Getting Better or Getting Worse?

shanghai community church px (Small) (2)Those of us who work in China are often asked if we think that the situation for the church in China is getting better or worse. I have always found that to be a problematic question.

First of all, “better” and “worse” are relative terms, so the first response has to be “better or worse in comparison to what?” Compared to the standards that we are accustomed to? Compared to a certain time in the past? By what standard should the question be answered?

The second problem with the question is that it assumes only two possibilities: better or worse/ good or bad. It’s an extremely dichotomous question that leaves little room for the potential of a complicated reality.

If we are comparing the situation to what we are accustomed to, then it certainly isn’t good. There are far too many restrictions on religious practice, and regulations that either permit or restrict activities are arbitrarily enforced. This certainly isn’t good, but is it really “worse” than the situation that existed during the Cultural Revolution?

If, however, we are comparing the current situation to what it used to be, then there is ample evidence that things are better (even if they are not good). Thousands of house churches operate openly without harassment, Christian books are being published, Bibles can be freely downloaded to computers and smart phones, Christian celebrities are open about their faith, and ordinary Christians are using the Internet for evangelism. All of those things would have been unthinkable even as recently as ten years ago.

I have come to the conclusion that when people say that “things are getting worse” in regards to China, what they really mean is “things are not improving at the rate and scope that I would like.”

That is not the same as “getting worse,” and it’s a distinction that we need to be clear about.

This was originally posted on the ChinaSource website.


No Love

At the entrance to one of the Catholic churches in Tianjin  (one that gets lots of curious tourists) we spotted this sign instructing visitors how to behave (and not to behave) while inside the sanctuary.

no love

I had to chuckle.

A more accurate translation would be “no making out in the sanctuary.”

Big Screen Bells

Yesterday morning I attended the English service at the Haidian Christian Church in Beijing. It’s a fairly modern structure that sits in the middle of Zhongguancun, Beijing’s high-tech zone (locals call it China’s Silocon Valley). Even though the current building was opened in 2007 (just in time for the Olympics), the church itself dates back to 1915. The church building that was used prior to this one was built in the 1930’s and torn down to make way for this one in 2003.

When I walked ino the sanctuary I spotted a giant video screen at the front with a live video feed of the church bells. Given our discoveries in Sichuan, you can imagine how excited I was.

After the service I asked the pastor about the bells.  Even though I was fairly sure of the answer, I wanted to know if they were old.  He told me that they had been cast in China in 2007 specifically for use in the church.

To satisfy my new (and slightly obsessive) interest in Chinese church bells, I definitely plan to return in order to try to find out more about their bells.  In the video feed I could see there was a Chinese inscription on one of the bells. What does it say?

Stay tuned.

Related Posts:

A Tale of Two Bells

Mr. Upham and the Bell


The Choir Master

On Sunday morning we attended a service at the church in Huili. The choir (all women), decked out in suits and ties, led the congregation in the singing of traditional songs for an hour and a half before the service began. Then the  service itself lasted another 2 and a half hours!

We were blessed.









After the service, we had a quick lunch at the Fuyin Xiaochi (Gospel Cafe), located in the building in front of the church, before setting off back to Xichang.









We also discovered that the house where Esther used to live was located right where the platform of the new church is now.