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Chinese House Churches

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Chinese House Churches

Chinese house churches (Chinese: 中國家庭教會; pinyin: Zhōngguó jiātíng jiàohuì, also known as 地下教會 dìxià jiàohuì and 地下天國 dìxià tiānguó) are a religious movement of unregistered assemblies of Christians in the People's Republic of China, which operate independently of the government run Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and China Christian Council (CCC) for Protestant groups and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CCPA) and the Chinese Catholic Bishops Council (CCBC) for Catholics. They are also known as the "Underground" Church or the "Unofficial" Church. They are called "house churches" because as they are not officially registered organizations, they cannot independently own property and hence they meet in private houses, often in secret for fear of arrest or imprisonment, as in the Early Church under pagan Roman persecution. According to state statistics, there are approximately 23.5 million members of officially recognized churches, while China Aid, a Christian non-profit organization based in the United States claims that there are as many as 130 million practicing Christians in China when members of house churches are included.[1]

The Chinese house church movement developed after 1949 as a result of the Communist government policy which requires the registration of all religious organizations. This registration policy requires churches to become part of the TSPM/CCC set-up, which may involve interference in the church's internal affairs either by government officials or by TSPM/CCC officials, who are approved by the Communist Party of China's United Front Work Department. During the Cultural Revolution of 1966–76 all Christian worship was forced underground, even the official churches were closed, and the house church movement was solidified as an ongoing phenomenon.

Because house churches operate outside government regulations and restrictions, their members and leaders are frequently harassed by local government officials.[2] This persecution may take the form of a prison sentence, or more commonly, reeducation through labour. Heavy fines are also not uncommon, with personal effects being confiscated in lieu of payment if this is refused or unavailable. House churches were outlawed officially from the 1950s right up until the late 1980s and adherents were severely persecuted. Persecution of house Christians throughout China intensified during the 1980s, particularly during 1983.

Since the 1990s there have been cases of increasing official tolerance in various regions of house churches. Most observers believe that the opposition of house churches by government officials arises less from an ideological opposition to religion and support of atheism, and more out of fear of potential disturbances to orderly society from mass mobilization of believers, similar to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and mass protests of Falun Gong members in Beijing in 1999. Others disagree, pointing to the arbitrary restrictions placed on the heavily confined Three-Self Church system as non-Chinese activities, and new purges before official international events such as the 2008 Olympics (see account below).

Protestant house churches are indigenous to mainland China and are usually not under foreign control; some groups welcome help from abroad as long as it does not compromise their independence. This assertion of strictly native support is important in the PRC political discourse, since Christian churches and missionaries have sometimes historically been seen as tools of imperialism. In addition, at least with the Protestant churches there is no central church hierarchy, a fact that is commonly cited as a reason why house churches are seen as less threatening and subject to less overt opposition by the Communist officials.

Chinese house churches have indigenous forms of worship and usually use their own songs. One collection of Chinese house church worship songs, Jiānán Shīxuăn; "Songs from Canaan") has been made into a book, with audio of some of the songs available.

Chinese Roman Catholic house churches generally recognize the authority of the Pope in contrast to the official Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association where such recognition is not possible because Papal Supremacy is not only doctrinal but also because he heads the Vatican, an external nation State. The role of Catholic house churches is a major complication in the official diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China.

In the past two decades, a number of house church networks have developed, headquartered mainly in Henan and Zhejiang provinces. These networks have sent missionaries all over the country and have even started sending them abroad to neighboring states.[3]

In 2008, twenty-one pastors of house churches in Shandong Province were sent to labor camps, which was the largest sentencing of house church leaders in a quarter of a century.[4] By some estimations, Chinese authorities were trying to restrict activities of house churches right before the Beijing Olympics.[4]

In May 2011, 19 individual house church leaders from 8 major cities presented a petition to the National People's Congress calling for the freedom to worship as they please. No formal response was issued, but international media cited it as an example of the growing boldness of the house church movement.[1]

Christianity in China

Frank Lee, a Chinese academic who has studied the development of so-called house churches in the mainland, projected 20 million members for 'official' churches (registered with the Three-Self Church), whereas house churches boast 10 million Catholics and up to 70 million Protestants.[5] Meanwhile China Aid, a Christian charity working in China, have given 130 million (including house churches).

The numbers of Chinese Christians at churches on a Sunday now outnumber the whole of Europe. While official government figures put the number at 25 million (18 million Protestants and six million Catholics), Lee estimates 60 million plus as a conservative tally.[6]

See also

References

External links

  • Information on the Church in China
  • Statement of Faith for Chinese House Churches
  • Persecution News Reports from China
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