In announcing the 50 millionth Bible printed by the Amity Printing Company of Nanjing, China, the head of religious affairs announced that Chinese Bibles will be made available at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Special worship services will be provided in whatever language necessary.
Cao Shengjie, president of the China Christian Council and personal friend of mine, said the Olympics are a great opportunity for sharing between Chinese Christians and Christians around the world.
The Amity Printing Press (now the Amity Development Company) was begun in 1988 with the cooperation of the United Bible Societies of the world. It was an effort stressing the Chinese should depend upon themselves in Bible publishing as well as church development. They have been producing 6 million Bibles a year, and this year that total has been doubled to 12 million.
I like to remind folks that the only product made in China and not sold at Wal-Mart is the Chinese Bible This may not be true for long, as Amity has printed 9 million Bibles in 75 different languages, including English. They have exported Bibles in English, German, Spanish, French and Russian together with many African languages.
The post-denominational Christian churches of China have responded, as have other faiths in China, to the suffering of those caught up in the most devastating earthquake there since 1976. The China government’s response has been better than in earlier crises.
Following the tragic 10-year (1966-76) China “Cultural Revolution” (it was neither cultural or revolutionary) the churches were allowed to claim their property back and begin to worship again. Being such a minority, they decided they would no longer split up as western denominations but just be Christian churches. That fresh re-opening began in 1979.
Many Western church denominations were skeptical as this new approach began to take hold in China. If Christianity were to survive in China and even flourish, the Chinese themselves must lead the way. They welcomed foreign Christians, but not missionaries.
This was a hard, new approach that most foreign missionary groups agreed with. Southern Baptists chose to ignore local and national leadership and began covert work. So they and some others chose “cloak and dagger” secret Christian witness in China. It is absolutely unnecessary. Christianity is one of five officially recognized religions in China.
The Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Christian denominations caught the vision early and have been strong supporters in ways that encourage the churches of China. There are still home-gatherings (called “house churches” and sometimes “underground churches”) all over the country. The majority of these work with the “open” churches of the China Christian Council.
Many of the churches seat over 5,000 and have all kinds of theology, just like in the West. They have all the problems of churches around the world, plus knowing how to work with an un-believing government.
Christ prayed his followers would become one, as he and the Father were one. From day one after the resurrection Christians have seldom been able to do that. At least the Chinese churches are giving it a try.
With Bible printing and devotional and theological books coming off the presses, China’s Christians are in the most hopeful and open society they have known in centuries. They have limited freedoms but are doing much more with their adjusted freedoms than many other places are.
As one Chinese elder said, “Our responsibility is to properly nurture our grassroots believers.” They do this by taking the best parts of Western denominational church order and liturgy, and with mutual respect have grown from a fragile unity into a church that can bless the world.
In my mail last week I received a copy of a book my friend and China colleague, Philip L. Wickeri, has just published Reconstructing Christianity in China; K. H. Ting and the Chinese Church (Orbis Books).
With primary sources in Chinese and other languages, Philip has produced a remarkable record of how the churches have come to where they are in the 21st century. Today Philip is Hewlett Professor of Missions at San Francisco Theological Seminary. Another colleague of long ago, Daniel Bays of Calvin College, says it is a must read “for everyone who cares about the church in China.”
Britt Towery taught in the Nanjing, China, seminary with his wife Jody in 1989. He is now a freelance writer in San Angelo, Texas.