The Three Phases Of The Modern Church In China
Chen Jing, writing in ChinaSource, analysed the history of the Chinese church over the last 40 years in an article entitled “The Chinese Church In Transition”. Chen summarised: “In my view, from the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 to the present, the development of the Chinese church (primarily the house church) has gone through three phases.” It is helpful to review Chen’s historical analysis because Derek Prince Ministries has been involved in all of those three phases.
Phase 1: Resurrection and Revival (late 1970s to late 1990s).
“In the wake of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party took steps to re-install the policy of religious tolerance. The Chinese church not only came back to life, but also experienced widespread revival and growth. While the registered churches under the Three-Self Patriotic Movement were busy re-opening their sanctuaries, the unregistered house churches mushroomed especially in the countryside and among the lower classes.” This was the period when Derek Prince workers began to go into China and connect with brothers and sisters there, learning how best we might serve them. Chen states that “the revivals that took place were largely spontaneous under local leadership, and resurgent and growing churches were indigenous and non-denominational.” Our task was to supply the newly growing churches with Derek's Bible teaching “as house church theological education was still in embryonic form, most of those in church leadership had very little formal theological education.”
Phase 2: The “Golden Age” of Church Growth (late 1990s to mid-2010s).
In this period “the center of gravity of the church’s growth increasingly shifted from the countryside to the cities… with an increasing number of upper-middle class people or elites joining the church… The tone or ethos of the church during these years was overwhelmingly upbeat and even triumphalist. During this more open season we were able to spread Derek’s teaching widely through radio, Christian TV and millions of books and DVDs of his teaching.
Phase 3: New Reality and New Possibilities (mid-2010s to present).
This period has seen “the authorities launching waves of crackdowns on the church and other religious communities. Authorities’ forcefully removed church crosses, shut-down large urban house church sanctuaries, with unprecedented tightening of control over registered and unregistered churches alike, expulsion of a large number of foreign cross-cultural workers and the plateauing of church growth. To make things even worse, the pandemic has turned out to be very disruptive of church life… Internally the church faces no less serious challenges: raging theological divisions, the corrosive influence of materialism and consumerism and so on. A large number of foreign workers have left the field… Not surprisingly the mood has turned much more sober and even gloomy. Many church leaders and believers have begun to realize that the church’s vulnerability is being exposed.”
Chen sees the third phase as returning to the indigenous emphasis of the first phase. “As large congregations are being particularly targeted and hurt, many churches have no choice but to return to a decentralized house church model.” This makes the supply of Derek’s materials all the more important, facilitated now by our strong on-line presence. Chen writes: “I am confident that something positive will come out of all these raging negative dynamics - a more mature, prophetic, and contextualized church in China, living out its faith in Christ in a hostile world.” DPM’s challenge is to continue to serve in a way that strengthens in the Lord Jesus this new “something positive” for the church in China.
Pray for wisdom for church leaders in China in this difficult third phase.
Pray for Derek Prince Ministries to know from the Lord how best to serve the church in China.
Pray for the Chinese government in its attitude to the church and Christianity.