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Chinese Christian Delegation Visits NCC and CWS,
Reports Rapid Growth of Protestantism

(Pictured: The Rev. Cao Shengjie with NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar and CWS Executive Director John L. McCullough; Chinese Christians delegation with NCC and CWS hosts.)

October 15, 2003, NEW YORK CITY -- Leaders of the Protestant community in China met on Tuesday (Oct. 14) with their U.S. ecumenical partners - the National Council of Churches and Church World Service - to reaffirm their long-standing ties.

Rev. Cao Shengjie, Dr. Bob Edgar, Rev. John L. McCullough"The church is prospering now in China," reported the Rev. Cao Shengjie, president of the China Christian Council (CCC). She said there are more than 16 million Protestants and 50,000 Protestant churches and meeting places in China.

The Rev. Cao recalled the CCC’s long-time relationship with the U.S. ecumenical movement, continuing, "More importantly we are looking forward and hope our visit will help promote more mutual understanding and mutual support."

Presbyter Ji Jianhong, chairperson of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, said the Chinese church’s principle of independence in propagation, support and governance "doesn’t preclude friendship.... Mutual visits are a must for developing the relationship between the churches of our two countries."

Both Rev. Cao and Presbyter Ji were elected to their positions at the 7th National Chinese Christian Conference in May 2002. Rev. Cao also is vice president of the National YWCA of China, and Presbyter Ji is executive vice president of the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary.Chinese Christians Delegation with NCC, CWS Hosts

The nine-member delegation from China visited the New York offices of the NCC and CWS, global humanitarian agency of the NCC’s 36 member churches, as part of an extended U.S. visit Oct. 4-26. The delegation invited the NCC and CWS to return their visit, if possible in 2004.

The top executives of the NCC and CWS brought greetings to the delegation. "We thank God for bringing you here and for the good news about Chinese Christians," said the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC General Secretary. Said the Rev. John L. McCullough, CWS Executive Director, "You bear witness by your very presence of the meaning, power and presence of Christ."

The history of Christianity in China dates back to the seventh century, reports background information brought by the delegation. Missionary efforts in the 18th through mid 20th centuries saw the Protestant Christian community grow to around 700,000 by 1949. In 1954, Chinese Protestant Christians initiated the Three-Self Movement, which mapped out an independent road to building the church - and moved Chinese Protestantism away from its perceived association with western imperialism.

During the Cultural Revolution, between 1966 and 1976, churches and Christians continued to experience persecution and many churches were closed down. Then China opened up, and in 1980 the China Christian Council was established. The China Christian Council has established 18 theological seminaries and Bible schools and more than 70 centers across China distributing Bibles and hymnals.

Priorities include "reconstruction of theological thinking, personnel training, development of churches and church organizations, and social service," according to information brought by the delegation. Challenges include "deepening understanding of the faith among believers."

The Rev. Cao was critical of outside groups, including some from the United States, that come to the Chinese Christians and say, "We want to help but you must do things the way we want. They tell us, ‘You aren’t a real church.’ That sometimes causes a split in our church...and social disorder."

She thanked the NCC for its statement of support, in the 1980s, of the three-self principles of the Chinese church: self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating. Reaffirming that commitment, Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, the NCC’s Associate General Secretary for International Affairs and Peace, said, "You can count on us to be a partner in spreading the Gospel, extending Christian compassion, and working for peace and justice."

It is generally recognized that problems do exist for Christian communities in China. But the Rev. Cao described significant improvement over the past 20 years. "Some people have a memory of the Cultural Revolution. That ended more than 20 years ago. They take for granted things are the same. They are not."

In certain cases of religious persecution, particularly in isolated places where the actions of local authorities don’t reflect the general societal trend of opening up toward religion, the Rev. Cao said, "We try to pass those cases to the government and ask for correction."

According to the Rev. Cao, China’s government increasingly recognizes that "religion has a deep root in people’s heart - and can play a positive role. We encourage our members to be a good Christian and a good citizen at the same time."


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