01/05/2018, 13.47
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The World Council of Churches visits Protestants in China (but only official ones)

by Wang Zhicheng

The ecumenical delegation will be in the country from January 7 to 16. Meetings scheduled with the authorities of the Religious Affairs Office and with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement; preaching in the oldest Protestant churches in Beijing; visits to Shanghai and Xian. But unofficial Christians (80 million) are more numerous than the official ones (20 million) and criticize the Movement’s subjection to the Party. 

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Secretary General of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Pastor Olav Fykse Tveit, will visit China from January 7 to 16. This was announced by the press office of the ecumenical body based in Geneva. No visits or meetings with unofficial Protestant Christians are included in the program, although they make up the majority of Protestants in China.

Olav Fykse Tveit will be accompanied by the WCC president for Asia, Dr. Sang Chang, and the executive secretary for the interreligious dialogue program, Dr. Peniel Rajumkar. The visit, deemed "historical", aims to launch celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the WCC.

The program includes a visit to the Chinese Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. The latter is an inter-denominational assembly of Protestant Churches, unified by Mao Zedong, which gathers official Protestant believers under one umbrella.

The delegation will visit the East China Theological Seminary in Shanghai and the Xian Shaanxi Bible School. Meetings with the state administration for religious affairs are also scheduled.

In Beijing, the general secretary will preach on January 7 in the Chongwenmen church (see photo); Dr. Chang will preach on January 14 in the Gangwashi church. Chongwenmen Church is one of the oldest Protestant churches in China, built by American Methodists in 1870. In 1900 the church was destroyed in the Boxer rebellion and then rebuilt in 1904. Closed during the Cultural Revolution, it was reopened in 1980. From then it is a point of reference for thousands of faithful.

Gangwashi Church is also a historical relic. Built by the London Missionary Society in 1863, it is undoubtedly the oldest Protestant church in China. In 2013 it celebrated its 150th anniversary. It too suffered damage and closures during the Cultural Revolution and was reopened in 1980. Since then it has collected at least 6 thousand faithful.

According to Protestant sources abroad, Protestant churches in China are flourishing, so much so that sociologists predict that by 2050 China will be the country with the largest number of Christians in the world. But there is one problem: most of the new Christians belong to unregistered groups. Many young faithful criticize the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for its servility towards the Chinese Communist Party. At present  an estimated 80 million Protestants are unofficial; about 20 million are members of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

The WCC press release recognizes that "within three decades, China may be home to the largest Christian population in the world. ", but there is no meeting with non-official communities on the delegation's agenda, perhaps not to displease the government. A campaign has been underway in China to eliminate the underground communities or bring them into the official communities for several years.

Tveit has affirmed that the upcoming visit will serve to "be inspired by seeing and hearing what the church is doing in this country, and we aim at an even stronger cooperation from the worldwide fellowship with the church here".

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