viewed in the context of the phenomenal growth of the Chinese Christian population during the same period of time. It is already the largest Christian community in Asia and one of the most numerous in the world. This fact has been used by Bishop K. H. Ting apologetically to defend the Chinese government's religious policy. His rhetoric is:
People know that the ruling party of our country is atheistic. Some people abroad have consequently inferred with great passion that the Communist party and the government are antagonistic to religions and are determined to eliminate them. These people have indeed disregarded the actual fact. Christianity, for instance, has witnessed the increase of three churches daily since the end of the 'Cultural Revolution' for more than ten years now . .. The number of Bibles which has been distributed by the church has already exceeded ten million, and church-run seminaries now number thirteen ... Although certain aspects in the implementation of the policy of religious freedom are still not satisfactory, what are the real grounds for the allegation that the [communist] party and the government are antagonistic to religions, according to what has been shown above?23
The new attitude of the Chinese government toward Christianity in the last two decades has also been confirmed by Zhuo Xin Ping of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), which is the leading think-tank of the Chinese government. Speaking on the role of the Chinese church in modern Chinese society in the October 2001 international symposium in Beijing, Zhuo states:
(1) Following China's 'open door' policy there has been an unprecedented opportunity for the church to accommodate itself more harmoniously to Chinese society. Through positive dialogue and reciprocal efforts, relations between the two have seen a far-reaching breakthrough.
(2) The mainstream ideology of China is now taking a more positive and objective view on the socio-ethical function of the Chinese church in a changing Chinese society. On the other hand, the Chinese church has also responded to the new situation and attitude by highlighting its belief in and practice of Christian love ... This new emphasis has given the church a new lease of life. Its spirit of selfless service and sacrifice, of forgiveness and universal brotherly love, could now have a significant contribution to make to the reconstruction of the 'spirit' (Jing shen) of the Chinese people.
(3) The Chinese church must see to it that it serves as a unifying force rather than a divisive element in modern Chinese society. Only an
inclusive Christian community will be welcome by the Chinese and consequently will have a contribution to make. (4) To be true to its witness and mission the church has to play the roles of servant as well as prophet. However, in view of the present sociopolitical dynamics of China, the church has wisely chosen to play the role of servant rather than prophet. This is because the present Chinese society is not quite ready to accept the prophetic' mission of the Church, especially its more critical aspects.24
It is worth noting that while symposium participants did generally endorse Zhuo's analysis of the Chinese situation, some also wished to see the Chinese church assuming both the biblical roles of servant as well as prophet. In reply, Zhuo seemed to think that the church's present choice for the servant's role is out of pragmatic consideration. Hopefully the time will come when the church can play the two roles effectively.
Despite its continuous growth, not much theology was done in the organized Chinese church in the first two decades following Deng's Open Door Policy, until the so-called theological re-construction' became a prominent agenda of the leadership of the Three-Self Church. This is perhaps one of the many problems' which Bishop Ting has in mind in his 1995 letter to the alumni of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary when he says quite openly that We should not be satisfied with these figures [growth of churches and so on]. Problems that Chinese Christianity faces are many, which should demand the great concern and deep reflection of the old alumni.'25
Bishop Ting was apparently quite supportive of Christian studies in the Chinese academia in its early stages, regarding it as being supplementary to the very limited work which the organized church was trying to do. However, such positive attitudes have changed drastically in recent years for at least two reasons. First, after about two decades of continuous development and expansion, Christian studies in Chinese academia have become more or less a free-for-all, so that its direction and contents are perceived by Ting to be increasingly detached from the main concerns of the organized church. Secondly, in the organized church there is now a young generation of clergy as well as some educated laity who are keen to upgrade themselves academically. With its very limited resources the organized church is clearly not able to meet such a need. In the last few years several leading Chinese universities have responded to the need for
4 Ping and Sayer (eds.), The Christian Religion and Contemporary Society, pp. 247—53. 5 Ibid.
Christian studies by providing special postgraduate courses for those who are highly motivated. Again, the theological as well as ideological orientation and direction of those university-run courses are obviously different from those of the organized church. In a society where the church leadership is insecure, there are causes for concern. (We will return to this later.)
Was this article helpful?
The Growing Interest In Yoga To Unlock The Inner You Can Have Amazing Benefits For Your Life And Business! In this book, you will learn all about the secrets behind what Yoga really is and what yoga can do for you and your life. How yoga can help unlock the inner you.