The survival and growth of the Church in China are awesome events in our generation! The atheist government strictly controls religious groups, and banned all religious activity during the Cultural Revolution. Christians then started underground house-church networks designed to survive the persecution. Through radio ministries, Christian workers, and believers devoted to outreach, the Church did more than survive; it grew! The government re-allowed registered churches in 1978 as a way to regain control over Christianity. But the unregistered churches just continued to grow. In fact, there is no growth story like it in all of church history. 2.7 million evangelicals in 1975 grew to over 75 million in just 35 years!
Foreign Christians are not welcome in China as missionaries. Yet, the ideological oppression of the Cultural Revolution is all but gone, and China's global interests, exchanges and relations make it possible for many Christians - both foreign-born Chinese and other expatriates - to contribute to Chinese society. There are perhaps two million foreigners now living in China from North America, Europe and other parts of Asia, with South Korea and Hong Kong sending many to mainland China. Recent years have seen increases in students from Africa as well.
The Chinese military is considered the largest in the world, including the armed forces (PLA) and the armed police (PAP). Combined, there are over four million in uniform, but very few Christians among them.
Challenges facing Christians:
- Problems within marriages and families. The generation of house church leaders absent from their families (either in and out of prison or gone for extended periods of itinerant ministry) yields, as a by-product, a number of their children leaving the ministry or even leaving the faith. In urban settings, the twin pressures of gainful employment and pastoring leave marriages and family relationships strained and in many cases broken. The increasing acceptance of extra-marital sexual relationships as a cultural norm further complicates matters. Pray that leaders find ways to model family relationships that honour God. Pray that wise counsel might be provided for struggling families and individuals, and pray that Chinese Christians might demonstrate the power of the gospel through transformed relationships with spouses, children and parents.
- Financial temptations. Economic progress creates a new set of pressures on Christians, ranging from the desire for personal or church wealth to decisions regarding the stewardship of that wealth. Growing materialism coupled with excessive corruption are cultural norms. Pray for Christians to seek guidance from Scripture as they develop principles and guidelines for living in the world while still faithful to God.
- Persecution remains a present reality. This is a measure of the government's fears of such a large movement they do not control and of the majority of the Church operating outside the government-sanctioned church bodies. Since 1996, persecution has increased against house churches unwilling to register with the TSPM/Cru. Arrests, heavy fines, forced closures and destruction of church buildings are increasing in some key areas; the state says this is because house churches are illegal and a potential political threat, not because they are Christian. But this does nothing to lessen the suffering endured by its victims.
Increased contact and communication with evangelical Christians around the world prove an enormous blessing at times and a formidable obstacle at others. Current partnership models range from sensationally misleading to humbly low key, from respectful to confrontational and from mutually honouring to exploitative. Finance and resource provisions are major components for good and for ill. Pray for wisdom, sensitivity and love to govern official partnerships and informal working relationships, and specifically for productive interaction with the urban Church.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.