A recent article at WORLD Magazine reported how the Chinese-language app called "WeDevote" recently surpassed 10 million downloads.
That number, as well as the overall success of "WeDevote," is even more remarkable given the back story, one that illustrates Beijing's ongoing war on the Bible.
"WeDevote" is a Bible-reading and devotional app known for its "aesthetically-pleasing" design and respect for copyright laws, a rarity in China. The month after its launch, China's biggest app store listed WeDevote as a "Recommended App" right on its homepage.
The Communist Party's crackdown on Christianity in recent years meant that both the app and its developers faced increasing government scrutiny. Eventually, they were given a choice: shut down the app or face jail time.
Well, a third option, transferring ownership of the app to a Hong Kong-based company, provided a temporary respite from the ultimatum, but the government has now banned "WeDevote" from Chinese app stores. Though the developers are actively seeking some kind of work-around, it's a struggle to get the app in the hands of users on the mainland.
The government's shut down of "WeDevote" is part of a disturbing trend. Last year, China banned online Bible sales. Of course, that doesn't mean Bibles are unavailable in China. Chinese publishers continue to print Chinese-language Bibles. Some are exported, of course, but plenty remain in China.
That's good news. The bad news is that soon, at least spiritually speaking, Chinese-language copies of the Bible may not be worth the paper they're printed on. According to the Guardian, the Communist Party has plans "for 'retranslating and annotating' the Bible," in order to "establish a 'correct understanding' of the text."
Is there any doubt this "correct understanding" will include reinforcing the primacy of the Communist Party? As one pastor told the Guardian, "The Chinese Communist party . . . wants to be the God of China and the Chinese people. But according to the Bible only God is God." The reality on the ground is that "The government is scared of the churches," and is cracking down on them.
Any attempt to control and re-write the Bible is a tacit admission by the Communist Party that it's failing to eradicate Christianity. It's way too late for that, of course. Depending on who you ask, there are between 60 and 100-plus million Christians in China.
Since they cannot eliminate Christianity, the Party's goal is to pervert it, creating a version of Christianity that doesn't threaten the Party's claim of ultimate authority. Anyone who believes that "only God is God" is a threat to the Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping.
Such repression also reflects that the Party is concerned about its rule. As many experts have pointed out, China's stability rests on an implicit bargain: The Party promises economic growth and broad-based prosperity in exchange for the Chinese people giving up the kinds of political freedoms taken for granted in the West.
With the Chinese economy slowing down, the demographic legacy of China's "one-child" policy, the pervasive corruption and the ever-widening chasm between urban "haves" and rural "have nots," it's not clear the Party will be able to hold up its end of the bargain. More and more the Party is looking like yet another would-be "god" that has failed its worshipers.
We know, given China's tumultuous history, the sort of bloodshed and chaos that comes from disappointed worshipers there. We also know, given the inherently religious nature of human beings, that such dissatisfaction will only catalyze the growth of the Church and the spread of the Gospel.
That means we should pray that God's Word will prosper in China . . . and that God will protect all those who preach it.