Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Simple Things Part Two

As with most other things, the practice of religion in China is strictly controlled by the Central Government; therefore, there are essentially “two churches” in China. The first is the church sanctioned by the Central Government. The other is the church which functions independent of the stare-controlled church.

Established in 1954, during the era of Premier Zhou EnLai, the “first” church (Protestant) I refer to is called the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement.” It is the outcome of a white paper called “The Christian Manifesto,” written by Wu, Yaozong, a former YMCA Secretary in China and seminarian. The principles build upon conclusions put forth in the nineteenth century by – ironically – American missionaries that the future of Christianity in China “… depended on the indigenization of the leadership, and the finding of sufficiently Chinese modes of worship.”(SOURCE)

“The term "three-self" refers to self-support (自养 – ziyǎng: autotrophy ), self-governance (自治 – zìzhì: to be autonomous]), and self-propagation (自传 –zìzhuàn: autobiography), and the TSPM is a movement within the Protestant church in China to promote these principles. It began in the 1950's in order to promote the idea that the Chinese Church is not dependent on or controlled by foreign mission bodies, that it is possible to be both a Christian and a good patriotic citizen, and that Christians should identify themselves with the aspirations of the Chinese people.” (SOURCE)
Like much of the leadership of New China – the “Manifesto” was ultimately signed by more than 400,000 signatories – Zhou was determined to throw off foreign influences on Chinese religious practices. While this determination applied to all Chinese religious practice, in the Chinese mind Christianity especially represented the imperialist aggression of Western powers dominating and humiliating China for centuries, prior to the founding of the Peoples Republic of China.

The Chinese government banned religion during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1977). Churches, mosques, and temples were closed – and many destroyed – and many “good Communists” were given long prison sentences for “re-education through labor.” Among those subjected to this “reform” was Comrade Wu, Yaozong, the founder of the Three Self Movement. He died in 1979, never having a chance to witness the day when the TSPM was once again permitted to function as a legal church entity in China.

There was another interesting development. For more than a decade Christians who conscientiously refused to be part of the TSPM, worshiped underground in various homes – often moving in secret from one home to another, for fear of severe reprisals and imprisonment. Now even those who belonged to legitimate registered churches found themselves meeting in secret, as well. And so the Gospel continued to flourish in China – as it has to this day – through the proliferation of a vast network of “house churches.”

Perhaps in part owing to the success of the house church movement, the Chinese government restored the TSPM in 1979 as the legal body governing Protestant churches in China, under the leadership of a Chinese Anglican Bishop, named Ding Guangxun. In 1980 the China Christian Council (CCC) was established – also under Bishop Ding – as an umbrella body managing publishing, theological education, and so forth. The CCC represents China in the World Council of Churches, and both entities together govern the State-sanctioned (registered) churches, here.

The following excerpt from the homepage of the ChinaAid Society – founded by Chinese exile Bob Fu – is a concise summary of the TSPM’s role in the Chinese church:

“When the Communist government organized the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) to control religion, the TSPM was the RAB’s instrument to direct Protestant affairs. All churches came under TSPM control. Surveillance was ordered for all religious leaders. Detailed files were kept. By 1958, the government had a tight grip on every church. Christian leaders who refused to submit to the TSPM were publicly accused and imprisoned.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), all religious groups were banned. Even the TSPM vanished. Thousands of clergy and church members were shipped to labor camps. Hundreds were executed. But underground Protestantism survived and grew into the house-church movement. By 1980, the TSPM was back, under the leadership of Nanjing Bishop Ding Guangxun, a liberal theologian and former Anglican.

Today in China, the TSPM decides what buildings can be used for church services, which pastors can preach and what areas can be traveled to spread religion. Church activities are restricted to Sunday services. There are no mid-week meetings. No Bible studies. No gatherings in private homes. Religious activities are outlawed outside of registered church buildings. No one under 18 may be evangelized or baptized. Members are allowed no contact with overseas church groups and are forbidden to read foreign Christian literature, listen to foreign Christian tapes/cd’s or tune in to gospel radio broadcasts. The State is the head of the Church.

The TSPM has asked the Public Security Bureau to shut down all house church meetings and arrest house church leaders and traveling evangelists.”
The Amity Foundation and Amity Printing Company were established in 1975. The foundation is a charitable relief organization, providing services to the poor and disaster victims throughout China. The printing company is China’s largest Bible publishing house – not to mention one of the largest in the world.

As there is generally no membership data for the number of people affiliated with either registered TSPM church, or the un-registered “house church movement,” there is no way to accurately estimate how many Christians there are in China. According to one report, however, the Chinese government estimates the TSPM number to be at least 22 million, whereas the same report estimates more than 100 million house church Christians. (SOURCES: HERE and HERE)

Now to the dilemma confronting the majority-Church in China – the issue of training. As you may have guessed from Part One of this article, the house church movement in China is largely a lay Ministry movement. To be sure there is an excellent seminary system – in fact there are 18 seminaries in China – all, of course – governed by the Religious Affairs Bureau of the Central Government.

Naturally, whatever theological and Biblical training these seminaries offer, it is NOT offered to the individuals who give leadership to the millions of believers in house churches. Therefore, as the movement flourishes it is inexorably led by untrained pastors – and then perpetuated by other unseasoned brothers and sisters, appointed by the “first wave” of untrained pastors.

Please don’t get me wrong: my intention here is not to ridicule the dedication and hard work of these myriads of faithful brothers and sisters – after all, the First Century church grew exponentially in much the same way as the Church is growing in China today. My point is to underscore my thinking in the first comments, when I said I have seen that the simple fundamental truth of the Gospel message can be understood, even by those who have only a simple exposure to the so-called “deeper things.”

Every day I read insights from various places in the Church, “back home.” So many very “deep” thoughts – so many prophetic revelations, words of inspiration, thoughts for the day, and on, and on, and on. Meanwhile, here in China the message is summed up in two words: “Read Bible.” That’s it. In simple terms, everything you need to have the joy of Jesus, and the life of peace and happiness that He brings is contained in those two simple words: “Read Bible!”

Sometimes I wish it was possible to give them more. Like the time I went with a group to minister to a sister who came home one day to find her father hanging from the ceiling, and her mother laying dead in the next room – ostensibly at the hands of that same father. Or when the sister asked in Chinese why, since she had accepted Christ and became His child, would He allow her brother (not a Believer) to be killed in a terrible car crash? Why didn’t “Read Bible” help? What could I offer to someone who didn’t have enough English to understand me – through a brother or sister who did not have enough knowledge of the “deeper things” to understand how to translate whatever hope I might offer?

Thinking back on cases like this – knowing that there are many times when, as Pastors, we must reach out to those who are hurting with words of comfort and hope – I realized that perhaps the reason God had sent me behind this wall was to be the voice calling out beyond the wall to you on the outside, begging you to pray for doors to open. Pray for the few brothers like Michael Liu, who did have a chance to go abroad to America and study in Fuller Seminary, then come back to Minister the Gospel. Pray for brothers like Bob Fu – the founder of China Aid – who got out just a few days before the British Government returned Hong Kong to control of the mainland. Pray for brothers like attorney Jiang Tianyong who has been able to testify before the Human Rights Commission in the U. S. about the human rights violations that give rise to the flourishing house church movement in the first place; and for the hundreds of thousands other brothers and sisters who are jailed, detained, persecuted, and even secretly executed for the sake of the Gospel.

Maybe that’s why I’m here, and nothing more. It is certainly why I am led by the Spirit to share these precursory excerpts of what I pray will be a lager report with you my brothers and sisters in Christ.

A few days ago a delegation including Pastor Immanuel and “Brother Zhou” visited me in my home to talk about their dream of reviving the Christian Yenching University (Yanjing DaXue 燕京大学) – a Christian university created in 1919 as a merger of three Beijing Christian colleges, and closed in 1949 by the new government, after the founding g of the Peoples Republic of China. It’s an ambitious idea, but maybe the door to a new beginning for Christian Education here in China.

REFERENCES (Human Rights Organization) (Branch of CCC) (FAQ) (TSPM - A Young Evangelist's Perspective) The Three Self Church China's Mega-church Focus: Building Frenzy Is Underway to Build Bigger Churches. but Is it a Good Thing? Christian Today: The Chinese Church's Delicate Dance Christian Today: House church leaders detained in China, 18 February 2009 (China website of CLE, below: also very pro-CCC) Theological Construction — or Destruction? An Analysis of the Theology of Bishop K. H. Ting (Ding Guangxun) The Cross – Jesus In China

Recent movements against the House Church Movement in China

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