Chinese church officials see unity behind growth

Unity among Chinese Protestants is an important factor in the rapid growth of the church in China, the general secretary of the China Christian Council, the Rev. Kan Baoping, said during a visit to the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland.

A 7-member delegation with top leadership from the China Christian Council met with the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and other staff of church organizations based at the Ecumenical Centre on Monday, 6 December.

It was the 4th such visit to the WCC secretariat since the post-denominational China Christian Council (CCC) was established in 1980. The most recent previous visit took place in 2003. The CCC, which counted some 19 million members in 2009, was reunited with the WCC fellowship in 1991at the Canberra Assembly.

In a Round Table meeting organized by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, the members of the delegation made presentations on three themes that are pertinent to the life and witness of the church in China – “religious policies in China”, “the role of religion in promoting a ‘harmonious society'” and “the role of the church in today’s China”.

While analyzing religious policies and church-state relations, the delegation expressed the common opinion that “this is a golden era for the development of religions in China”. The church in China is engaged in various means of promoting a “harmonious society” in China.

The Rev. Kan Baoping explained that religious communities in general and the Protestant church in particular have experienced rapid growth in China over the last 30 years. He said that having moved beyond denominational divisions was one reason for the church’s vitality, partly because Chinese culture puts more emphasis on commonalities than on differences.

Another success factor identified by Kan was the understanding that every church member shares the responsibility of spreading the gospel to family and neighbours as an expression of the priesthood of all believers.

Kan emphasized evangelization methods that have developed from a mere spreading of the word towards making the gospel visible through social services such as AIDS prevention and care for orphans.

In his words of welcome to the Chinese delegation, the WCC general secretary, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, expressed his appreciation for the role played by Chinese Christians in the foundation of the WCC. He also said he looked forward to future cooperation with the new CCC leadership, especially in view of the next WCC Assembly being held in Asia, at Busan, Korea in October 2013.

Among the delegation were the general secretary and the president of the CCC, who were both elected in 2008, as well as leaders of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in China.

Tveit described the Chinese context as “one of the most exciting ones for the future of Christianity”.

Rev. Zhang Shuilian, vice-chairperson of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant church, said that Christians generally had a good image in today’s China. This is due to their response to societal needs, for example by collecting donations for the victims of the 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province, she added.

Zhang said that urban churches often had special programmes to welcome migrant workers, while in rural areas church life was important to fill the gap experienced by the elderly and children who were left behind as other family members went to seek employment in the cities.

Encouraging stability in family life, she continued, is one way in which Christianity and other religions cooperate in the government’s policy aimed at maintaining a “harmonious society”. Robust interfaith relations also support this goal.

In a reflection presented during a prayer service with staff at Geneva’s Ecumenical Centre, the CCC president Rev. Gao Feng said that the church was a “fellowship of forgiving sinners”, adding that “when we forgive, we experience God’s forgiveness; when we love, we can experience God’s love”.

Following the Round Table discussion, the CCC delegation had lunch with the general secretaries of the WCC, the Lutheran World Federation – the Rev. Martin Junge, the World Communion of Reformed Churches – the Rev. Dr Setri Nyomi – and the World YWCA – Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda.

Later in the day, the delegation also visited the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey.

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.

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