By Robert Menzies
Recently I spoke with a Chinese friend via Zoom. He noted that he is concerned because his oldest son will begin middle school next year. As a middle school student, his son will have to attend school from 7:00 am to 8:45 pm. The Chinese government has extended the school schedule, so now his son will eat lunch and dinner at the school, away from his family. This reminds me of the hardcore earlier years in China’s history (the 1970s-80s) when kids spent 6 or 6.5 days in school every week. This policy was slowly changed and became more relaxed over time. Now, however, the government is ramping up this old policy of demanding that children spend huge amounts of time in school. I believe this policy is an attempt by the government to take the place of the parents. Mao sought to do this in the 1950’s with the collectives that attempted to treat children as belonging to the “collective” rather than their biological parents. We are seeing some of this same kind of impulse in the U.S. these days with the government seeking to deny parents the right to have input in what is taught to their children in the public schools.
A few years ago a knowledgeable Chinese friend told me that many Chinese intellectuals are now drawn to Christianity. The key concept that attracts these intellectuals and which emerges in their writings is the biblical emphasis on the individual. In a unique way Christianity highlights the dignity and value of each individual. In a society that does not acknowledge a Divine Creator and dismisses the notion that human beings are created in the image of God, it is easy—even natural—to elevate the concerns of the collective or the party (in the name of “the people”) over the aspirations of the individual to the point that individuals are simply viewed as expendable cogs in a great machine. A particularly powerful illustration of this dehumanizing tendency in Mao’s China is close at hand. Mao toyed with the idea of designating peoples with numbers rather than names. Fortunately, this plan was never implemented, but the very notion reflects a loss of any sense of sacred dignity and meaning for human beings.
In this context, the Christian message of a God who creates individuals in his own image by giving them a unique capacity for relationship with him and one another, a God who endows these individuals with distinctive gifts and abilities, and who equips them so they can bring order and innovation to his creation, a God who loves each individual so much that he is willing to suffer and die for their well-being, this message is heard as truly “good news.” This gospel helps us understand what it means to be truly and fully human. Above all, we are created for relationship with God (surely, creation in the image of God includes the capacity for relationship with him, Genesis 1-3). When this divinely-created purpose is ignored and our capacity for relationship with God is not utilized, our humanity is diminished. A significant aspect of our humanity is lost. (This is, by the way, one reason worship is so meaningful and important).
Additionally, when this aspect of our humanity is lost, it becomes easy for us to views others as less than human. The converse, though, is also true. When we receive the gospel and are brought into right relationship with God through identification with Christ, we are enabled to recognize and affirm the humanity in others. This is exactly what Paul declares in Ephesians 2. “In Christ” God has created a new humanity. He has torn down the walls of hostility that in the natural divide (divisions of race, class, nationality) and united us together as “fellow citizens,” “members of God’s household,” and a “holy temple” (Eph. 2:11-22). We are not simply a cog in a massive machine; rather, we are individuals of infinite value, uniquely designed by our creator and endowed with extraordinary capacities and gifts—primary of which is the ability to know, love, and worship Him.
In China, this good news is truly light in the midst of the darkness. Please pray with us that the light will shine all the more brightly as the days grow dark. More specifically, please pray with us for the Christian families in China, especially the children, who increasingly face tremendous pressure and indoctrination in anti-Christian, Marxist ideology.