Introduction

IMG_2175_edit.jpg

To the outside observer, China can be an enigma.  It can be equally perplexing to understand the state of Christianity in China. Technically, under the Chinese constitution freedom of religion is guaranteed. However in practice, all religious organizations and groups of people must be approved by the government and are monitored and strictly regulated. The current reality allows Christians to practice Christianity in China as long as one attends an official government sponsored church.[1] This official Church is known as the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) for protestants, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association for Catholics.

The “three-selfs” of the TSPM - self-government, self-propagation, and self-support – were originally meant to promote autonomy from outside western influence [2]. While an immediate benefit of registering with the TSPM church is the ability to purchase a single Bible for the individual who lives near an official TSPM church, the limitations and restrictions can be significant in practicing ones faith. Conspicuous Cameras adorn the inside of TSPM churches to keep watch on pastors and congregations as they worship [2b]. Some TSPM Churches cannot evangelize, teach children (those under 18), or preach on certain Christian ideas, like Christ as King, the kingdom of God, or the second coming of Christ.  TSPM pastors are not permitted to preach outside the area designated for their activity, or in a location that is not designated as a church [2c].  There is also the added issue of registering with the government church, and allowing the government to have an influence on how one practices Christianity.  A majority of Chinese Christians live too far away from city centers to be able to get to a TSPM church and the TSPM churches are radically under-equipped for the number of people who do actually live near them. David Aikman, former Time magazine Beijing bureau chief comments; 

Privately, Three-self officials complain about the interference and restrictions imposed even on China’s “open” churches by SARA [State Administration of Religious Affairs, the head of the TSPM] officials. They decide how many pastors the Three-self can ordain in any six-month period, how many meetings Three-self pastors can hold in any one-month period, and who is permitted to teach and graduate from China’s seventeen official Protestant seminaries ... All SARA officials are Communist party members, and thus are not permitted to adhere to any religion. [2d]
— David Aikman, former Time magazine Beijing bureau chief

Consequently, the majority of Chinese Christians choose to not register with the TSPM and attend unregistered or "underground" house churches. In the first part of the 21st century, outside estimates have placed approximately 20%  of the total number of Chinese Christians as registered with the Chinese government and belonging to the TSPM.[3] 

The Three self patriotic movement and the house churches: a complex picture

The remaining ~80% of Christians in China belong to what is known as unregistered/house churches [4]. It is important to remember this 80/20 approximation of Chinese Christians belonging to house churches versus registered churches is an estimate and that the lines between these two movements is increasingly blurred and complex [5]. The state of the Church in China cannot be divided into a simple dichotomy anymore.  For example there are believers in city centers who may attend a TSPM church on the weekend and then congregate and meet with unregistered Christians during the week.  There are still vast networks of unregistered churches in China that have little or no connection to each other and are secretive about their activities out of necessity because of the governing authorities.  Other unregistered churches operate out in the open and may even partner with TSPM churches for training and evangelism.  Arrest and abuse of Christians still happens in one area of China while Christians in other regions face little resistance if their church stays small and off the radar.  The maxim, “everything you hear about China is true, somewhere in China,” continues to be accurate.

Despite the complex nature of what the current Chinese church looks like and the increasing blurred lines between registered churches and unregistered churches, there are three realities that still hold true in the second decade of the 21st century:

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of light." John 8:12

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of light." John 8:12

  • The number of new believers continue to grow at an astounding rate [6].  The number of new Christian baptisms continues to be reported in the range of 4 to 8 million a year (which breaks down to between 11,000 to 22,000 a day [7]).
  • The majority of Christians still worship in unregistered churches.
  • There is still a great need for Bibles in China in the order of tens of millions.

How Many Chinese Christians?

The Chinese house church movement is thriving in 21st century China.  Yet much confusion and misinformation exists on unregistered Christians and the need for Bibles in China.   On one hand, the unregistered church's very existence is denied by some.  The official state church in China - the TSPM - state that there are only 23 million Christians in China [8]. Clearly this isn’t accurate, and many officials would privately acknowledge this fact [9].  In 1998, leaders of the major house churches in China put together what became known as the United Appeal. Among the many things covered in this historical document was the internal assessment that there were 80 million house church Christians [9a]. That was in 1998. While current statistics vary, inside and outside estimates place the actual number of Chinese Christians at anywhere between 80 – 160 million [10] [11] [12] [13]. Yeng Fenggang, Professor of sociology and the director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, suggests the Chinese Christian church has grown at a rate of 10% annually since 1980 [14]. If these current trends continue, Fenggang suggests that there will be 250 million Christians in China by 2030, making China the largest Christian nation in the world [15]. The important takeaway here is that the number of Christians in China is far larger than what Chinese official estimate.

The Great Need for Bibles in China

Like trying to quantify the current complex dichotomy between the registered and unregistered Chinese churches, quantifying the need for Bibles in China is more complicated than it was at the end of the 20th century.  The largest Bible publisher in the world – Amity – resides in Nanjing, China.  That may surprise some people to know that most Bibles in the west are actually printed in China.  Since 1987 when the factory in Nanjing opened Amity has: 

  • Printed over 125 million Bibles.
  • Printed 59.3 million Bibles in 90 different languages for export to 70 different countries around the world.
  • 65.7 million Bibles have been printed for domestic Chinese Christians. [16] 

These are real, full, Bibles which have been printed in China.  This is an incredible amount – To God be the glory for this!  We are grateful that so many Bibles are able to be printed in China and stay in China for Chinese Christians.  With these numbers, it is important to keep a couple of important things in mind:

  • Almost all of the Bibles printed in China for Christians in China are still only made available through TSPM bookstores and churches.
  • Some of these Bibles do make their way to rural Christians who are not a part of the TSPM church. For more explanation on this, see our FAQ below.  The Bibles which make it to rural Christians through the TSPM are a drop in the bucket to meeting the great need, and single Bibles are only available. 
  • Even the big International Bible societies – the majority of whom only partner with Amity Press in funding Bible printing - admit the need far outweighs the supplies. [17]

As stated earlier, the number of Christians acknowledged by China is vastly underestimated.  Consequently the estimated number of Bibles needed is also highly underestimated.  Were we to use the number provided by Amity press - 65.7 million Bibles printed in China since 1987 by Amity and distributed by through TSPM bookstores - there would still be a 30 million Bible shortfall for the current conservative (non-government) estimate of 90 million Christians in China. [18] The location where the majority of Bibles are still needed in China is in rural, developing areas - the places most western tourist never visit.  The majority of Chinese citizens still live in the countryside and have little money to spare beyond the simple necessities.  The World Bank notes that, China remains a developing country [19] ranking China’s per capita income only 79th in comparison to other countries, with nearly 100 million living below the poverty line [20].  This means the believers from these areas do not posses the funds to travel to a large city and purchase a Bible from a three-self church, even if that were even an option. Imagine you and everyone you know lives in Los Angeles, doesn't own a vehicle, and makes just a few dollars a day.   You hear that you might be able to get a Bible if you can travel to Chicago or Denver, but could only get a Bible for you and not multiple copies for your friends or family.  How easy would it be to travel that far by public transportation or on foot to get a Bible that may not even be there once you arrive? While it can be easy to get distracted in debating and pouring over the numbers mentioned above, the important takeaways are two-fold:

  • Christians in China are asking Biblia Global and its partners for Bibles; the total number of active requests totals in the hundreds of thousands. These are requests which cannot be met in any other way (i.e Amity, TSPM).  If we had the financial resources to meet this need and deliver on the requests within two years, we could easily triple or quadruple this number of Christians placed on the waiting list.  It is no stretch to say the need for Bibles by Chinese Christians Biblia Global could reach numbers into the millions.
  • Yet Christians are not the only ones who need Bibles.  There are approximately 1.372 Billion people in China. [21]  How many Bibles are needed in China?  1.372 Billion!  China still needs Bibles.

There is no need to downplay the roll that Amity and International Bible Societies play in supplying the three-self church with Bibles through the TSPM because the need is so great.  There is a need for ministries working through both Amity/TSPM and non-registered methods like Biblia Global. Nearly all the International Bible Societies solely work through the TSPM and Amity however, leaving a large segment of the Chinese Christian population starving for God’s Word and a need for funding for non-registered methods. 

One of Biblia Global’s missions is to educate the western Church on the great unmet need for Bibles in China and the deep need of funding for Bible printing for unregistered Christians.  Biblia Global is one of the few organizations remaining who still work through non-Amity methods.  It makes the urgency of our work all the more important because so many believers are waiting.  Would you prayerfully consider a onetime or reoccurring gift to support Bible printing for Chinese Christians? Continue reading below for answers to frequently asked questions about our Bibles for China program.

Each Bible can be printed and delivered for between $1.80 - $2.75. On average, $22 will pay for the printing and delivery of 10 Chinese Bibles, $227 will pay for the printing and delivery of 100 Chinese Bibles!


FAQ: Bibles for China

Q: Are digital or audio versions of the Bible a solution to the need?

A: Living in the 21st century has brought about phenomenal advancements and access to Biblical resources and tools through technology - if you have access to it.  There were an estimated 564 million internet users in China in 2012 [22] - that translates to only 42% of the 1.372 Billion people living in China [23] - while the remaining 58% don't have access to the internet.  Freedom House additionally notes that, “the gap between [internet] penetration rates in urban and rural rates has widened since 2007. The 72.2 percent of residents online in the capitol, Beijing, vastly outnumber the 28.5 percent with internet access in the least-connected province of Jianhxi in the southeast.”[24]  Simply put, the majority of Chinese citizens do not have access to the internet or computers to utilize digital Bible technology. 

For the percentage of the population that does have internet access, Chinese internet users must deal with what is considered one of the world’s most restrictive internet environments in the world, with only Cuba and Iran being labeled as more restricted by Freedom House’s 2013 Freedom on the net report [25].  For example, in 2009 one province in north west China had its entire communication system shut down with the internet blacked out for an unprecedented 10 months following ethnic protests and violence [26].  This is not to say Chinese Christians cannot get a Bible online - just that there are restrictions for different people groups and for all Chinese accessing the internet. Additionally, digital devices and computers are cost prohibitive and therefore beyond the reach of many rural Chinese, where the need for Bibles is the greatest.  Print media, therefore, remains the best and most cost effective means to deliver the Word of God to the most people in China.  China has a literary rate of 99% [27] - among the highest in the world.  By way of comparison, India and Afghanistan, two bordering countries of China, have a literacy rate of 61% [28] and 28% [29] respectively. Many Christian ministries have embraced technology and getting Bibles to Christians through technological means (cell phones, audio players, DVDs, computer, internet, memory cards) and this can be a wonderful option.  Yet this leaves a widening funding gap for us to meet the need with printed material where that is the best or only option, while other ministries are focusing on technology.  

Finally, even if the entire planet had the ability to utilize technology to read the Word of God and get theological material, we believe many, if not most Christians, would still desire to have their own printed copy of the Bible to study, but can't get it any other way. Technology can only go so far as a primary Biblical study tool. Biblia Global seeks to fill the need we believe will always exist; the need for a physical copy of the Word of God for each Christian. 


Q: What about other Christian organizations that work to get Bibles into China?

A:  There are many organizations in the west who do marvelous work to get Bibles into China.  Yet to get Bibles into China, nearly all of these organizations only print Bibles through the official state run printing press, Amity Printing Company in Nanjing.  These organizations may deliver some of the Amity Bibles to rural Christians through the TSPM.  Reports are that some of these rural Christians do not have to join the three-self church to get a Bible, however each Christian can only receive one Bible and not multiple Bibles for other Christians or caseloads for their churches.   We praise God for each and every Bible which gets printed and delivered to Chinese Christians through these ministries!  However, the reality is a large part of the church in China simply does not reside close to a three-self church nor has the chance to go to one of the few distribution points. Imagine you live in Los Angeles, don't own a vehicle, and make just a few dollars a day.  You hear that you might be able to get a Bible if you can travel to Chicago or Denver.  How easy would it be to travel that far by public transportation or on foot to get a Bible that may not even be there once you arrive? And you can't get a whole box full for your friends and family. Getting Bibles through this method is simply a drop in the bucket to meet the need.  We desire the Amity method to continue and increase.  Yet we also believe the need is so great that every method must be maximized.  We believe the non-amity method (the method Biblia Global uses) is the most efficient and effective, yet it is also vastly underfunded because all of the large Bible organizations only use the Amity method. 

Biblia Global is committed to getting a Bible into the hands of each and every Chinese Christian who asks for one through our network of contacts and partners.  This means we don’t work through the single state approved Amity Press as this would mean tens of millions of Christians falling through the cracks in getting a Bible.  Instead we work through local pastors and church leaders who identify the need and the individuals waiting for a Bible and we work to get these contacts the caseloads of Bibles they need, not just single Bibles, into the vast rural areas. Currently, the backlog of Bible requests to Biblia Global and its partners is in the hundreds of thousands and could easily triple or quadruple if the funds were available to print the Bibles and deliver them in less than two years.  Unfortunately, many Christians on our waiting list will go years before receiving a Bible, and there may be some who die waiting.

Biblia Global is one of the very few organizations committed to getting Bibles to every Chinese Christian who requests one, regardless of their three-self church affiliation (registered or unregistered).  Are you curious if the organization you give to only goes through Amity press and the three-self church?  Ask them this question and then consider the millions of Christians who are being forgotten in China and falling through the cracks by the majority of western organizations.


Q: What about official Bible printing in China? 

IMG_1558_edit.jpg

A: Amity Printing Company in Nanjing has printed over 125 million Bibles. 59.3 million of those Bibles are in 90 different languages for export to 70 different countries around the world.  65.7 million of those Bibles have been printed for domestic Chinese Christians [30].  What does this mean?  Many English Bibles in the west are printed by Amity in Nanjing, China.  Look at your Bible at home and note where it was printed.  Go to a book store and look at the Bibles to see where they are printed.  Most likely, it will say China. We praise God for each and every Bible which has been printed in China and we also praise God for the ones which stay there for Chinese Christians! This number still falls far short of the total number of Christians in China when unregistered Christians are taken into account.  If we were to take a middle of the road number regarding the number of Christians in China (100 million), the 65.7 million number meets only some of the need.  There would still be a deficit of 34.7 million! Additionally, the need for Bibles for Chinese Christians does not take into account wear and tear on existing Bibles already printed (i.e a Bible printed by Amity in 1986, read daily by two people, would not last 24 years intact). Nor does it take into account the incredible daily growth in the Chinese church.  Yeng Fenggang, Professor of sociology and the director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University estimates that the Christian church in China has grown at a rate of 10% every year since 1980 [31]. At that rate of growth, Fenggang predicts the Christian population in China would reach 230 million by 2030 [32]. There is presently a great need for Bibles in China, but the need is only increasing.

It is easy to get distracted in arguing over the numbers mentioned above. The important take away at the end of the day is two-fold:

1. Christians in China are begging for Bibles. The total number of requests to Biblia Global and our partners totals in the hundreds of thousands.  If we had the resources to meet this need and deliver the Bibles within two years, we could easily triple or quadruple the number of Christians on the waiting list. It is no stretch to say the need for Bibles by Chinese Christians Biblia Global and it's partners are in contact with numbers in the millions.

2. Yet Christians are not the only ones who need Bibles.  There are approximately 1.372 Billion people in China.[33]  How many Bibles are needed in China?  1.372 Billion! 

If someone in your church or immediate family asked you for a Bible, what would you do? You would probably run out to the store or go to an online retailer to purchase them one - immediately!  These brothers and sisters are begging for Bibles. How can we do any less? Biblia Global exists to provide a way for Christians in the west to give generously towards meeting the need of those in our Christian family who are asking for a Bible.


Q:  What obstacles does Biblia Global face in getting Bibles into China?

A: First and foremost the Adversary and demonic forces will do anything to keep God’s Word from reaching his children.

Please pray for our ministry and for those working to get Bibles to Chinese Christians.  Pray for protection and for funding of Chinese Bible printing.

For us as a ministry, funding for Bible printing is a very large obstacle.  We are only able to print Bibles to meet a fraction of the need. Each Bible can be printed and delivered for between $1.80 - $2.75. On average, $22 will pay for the printing and delivery of 10 Chinese Bibles, $220 will pay for the printing and delivery of 100 Chinese Bibles!

A surprising challenge for us is misinformation regarding the need for Bibles in China among western churches, Christian leaders, and organization.  Because the actual need for Bibles and the number of unregistered Christians is either significantly under reported or outright denied, many well meaning Christians, missionaries, and pastors report that there is no need for Bibles in China or there is little to no religious persecution.  An important consideration when receiving information from these sources is to remember that what may be true in one region of China, is not necessarily true in another region. The places that need Bibles the most are the places westerns don't go. Even what is true in the capitol city of one region, may be different 50 miles away in the countryside of the same region. One American missionary returning home on furlough from a certain province may report that Bibles are not needed in all of China.  This information then gets spread around that Bibles are not needed in all of China.  The truth is that Bibles may not be needed in a certain location, and more than likely the assertion that Bibles are not needed is not accurate even for that province.  China is just too big to make sweeping generalizations.  China still needs Bibles and Biblia Global's vision is to see that need met.

Please share our ministry and this information page with those you know with the links on the left!


Notes:

[1] Jamil Anderlini, “The Rise of Christianity in China,” Financial Times, ft.com [home page on-line]; available from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/a6d2a690-6545-11e4-91b1-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3IOsvOS7W ; accessed January 8, 2015.

[2] The Empty Cross: The False Doctrine of China’s Official Church, (Bartlesville, OK; Voice of the Martyrs, 2008),  2.

[2b] Anderlini, "The Rise of Christianity in China"

[2c] David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing, (Washington, DC; Regnery Publishing, 2006), 163.

[2d] Ibid, 176

[3] Ruth Moon, “Should the China Ambassador Worship at a House Church?” ChristianityToday.com [home page on-line]; available from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/underdiscussion-jun11.html; accessed 22 February 2012.

[4] The Empty Cross, Ibid.

[5] "Religion in China: Cracks in the Atheist Edifice" The Economisteconomist.com [home page online]; available from http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21629218-rapid-spread-christianity-forcing-official-rethink-religion-cracks ; accessed 7 December 2014.

[6] Ibid.

[7] The Empty Cross, Ibid, 6

[8] Financial Times, Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[9a] Aiken, Jesus in Beijing, 91, 312.

[10] Lauren Green, “Christianity in China,” foxnews.com [home page on-line]; available from http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/01/20/christianity-china/; accessed 22 February 2012.

[11] Todd Nettleton, Jonathan Brooks, and Gary Russell, “God’s Word for Each Person – Worldwide; Should Christians Continue to Smuggle Bibles into China?” Christianity.com [home page on-line]; available from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/august/23.46.html?paging=off ; accessed 22 December 2012.

[12] The Economist, Ibid.

[13] Financial Times, Ibid.

[14] The Economist, Ibid.

[15] The Economist, Ibid.

[16] Jamil Anderlini, “China Bible Publisher Prints 125 Million Copy,” Financial Times, ft.com [home page on-line]; available from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/e1195c78-6599-11e4-a454-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=intl#axzz3Nu98Ti8j ; accessed January 8, 2015.

[17] Christianity Today, "Demand for Bible Outstripping Supply in China," Christianity Today, christianitytoday.com [home page online]; available from  http://www.christiantoday.com/article/demand.for.bible.outstripping.supply.in.china/25338.htm; accessed 15 February 2014.

[18] Ibid.

[19] World Bank, Country Overview, China, worldbank.org [home page on-line]; available from http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/china/overview ; accessed 07 January 2016.

[20] Ibid.

[21] 2015 World Population Data Sheet, (Washington, DC, Population Reference Bureau, 2016), 2; available from http://www.prb.org/pdf15/2015-world-population-data-sheet_eng.pdf ; accessed 01 January 2016.

[22] Sanja Kelly, Mai Truong, Madeline Earp ed. et al. Freedom on The Net 2013: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media, (New York; Freedom House, 2013), 182.

[23] Ibid, 181.

[24] Ibid, 183.

[25] Ibid, 18.

[26] Ibid, 190.

[27] Central Intelligence Agency, CIA World Fact Book, China, CIA.gov [home page on-line]; available from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html; accessed 22 December 2012.

[28] Central Intelligence Agency, CIA World Fact Book, India, CIA.gov [home page on-line]; available from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html; accessed 29 February 2012.

[29] Rob McIlvaine, Rising literacy in Afghanistan ensures transition, Army.mil [home page on-line]; available from http://www.army.mil/article/59541/Rising_literacy_in_Afghanistan_ensures_transition/ ; accessed 16 March 2012.

[30] Jamil Anderlini, “China Bible Publisher Prints 125 Million Copy,” Financial Times, ft.com [home page on-line]; available from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/e1195c78-6599-11e4-a454-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=intl#axzz3Nu98Ti8j ; accessedJanuary 8, 2015.

[31] "Religion in China: Cracks in the Atheist Edifice" economist.com [home page online]; available from http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21629218-rapid-spread-christianity-forcing-official-rethink-religion-cracks ; accessed 7 December 2014.

[32] Ibid.

[33] 2015 World Population Data Sheet, (Washington, DC, Population Reference Bureau, 2016), 2; available from http://www.prb.org/pdf15/2015-world-population-data-sheet_eng.pdf ; accessed 01 January 2016.


God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
— Hebrews 6:18-20, NIV 2011