After decades of suspicion, suppression, and outright control of Christians, China's Communist Party may be softening its hostility toward religion. For China's underground Protestants, greater religious freedom would be a historic answer to prayer and an unprecedented opportunity.
Specifically, Chinese leaders may soon drop the requirement that, as part of the normal registration process, Protestant congregations must join the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), which Communist Party members oversee. The TSPM's goals are for churches to be self-sufficient, free of foreign control, and capable of managing their own growth. But close supervision of the TSPM has kept the registered church in a communist cage. Because of sharp limits on evangelism, publishing, and church construction, many Protestant pastors refuse to join the TSPM. Consequently, they have suffered, and some have been martyred.
According to recent estimates, Christianity in China is growing at a rate of 7 percent per year. At that rate, millions of Chinese are making new professions of faith each year, and the great majority of them are connected to unregistered churches.
Some scholars believe that in this century China will become a potent global force for Christianity. But there are great spiritual needs inside China itself. "Twenty-first-century China will have the biggest Christian population in the world. At the same time, the Chinese [people] still constitute the world's largest concentration of unevangelized people," says John K. Chang of the missions agency GO International.
Christians in registered and unregistered churches should strive to redefine their relationship with China's political leadership. It is not out of the question for China to grant ...