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This year marks an important anniversary for Chinese Christians: It is the centennial of the publication of the Chinese Union Version (CUV) Bible, the most commonly used Bible translation in the Chinese world. Walk into nearly any Chinese church on a Sunday morning, and you’ll likely see members reciting verses from the CUV and see black CUV Bibles tucked into the backs of pews.
Chinese Bible translation has been ongoing since the Tang dynasty in the seventh century, when the Nestorians began evangelizing to the Chinese. Joshua Marshman and Johannes Lassar, missionaries in India, published the first completed Protestant Bible translation in Chinese in 1822. A year later, British missionaries Robert Morrison and William Milne published their own translation of the Bible. While early translations of the Bible were written in classical Chinese that only scholars could read, subsequent versions were written for a larger audience: The 1878 Peking Committee Bible was the first Bible written in vernacular Chinese.
In 1890, missionaries of different denominations in China gathered in Shanghai and decided to create a new Bible translation. The version was translated from the English Revised Version and cross-checked with the original Greek and Hebrew. It took 16 years to translate the New Testament and another 13 for the Old Testament. In 1919, two versions of this translation—the Chinese Union Version—were published, one in classical Chinese and one in vernacular Chinese.
Even though the CUV’s language is considered outdated today, and many new Bible translations exist, the CUV remains the most popular translation. Pastors read from it in sermons, and congregations often recite CUV passages aloud, so it’s difficult to switch to another translation.
Grace Chou, a 55-year-old ministry leader in Taiwan, said that when younger people are interested in Christianity, she encourages them to read modern translations of the Bible. But once they start attending church, she’ll refer them to the CUV so they can follow along and understand commonly used Christian phrases.
“The language of the CUV Bible is what I grew up with,” Chou said. “Even though I realize there are areas that could be improved, I still stick with the CUV because it’s most helpful to my meditation and study.”
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When Pastor Zach Keele stood in the pulpit on the Sunday morning after Easter, his opening words spoke of death rather than resurrection. “This is an evil day,” he told the congregation. “A child of our church has gone forth and committed a horrible, wicked act.”
That member of Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) is 19-year-old John Earnest, who is also the son of an elder in the congregation.
On Saturday morning, April 27, Earnest burst into a synagogue in nearby Poway, Calif., and opened fire. He wounded a rabbi and two other worshippers. He killed Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, a wife, mother, and beloved member of the local Jewish community.
In the manifesto he apparently posted online before his rampage and arrest, the shooter proclaimed extreme hatred of Jews, and he embraced white nationalism. He said he was inspired by the March attack on Muslims in New Zealand that killed 50 people.
He also professed belief in Christian doctrines of salvation—a confounding and painful claim for evangelicals who know that racist views and violent actions are utterly incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Back at Escondido OPC, the pastor read from Ecclesiastes 7, including, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.” At some point, Earnest rejected the wisdom of the Bible and embraced the song of fools.
But where did he hear such an evil song?
In his manifesto, he said he didn’t learn it from his family. His family released a statement saying, “How our son was attracted to such darkness is a terrifying mystery to us.” His local church leaders said the congregation deplores and resists “all forms of anti-Semitism and racism” and was “wounded to the core” by Earnest’s actions.
And the OPC, a 30,000-member denomination formed in the 1930s in response to liberalism in the mainline Presbyterian church, posted its own repudiation of the shooter’s racism and violence as being anti-Christian and having no place in the church.
One religion writer wondered if a form of “weaponized Calvinism” had motivated Earnest. It’s certainly possible the shooter twisted Reformed doctrines for evil ends. Carl Trueman, a professor at Grove City College and an ordained minister in the OPC, noted, “Any belief system can be picked up by a wicked person and used wickedly.”
Still, law enforcement and others will be exploring the “terrifying mystery” of what motivated the attack. Before the shooting, it appears Earnest posted his manifesto on a web forum known for harboring racist and extreme content. The document said he had “been lurking” there for a year and a half.
In a separate case last year, the shooter who murdered 11 people at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh had frequented an online platform known to draw white nationalists and other extremists.
It’s one of multiple platforms in a sinister and complex web of extremist sites and forums pumping out hate ideology, white nationalism, racism, and alt-right conspiracy theories—and creating its own culture that can especially lure young and older white men to its perverse causes.
Churches, parents, and pastors should watch, warn, and preach against any hint of racism or extremism among their members, whether in person or online. If such notions surface, church leaders should repudiate them as antithetical to the Bible’s teaching and the gospel of Christ.
Just as pornography can infiltrate any device in any home, the church should know that a world of racist and radicalizing content is also crouching at the door.
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At a breakfast gathering in St. Louis on the first morning of a special meeting of the United Methodist Church (UMC) in February, Jerry Kulah set the table for the events of the next few days.
The UMC delegate had traveled all the way from Liberia to participate in the international meeting that would decide whether Methodists insist their clergy uphold Biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality or allow churches to decide for themselves.
Kulah put it simply: African Methodists are “grounded in God’s Word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. … We would warmly welcome you as our traveling companions, but if you choose another road, we Africans cannot go with you.”
This wasn’t an idle threat. While the 12-million-member denomination has lost nearly 100,000 members annually in America, it has gained more than 100,000 each year in Africa. (The UMC has nearly 7 million members in the United States and 5.6 million members in Africa, Asia, and Europe.)
Africans constituted a third of the 864 delegates gathered for the UMC’s General Conference.
In the end, 53 percent of the UMC delegates voted to uphold the church’s formal teaching on sexuality, and it strengthened penalties for church leaders that perform same-sex marriages or ordain actively gay clergy.
But the process was contentious.
During the debate, UMC Pastor Tom Berlin likened the traditional plan to “putting a virus into the American church that will make it very sick.” He asked delegates who favored upholding traditional teaching to abstain from voting, and he noted how Africans had stopped the spread of Ebola by washing their hands: “I’m asking you to wash your hands of this traditional plan today, because it will bring that illness into our house.”
If it was alarming for conservatives to hear Biblical fidelity labeled “a virus,” delegate Chris Ritter from Illinois was also aghast to hear such language directed in part toward African pastors who had risked their lives to minister the gospel to fellow Liberians during the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.
When another American pastor encouraged all the delegates in favor of letting churches decide their own doctrine to stand, Ritter said he had “never been so proud” to stay seated with his African friends.
Ritter wrote on his People Need Jesus blog: “First World temper tantrums about the sexual expression of financially kept clergy ran into the patient ferment of God-fearing servants who know what it means to suffer for Christ.”
Though the meeting was contentious, the General Conference passed a measure to allow churches to leave the UMC with their church buildings and property intact. That decision stands in stark contrast with the policies of bodies like the Episcopal Church USA that have waged years of litigation against local congregations trying to retain their property after leaving their denomination over issues of Biblical fidelity.
The policy details may have to be reviewed by the UMC’s judicial council—or perhaps at the next global conference in 2020—but Mark Tooley, a member of the UMC and the head of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said he hadn’t heard any fellow conservatives express a desire to take property away from congregations that decide to leave.
For now, it’s unclear how many might go. In the days after the conference, Adam Hamilton, pastor of the largest UMC congregation in the United States, suggested those dissatisfied with the vote might pursue other avenues for trying to stay in the UMC. He called starting a new denomination a last resort.
Some church leaders may continue violating church teaching and force the UMC to discipline them. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli is pastor of Foundry UMC, a high-profile Washington, D.C., congregation that has hired gay clergy and performed same-sex weddings. She told The New York Times: “We’re not going anywhere. If someone wants to come for me, for us, then bring it.”
A protracted fight could lead weary conservative churches to leave, but Tooley says he’s hopeful they’ll stay and work to strengthen the denomination: “If the church becomes more orthodox … then we have the possibility to grow again.”