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China Christian Council president reports church growth, challenges

WASHINGTON (BP)–Growth brings not only joys but challenges, Wenzao Han, president of the China Christian Council (CCC), said in a Dec. 17 visit to the Baptist World Alliance headquarters in Washington.
Wenzao addressed a group of Washington-area pastors during his visit and, in an interview, recounted his comments.
Wenzao said the church in China continues to experience rapid growth, while the nation’s strong economy has made life easier and more relaxed for many people. However, he said, the rapid church growth and China’s economic reforms, which have given more money to many Chinese, have brought many challenges for the church.
Every two days, Wenzao said, three CCC-related churches are planted. He said some of the fastest growth is in the provinces of Henan, with more than 1.57 million people; Anhui, 1.5 million; Zhejiang, 1.3 million; and Xinjiang, 1 million. Most new Christians are baptized by believer’s baptism, Wenzao said.
Wenzao said there are approximately 12 million Christians in China. Reports that speak of 40 million to 60 million believers are “inflated numbers,” he said, noting that he believes such numbers are given by those who want to show the need for missionary workers in China and by others who want to discredit the CCC.
“The Chinese church has a strong evangelical influence,” Wenzao said. “But we do not have enough trained theological leaders to give proper pastoral care, and this leads to heretical teachings, especially in the rural areas,” he lamented. “We want to build our church on the Rock.”
“Personality conflicts and power struggles” also are plaguing the church, Wenzao said. “People are finding it difficult to get along with each other in easier times.”
With the eyes of the business and religious worlds focused on China, Wenzao commented: “Everyone sees China as a mission field, and we in the CCC want to work with others. Self-isolation is not one of our goals, but Christianity done in the Western way is threatening, and this affects our relationship with the government.
“It is so important to preserve the church. We know the situation best,” said Wenzao, who like many Christian leaders faced persecution during the Cultural Revolution and thus is fiercely protective about the church in China. “We have done quite a lot to do away with the foreign influence of Christianity,” he said.
Wenzao said other CCC concerns include the training of younger leaders. “The church needs a whole generation of younger leaders,” he said.
Concerning the persecution of believers, including those in “meeting points” as Wenzao called home churches, he acknowledged problems with freedom of worship for meeting points especially at local levels of government, but he pointed out freedom of worship is constitutionally guaranteed.
Wenzao said the CCC has been consulted by the Chinese government on a white paper on religious freedom, and “the government listened to us” in deliberations several years ago on the “144 Decree on Religion” stipulating the relationship between the government and religion in China. Not all of the meeting points are hostile to the CCC, Wenzao said, “and we provide Bibles to all who ask.”
Turning to the effects of the economy on the churches, Wenzao said
churches now have bigger offerings to help their ministries and the 13 seminaries and four Bible schools related to the CCC. “The rich churches can share resources,” he said, noting the CCC recently has begun efforts to coordinate such sharing.
At the same time, Wenzao said, “we face the challenge of materialism as people are easily tempted by money as glorious.”
Wenzao said the flow of money has not reached rural regions of China; “there is a big gap between the coastal areas and the inland and between the employed and the unemployed,” he said.
Citing a Chinese saying, “When you open the window, the fresh air comes in but also the flies,” Wenzao said reforms and more money also have brought prostitution and other moral concerns which the church must address.
“Money is important but it is not everything,” Wenzao said. “Every person has a spiritual dimension, and we need to seek the meaning of life in a more in-depth way.”
Now that Hong Kong is once again part of China, Wenzao said while respecting each other’s autonomy there are already both formal and informal pulpit exchanges, and some Chinese students are already studying in seminaries in Hong Kong. Discussions are under way for more such exchanges.
While many people see Hong Kong as the gateway to the mission field in China, Wenzao said Hong Kong, with Protestants comprising only 5 percent of its population, “is a mission field, too.”
“My greatest joy is to see the Word of God propagated daily as more people really come to know the church and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” Wenzao said.
In the interview, Wenzao was not asked about a charge he made in November that the Southern Baptist International Mission Board is “secretly” sending “church workers from abroad … to carry out missionary work in China” without consulting the council. IMB President Jerry Rankin has affirmed an IMB commitment to a multi-channel approach to service and ministry in China in lieu of an exclusive approach as requested by the CCC. No question about the controversy was posed to Wenzao out of a BWA concern that the world body not become a party in the controversy.
During Wenzao’s visit to the United States, he also received an honorary doctorate degree from Samford University, a Baptist- related college in Birmingham, Ala.

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  • Wendy Ryan