Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Shouwang Church (Part Three) 

I went to a small family church this morning near Wudaokou. I had been interested in going there for some time. After the service, I had a talk with the pastor. I asked him what he thought about Shouwang Church. I told him that I thought the fact that they had allowed their "house church" to grow to 1000 members was what was causing them so much trouble. The pastor told me that he did not believe that was the issue. He told me that there are other family churches in the Beijing area that also have very large numbers, and they have not had trouble. He seemed to feel that the Shouwang Church's "in your face" approach had more to do with why they were having problems..

He's probably right, at least partly. One of the other family churches that is very large is composed of business people who are using private business property as their meeting place. The Shouwang church has purchased a place as a church organization. In other words, they are operating as a mega-church in a place that requires churches to be registered, but without registering. Put another way, they were operating in a manner that would have effectively forced the government to essentially abandon the policy. Their position was completely unrealistic. The pastor said that they were not breaking any laws, but this statement is a bit hollow, because they certainly were violating the government policy re: family churches, and they were doing it quite deliberately.

I am conflicted about all this, because even though I don't like mega-churches, I really don't think it's the government's business to decide how large a church should be. Mega-churches tend to be impersonal, and they basically throw scriptural principles like church discipline to the wind, because they have let themselves get so large that it is logistically impossible for them to follow through with those principles. Mega-churches do not facilitate the development of Christianity in a community nearly as well as smaller, more family oriented churches. Mega-churches tend to promote development of a "program oriented" Christianity. But again, what business is it of the government to make decisions like this?

Although there seems to be a consensus among family church pastors that the Shouwang Church people placed themselves in an untenable situation, to their credit, several of those family church leaders signed a letter of support for Shouwang Church. We'll see how much good it does. For the sake of the Shouwang Church members, I do feel some anguish. But for the sake of the church as a whole in China, this situation only serves to underscore the tremendous growth the unofficial church has enjoyed--unregistered churches in Beijing have to have several hundred members before the police can even think about shutting them down.

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