Religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter reports that earlier this year, multiple Three-Self churches in Qingdao city in the eastern province of Shandong received an order from the Religious Affairs Bureau prohibiting churchgoers from singing songs from the Worship Songs or Spiritual Song Collection. Instead, Christians were ordered to sing the Newly Compiled Hymns published by China’s Two National Christian Councils.
The director of a government-approved Three-Self church told Bitter Winter that the hymns in Worship Songs is mainly Bible chapters, while Spiritual Song Collection contains testimonies of experiences written by Christians.
But the Newly Compiled Hymns only feature themes about loving China, respecting the aged and parents, and celebrating birthdays and funerals.
“The hymns published by the government only promote political, secularized content. All believers are unwilling to sing them,” the director said, citing the chorus of one of the hymns as an example: “China is beautiful; China is great; the sons and daughters of China love China. … Bless China, O Lord.”
“Such hymns aren’t praising the Lord at all. They are entirely praising the country, and are no different from secular songs. Isn’t the government engaging in dishonesty and deceit?” the director said.
The censoring of Christian hymns has also been seen in other provinces and cities. In January, officials confiscated Canaan Hymns from some Three-Self churches in Chengde, Tangshan, and other cities in the northern province of Hebei.
Party members also prohibited the circulation and singing of Canaan Hymns and allowed only Christian hymns with Chinese characteristics.
Also in January, Christians in the central Henan Province complained that the government is forcefully turning churches into theaters, game rooms, and other types of entertainment venues.
Photos and clips circulated on the internet showed how pulpits across the country once meant to preach the Gospel have since been covered with Communist Party propaganda or turned into activity or entertainment centers.
“Traditional culture and drama shows have entered churches. Doesn’t that keep believers away from the Bible?” one Christian told Bitter Winter. “Churches have turned into theaters. The churches exist in name but no longer in reality.”
China’s growth in its Christian population — estimates suggest that the country is on track to have the largest Christian population in the world by 2030 — has been met with an ever-increasing rise in government-centered persecution. Watchdog group Open Doors USA ranked China No. 27 on its World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith.
Open Doors warned in its report that “the increased power of the government and the rule of President Xi Jinping continue to make open worship difficult in some parts of the country.”
Bob Fu, founder of ChinaAid, revealed back in September at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. that the Communist government plans to rewrite the Bible as part of the initiative to “Sincize” Christianity, or make it more compatible with the state ideology.
Part of the plan will see an effort to re-translate the Old Testament of the Bible, providing new commentary also to the New Testament, in order to reflect socialist ideals. Buddhist scripture and Confucian teachings will be used toward that purpose.
“There are outlines that the new Bible should not look westernized and [should look] Chinese and reflect Chinese ethics of Confucianism and socialism,” Fu told The Christian Post after the hearing.
“The Old Testament will be messed up. The New Testament will have new commentaries to interpret it.”
Additionally, the five-year plan advocates for “incorporating the Chinese elements into church worship services, hymns and songs, clergy attire, and the architectural style of church buildings,” Fu said.
“This includes ‘editing and publishing worship songs with Chinese characteristics and promoting the Sinicization of worship music,’ using uniquely Chinese art forms, such as Chinese painting, calligraphy, inscription, and paper-cutting to express the Christian faith,'” he said. “[It’s also] encouraging churches to blend in style with Chinese architecture to local architectural style.”