CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 October 2018

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China and the Church in 2018

In the relative openness that characterised much of the past decade, the Church in China deepened in maturity and became more sophisticated in its approaches to ministry. Influence within the society grew, as did its relationship with the global Christian community.
 
Today it faces growing scrutiny by a Communist Party that sees its domestic impact and its foreign connections as problematic. 
 
While many developments within the Church itself would seem to bode well for the future, 2018 finds it potentially on a potential collision course with the current regime, as China’s leaders tighten their grip on all sectors of society, including religion. How the Church weathers the uncertain days ahead will depend on a number of factors. Here are five areas to watch:
 
• Religious regulations signed into law last August will go into effect on February 1. If vigorously enforced, these could severely impact the activities of unregistered Churches by imposing severe fines on those leading and hosting gatherings. Provisions in the new regulations could also affect Christian publishing and online activity, as well as believers going abroad for study or conferences. The seriousness with which national and local officials enforce the regulations will provide an indication of how the Party intends to deal with the Church in the future.
 
• Sinicisation has become a key component of current religious policy as the Party seeks to emphasise the value of traditional Chinese culture and beliefs while minimising foreign elements and influences. Some Protestant Churches have already begun holding study sessions on the Confucian classics. 
 
It remains to be seen how far leaders in the official Church will be required to take this, and also whether official attacks on Christianity as foreign will stoke anti-Christian sentiment in the society at large.
 
• Denominations continue to take shape within the unofficial Church, bringing a new level of consistency in doctrine, teaching, and organisation, but also laying bare the theological divides that separate different Christian groups. The enthusiastic adoption of western catechisms and hymns flies in the face of government attempts to Sinicise Christianity, discussed above. The new denominational alliances could strengthen Christian leaders in their response to heightened government pressure. On the other hand, divergent views on how to relate to the government could further divide the Church.
 
• Missions sending efforts on the part of the Chinese Church are gaining momentum. According to one Church mobiliser with ties to the major networks in China, these groups have collectively sent out over a thousand cross-cultural workers. Chinese Christian leaders will make important choices this year concerning training and support structures, strategy and cooperation with the international Christian community. All these will have a significant impact on the movement’s future development.
 
• Foreign Christians in China face a new set of realities with the implementation of last year’s Overseas Non-Government Organisation Law, higher standards for foreign workers and changes within the Chinese Church itself. The religion regulations mentioned above could further complicate efforts of foreign believers to directly serve the Church in China. How foreign Christians who remain in China adapt to a more restrictive environment and how they engage with Chinese believers will shed light on the evolving role of foreign Christian workers.
 
• Brent Fulton 
ChinaSource