Photo of Rev. Bao Ping Kan, China Christian Council
The Rev. Bao Ping Kan, Vice President and General Secretary of the China Christian Council. Photo: The United Church of Canada

Challenges Faced by Global Partner in China

Among the major challenges facing the Christian church in China is the influence of some conservative Americans and South Koreans who engage in underground evangelism and use the church as a political instrument for the overthrow of the Chinese government, says the Rev. Bao Ping Kan, Vice President and General Secretary of the China Christian Council.

“They really make our life difficult,” said Kan, “They spread division and create conflicts. Those churches are very ideological.”

These practices also directly undermine the selfhood of the Chinese church.

The Protestant Church in China is “post-denominational.” After the rise to power of the Communist Party in 1949, Protestant Christians set out to build an autonomous Chinese church by creating the Three-Self Movement in 1950.

The Three-Self Movement emphasized three principles: self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation.

Kan is one of the global partners of the United Church attending the General Council meeting, representing the historic partnership with the Chinese Protestant church.

He is responsible for the China Christian Council’s overseas relations, social service, and theological education. He is also one of the elected members of the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee.

“We call ourselves a Council, but actually there is no structural denomination,” says Kan.

He says in the 80s and 90s the Christian church in China experienced fast growth, but it has slowed since then.

“Growth is slowing down now because the society is well developed and people don’t feel the need of God.”

Today the Council sees about 500,000 new members a year and has a total membership of 38 million Protestants.

Christianity was outlawed during the Cultural Revolution of 1966–1979. However, in 1979 the government officially restored the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), and the China Christian Council (CCC) was founded the following year.

“The law says you have your freedom for your religious belief and you can’t force people to believe or to not believe. That’s the law,” says Kan. “We can meet publicly. We don’t have to go underground.”

However, all churches must be registered in order to assemble publicly.

“We say the Chinese system is democratic and consultative, but we don’t like political dog fighting.”

Today, with a few exceptions, denominations no longer exist in China, and believers worship together.

The China Christian Council oversees Protestant communities’ work in ministry education; women’s ministries; administration; international relations; and the printing and distribution of Bibles, hymnals, and Christian literature.

Kan says that while the Catholics and Protestants each understand themselves as the true Christian church, today there is more and more Catholic–Protestant interaction as well as cooperation with Buddhists and Muslims.

Among the challenges facing the Council is the historic influence of fundamentalism.

“The Chinese church may appear to be backward, but in 1998 we initiated a theological renewal to address this,” says Kan. “In the past 20 years things have opened up, and we are considering more issues than church growth.”

He says that churches now are also more engaged in social service programs.

“Young pastors today have good relations with people of other religions and other faiths. They are more open.

“In Chinese culture we respect differences and don’t emphasize differences. In our culture, Jesus is enough. The Chinese don’t care about those hair-splitting differences. There is no reason to split a church—for any reason.

“Unity itself is a witness and a blessing. In that way we are very similar to The United Church of Canada, and why The United Church of Canada is a very important partner to the China Christian Council.”

The United Church of Canada's partnership with the Chinese churches began in the 1880s when the predecessors of the United Church began mission work in West China.