There is an exhibit traveling around some major cities that I wish could have stopped in Texas. It is the Chinese Bible Ministry Exhibition. You did not read that wrong–China publishes the Christian Bible, the same Chinese Bible revered in Taiwan, Singapore and American Chinese churches.
A group of China Christian leaders have visited Los Angeles, Atlanta and will go next to New York City.
Karen and Don Barnes described this event to their Chinese students (in China) and most were surprised that such an event was possible or even allowed. One student even asked, “Does the [Chinese] government know about this?”
Karen wrote: “The student [like her counterparts in America] was under the impression that the Chinese government was opposed to everything dealing with religion and would not countenance such an event, let alone participate in one.”
The changes in China over the last quarter century are beyond comparison with anything in history. Just a few years ago they all rode bicycles and ox carts. Now they not only make automobiles but will soon export them to the U.S.A.
I have said often the only item made in China you can’t get at Walmart is the Chinese Bible. Now maybe even that will change as they see the growing numbers of Chinese-language churches in America.
Religious freedom in China is a more limited freedom than we experience in America. The government has a Religious Affairs Bureau, not to direct religion, but to make sure it does not become an underground attempt to overthrow the government. The more they see Christianity is not a threat, and that Christians make better citizens, the more the freedoms will come their way.
When President Jimmy Carter met with the then-leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, he asked for the Bible to be allowed in China, for worship to be legal and for the missionaries to be able to return.
President Carter was wisely asking for a few things, hoping to get at least one. Deng is reported to have said: Freedom of worship OK in China, having the Bible is no problem, but no to going back to the days of foreign missionaries.
Carter got the best of the deal. Since that time 40 million Bibles have been published in and sold in China. Worship is free and open. Bible publishing has come with gifts of Christians around the world through the United Bible Societies.
China does not need the traditional foreign missionary movement. (I’ve spent my life as one and fully agree.) The time of planting the gospel in China came, and it was successful to a great degree.
Now, with their own Bible (first published in 1919 after 25 years of translation and cooperation) they can grow their own churches. A China Christianity in China–relevant to Chinese history and culture–is far better than a Western Christianity transplanted in China.
Christians are welcomed in China as fellow-believers, but not as missionaries who enter the country under the guise of being English teachers. Many fine Christian teachers from abroad teach in China. They are not undercover, cloak-and-dagger missionaries.
If they are good teachers and students show interest in Christ, they are free to talk about it, much like our public schools here.
If you missed the Bible exhibit, I hope this column enlightened you about Christianity in China. I talk about it more in my book Christianity in Today’s China. (Pardon the promotion. It is not the point.)
I am thankful for the changes for the good that have come with the opening of China to the world. They are our friends, regardless what our government and their government say.
Britt Towery served 30 years as a missionary to the Chinese. He is now retired and writes a weekly column for the Brownwood Bulletin in Brownwood, Texas.