Part 3. Expanding around the World. Lesson 9 of 10
Lesson 17. Protestants in China

Through today’s lesson, we hope you will be encouraged to take your place as God’s worker in His Kingdom for your generation.

  1. Morrison. In 1807 the first Protestant missionary came to China His name was Robert  Morrison, and he was sent by the London Missionary Society.  He studied Chinese, and by 1814 Morrison had translated the New Testament into Chinese.  It took him sixteen years to create an English/Chinese dictionary.  These books have been refined and replaced over the years: the Chinese Bible used in churches today¹³ was published in 1919.  He also established schools and a medical clinic. Starting in 1813, other missionaries began to arrive, both from England and from America.  By 1907, there were 3445 missionaries working with 94 mission agencies.
  1. Unequal Treaties. In 1842 the Opium War between China and England ended.  The Treaty of Nanjing allowed foreigners to enter at five ports of China.  Missionaries took advantage of this situation to come to China in large numbers.  But unfortunately Chinese people felt that foreign missionaries were connected to the foreign business groups.  First, since the missionaries were able to speak the Chinese language, foreign companies asked them to serve as translators.  Although the missionaries spoke out against the use of opium, some of these companies were associated with the opium trade.  Second, when the Opium War between China and England ended in 1842 and throughout the remainder of that century, China was forced to open up certain cities to Western trade.  Each time a treaty was written, Western missionaries insisted that they be given the right to enter China along with the business men. In 1860 the Treaty of Tientsin opened ten additional cities.  Missionaries were given the right to travel anywhere in the country, and Chinese Christians were legally protected from persecution.
  1. Three-self. Starting in 1851, the three-self idea was created and promoted by an English missionary¹  He was based in England, serving with the Church Mission Society, which was connected with the Church of England.  His idea was that small groups of people in each country would form churches, and that these churches would adopt these three principles: self-governing, self-supporting, and self-extending.¹²  These ideas were adopted in many countries.  During the 1920’s the three-self idea was increasingly popular among Chinese Christians, and in 1954 some Chinese Protestant leaders organized the three self patriotic movement.
  1. Hudson Taylor. In 1854 Hudson Taylor arrived in China.  In 1865 he founded his independent missionary organization, the Chinese Inland Mission. (Since 1964 it has been called Overseas Mission Fellowship.)   It concentrated on smaller cities and towns.  The missionaries wore Chinese clothing and even the long hair queue demanded by the Qing dynasty.  It grew to be the largest single mission group in China: at one time one fourth of all missionaries in China were with this group.
  1. Kingdom of Heavenly Peace . In 1850 Hong Xiu-quan began the movement called Kingdom of Heavenly Peace, a mixture of Christian ideas combined with ideas from older Chinese religions.  Many peasants joined the group, hoping for land reform; the movement grew in half a million people. It soon became clear that this was not an orthodox Christian group. In 1864 the western powers assisted the Qing Dynasty in ending the movement.
  1. Anti-missionary campaigns. Many people in China did not like the teaching of the missionaries and did not like the special privileges given to them through the unequal treaties.  There was sporadic local persecution, sometimes by the government and sometimes by the people.  Large-scale persecutions happened in 1868, 1870, and 1890.  The largest persecution was in 1900 when a group called the Boxers killed thousands of Chinese Christians, along with 189 Christian missionaries and their children.  Similar to what happened in early centuries of the church, “the blood of the martyrs was seed,” (that is, those who died inspired other people to become believers) and in the following ten years more Chinese became Christian than ever before.
  1. Later Growth. After the Qing dynasty ended in 1911, independent warlords roamed the country.  Bandits attacked missionaries.  By 1935, 29 Protestant missionaries had been killed; many catholic missionaries were also killed.  1926 was the year when the highest number of missionaries was in China: there were 8000 missionaries representing 160 Christian mission groups.   The influence of Christianity was great.  During the 1930’s, about 35% of the influential people had gone to a Christian school. Ninety per cent of the nurses were Christians.  70% of all hospitals in China at that time were Christian hospitals.  By 1949, there were about one million Chinese Protestants.
  1. New Chinese churches. Some Chinese leaders formed new Christian groups that were independent of the western denominations. In 1917 the True Jesus Church was formed.²¹  It baptizes in the name of Jesus, rather than in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Around that time, the Jesus family was formed.  The members shared food and money, and it was against materialism..  In 1927 Watchman Nee founded the Little Flock, influenced by the ideas of an independent English church.²²   Nee taught that there is only one true church in each city. In 1937 Wang Ming Dao founded the Chinese Church of Christ . He would not baptize a new believer until that believer would bring another person to faith in Christ.
  1. Chinese Evangelists. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Chinese evangelists² held large rallies all around China. Many people confessed their sins and repented, turning to Christ.  The church was given new life. Some encouraged renewal within the church; some emphasized the holy life of believers.  Their success helped to demonstrate that Christianity was no longer viewed as just a western religion, but that it was the faith of many Chinese people themselves. 

10. Growth during war. After Japan attacked China in 1937, Christian groups joined with the rest of society into helping the war effort.  The Christian Youth Committee organized the “Christian Committee to bring help to suffering citizens” to help distribute medicine and food, and to collect and send other materials to the war front.  When the Japanese entered Nanjing, Christians stayed behind to protect women from the Japanese.  The Christian hospital stayed open to treat the wounded.  In the areas occupied by the Japanese, some large churches were allowed to stay open, but church life at the village level came to a stop.  The Japanese put about 1200 foreign missionaries into concentration camps.  During the war years the number of Christians grew.  The Japanese were defeated in 1945, and in 1949 the present government of China took power.

11.  Combining. Some Chinese leaders had a desire to unify the different denominations.  In 1922 the National Christian Council was established.  This marked the transition from the missionary era to the Chinese Church era.    In 1927 most of the reformed (that is, Calvinistic) groups came together to establish the Church of Christ in China, more conservative reformed groups formed the Bible Union of China.  (The Anglicans, Lutheran, and Baptists still had their own separate denominations.)  The idea of combining churches came into effect more completely after the Communist Party became the ruler of China in 1949.  In 1950 it was decided that all Christian churches should be placed under one single Chinese Christian organization.  The Chinese independent churches were also brought into this single group, under the supervision of the Religious Affairs Bureau.  Foreign missionaries were sent out of China, accused of being connected with imperialism.  In 1954 the Three-Self Patriotic movement was established  by some Christians to promote the independence from foreign control and to serve as a link with government policies.

 12. During Cultural Revolution. In 1958 the system of communes was introduced, and there was no provision for churches, so worship services decreased.  The number of city churches also decreased: churches in Shanghai decreased from 200 to 12.  In 1958, after the “one-hundred flowers” campaign, a number of Christian leaders were arrested and accused of being enemies of the people.  In 1966, the young people taking part in the Great Cultural Revolution destroyed churches and Christian literature.

13.  After Cultural Revolution. In 1978 a period of greater openness for religion began under Deng Xiao Ping.  The Chinese Christians  helped with reconstruction activities.  A year later, churches over the whole country had begun to have Sunday worship services again.   When churches began to emerge again into public view, it was discovered that the less than one million Christians who had been in China when the missionaries left had become perhaps 40 million, and even more today.  This is one of the greatest miracles in the history of Christianity.

14. Church Organization.  In 1980 the China Christian Council was established to coordinate church affairs.  Representatives of the China Christian Council (CCC) and the Three-self Patriotic Movement (TSPM)  regularly meet together at various levels (provincial, county, city). When they meet together, they are called the “combined committee.” ¹¹   The two groups are said to work together like “two hands of one body.” Together they publish a magazine called Tian Feng. Up until today, some churches have registered with the government and fall under the supervision of the two groups,  and other churches have not yet registered. The registered church (CCC/TSPM church) adopted a Church Order in 2008 that describes the basics of the faith and organizational system. See the 2008 Chinese Church Order.

15.  Chinese churches today. In 1991, about 7000 churches were open in China, and many more today.  In 1981 the Jinlu cooperative seminary began classes again, followed by others.  Now there are more than 30 provinces that have one seminary, and there are lots of  local Bible Training Centers for those who have not reached a high level of schooling or want to remain separate from the government-connected committees.  Bibles and Christian books are being printed.  In 1985 the Amity Foundation was founded to be a channel for cooperation with people inside and outside China.  The Amity Press in Nanjing was established through Chinese and overseas funding, including the world-wide “United Bible Societies,” and has printed millions of Bibles.  The movement to convince more and more churches to register continues. See Short History of Chinese Thought

16.  Hong Kong. In 1842 an American Baptist missionary began the first Christian church in Hong Kong.  Many mission agencies have used Hong Kong for their offices.  There are many Christian schools and hospitals.  All these have continued since in 1997 Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule.

17. Taiwan. In 1865 missionaries from the Presbyterian church came to Taiwan.  The Presbyterian church has become the largest church on Taiwan.  They built hospitals and schools.  They were well received by the nine aboriginal minority groups: most of the aboriginal peoples have become Christian.  Starting in 1950, missionaries from the other denominations and mission agencies entered Taiwan, so today nearly every major denomination can be found on Taiwan.  The Chinese independent Churches also have grown on Taiwan.  There was an openness to Christianity on the part of the Chinese people who came to Taiwan in 1950, and about ten per cent of those people became Christians.  Taiwan has many Christian publishing companies and bookstores, ministries to the poor and handicapped, and traveling singing groups.

18.  Overseas Chinese There are many Chinese people in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Southeast Asia.  Many of them have become Christians.  Chinese in Europe and America have established Chinese churches.  These churches along with local Christians help visiting Chinese students to find apartments, and often help them through language practice and having special meals with guest speakers who explain Christian thought.

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Footnotes:  1) Henry Venn  2)  Among the most well-known speakers were Wang Zai  王载,  Wang Ming Dao, 王明道  Chen Chong Gui, 陈崇桂, Song Shang Jie  宋尚节, Ji Zhi Wen , 计志文, Watchman Nee  [Ni Tuo Sheng] 倪柝声,Gu Yu Ming, 贾玉铭  and Zhao Shi Guang  赵世光. 11) liang hui 两会    兩會  12) Three-self 三自:自立,自养,自传 [zi li, zi  yang, zi chuan]    13) The Chinese Bible used in churches today is called he he ben  和合本  21) The True Jesus Church explains the relationship of Father, Son,and Holy Spriit differently than the wording agreed on at the church council of 451. 22) Nee was influenced in England  by a church called the Plymouth Brethren.

Word List:  Boxers 义和团事件   義和團事件   China Christian Council  中国基督教协会    中國基督教協會    Chinese Church of Christ  [Ji du tu Hui Tang]  基督徒会堂   “Christian Committee to bring help to suffering citizens”   基督教难民救济委员会   Christian Youth Committee  基督教青年会  Hong Xiu quan  洪秀全    Hudson Taylor  戴德圣   Jesus Family  耶稣家庭   Kingdom of  Heavenly Peace  太平天国    LIttle Flock 聚会处,local church  地方教会   Opium  鸦片   Robert Morrison   马礼逊   馬禮遜  Three Self Patriotic Movement   三自爱国运动    三自愛國運動  Tian Feng  天风    天風    True Jesus Church  [zhen ye su hui]  真耶稣会    Unequal Treaties  不平等条约, Wang Ming Dao 王明道   Watchman Nee  [Ni Tuo Sheng] 倪柝声