SAN FRANCISCO – A delegation from the China Christian Council/Three-Self Patriotic Movement (CCC/TSPM) held an official press conference in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Wednesday to introduce the first-ever China Bible Ministry Exhibition in the United States and to meet Chinese churches in the Bay Area.
The Rev. Cao Shengjie, president of China Christian Council (CCC), introduced the China Bible Ministry Exhibit at the start of the press conference, noting that some 7,000 people have visited the exhibit.
When Cao was asked what she wanted to say to San Francisco churches and Christians, the CCC head stated, "We are really touched, for the San Francisco churches have welcomed us very well. I hope that we can have more communication with churches here.”
The Bible exhibit from China made its first U.S. showcase this year in Los Angeles at the Crystal Cathedral on Apr. 28 and will move to Atlanta on May 19. According to the exhibit’s website, the goal is to let the churches outside China learn more about the Bible ministry in the country.
The exhibit features six galleries with topics on the early history of the Bible in China, Bible publication after 1980, Bible distribution after 1980, Bible ministries for national minority churches, the Bible and church life, and Christian art works.
However, not all Christians welcome the Bible exhibit, with some calling it propaganda by the communist Chinese government and others pointing out that there are unregistered “underground” churches because of lack of religious freedom.
Open Doors, the world’s oldest Christian persecution ministry, visited the exhibition on May 2 with more than ten staff members. Johnny Li, Open Doors USA spokesman for China mission, questioned the real degree of religious freedom in China.
Li pointed out that although there has been a growth quantity-wise in Bible printing, the real situation is unknown because there are discrepancies in official figures of how many Christians there are according to the government and the true number.
For instance, at the 2000 China Symposium organized by the Christian Leadership Exchange in Arcadia, the Rev. Deng Fu Cun, vice-chairman of the National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) of the Protestant Churches, reported that there were 13-14 million Christians in China. As the official growth rate stands at half a million per year, the official number of Christians in China today would be projected to around 16 millions.
"That’s where the question lies on when you look at all these ‘official’ figures," said Li.
"Now in China, there are just around 16 million Christians, but a total of 40 million Bibles were claimed to be printed. It means that the Bible is actually overwhelming in China!" Li explained. He added that the Bibles could be worn out or lost in some natural disasters, but it is still not enough to explain the surplus. In addition, he said the Amity Press continued printing around 5 million Bibles last year.
"Therefore, for the real situation in Church in China, we will leave it for the readers to ponder because it is almost impossible to find an answer for such question," Li stated. "No one will ever know the exact number of Christians in China and we cannot do door-to-door [censusing] just as what people in the U.S. do."
Overseas scholars and experts have estimated that there could be up to 60 million Christians in China, including members of house churches that are not recognized by the official church in China.
"All that we can do is raise questions and challenge,” Li said. “We cannot say to the church in China that there is a huge shortage of Bibles as there are actually 60 million Christians. We do not have a hard evidence for this figure."
In addition, Li calls attention to the existence of house churches. From another piece of figures released by the official Chinese church in the Exhibition, there are around 55,000 Christian churches and meeting places all over China right now. In Beijing alone, there are less than ten TSPM churches – according to Amity News Service - serving the 15 million population.
"Why are there house churches? Because truly there is a gap that needs to be filled," Li pointed out. He added that China has just around 3,000 ordained pastors to serve a population of 1.3 billion people, and it has a long way to go in order to spread out the Gospel.
"It is true that the official church has already done a lot and I am happy to see what they have done. But China is such a big country, is it possible that the [official] church can fill all the gaps in order to satisfy the need of Christians?"
Three key Christian right-activists – Yu Jie, Li Baiguang, and Wang Yi – representing the “underground” church were scheduled to meet with President Bush on Thursday at the White House to discuss freedom of belief in China. The three prominent Chinese Christian activists were key speakers at the Freedom in China Summit 2006 in Washington, D.C., on May 3 and discussed severe limitation of freedom of expression, religious freedom, and the rule of law in China.
Christian Post Correspondent Eunice Or in San Francisco contributed to this story.