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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....
Wednesday, December 26, 2018
There is a lot of talk now about the changes in the government's approach to Christians, especially family church Christians. Much of what I read or hear in the western media is so full of hyperbole that it doesn't reflect what is actually going on. But this report is worth watching, because I think it is mostly accurate, although it could be misleading if you don't know the situation in China. One thing I contradict. Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs says that the Communist part is concerned because there are more Christians in China than there are party members. I don't think anyone knows. The estimates by Western Christians are never less than a hundred million, which seems large to me. But even the China Daily estimated fifty million. So let's say, for the sake of argument that the number of Christians exceeds the number of party members. Does that really mean that Christianity is more popular than the party? Not necessarily. In fact, party membership is competitive. If the party accepted into membership everyone who wanted to join, I'm pretty sure they could outnumber Christians quite easily.
But I suppose you could say the same thing about the churches. Church membership wouldn't be called "competitive," but it does require belief--they don't just take anybody. The Communist Party can't require belief. because they don't believe in anything. They still use words like "Marxism," but today's "Communists" are anything but Marxist. Even the main propaganda papers (China Daily and Global Times) admit this. They talk about "updating" Marxism. Updating means changing. The reason you change something is because you don't like it the way it is. Nobody in China likes Marxism (I mean real Marxism). So the party uses a different method. In the universities, students vote for each other. To join the party, they must be chosen by their peers. So the Party could easily have many more members if they accepted everybody.
The real problem, I think, is that family churches are technically illegal, and beyond the control of the Party.
The official government policy does allow small groups involving a family and a few friends to meet for prayer and Bible reading without being registered. So most illegal churches refer to themselves as "family churhes" in order to consider themselves as fitting with in the rubric of this policy. But that self-designation approaches the ridiculous when a "family" church has hundreds of members. So realistically speaking, the vast majority of so-called "family" churches are actually small illegal unregistered churches. The Party has always smarted at this reality, but has decided to ignore them as long as they don't get too big. But how big is "too big?" In the past, more then thirty people was considered problamatic in the countryside. But in Beijing, it was not uncommon at all to see a church with several services, each with a hundred to a hundred and fifty worshippers in attendance.
That is changing. "Family" churches that previously rented office space for their church activities are facing trouble now, because their landlords are being told not to rent to them. I talked to a sister the other day who told me that her "family" church used to have three services, each with about 100 people. Now they have divided into almost 30 cell groups, each with about 10 members.
But this piece features a large family church in Chengdu that was shut down. That's not new at all. Anyone who tries to build a large "family" church knows that it's only a matter of time before they wil have to go the way of history. Furthermore, the pastor of Early Rain Church who was arrested had a history of political activism. He talks about "faithful disobedience." This is atypical, to say the least. Chinese Christians are the most apolitical people I have ever met. They may be sympathetic with this guy's views, but they would never do what he is doing. So this little segment is interesting, and largely factual, but not representative at all.