BEIJING (AFP) - China will construct a "Chinese Christian theology" suitable for the country, state media reported on Thursday, with both believer numbers and tensions with authorities on the rise.
China has between 23 million and 40 million Protestants, accounting for 1.7 to 2.9 percent of the total population, the state-run China Daily said, citing figures given at a seminar in Shanghai.
About 500,000 people are baptised as Protestants every year, it added.
"Over the past decades, the Protestant churches in China have developed very quickly with the implementation of the country's religious policy," the paper quoted Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, as saying.
"The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China's national condition and integrate with Chinese culture." China's ruling Communist Party is officially atheistic and keeps a tight grip on religion for fear it could challenge its grip on power. It requires believers to worship in places approved by the state and under government supervision.
Besides officially sanctioned churches, China also has "underground" or "house" churches which seek to exist outside government control and are occasionally raided and shut down.
In April, authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou - known as China's Jerusalem with more than a million Christians - demolished a church following government claims it was an illegal structure.
Though a registered church, state media reported that the building was far larger than originally approved.
"Over the past years, China's Protestantism has become one of the fastest growing universal churches," Gao Feng, president of the China Christian Council, was quoted as saying in the China Daily report.
It did not include a number for Catholics in China, who must also worship only in officially sanctioned churches which reject the Vatican's authority, though an "underground" church loyal to the Holy See also exists.
Experts estimate that there are as many as 12 million Catholics in China, split roughly evenly between the two churches.
As of the end of 2013, China had published 65 million copies of the Bible, the report said, including minority language editions.