“When a Government says, ‘you can’t sing that’, that’s a government in fear.” Dr. James White stated on the latest webcast of the Dividing Line. He was responding to the report that China has banned the singing of Handel’s “Messiah” outside places of worship. With the population of Christians growing at an astonishing rate, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may have reason to be. The Desire to crackdown on certain songs may very well be a indication that the state recognizes that it is on the brink of seismic social change.
From missionaries preaching the Gospel in the 7th century, to the persecutions under Mao Zedeng, China’s relationship with Christianity is a long one. Yet, what’s grabbing the attention of so many isn’t necessarily the past, but China’s future. In 2014, The Telegraph reported that “…by 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world.” Now, that number is expected to swell. As PJ Media reports in their piece:
“In 1980, there were approximately 10 million Christians there. In 2007, that number had climbed to 61.1 million. By 2030, they estimated, there will be 294.6 million Christians – nearly the entire population of the United States.”
The revelation that the officially atheist country is well on its way to becoming the largest Christian nation on earth has caused many state officials some degree of trepidation. The reason is that Christianity is thought to be a subversive religion. The issue for the government is the concern that Christianity could become an opposition political force which the West would manipulate to overthrow the communist government. In the words of President Xi Jinping, China must “…resolutely guard against overseas infiltration via religious means.”
In the past, that usually meant suppression of the Church. While Freedom of religion is explicitly written in the Chinese constitution, freedom of assembly is another issue. In fact, according to the Council of Foreign Relations,
“…2014 saw a spike in state repression against house and state-sanctioned churches alike, including a campaign to remove hundreds of rooftop crosses from churches. The government sentenced prominent Christian pastor Zhang Shaojie to twelve years in prison for ‘gathering crowds to disturb the public order.”
These days, those voices in favor of the CCP have said that the state is becoming more tolerant of Christian groups. However, the relationship between the dominant communist party and religion is a tenuous one. The CCP has tried to both discourage and even co-opt Christian groups in the form of the state-sanctioned “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association” and the “Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement“.
The government keeps close tabs on those state-sanctioned churches, even installing cameras in the sanctuaries and monitoring pastors to make sure that they do not preach anything that the CCP would find questionable. As one pastor related to The Telegraph,
“…State churches often shunned potentially subversive sections of the Bible. The Old Testament book in which the exiled Daniel refuses to obey orders to worship the king rather than his own God is seen as very dangerous.”
For those who are suspicious of the CCP, that has lead to an explosion of underground or, House Churches. It’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of China’s Christians attend a House Church. Christianity Today published a wonderful article that stated while individual House Churches are much smaller than the state-sanctioned churches and out of the sight of the police, many assume that the government knows about them. They are often harassed and sometimes shut down. Yet, the Christian community is steadfast. The Telegraph quoted a pastor saying:
“They do not trust the church, but they have to tolerate or accept it because the growth is there. The number of Christians is growing – they cannot fight it. They do not want the 70 million Christians to be their enemy.”
It’s of little wonder then, that the Chinese Communist Party is cracking down on Handel’s ‘Messiah’ as they look headlong into a future where there will be an estimated 294.6 million Christians starring back at them, declaring with the lyrics:
“The kingdom of this world;
The kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ
And He shall reign forever and ever…”