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Beijing's Theology of Repression: Is This Anything New?

David Aikman, a former Beijing bureau chief for Time Magazine, had an article last week on the Wall Street Journal. Titled “Beijing’s Theology of Repression,” the opinion piece describes a “crack down” of house churches in China by the government.

The crack down cites one church’s closure: Beijing Shouwang Church, which we previously covered.

‘For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill,” Puritan John Winthrop famously preached to fellow immigrants to America aboard the Arbella in 1630. At least two American presidents in the 20th century, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, have quoted him, and his words have resonated for many Americans ever since, reminding them of their spiritual obligations, not just to each other, but to the whole world.

If Winthrop were alive today, he would undoubtedly be heartened to see his words quoted in the quarterly magazine of Shouwang Church, one of Beijing’s largest unsanctioned “house” churches (shouwang means “keeping watch” in Chinese). He would share, too, the anguish of the church members at their continued intimidation by the authorities. Since early April, police have prevented church members from gathering for normal Sunday worship services—albeit at an outdoor plaza and not a church building. Hundreds have been detained for short periods and the entire church leadership has been under house arrest since April.

It also refers to the failure of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement to attend an international conference last year.

Evangelical churches around the world, of course, have always stressed the need for Christians to share their faith. The TSPM, however, forbids its members to evangelize. Last autumn, that ban meant the the TSPM was not able to attend the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism because its representatives could not sign the mandatory Lausanne pledge to promote evangelism. It then stood back as authorities blocked some 200 invited Chinese house-church representatives who were willing to sign the pledge from leaving China.

Unfortunately, these incidents are nothing new. Beijing has always cracked down on house churches whenever it sees fit. Not to mention the trying relationship that has always existed between China’s official churches and their international counterparts.

There is no direct evidence indicating that the Chinese government is cracking down on house churches today any more aggressively than a year or two ago. It of course does not mean that the situation is less deserving of attention – I am merely pointing out the plain fact that it has always been so.

I disagree, however, with Mr. Aikman’s statement that the TSPM members are not allowed to evangelize. Just yesterday, I met a women who’s Christian (her husband also). She goes to a church that belongs to the TSPM in Beijing. When asked how did she initially get to know and to believe in Christ, she replied: “One of my colleague passed on the Good News to me.” When I talked to church members at the Beijing Haidian Christian Church last year, almost all were evangelized by a friend or a family member.

Moreover, read one of the most prominent Christians in China, real estate tycoon Pan Shiyi’s microblog (or China’s twitter) this past Sunday:

"赞美归于上帝!"早上醒来的第一句话。明白这句话的人有福了,听到这句话的人有福了。
7月10日 07:48 来自iPad客户端
转发(1354) | 收藏 | 评论(1011)

English translation:

“Glory to the Lord!” The first sentence this morning after my wake. Those who understand this sentence has the good fortune ahead of them. Those who heard this sentence will have the good fortune in the future.

Sent at 7:48 in the morning via iPad, this tweet has 1011 comments and were forwarded 1354 times! All I want to say is: By our empirical experience, evangelicalism inside the TSPM is well and alive.

A Letter From the Bishop of Shanghai

We were recently in a brand new commercial area in Pudong, Shanghai. Having just finished a delicious meal in a fancy Chinese restaurant with fish pond filled with lotus flowers and goldfish, we were taking a pleasant stroll with a bubble tea in hand.

When else to encounter the statue of Virgin Mary, and what better backdrop to all this glitter than the Cross? Right next to the crowded shops and restaurants is a small Catholic Church. It was late afternoon and the gate was closing, but we managed to walk in and chatted with a staffer for a while. And as always, we took whatever booklets and other free print materials available as we left.

The shopping district

The front of the Catholic church

The interior is simple and austere

The Pope’s portrait is at the center of the front door

One booklet is a letter written by the Bishop of Shanghai, Jin Luxian, to the Catholic believers in Shanghai, on the occasion of the past Chinese New Year (which fell in February this year). The letter is a rare revelation of the thinking of a Chinese Bishop.

Below are the highlights.

1, The Bishop showed disappointment by the growth of Catholics believers in Shanghai.

“Last year, Bishop Xing gave me the list of baptisms in the Shanghai diocese in 2009. There were 1,641 people baptized and 1,038 deaths. In all, there were only 603 new believers for the year. There are 83 priests in the diocese, which indicates each priest only contributes 20 saves souls to our Lord each year. Can this be good news?”

The Bishop continues:

“In 1945, there were 100,000 brothers and sisters in Shanghai. After 62 years and three generations, there are still 100,000 Catholics today. By comparison, there were 20,000 Protestants in Shanghai in 1949. But there are now over 200,000 Protestants in Shanghai. Isn’t it time for us to self-criticize?”

2, He opposes over-building churches beyond practical needs.

“In 1951, there were over 390 churches in Shanghai. Public transportation was poor back then. I remember there was one church each three to five kilometers in Pudong as there were no buses nor rickshaws. After the interruption during the Cultural Revolution, there were 5 churches in Shanghai reopened in 1982. In 1988, there were over 30 churches. Now there are 148 churches in Shanghai. With convenient transportation of today, it is a sufficient number for our needs.”

“In 2010, the expenses of building new churches in Shanghai was one third of the diocese’s annual revenue. Isn’t this a huge number? I am not against building new churches, but investment in new churches should match the need for them. Some priests told me that a number of new churches are only open for one or two days a month for masses. They were empty and closed in the rest of the days.

“I am almost 96 and I am ready for the Lord’s call. He will ask me what I have done for all the blessings the Lord has afforded me. Maybe I will say, “my Lord, I built many churches.” The Lord will stop me and say, “This is secondary. What I want are not steel or cement. What I want are souls, saved souls…how many souls have you saved? …”

3, He urges priests in Shanghai to reach out to the poor, the underprivileged and the marginalized.

Bishop Jin makes a parallel between the direction of Shanghai diocese’s mission to that of the Industrial Revolution.

“…After the invention of the steam engine, many youths in the countryside went to the city to work in the factories. The priests who shepherded these workers could no longer take care of them, now far away from home. The churches in the cities insisted on their traditional congregations and did not accept the new laborers…”

“There are five million laborers in Shanghai from other parts of China. If one percent of them are Catholics, that will be 50,000 brothers and sisters. Two percent means 100,000 more. Priests, you should rejoice that the Lord has given you so many lamb…”

His Excellency, Jin Luxian, Bishop of Shanghai
His Excellency Aloysius Jin was born in Shanghai on 20 June 1916;enrolled into the seminary in 1932; entered the Society of Jesus in 1938; ordained as a Jesuit priest on 19 May 1945; since 1951, served as Vice Rector of the Xuhui Reginal Seminary and was the Jesuit Vice Superior in Shanghai as well as China Jesuits Vice Visitor; since 1982, was the rector of Sheshan Seminary; was ordained a Bishop on 27 January 1985; became the Bishop of Shanghai in 1988.

 

Church address: Next to Da Mu Zhi Guang Chang, Pudong, Shanghai

Service: in both Chinese and Korean