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Welby: Chinese Christians should witness to their faith, but respectfully

05 June 2015

CREATIVE COMMONS

Witness: St. Ignatius Cathedral, Shanghai, which Archbishop Welby visited during his time in China

Witness: St. Ignatius Cathedral, Shanghai, which Archbishop Welby visited during his time in China

CHRISTIANS in China should be prepared to witness to their faith regardless of opposition, but only with respect and gentleness, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

In a sermon delivered on Sunday at the Moore Memorial Church, also known as Muen Church, in Shanghai, Archbishop Welby preached from 1 Peter, reminding the congregation of the call to be ready to explain their faith to others.

"Peter was very clear that the heart of witness lay not in aggressive shouting at people, or any other form of manipulation or disruption, but in lives that were lived so clearly that people would ask why the Christian lived in such a way."

In a carefully worded message, Archbishop Welby encouraged the Church to speak out, and insisted that it should do so in a way that was moderate, and driven by good works, not just words.

Chinese Christians should "live faithfully to Christ" in a way that blessed their society, he said, but that was also obedient to their leaders. This way the Church could "live in peace, and to demonstrate to the world the reality of Jesus Christ".

He went on: "Are we each able to explain why we are Christians? If someone asks, do we know what to say? Practise with a Christian friend. Know what you need to say that is respectful, gracious, and answers only what someone asks."

A number of Churches are officially recognised by the Chinese authorities, but there continue to be tensions between many of the Christian movements and the state.

In one province, more than 400 churches have been demolished by the local government in what activists claim is a state-sanctioned campaign of oppression. Last year, 3000 Christians in Wenzhou formed a human shield in an attempt to prevent Communist Party officials from removing their church's cross or knocking down the building (News, 11 April 2014).

Archbishop Welby said that the New Testament word for "witness" and "martyr" were the same, and he reminded the congregation that, even today, in many places being a witness to Jesus meant death.

He also warned them against succumbing to the pressures of Chinese society. "One of the things that strikes me about China is how hard people work, and the pressure they are under," he said. "Ambition is good, but it can become an idol that pushes Christ from our lives."

Since the Cultural Revolution ended in China in the 1970s, the Church in China has grown significantly; some reports suggest that the country might even become the world's most "Christian" nation.

Accurately gauging the numbers of Christians in China is difficult, however, because numerous underground churches are not recognised, and many Christians are unwilling to disclose their faith.

One sociologist, Professor Fenggang Yang, from Purdue University in the United States, estimated that the Church grew about seven per cent a year from 1950 to 2010, when Pew Research Center suggested that it stood at about five per cent of the population, or about 68 million people.

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