Post-Pandemic, Will China’s Church Be Changed Forever?

Each day, Aaron Zhang—all names in this story are pseudonyms—wakes up and helps his two children get ready for their day. His oldest is in elementary school, and like a growing number of other Chinese Christian families, their family homeschools.

Last year, they were dreaming about overseas mission work. Zhang even quit his job to prepare. But now, with restrictions tight, the family can’t obtain or renew passports. Their goal of being missionaries is on hold indefinitely.

These are difficult days for Chinese believers, and darker days loom. On February 1, 2020, harsh new regulations overseeing every aspect of faith practice went into effect across China. These completed a spate of regulations initially rolled out in 2018.

But during the 2020 rollout, the government’s attention was diverted: one week before, Wuhan was locked down. Chinese society entered a season of intense quarantine and separation.

More than a year later, life in China remains somewhat bizarre, yet largely functional. But there may be no return to normalcy for the church.

Restrictions

The new restrictions require Chinese Communist Party oversight for every measure of religious life—staffing, fund management, gatherings. China’s unofficial churches, known as house churches, have operated in recent decades in an ambiguous space: they have rented public space, welcomed visitors, and been open about some of their activities, all without official government sanction. The February restrictions effectively close that era of semi-openness.

In China, there may be no return to normalcy for the church.

More ominously, these measures specify that all religious activity within China must promote and support the Chinese Communist Party.

“I think a lot of the churches could disappear,” said S. E. Wang of China Partnership. Still, “God is leading the way forward. This pandemic . . . is not the beginning of the end; it is the end of the beginning.”

Short-Term Opportunities

Even before COVID-19, a lot of Chinese house churches couldn’t meet face to face.

“Persecution prepared the Chinese church to face this pandemic, because it forced churches to close their public meeting places,” said Simon Liu, a pastor who trains unregistered church planters.

All religious activity within China must promote and support the Chinese Communist Party.

Since the pandemic, Chinese pastors have held online crusades. These are not intended to replace Sunday worship, but to preach the good news and unite disconnected Christians. And they require courage: the evening’s preacher must be willing to show his face to a non-vetted crowd, which can be dangerous.

“The risk is there, but I think more and more see opportunity,” Liu said.

The online meetings average 1,000 to 2,000 direct connections. One northeastern Chinese pastor began his message this way: “The Christian hope lies in this—we are not stronger or purer than others, but rather than believing in ourselves, we believe in Jesus, who upholds us whenever we fall, who strengthens us when our strength is drained, who loves us when we are in pain.”

Christians have invited their family and friends, but also have asked their enemies. “Some people have even invited their local police,” Liu said. “The persecuting parties feel like they are also vulnerable: ‘Maybe I could get this virus. Maybe I will die. . . . You are not afraid of death, so maybe something in your faith is quite unique.’”

Persecution prepared the Chinese church to face this pandemic.

Believers have also done what they can to serve and care, whether next door or around the world. Chinese social media were replete with stories of Christians donating masks and caring for quarantined neighbors.

A Chinese Christian in New York received nearly 6,000 masks from mainland Chinese Christians at the beginning of the pandemic. Those masks came in small packs of 100 or 200, from Chinese brothers and sisters who reported it took as many as nine hours to obtain and ship one such small package.

Long-Term Worries

Even while leaning into short-term opportunities, Chinese pastors see problems ahead. The pandemic likely ushered in the beginning of a new reality.

In the United States, churches radically altered the life of their bodies to conform to pandemic norms. Although some of those modifications will remain, most American churches have already returned to worshiping together. In China, things may not ever revert to pre-pandemic days.

“This is not short term,” Wang said. “Even if the pandemic is over, the public space has been squeezed very small for the churches to gather. There is no public space for people to go back to.”

He’s referring to tightening government controls, which mean house churches will no longer be able to rent commercial space for corporate worship, as many have been doing.

In China, things may not ever revert to pre-pandemic days. . . . ‘There is no public space for people to go back to.’

Private space is also tightly controlled. These days, nervous neighbors are more likely to report a gathering of 20 strangers. “Basically, you cannot have larger than two families, or three,” Wang said. “That will be a new norm for Chinese churches.”

“The Devil is using this opportunity to crack down on the church, that’s for sure, but God will use it in a different way,” one Chinese pastor said. Before persecution intensified in the last several years, many in China were attracted to the celebrity-pastor model. Gifted teachers attracted national and even international followings.

This new normal means less elevation of central leaders and a sharper focus on smaller groups. As Christian communities are broken down into smaller clusters through plague and persecution, church leaders must raise up a new generation of local leaders equipped to walk their people through marriages, deaths, and family conflicts.

Much of the training has to be indigenous: many missionaries were driven out of mainland China last year. Even after the pandemic ends, the number of overseas workers ministering in China will be much smaller than before the pandemic.

To that end, preparing capable teachers remains a priority.

“Even if today everything is going down, all of a sudden the door could open widely,” Wang said. “It is our responsibility to make that start to happen, so that when the door opens, a group of ready preachers can go to the streets and stadiums and preach the gospel.”

Pandemic and Persecution

The book of James is clear that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Life is a mist that appears and then vanishes.

“The pandemic and the persecution have led to a new situation,” one Chinese pastor said. “We still do a lot of active planning, but more humbly we say, ‘Lord, if you are willing: this is your time. Use it.’ . . . We don’t know what the future holds.”

Chinese Christians have watched God work in uncertain times before. During the Cultural Revolution, believers were forced underground for decades, and many Western observers despaired at the church’s future. But in the 1980s, the Chinese church experienced an explosive period of growth. Today, there may be as many as 100 million Chinese believers.

“Sometimes we feel like God is pretty close to these things; sometimes we feel like God is pretty far,” Liu said. “But we know that everything is under his control, and he is behind everything. Whatever happens is God’s way to prepare his church. He is always preparing his church.”

Aaron Zhang agrees. “Through uncertainty, we depend on our certain God,” he said. “God calls us to live an uncertain life, so that we can trust and rely on him.”

‘Victory for Children’: Arkansas Becomes 1st State to Ban Transgender Surgery, Hormones on Kids

‘Victory for Children’: Arkansas Becomes 1st State to Ban Transgender Surgery, Hormones on Kids


Arkansas on Tuesday became the first state to ban gender transition procedures for children and teens when its legislature overrode a veto of a bill by the governor, who had rejected the bill one day earlier.

The bill, known as the “Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act,” became law by passing the state House 71-24 and the Senate, 25-8.

“Our children stand as pawns right now. They’re minors and they’re children and they need to be protected” from the medical profession, said state Rep. Robin Lundstrum, a bill sponsor. “Even medicine sometimes is wrong. We should never experiment on children. Ever.”

Opponents are expected to file suit to try and overturn the new law.

The bill states: “A physician or other healthcare professional shall not provide gender transition procedures to any individual under eighteen (18) years of age.” It defines “gender transition procedures” as the use of puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones, or “genital or nongenital gender reassignment surgery performed for the purpose of assisting an individual with a gender transition.” Doctors and other medical personnel who violate the new law could lose their license.

“Arkansas has a compelling government interest in protecting the health and safety of its citizens, especially vulnerable children,” the bill’s legislative findings say.

GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill on Monday. Republicans control the House and Senate.

The bill cites studies that say the majority of gender-nonconforming children “come to identify with their biological sex in adolescence or adulthood, thereby rendering most physiological interventions unnecessary.”

The legislative findings criticize the use of cross-sex hormones, saying there have been “no randomized clinical trials” examining “the efficacy or safety” of cross-sex hormones in adults or children “for the purpose of treating such distress or gender transition.”

Further, the legislative findings also assert that society’s embrace of transgenderism has not benefited those who identify as transgender.

“Even among people who have undergone inpatient gender reassignment procedures, suicide rates, psychiatric morbidities, and mortality rates remain markedly elevated above the background population,” the legislative findings say.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, applauded the legislature for passing the bill. He called it a “victory for children.”

“The state of Arkansas has taken the lead in the race to protect children from a political movement that advocates for using off-label drugs and experimental procedures on minors,” Perkins said.

Related:

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson Vetoes Bill Banning Transgender Treatment for Minors

Former Transgender Teens: It Was the ‘in’ Thing to Do

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Nito100


Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Caring for Children Is What Sets the Church Apart

Caring for Children Is What Sets the Church Apart


BreakPoint.org

A defining characteristic of pagan societies is the sacrificing of the well-being of children on the altar of adult happiness and self-fulfillment. Our own pagan society is no different. In a single-minded pursuit of sexual pleasure, career, or lifestyle, we tell ourselves that “the kids will be fine,” even though they’re clearly not.

Throughout history, across cultures and time periods, Christians bringing the Gospel to pagan cultures found themselves defending and protecting abandoned and abused children as well.

For example, 19th century India was not a welcoming place for girls. Considered inferior to men, women were not allowed to be educated or to work for a living. Child marriage was a fairly common practice. Though the practice of sati (burning widows on their husband’s funeral pyres) had been abolished, the fate of widows in that culture was harsh. Considered to be cursed, they would often be subjected to terrible abuse at the hands of their husband’s family.

Pandita Ramabai’s family was different. Pandita’s father, a member of the priestly caste known as Brahmins, encouraged her to learn how to read the Hindu scriptures. Not only did she learn, but her skills and mastery of the text also earned her acclaim. Her study also fed her growing doubts about the truth of Hinduism.

After she was married, Pandita found a copy of the Gospel of Luke in her husband’s library. Drawn to Christianity, she invited a missionary to their home to explain the Gospel to her and her husband. Not long after this, her husband passed away.

Shortly thereafter, a child-widow came to her door looking for charity. Pandita took her in as if she were her own daughter. Moved by the young widow’s situation, Pandita started an organization called Arya Mahila Samaj to educate girls and to advocate for the abolition of child-marriage.

It was when she traveled to England that Pandita Ramabai formally converted to Christianity. Returning to India, she set up a school for girls and widows in what’s now called Mumbai. At first, to avoid offending Hindus, she agreed not to promote Christianity and followed the rules of the Brahmin caste. Even these concessions weren’t enough. Within a year the school was under attack, and her local financial support dried up. So, she moved the school to Pune, about 90 miles away. In 1897, after a famine and plague struck the area around Pune, Pandita Ramabai established a second school 30 miles away from there.

Among the subjects taught to the girls in her school was literature (for moral instruction), physiology (to teach them about their bodies), and industrial arts such as printing, carpentry, tailoring, masonry, wood-cutting, weaving, needlework, farming, and gardening.

At first, Pandita had only two assistants. So, she developed a system to help take care of and educate the girls, first teaching the older girls, who would then take care of and help teach the younger ones. In this way, they managed to care for the growing number of girls who made their way to the school and take care of. By 1900, 2,000 girls were living there.

In 1919, three years before her death, the British king awarded Pandita Ramabai the Kaiser-i-Hind award, the highest honor that an Indian could receive during the colonial period.

Pandita’s example is one of many that we must take seriously today. To live in a pagan society is to encounter victims of bad ideas. Often, especially in our culture, these victims are children.

Whenever a Christian or a church decides that to speak up on controversial cultural issues is to “get too political,” they leave these victims without protection and are out of step with Christian history. Whenever a Christian or a church claims that they avoid these issues because “it distracts from the Gospel,” they are embracing an anemic, truncated Gospel. Christians today can join those who’ve gone before us, proclaiming the Gospel and caring for children.

One way to do this is by signing the Promise to America’s Children, pledging to protect the minds, bodies, and the most important relationships of children in our society. And learn all the ways children are being victimized and how the Church can help, by reading Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement, a vital new book by Katy Faust. Them Before Us is the featured resource from the Colson Center this month.

Publication date: March 30, 2021

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Monkey Business Images


BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can’t find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

UK High Court Rules Parents of Transgender Children Can Consent to Puberty Blockers

UK High Court Rules Parents of Transgender Children Can Consent to Puberty Blockers


On Friday, Britain’s high court ruled that parents can consent to puberty blockers being giving to their children as a part of the process of transitioning genders without seeking approval from a judge.

The judge who handed down the decision stated, “the parents’ right to consent to treatment on behalf of the child continues even when the child is Gillick competent to make the decision.”

According to Reuters, Gillick competence is a system that decides whether a minor can give consent to a medical procedure without parental approval.

The phrase originated from the 1985 decision Gillick v. West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority, which was decided in the House of Lords, where lawmakers debated whether a minor under 16 years of age could be prescribed contraception their parent’s consent, The Christian Post reports.

Last year, the high court ruled that children under 16 were unable to provide consent to the medication, but now doctors are required to obtain a “best interests order” from a judge to prescribe the judge to youth.

Friday’s ruling was embraced by Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, the only gender clinic in the U.K.

“(We) are working with NHS England to work out how it will impact our processes going forward,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

The couple involved in the case sought to contest a December ruling of 23-year-old Kiera Bell, a biological female who sued the British National Health Service’s Gender Identity Development Service for Children and Adolescents for giving her puberty blockers when she was 16.

Not only did Bell regret that decision, but she feared that the treatment would prevent her from having children.

The parents in Friday’s case, however, argued that they could consent to treatment on their child’s behalf without the court’s approval.

The Good Law Project, a campaign group that supported the parents, praised the ruling as “hugely significant.”

“It is not unreasonable to describe this morning’s decision as in large part reversing the practical effects of Bell,” the group said in a statement.

Photo courtesy: Pixabay


Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.