Chinatown in NYC

Christianity in China

The Cross: Jesus in China

Review by

T
he Cross: Jesus in China is a 4-DVD set of documentaries exploring the church in China. Each disc examines a slightly different aspect of the church, covering personal testimonies of conversion, the ministries of several of the leaders of the Chinese house churches, the lives of laymen in the churches, and a collection of hymns that are widely used in the churches of China. (Disc 4, Songs of Canaan, has been reviewed by this author more extensively elsewhere and therefore will not be reviewed here.)

The first disc in this set, The Spring of Life, focuses mainly on interviews with Chinese believers. Their stories are all inspiring, speaking of the ways God saved them from lifestyles of alcohol, gambling, marital strife, or insecurity. Many of those interviewed express the desperation they felt before being converted, and the things they would turn to to help them deal with the messiness of life. In most cases, these struggling people had friends or relatives who were Christians, and were introduced to the Gospel through them. Several couples describe the ways in which God slowly turned their marriages around, teaching them patience, unconditional love, and forgiveness. As the narrator states,

Historically, the concept of repentance has never been part of Chinese belief system. It’s a completely revolutionary spiritual experience for Chinese people, when they discover that we are all sinners, have all fallen short of God’s glory. What a miraculous change for a Chinese man or woman to finally admit that they are sinners and need forgiveness and baptism from God.

Disc one also interviews those who are concerned with the intellectual and cultural implications of Christianity on China. The Chinese, having idolized material things, become confused when they find themselves longing for something deeper. For several people, simply entering a church brought them into the presence of God, and into a realization of their deep spiritual hunger. Interestingly, several stories are told of non-Christians who recognize the benefits that Christianity has for general morality. Some, however, view Christianity as simply a religion of the Western world, and consider those who have embraced it to be denying their Chinese heritage. One professor responded to such a statement this way: “Well, Christianity helps me solve questions of being human…which are above those of being Chinese.”

Disc two, The Seed of Blood, moves from general personal testimonies to the more lengthy and detailed stories of a few Chinese house-church leaders. The lives of Wang Mingdao, John Sung, Watchman Nee, Samuel Lamb, and Allen Yuan, among others, are recounted, and in some cases, these men are interviewed. Many of them were imprisoned after the formation of the Three-Self Church in 1949 for not agreeing to join this government-sanctioned movement. The house-church leaders resisted joining due to their belief that Christ is the head of the church, not the government, as well as due to some serious questions about the leaders of the Three-Self Church.

The disc goes on to tell of the imprisonments of these leaders. Some were held for up to twenty years, often with no Bible other than that which was stored in their memories. Some were forced to perform heavy labor, and others were tortured in hopes that they might give up information about their fellow Christians. A few even, upon release from prison, returned home to find close friends, relatives, or immediate family members dead or missing. Despite their trials before, during, and after their imprisonment, these church leaders did not give up their faith in God. Their stories are very moving and challenging, especially for believers who have never undergone persecution.

The third disc, The Bitter Cup, documents the experiences of those in the house churches from the end of the Cultural Revolution until the present time. Included are a number of first-hand stories on the role of the house churches in the lives of Chinese Christians in recent years. Several people share their first experiences with church. The testimonies on this disc are expressed more emotionally than those on the first disc, as people describe the beginning of their relationship with Jesus and the love that they began to understand and experience. These Christians also tell of the ways God is using them to spread the Gospel in their areas. (Unregistered “house” churches are technically illegal in China, though the government does go through periods of leniency in between times of intense persecution.) Despite these continued difficulties, Christians in China still trust in God and believe that He will bring them through, and that the Gospel will not cease to be spread.

Watching The Cross: Jesus in China is a good way to bring oneself to an understanding of the unregistered Chinese churches under pressure. Seeing the people who are giving testimony is compelling and helps the viewer remember a lot of what is expressed. While not a scholarly research work, this set of DVDs is an excellent resource, enabling those who cannot physically go to China to yet learn how better to pray for its growing church.

Sarah Cozart

Three observations may be added to this review: First, the obvious “charismatic” nature of much of the worship in contemporary Chinese house churches. Dennis Balcombe is credited by David Aikman and others for bringing this style of worship to previously more conservative congregations. The emotional tone of such services reflects both the response of faith to pressure and the devotion of Chinese believers, but it raises questions about the depth of Biblical instruction in such meetings.

Second, the preponderance of women in the congregations which are taped in worship corresponds with reports by others. The gender imbalance in the house churches has become a major concern to many, including Christian women who cannot find believers to marry. Further thought will have to be given to ways in which more men can be brought into the Chinese Christian church.

Finally, “The Cross” has proven to be extremely controversial. For one thing, some believe it – along with Aikman’s Jesus in Beijing – practically forced the hand of the government, which had been growing lenient towards unregistered churches. Reportedly, senior party leaders became alarmed at the rapid growth of unregistered churches. At the same time, they felt they had to do something to re-assert control.

Furthermore, by calling attention to the efforts of foreigners to spread Christianity in China, this DVD series and Jesus in Beijing – again – effectively dared the government to step in.

Finally, some say that a few people interviewed and filmed in “The Cross” did not know that their names and faces would be spread all over China. There have been charges that Yuan violated implicit, and perhaps even explicit, agreements to preserve confidentiality. These charges are hard to assess.

G. Wright Doyle