When the Communists took over China under Mao Tse Tung in 1949 they intended to destroy the Christian Church through vicious persecution and oppression.
They found this didn’t work. In fact it had the opposite effect, so for the last three decades they have tolerated an official church which is under the Government’s thumb. This church is called the Three Self Patriotic Movement, i.e. self-governing, self-teaching and self-supporting. There is a system of spies and informers who keep this church strictly in (communist) order.
The result of the mighty Chinese Communist Government’s attempt to destroy or at least repress the church is that Professor Fenggang Yang, of Purdue University’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Indiana, estimates that there will be 250m Christians in China by around 2030.
At lot of Chinese Christians, who value freedom to worship in their own way, take the risk of joining illegal “house churches” which meet in homes or anonymous halls. They are subject to attack and imprisonment if they are discovered.
I remember hearing a Chinese Pastor from one of these house churches speaking at a conference. He told of how he was put in a prison camp and, to humiliate him as a Christian minister, the guards put him in charge of cleaning out the huge cess pit in the camp. It was, of course, a horrible job. But this Pastor spoke with joy as he thanked God for this job! The thing is that Christians weren’t allowed to worship in that camp. But, whilst he was doing this job, both the inmates and the guards kept well clear of him! And he realised he could sing hymns and worship God aloud without fear of being punished. He regarded this as a real privilege afforded him by God! At the end of his talk he sang an old hymn he used to sing whilst he cleaned the cess pit:
I walk in the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear the son of God discloses
And he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.
I’m sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the auditorium by the time he had finished. What a testimony to the power of God to help someone to triumph over adversity!
We Christians have it so easy in the West, although there are signs that Christianity could face serious restrictions here. For example, it is not beyond the bounds of credibility that it could become illegal to proselytise, i.e. to encourage people to embrace the Christian Faith or even to change their religion. Were that ever to be the case, the only way forward would be for us to break the law.
The most important thing, though, is that these Chinese Christians should inspire us with their courageous faith and encourage us to move beyond a polite, British and perhaps rather half-hearted faith. After all, as we shall be reminded in the near future, we follow Someone who gave everything and went through Hell for our forgiveness. Only a whole hearted commitment of faith is a worthy response on our part.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction