RTE: How are the Protestant churches doing?

IOANNIS: Many contemporary Chinese people are not only converting to Protestantism because they believe in their creeds and spirituality, but also for reasons I cannot agree with. During the Cultural Revolution, almost everyone came to believe in communism so deeply that this belief led them in their daily lives. They were wrong but they had a principle, a faith, and now they have lost it. Many young people tend to worship everything western.

RTE: I imagine they are greatly influenced by the media and internet.

IOANNIS: Yes, and I use the word "worship" on purpose. Protestants were quick to see this, and many foreign missionaries have come to China to work clandestinely through the Chinese Protestant churches. People are converted by foreign pastors because they are so enamored of the West. In Shanghai alone, there are thirty or forty foreign clergymen from England, from America. They are not mainstream Protestants; they are pentecostal and evangelical, or even from sects that don't hold basic Christian doctrine. Officially they say, "We are businessmen, we are students," but actually they are doing mission work. (A few, like some Mormons, do run businesses as well.)

For example, they will invite young students to a McDonald's or a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant to eat, which is hard for students to afford, and then offer to teach them English. The content of their English teaching, however, will be their church's doctrine, and the level of instruction is usually very low. They also offer "business training," and say, "When you finish school we can help you get to America," but the goal, of course, is to have these students join their church and then send them back to convert more people.

It is as if, during the time of the apostles, I was a wealthy Roman nobleman who came to Galilee saying, "I'm here to teach you about the Roman gods and about our culture, which is higher and more prosperous than yours. If you follow me, we'll teach you Latin so you can get a better job, and I'll take you to our restaurant in Jerusalem to taste our Roman pork."

I cannot say they are doing something evil, but this is not the Christian way, it is not the apostolic spirit. We need to remember how the holy apostles taught. Materially, they had nothing, no political power, no money; nor did they represent the dominant world culture; their society had been conquered by pagan Rome. The apostles were not even part of the main branch of the Hebrews, but were a small community of Galileans who were often called heretics by the Pharisees. All they had to give was Jesus Christ.

RTE: And that was enough.

IOANNIS: Yes, and if I become a missionary priest I hope that people will be able to feel a genuine apostolic spirit from me. Again, I am not judging these Protestants, or saying that what they are doing is evil. I'm only saying that it is very difficult to find the image of the holy apostles in this.

RTE: I think that many western Protestants would agree with you.