Recently elected leaders of China's officially-sanctioned Protestant churches have said they care about house churches that sometimes operate underground and that they are willing to provide them with Bibles - writes Francis Wong.
"For those house churches without registration, we will try our best to be with them, to recognise them and to help them, so long as they have an orthodox faith, don't stray from the truth and don't follow heretics," Elder Fu Xianwei, chairperson of the National Three Self Patriotic Movement, told some 200 Hong Kong church leaders at a 22 October 2008 seminar titled "Chinese Church - New Leaders, New Challenges".
The 12 member-delegation of TSPM and China Christian Council paid their first visit to Hong Kong and Macau from 19 to 26 October since assuming the national leadership of their church organizations in January.
Fu, the leader of the delegation, said that CCC/TSPM was willing to help house churches by, for example, providing them with Bibles, and also desired to work with them in building the Chinese Protestant church.
The officially-sanctioned Chinese Protestant church estimates there are at least 18 million Protestants in China, but many other Christians belong to "house" or underground churches (those that are unregistered by the state), say some analysts. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement was conceived in 1951 and formed in 1954 as the only legitimate umbrella for Protestant activities. The China Christian Council emerged with the support of the TSPM after China's Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, when the expression of religious life was effectively banned.
Fu said that there were insufficient pastors and preachers, and that theological education posed challenges to the Church. He said that when more and more people in China were migrating from rural villages to urban areas, pastors in cities were exposed to greater challenges.
Asked if members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party could convert to Christianity, the Rev. Gao Feng, president of CCC, said that although the Communist Party's constitution stated that members should follow Marxism, which espouses atheism, the doors of the Church remain open to all.
Church leaders say there has been debate in China concerning a third way for the existence of Christian communities in the mainland, and about whether all Protestant communities seeking registration need to do so within the framework of the CCC/TPSM.
Yu Jian Rong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said on 8 October at a conference on religion and social sciences at Beijing University that it was time to consider whether to recognise the legitimate status of house churches, and let them register separately to from the CCC/TSPM, which describe themselves as post-denominational. Yu said that some house churches in China were already in the process of seeking government registration outside the CCC/TSPM.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]