Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary" is a quote often attributed to Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order. Whether or not Francis was the one who said it, this is the kind of preaching seen in China today.
In a country where its voice has long been restricted to inside buildings, the church's public face has changed drastically in the last decade. Elder Fu Xianwei, chair of the national Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), said the church in China "is in a golden era of development."
The name of the Protestant movement refers to three principal goals declared by the Christian missions in China: self-governance, self-support and self-propagation. Those goals became part of the Chinese church's self-identity in 1951. More than 60 years later, Fu said, "we are being forced to build up fast to meet the needs of society even as society is asking the church to act."
One of the needs the church has begun to meet is social programs. "The church is not just about pastoral care for church members; it is also about social services for society," Fu said. "With the rich tradition of the ELCA's work in social services, we seek further cooperation."
This exterior work has had a profound effect on the church's growth. Wei Kan, a pastor who chairs the Sichuan [Provincial] Christian Council, confirms that "there is a correlation between the expansion of social services and church growth." He notes that the government now sees faith and Christianity as motivators for social development, and that Christianity is more and more recognized as a part of the culture.
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers