Born Again Movement

A Chinese Christian network renowned for its rapid growth and unique practices under Communist scrutiny.

The Born Again Movement, also known as B.A.M., Word of Life Church, or All Ranges Church, represents a significant Christian religious movement within China, established by Peter Xu Yongze in 1968 amidst the Cultural Revolution. This period was marked by the official closure of all churches by the Communist government under Chairman Mao. Emerging as a Henan-based house church network, the Born Again Movement has seen its membership possibly reach into the millions, distinguishing itself through practices and teachings that have, at times, drawn criticism and persecution from both the Chinese government and other Christian factions within China.

Origins and Development

The Born Again Movement’s foundation during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution was a response to the suppression of religious practices by the Communist regime. Its founder, Peter Xu Yongze, initiated this movement as a form of underground church, promoting a form of Christianity that emphasized a personal and transformative relationship with Jesus Christ, often symbolized by the act of weeping as evidence of repentance. This emphasis on emotional expression was seen as a hallmark of the movement’s early practices.

Persecution and International Attention

Xu Yongze and his movement faced significant opposition from the Chinese government, leading to Xu’s arrest in 1998 on charges related to leading a banned religious cult, disrupting public order, and spreading religious heresy. His teachings, particularly the expectation for new converts to weep for three days as a sign of forgiveness for their sins, were controversial and led to his comparison to figures such as David Koresh by the official Chinese news agency. Despite this, Xu’s influence and the movement’s growth persisted, with reports suggesting that spinoffs from B.A.M. could have as many as 20 million followers, nearly double the size of the registered church re-established in 1979​​.

Theological Controversies and Criticism

The Born Again Movement’s distinctive practices, especially the focus on weeping, have drawn criticism not only from the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (the official state-sanctioned Christian church in China) but also from other Chinese house church leaders. Critics like Samuel Lamb and Allen Yuan have labeled the theology behind the practice as a form of salvation through works, which they argue contradicts the doctrine of grace through faith in Jesus Christ​​.

Legal Challenges and Xu Yongze’s Imprisonment

Xu Yongze’s legal troubles culminated in his arrest and subsequent three-year imprisonment in a labor camp, where he endured harsh treatment, including torture during interrogation sessions. His release in 2000 was seen as a victory for international religious freedom advocacy, highlighting the ongoing challenges faced by religious movements under authoritarian regimes. Despite these challenges, Xu’s movement continues to have a significant impact, both within China and internationally, as it navigates the complexities of practicing faith under surveillance​​.

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