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Discreet and Dynamic

Why, with no apparent resources, Chinese churches thrive.
2004This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

China is well on target to make the 21st century a "China century." Forty percent of the world's construction cranes are now operating there, and 35 percent of the world's ocean freighters are delivering goods and raw materials to feed China's superheated economy.

Meanwhile, under the radar screen of the world's press, the Chinese church has been swelling fast. In 1950, with the outbreak of the Korean War, the government expelled 7,000 foreign missionaries. For a time, it did its best to control Christianity through registered Three Self churches—though even these churches were subject to severe repression during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). For 20 years this strategy appeared to be working. Still, in the 1970s an underground house church movement sprang up as if by spontaneous generation.

Even the Chinese government admits that Protestant Christians have increased from 1 million in 1950 to 16 million today. But these figures do not account for the many millions who meet secretly in home congregations. David Aikman, former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine, suggests in his book Jesus in Beijing that Christians may number as many as 80 million—this in an officially atheistic state that has repeatedly persecuted believers.

I interviewed four representatives of the Chinese house church movement (whose names have been changed here) on a recent trip to Beijing. I had scheduled a meeting with pastor Allen Paul, one of the movement's patriarchs, who has courageously defied government attempts to control his activities. He survived 22 years of hard labor in prison, and on his release immediately resumed baptizing new converts. When Billy Graham visited his home in 1994, the meeting attracted world attention, ...

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