The Bible in China… getting the truth out

5 06 2007

About a week ago I returned from 10 days of touring the church in China. What I witnessed was vastly different to what I expected. I saw…lining-up-for-church.jpglong lines of people waiting to get into one of the 5 services offered by a typical church on a Sunday morning. (see the image). I saw Bible distribution centers struggling to keep up with the demand; with one center distributing more than 400,000 Bibles last year (See image of a couple purchasing a Bible which costs around US$1. ) I toured church facilities that had been built or significantly upgraded with government assistance. In two cases, this amounted to 10’s of millions of $US.

bible-distribution.jpgI was in China as part of a Bible Society delegation. The Bible Society provides 1/3 of the total funding for the 3 million Bibles that are printed each year and continues to hold a stake in the Amity Printing Press in Nanjing, China that prints the Bibles. (See image of me holding a Chinese Bible hot off the Amity press.)

me-at-amity-press.jpgThe challenge for the church in China is printing and distributing enough Bibles to meet the growing demand. Huge numbers of people are becoming Christian, necessitating the need for many more Bibles. Which is why it was so exciting to see the site of the new Amity Press that comes into operation later in the year, and will increase the capacity from 3 million to 12 million Bibles per year.

With such rapid growth the other challenge is having enough pastors. As an example, around 65% of the churches in Shanghai don’t have a trained pastor.

And as I look across the church scene in much of the western world I see a decline in interest in the Bible and church attendance generally dropping; and I ask the question, ‘Why? ‘ What I don’t see is a desperation, a hunger for faith and growth in the church here. Many go to church or read the Bible out of obligation. Rambling along, content to pass the time.

And I am certainly not excluded from this. church-full.jpg

Behind this contentment is a fear of real change on our part. We keep the church and the Bible at arms length; as by exposing ourself we might have to make radical changes. Sell our comfortable chattel’s to aid the poor. Spend our precious time with someone suffering. Share our faith with someone at work.

Aversion to risk may well be the number one reason our churches aren’t regularly packed to the brim. The above photo of the church in China tells only part of the tale. The foyer, the stairwells, the windows, were all crowded with people, eager to hear the Good News. May our churches look this full and our hearts be as eager for the Bible as I witnessed in China. And perhaps the start of this is for us to take a risk from time to time.

Mark

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6 responses

5 06 2007
Justin Davey

Hey Mark:

Very interesting post! I disagree with one point though. I do believe that there is a desperation and hunger for faith in the West. I think one of the issues is that people don’t really know what they are desperate for. I’ve heard so many people say that they “feel like something is missing” in their lives. But they can never pinpoint it. It’s like an existential void, a need for a greater meaning and purpose. The hunger is there, but it will never be identified as a need for God unless Christians become more proficient at communicating the Gospel within western culture. I think comparing, for example, China with Canada is extremely difficult due to the differences in everything from culture, traditional beliefs, political influences, economy. Do you know what I mean? We have to look at each area separately when figuring out how best to spread the Good News. Somewhat akin to studying the psychographic and demographic characteristics of a neighborhood before establishing a business there. To communicate something to a person or group of people effectively, we must first understand everything about them. I think you’re on the right track with the Second Life church. That would be one way to relate the Gospel to the western mind. Anyways, talk to you later!

Justin Davey

7 06 2007
Clayton Fergie

Hi Mark

It’s great that you were able tour in China the way you did.

I was interested in your comment “Aversion to risk may well be the number one reason our churches aren’t regularly packed to the brim.” Could you unpack this a bit more?

I’d also be keen to hear further comment on whether (and if so how) this experience is challenging and/or shaping your understanding of and assumptions about the nature of mission – both in the context of the western and non western world.

And if you’re really feeling creative, how is it influencing your understanding of Bible Society’s current mandate?

I’m not asking for an essay – just a couple of thoughts (even if they’re risky)!

8 06 2007
Roger Yarhouse

Don Carson led a seminar on Recent Undermining of the Doctrine of Scripture. His first point was the Astonishing Rise in Biblical Illiteracy. He was asked if there were any studies that linked Biblical illiteracy with declining Church participation. He wasn’t aware of any but he reported that where the Church was
growing so was the demand for Bibles and he gave China as am example.

13 06 2007
g

Do they translate the bible from the original Hebrew/Greek directly into Chinese?

16 06 2007
Mark Brown

Thanks for your question g. I contacted the translation expert for China with your question and they responded:
..it is translated by those who know Greek and Hebrew and they do refer to the Greek and Hebrew texts extensively. Of course, they refer to other
Bible versions as well.
Usually, the translators will be assigned different books to translate, and then they will exchange drafts and review each other’s work. The agreed draft will then be reviewed by a group of reviewers. In the final stages, the translation consultant (boss of translation work) will check the draft. It is quite a long process to ensure the quality of the work.

16 06 2007
g

Wow, thanks Mark.

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