It is when Rev. Ezra Jin says there are about 3,000 underground Protestant church services being celebrated around the Chinese capital on this bright autumn Sunday, that you begin to get an idea of the leap of faith that is happening in this decidedly atheist country. Rev. Ezra is happily chatting in advance of his second service of the day at Beijing Zion Church, a grandiose name for the series of large and small conference rooms he presides over. They are located above a karaoke bar in an old-fashioned hotel deep in the Beijing suburbs. His is what is called a “house church.” It is not sanctioned by the Communist government, hence it is not legal. But as sometimes happens in China, it is tolerated – for the moment, anyway.
“For a long time, the government cracked down on house churches. But recently the situation changed,” he explained. “It has started to face up to the existence of house churches and make an effort to establish a formal relationship with them.” It’s not a perfect situation, he admits, but a vast improvement to what it was. “Ten years ago, house churches, like ours, wouldn’t dare to think they could have such a large space to develop,” he said. In recent years, “house” Protestants have been harassed, fined, beaten by police and even jailed for the temerity of shunning the officially sanctioned churches and starting their own.
[…]”After 1949 [when the Communist Party came to power], all the old beliefs were cracked apart,” he says. “Then there was the Cultural Revolution and the ideals of Communism fell apart, too. So, all Chinese people just looked to money then. But in fact money couldn’t satisfy their spiritual needs.”
The breakdown in the national value systems led to “a crisis in belief,” he said, a void that religion is increasingly filling for many people.
Rev. Ezra notes that ancient Taoism and Buddhism are also experiencing a revival in China at the moment, but that Christianity, particularly Protestantism, is expanding the fastest of all.
[…]But from a congregation of “a dozen people in 2007,” Rev. Ezra now boasts 600 parishioners, a Sunday school, a marriage counselling service and a regime to train disciples to help with the parish work.
He is both enthusiastic and optimistic about what the future holds.
“Abroad is in what we call the post-religious era. But it is just the opposite here in China,” he said. “When the ideals of Communism were spent after 30 years, religion started to rejuvenate. Today it is an explosion that will last another 20 to 30 years. Religion will incrementally affect all of Chinese society.”