baptist Churches and to the sacrifice of Chinese believers they nurtured.
Three of the four churches the BWA team visited in Shantou were seven-story edifices with seating capacities of 2,000 to 4,000 people. All the churches had overflow rooms with television sets to accommodate the crowds, the BWA news release reported.
“Young people comprised nearly half of the Monday evening prayer meeting at Eastside Church in Shantou with about 800 [in attendance], the Wednesday evening prayer service at the Chong Wei Dim Church in Beijing with more than 300 people, and Sunday morning worship at the Mochou Road Church in Nanjing with more than 2000,” the BWA news release said.
One of the young guides on the tour told the BWA team that Chinese young people are looking for meaning and are concerned about “quality of life” and, thus, are quite interested in Christianity. “For many, communism does not fill their spiritual needs and neither does their newfound wealth in very modern and materialistic China,” the BWA news release said. “While there are tensions with the West, Chinese young people are also very tied to Western values,” which is another factor fueling interest in Christianity, the news release said.
It continued, “Also noteworthy is the youthful profile of pastors and other current and future church leaders the BWA team met. The pastors of the churches in Nanjing and Beijing are young men and the team met more than 20 other pastors, no more than five of whom were over 50 years old.
“The greater percentage of those who attend the 18 theological schools are young people who come with a senior high education, and half are women. Because of a lack of facilities, the schools are unable to handle the many students who apply,” the BWA news release said.
A lack of theological training “continues to be a major challenge for the burgeoning church,” the news release continued. “Some pastors have to cope with as many as 2,000 members. In Shantou, where there are 42 churches, there are only 12 salaried pastors and 66 trained laypeople.
“Seminary libraries are also sorely in need of theological books and the BWA promised to solicit support from Baptists worldwide,” the BWA news release said, adding, “The BWA also continues to support the China Christian Council, the umbrella for registered churches in China.”
In the BWA team’s visit with Han Wenzao, the church leader admitted there are continuing concerns about freedom of worship, especially in rural area where some “ultra-leftist” local leaders still harass churches and deny them the freedom of worship assured by the government.
The question of the “underground” churches, those that do not officially register with the CCC, also was addressed, the BWA news release said. The CCC leader told the BWA team there are theological differences, personality conflicts and a charge that the CCC collaborates with atheists because it works with the government.
Because the China Baptist Alliance was a member of the BWA until contact was lost in the 1949 revolution, and Baptists have worked in China since 1835, the BWA’s Lotz said “it behooves the BWA to maintain contact with the China Christian Council.”
In assuring Han Wenzao of the support of the BWA, Lotz said, “Every church and every society needs to learn how to witness in that society, but the Holy Spirit protects the church in every society. The Holy Spirit is growing and building his church and we rejoice with you to see what is happening.”
“Throughout the difficult years when we could not see through the bamboo curtain, we never failed to pray for you,” said John Sundquist, executive director of the International Mission Board of the American Baptist Churches.
“When the curtain lifted, we were surprised that the church was so vital. To sense what the Holy Spirit has been about during these years, to be here, to see your faces, visit with brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, is a wonderful experience,” Sundquist said.