5 Adventist Today
Seventh-day Adventist Believers in China Today
Below are several recent photos reproduced here from official publications of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as indicated.
In short, there are 416,939 Adventist believers spread throughout 4571 congregations. But, technically, there is no Seventh-day Adventist Church. Protestantism in China is post-denominational. What does that mean?
Freedom to Believe
In the Constitution of China freedom of religious belief is a basic right enjoyed by all citizens. Although the “guarantee” and the “practice of organized religion” seemed out of synch with each other for many years, yet after the "opening up" of the 1980s, many freedoms were expanded. The government of China has various organizations to monitor, and to some extent control…but from an Adventist perspective our believers are free to practice the traditional beliefs of our church.
How To Relate To The Government
By December 2004, the world Seventh-day Adventist Church had developed a clear position on how it was going to relate to the government of China. Simply put, the Seventh-day Adventist Church respects the three-self principles espoused by the government. That meant that in the realm of religion the government wishes Chinese churches to be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-promulgating. By respecting these principles, the Chinese Union Mission has no authority over the Adventist churches in China.
Not In The Least Disorganized
In more recent years, Chinese Union Mission has coined the term, “unorganized territories” to refer to China because the church in China operates without any interference or control from the organized world church. But, “unorganized” does not mean “disorganized.” Far from it… The 4571 Adventist congregations are “congregational” meaning that they take care of their own local needs. This reflects the overall culture of China, which shies from organizing large coordinated groups.
Adventist Church President Ted N.C. Wilson (lower right) speaks to a capacity congregation at the Mu’en Seventh-day Adventist Church in Shanghai, China, on March 31, 2012. Wilson is leading a 10-day visit of church officials to the nation, which is home to over 400,000 Adventist believers. [photo: Owen J. Cox/Adventist News Network]
Over the years, some churches have been very evangelistic even to the extent of sending out their own missionaries and planting churches. These more active churches are identified as “mother churches” and they have many daughter churches under them. In reality, the mother churches loosely function in the same way as a conference/mission would function in the world institutional church. Currently there are 24 mother churches.
The Rise of Adventism
In 1949 or not long after, the official report from the China Division indicated about 26,000 Seventh-day Adventist Church members. But the numbers declined sharply as the “rice Christians” saw their churches and institutions being confiscated by the government. And this was not just a phenomenon among Adventists. All churches and religious groups saw their numbers dwindle to just handfuls. And then the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) further decimated the struggling groups.
But then, little groups of Adventists seemed to band together. Even as late as 1987 Chinese Union Missions was hearing about new groups of Adventists having been discovered. Those were hard times. But the numbers increased steadily.
Adventist Church President Ted Wilson greets members of the Beiguan Church, Shenyang during a tour of China in 2012. The church has grown from 20 members meeting in a home to a 3,000-member community of Adventist believers. [photo: Suk Hee Han/Adventist News Network]
The only explanation that truly explains this growth phenomenon is found in the Bible, Zechariah 4:6… “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” God had his hand in the growth and expansion of Adventism. Without help from the outside world, the numbers of Adventists have increased from 26,000 to more than 400,000 over a period of 60 years.
Apostolic Model, Yes or No?
Some have queried, “Is the current church model in China similar to the Apostolic Church of the first century?” Well, it is hard to determine what all the dynamics were back then.
But those involved with the current situation in China think that personal evangelism and small groups played and still play an important part in church growth. Smaller churches and the absence of institutionalism have also helped. Even the pressures involved with taking a stand for Jesus created hardier Christians.
External view of the Beiguan Church in Shenyang, 2009
[Photo: Adventist World]
But times are changing. China is far more open and tolerant of Christianity nowadays. In fact, one senses that the government appreciates the moral stand of Christians because they themselves have no moral foundations to build upon. A good Christian makes a good citizen. Yet, materialism and secularism are impacting how the church is growing. It seems like baptismal numbers are down and church attendance lags.
This is about as good a time as any to mention that Chinese Adventism has splintered into group rivalries. There are the Traditional Adventists, the Old Adventists, the Wilderness Adventists, the New Adventists, the New New Adventists, and an extreme group called The Light of Life. Chinese Union Mission deals with all groups except the latter one.
Pastor Hau Xajie of Beiguan Church in Shenyang, ca 2009
[Photo: Adventist World]
Some Practical Challenges
Without going into detail, some of the practical challenges Chinese Adventism is facing today would include, how to educate the thousands of people who lead Adventist congregations throughout China. Another challenge is church building. It is just impossible for CHUM to help out with the church building funding requests.
As with the world church, so with the church in China today… the lure of secularism and materialism has significantly lowered church attendance. Modern China is following the ways of the rest of the world.
One last practical challenge involves the iron grip that older leaders have upon leadership. Young people have difficulty to break into the top levels of church leadership. This is often discouraging.
Media Bright Spots
Voice of Hope (VOH) shortwave radio is heard more than 20 hours a day on a number of different frequencies throughout China. Chinese Hope TV (CHTV) can be viewed 24/7 by means of satellite broadcast throughout China. Also, the 24/7 live feed goes into the Internet and this is available throughout China and around the world. There are many different Internet websites and different styles of Internet evangelism. The youth of modern China are in tune with the media of our times and they are using it to spread the gospel.
China is definitely the unorganized territory. Even though the world church cannot be directly involved and has no authority in China, and even though the state of Chinese Adventism is very complicated, yet God leads on.
Adventist believers worship in Meilizhou Church in Hangzhou on a recent Sabbath in 2012. The church resulted from a partnership between a local church elder and property developer whose upscale resort lacked a church [photo: Suk Hee Han/Adventist News Network]
ANN ( 2012) Wilson, Denominational Leaders visit Adventist Believers in China. Adventist News Network: April 5, 2012. Retrieved 7/20/2012 from http://news.adventist.org/en/archive/articles/2012/04/05/wilson-denominational-leaders-visit-adventist-believers-in-china.
Ash, John (9 August 2008), What is Happening with Adventism in China?, Spectrum Magazine, Retrieved 8/12/2012 from http://spectrummagazine.org/print/860.
Knott, William & Jan Paulzen (2009) Finding Faith in China, Adventist World, August 1, 2009, page 16. Retrieved 5/10/2013 from http://www.adventistworld.org/issue.php?issue=2009-1008&page=16.
Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei & Chow, Christie Chui-Shan (2013) Christian Revival from Within: Seventh-day Adventism in China, in Lim, Francis Khek Gee (Editor), Christianity in Contemporary China: Socio-cultural perspectives, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group: New York, NY.
Andre Brink (2012) In China, Adventist Believers Display Spirit of Service, Sacrifice. Adventist News Network: April 13, 2012, Retrieved 7/20/2012 from http://news.adventist.org/en/archive/articles/2012/04/13/in-china-adventist-believers-display-spirit-of-service-sacrifice.
Last updated 5/13/2013