by David Adeney
Evangelicals outside of China have to decide whether to accept Bishop Ting’s claims and relate only to the CCC, or whether they should listen to the voice of house church representatives who will not join the TSPM.
Bishop K. H. Ting, chairman of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and president of the China Christian Council, during his visit to Europe last fall emphasized the unity of the church in China. He wished the world to believe that the only church in China is the one that is represented by the China Christian Council and the TSPM. He admitted that there were some groups that did not accept the TSPM, but gave the impression that they were only a small minority of extremists.
Evangelicals outside of China have to decide whether to accept Bishop Ting’s claims and relate only to the CCC, or whether they should listen to the voice of house church representatives who will not join the TSPM. These Chinese Christians recognize that there are many true believers within the TSPM, but they urge Christians overseas to understand that large numbers of fellow believers in China are again facing persecution because they refused to register with the TSPM.
Within the TSPM there are several subgroups. First, there are the top leaders who formerly were leaders in the movement in the 1950s. Many formerly were YMCA workers. Some of them actively persecuted evangelicals during the first decade of the communist regime. For this reason many Christians are afraid to associate with them. Both the Three-Self Movement and the Chinese Christian Council have among their top leaders these very politically minded leaders of the past. Most of them were in the early days extremely liberal in their theology. This is one of the reasons why evangelicals in the 1950s did not associate with the movement. Today this liberal theology is kept very much in the background. The leaders have realized that the vast majority of believers in China are evangelical. One of them even joked, "If we preach in the churches, nobody will come to hear us." Thus they have asked pastors who are more evangelical to do the preaching in the churches.
A second subgroup consists of pastors who were active in the Three-Self Movement in the past. Some of them at one time betrayed other Christians, but they also passed through suffering during the Cultural Revolution and may indeed have been restored spiritually. Some of them are indeed true evangelicals. There are, however, those who are thinking more of maintaining a job through the church than of truly feeding the flock of God.
A third subgroup are people who have had contact with the house churches during the Cultural Revolution. Now that the open churches have appeared they feel that they can have the most influence if they will work through the Three-Self Movement. In this way it gives them the opportunity to minister to large numbers of people. They also believe that they can influence the policy of the church as a whole and maintain an evangelical witness within the church.
The pastoral team in each official church is very mixed. Some are primarily political appointees. Others are truly godly men and women. Some may have retained their particular denominational emphasis from the past, although officially there are no denominations in China today. Evangelical members of the team may have an effective ministry in preaching the gospel. The strongly political pastors often lack spiritual life and may not be respected by the believers, but they have a significant influence because they control the policy of the church and report to the government how the church is conforming to the official policy.
Those evangelicals who are now joining the TSPM would probably give the following reasons for their action: They recognize that the government will not tolerate any religious movement that is not controlled by the state. They fear that if they remain outside of the TSPM they will be regarded as antirevolutionary and will ultimately face persecution. Knowing that the TSPM is responsible to the religious affairs bureau which is appointed by the United Front department of the government to see that religious activities are carried on according to the guidelines set forth by the government, they believe that they should take advantage of certain freedoms given to those who follow the lead of the TSPM.
They know that large numbers of simple Christians flock to the open churches and they believe that it is essential that they should remain to minister to these Christians to thus insure that they receive evangelical teaching. While they are often frustrated by the restrictions imposed upon the church, they believe that the TSPM provides the best opportunity of showing that Christianity is a legal religion that is free from outside western influences.
Some Christians in rural areas who are far away from the TSPM offices feel that they can give lip service to the TSPM leadership and yet maintain an independent and biblical ministry. In areas where extremist groups are very active, Christians may feel that it is better to join the TSPM in order to resist those giving false teaching and to avoid the danger of being accused of association with the extremists.
Some evangelicals also point out that because the Three-Self Movement serves as a liaison between the government and the churches it is only through membership that they can get back the old church buildings. The Three-Self Movement is also able to provide a channel for the disbursement of government funds obtained through the rent of church property. It lobbies on behalf of freedom of religion if local government officials persecute Christians in their area. It also collaborates with the security forces in suppressing religious groups that are considered undesirable.
We recognize the sincerity of many evangelicals who have joined the TSPM and must continue to support them in prayer.
Those who refuse to join the TSPM feel that Reasons they have very strong justification for taking this against position. They remember the past history of the TSPM. Some spent long years in prison because they refused to join the TSPM. In the 1950s TSPM leadership was very liberal theologically. They emphasized the necessity for political indoctrination within the church. The spiritual life of the church was dying, evangelical ministry was being destroyed, and both the numbers attending the church and the numbers of open churches were decreasing rapidly. It seemed that by using the TSPM to control the church the government was effectively preventing the spread of the Christian faith.
They are convinced that the government exercises the ultimate authority within the church. They say that Christ is no longer head of the church and therefore they feel that it is not the true church. They claim that politically minded people control the appointment of pastors and that spiritual qualifications and the guidance of the Holy Spirit have no place in the choosing of leaders.
They point out that Bishop Ting and the TSPM leaders are not interested in evangelism and an outreach to the large numbers of unreached people. Their emphasis is solely upon ministering to believers. Christians are not allowed to travel outside their districts to places where the gospel has not been preached.
They believe that some of the regulations imposed by the TSPM are contrary to scripture and therefore they must "obey God rather than man." Forbidding of pastors to preach outside of the registered church building to which they are appointed and limitations on freedom to instruct children in the faith are contrary to the commands given by the Lord Jesus and should not be obeyed.
They see the need for more Bibles, Christian literature and instruction through the radio and are not prepared to accept the TSPM prohibitions on receiving help from outside. They are very much aware of the danger of false teaching and extreme sectarian groups and believe it can only be combatted by providing adequate teaching materials. They do not bear a foreign image and have no intention of becoming dependent upon Western mission resources.
While recognizing their responsibility to obey the rules of the country and to contribute to the building up of the new China, they are totally opposed to the use of the church as a place for political instruction. They also object to the way in which government informers within the church report on those who attend, so that a new inquirer may immediately be reprimanded by his work unit after a visit to the church. Many house church leaders are firmly convinced that some of the leaders within the open churches are serving the government rather than Christ. They strongly object to including as part of the statement concerning the nature of the church the words, "Christians must uphold the four basic principles."
These four principles are "the socialist road, the people’s democratic dictatorship, Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong thought, and the leadership of the communist party." One of Bishop Ting’s delegation said that he was 100 percent political and 100 percent spiritual. House church Christians are not anti-communist in terms of the social-economic system, but they do not believe that the church should be used as a tool to control the political thinking of its members. When once the church is used as an organ to enforce political conformity, its spiritual power is diluted and it loses its ability to exercise a prophetic role in society. The Chinese Christians frequently quote Christ’s words, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s."
Finally, many Christians are very uncertain about the government’s future policy towards religion. They know that there are strong elements within the government that believe religion is evil and must eventually be rooted out of society. Christians fear that when once all believers are compelled to join a government controlled organization it will be easier to enforce regulations that will prevent the growth of the church.
In all communist countries there have been divisions between those who are prepared to accept government sponsored organizations and those who, often at the cost of great suffering, have maintained an independent witness. We who live outside cannot influence the decision of Christians within China. Whatever their decision may be, we can support them in prayer, regardless of their organizational connection. We must beware, however, lest we make it more difficult for the independent believers by giving unqualified recognition to the official body that may become the persecutor of those who do not join the TSPM.
In the south a well-known Christian leader, who after his release from prison has had meetings in his home for the past three years, was forced to stop all activities. The local Three-Self church issued a letter to Christians in the city supporting the action of the Religious Affairs Bureau. It said that because the church leader had been deprived of his civil rights for five years, the meetings in his home were illegal. But why did the government wait for three years before closing down his meetings?
He was charged with printing books and distributing tapes without permission. The TSPM statement said that "he allowed some foreign missionaries to carry out religious activities in his home without the agreement of the China Christian Council, thus harming the sovereignty of our church and disobeying the government’s policy."
The statement ended with a warning to others: "There are still according to our knowledge some rather abnormal religious activities in existence in Canton. We hope that they will seriously consider and draw a lesson from this experience, quickly changing their attitudes; and that they will uphold the policy of the TSPM and be patriotic, law-abiding, going along the road of ‘loving country and loving religion’ and striving together for the unity of the church."
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