The Chinese state church’s call to worship song

During a recent Sunday lunch one of our kids mentioned, “Our Sunday school teacher told us we had to be quiet because we’re in God’s temple.”

chineseJesuschildrenWe told her the Sunday school teacher was wrong. (No hard feelings toward the teacher; you can’t expect volunteer Sunday school teachers to be theologians or exegetes, but temples and church buildings aren’t the same thing theologically or functionally.)

It’s not hard to guess why she would have said that: between the lyrics of the 3-Self Patriotic Church‘s opening song and Chinese Christians’ penchant for big church buildings with serious, stately services — our friend was turned away at the door of Qingdao’s flagship 3-Self church just last Sunday because she was wearing flip-flops and therefore “didn’t have a worshipful heart,” “wasn’t obedient to God,” and would “disturb other worshipers” — Chinese state churches send the “temple” message every week.

But if you’re going to spend Sunday mornings in a Chinese state church, this song, along with the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, are probably the most useful bits of Chinese to learn first.
tspm_choir
《主在圣殿中》 is the Chinese version of the 1872 hymn “The Lord is in His Holy Temple (Quam Dilecta)” by George F. Root (1820-1895) and based on Habakkuk 2:20. It’s sung by the choir as the call to worship (i.e. the “everyone quiet down we’re starting now” song). Usually the congregation just listens, but it’s musically interesting and you might want to sing along, doctrinal shortcomings notwithstanding. ;)

《主在圣殿中》
主在圣殿中 / zhǔ zài shèngdiàn zhōng
主在圣殿中 / zhǔ zài shèngdiàn zhōng
普天下的人 / pǔtiānxiàde rén
在主面前都应当肃静 / zài zhǔ miànqián dōu yīngdāng sùjìng
肃静 肃静 / sùjìng sùjìng
应当肃静 / yīngdāng sùjìng
阿们 / āmen

Original:
The Lord is in His holy temple,
the Lord is in His holy temple;
Let all the earth keep silence,
Let all the earth keep silence before Him.
Keep silence, keep silence before Him.
tspm_chinglish

Chinese state church Sunday school Lord’s Prayer (video)

The cute last few seconds of the 7-year-old-and-under Sunday school class at the Chinese state church we attend on Sunday mornings (the very end is the best part!):

(It’s a YouTube video, so you’ll need a VPN in China.)

Learn the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed in Chinese here.

Bible story Chinglish

My favourite Sunday school Chinglish ever: The Parable of the Prodigal Son like you’ve never experienced it before. From our friend Lindy in Tianjin.

Bible Chinglish
“He…lived a wild life wasting his money on beers and women skittles and other skittles.”

The 2013 Grinch Award (is for your educational benefit) [Updated]

[UPDATE: For sober and informed analysis of Christianity in China, ChinaSource.org is the best single source I know of.]

Just because a Chinese Christian is in trouble doesn’t mean they’re in trouble just because they’re a Christian. Their Christianity may have something to do with it, or it may have almost nothing to do with. China being as it is, the “whys” are usually a little more complicated and a lot more pragmatic. This is not the Mao Era.

I haven’t gone searching for instances of Christmastime crackdowns this year. But this one did cross my news feed, and it’s a fine example for helping people see that “China cracks down on a church” stories are not necessarily a case of a communist atheocracy’s thought police persecuting ideological dissenters. I’m not saying that ideologically-driven persecution doesn’t ever happen in today’s China, just that for any given instance chances are far greater it’s:

  • [a] motivated by something more tangible than ideology (like money, land or face; they probably aren’t being harassed just because they’re Christians), and
  • [b] initiated by local, not the central, authorities.

In this one, it appears that greedy local authorities won’t give a local church the land that’s owed them (land grabs are hardly uncommon in China), so the church has lawyered up, and the local authorities are not taking that very well.

If we look at the details the picture that emerges isn’t so much one of snuffing out Christmas or Christianity; it’s about fighting/punishing a local organization who refuses to let the gov’t take its land without a fight.

Crackdown stymies China church’s Christmas meeting

The canceled meeting at the church in Henan province’s Nanle county came during a month-long crackdown on the church over a land dispute that pits its popular preacher against the county government […]

…their pastor, Zhang Shaojie, and more than a dozen of his aides have been detained by police for more than a month and denied access to their lawyers…

The case has drawn the scrutiny of rights lawyers and activists who say it exposes a county government’s ability to act with impunity against a local Christian church even if it is state-sanctioned. Supporters of the church say the county government reneged on an agreement to allocate it a piece of land for the construction of a new building, leaving them without a place of worship.

Now, it could be that this local government is on an illegal ideological witch hunt. It’s not like that hasn’t happened before in China. But, China being as it is, it’s much more likely that the local authorities see an opportunity to essentially steal land from a group whom they’ve calculated does not have the power to fight back and win. Land disputes in China are common as, well, dirt. Even we’ve known of legal, registered churches in land disputes with local authorities in both Chinese cities we’ve called home.

Anyway, point being that when you hear a Chinese church persecution story you must look at the details. These days Chinese Christians are relatively rarely persecuted for their beliefs themselves (generally speaking). More often it’s because of something related (or even unrelated): their church bucked the status quo, the government wants their land, they said something to foreign reporters that ticked off someone of consequence, they embarrassed the authorities by doing too much public charity, they caused trouble for the authorities by fighting injustice in the courts or media, there’s bad local history involving churches, the church leaders have bad/no guanxi, etc., etc. Some of those things are related to or a result of their Christianity, some aren’t. But either way, it’s much different from going after a group just because they call themselves Christians. In the above AP story, it’s apparently a legal, registered, “government-run” Three-Self Patriotic Church that’s in trouble.

Local officials don’t care what people believe; they care about money and about their careers — and if your group does something to mess with either of those two things (by not letting them rob you, or potentially making them look bad to their superiors), you risk retaliation.

Previous Grinch Awards:

***–> More on not thinking simplistically about Christianity in China: <--***

Sunday morning overflow at the Shanxi Lu Three-Self church in Tianjin, China

According to one of the greeter/usher/crowd-control guys (who just became my best friend for finding me a place — out of range of all the ā​yís and their unsolicited advice — where I could change a mid-Sunday school poopie diaper), the Shanxi Lu Three-Self church can hold almost 1600 in the pews. These pictures are from this morning, half-way through the early (8:30) service, outside the overflow room where people who couldn’t get seats inside the main split-level auditorium or who can’t climb stairs watch the proceedings on a video screen.

Looks like they ran out of stools.

People were even camped out around the corner listening through the side doors and windows of the overflow room:

I would have had better pictures, but these were all I was able to squeeze out of my dead camera batteries if I let them rest in between shots.

Shanxi Lu is the biggest of the four Three-Self churches in Tianjin. “Three-Self church” means a legal, registered Chinese church that is officially under the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement”, which is one of two Party organizations controlling all legal Protestant church activity in China (there are other organizations that control the Catholics). The term “three-self” is a missiological term from the 19th century referring to missionaries’ desires to have local churches be “self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating.”

ABC News’ “True Believers” feature has recent reportage on the legal, illegal-but-tolerated, and illegal-and-not-tolerated churches in China.