Chinese Church VoicesChurch and State

Being the Chinese Church in the Face of Growing Political Uncertainty

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.


Questions surrounding the future of the Chinese church continue to swirl as the central government’s “Regulations on Religious Affairs” went into effect at the start of February. Although many wait to know the full effect of the regulations, concerns among Christians continue to mount as recently the central government released plans to concentrate more control regarding religious policy in the hands of the Communist Party. Among these changes, state media announced that the Communist Party will take direct control of the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA), which will be absorbed into the United Front Work Department. SARA is tasked with handling, among other church affairs, the selection of Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church clergy, as well as ensuring theological doctrine is in line with state ideology.

As control over religion in China looks to centralize, and as questionable government actions toward religion continue to develop, Christians are asking how they should respond to the new policies. In the past, government policies left enough wiggle room for many churches to avoid serious confrontations with the government. However, the new policies seem to leave little space for non-compliance. Churches will need to answer three questions:

  1. Should we comply with the new regulations?
  2. To what extent should we comply?
  3. What will be the repercussions for non-compliance?

In this article published on January 2, 2018 (originally published here and here, but both locations since censored), Pastor Wang Zhi-yong seeks to answer those and other questions that Chinese Christians are asking themselves. This article provides a framework of sorts on how Christians should respond to the changing environment in the wake of the “Regulations on Religious Affairs.” Because of the significance of the regulations and the extent to which Christians are already influenced by them, we have translated and published the article with only minor edits for brevity. 

The Pillar and Foundation of the Truth:

Q & A and Thoughts concerning Registration according to the “Regulations on Religious Affairs” in 2018
Pastor Wang Zhi-yong

Summary:

The author objects to registering under the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Three-Self system. As non-profit religious groups, churches should register with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and attain the status of a legal entity in accordance with the law. From there onwards, churches may legally purchase property for church purposes, sign contracts, and be a part of societal activities. The author emphasizes that the church’s most important work and function is to teach the word and pastor the sheep: preaching the gospel of repentance, shepherding people’s souls, and praying for those in power as well as the widow and orphan, so that they may come to know God’s justice and mercy. In Chinese society’s current era of great transformation and great change, the church should earnestly pray for the peaceful transformation of Chinese society. Most importantly, the church should strengthen its own preaching, pastoring, and formation, create a sound confession of faith and charter of governance, and so set an example for society to turn towards a constitutional, law-ruled, democratic, free, independent, and civilized country. By establishing a text and cultivating people, the church can truly become “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15 NIV).

Question:

The “Regulations on Religious Affairs” will take effect on February 1 this year, and many house churches face the choice of either registration or disbandment (which in actuality means dispersing into small groups and going underground). As for the house churches who chose to register, they have to face the question of how to retreat if one day authorities challenge the bottom line of their faith. The reason for such disagreement mainly lies in the different understanding of the current situation. Some people think that the current environment is similar to that of the 50s, and that house churches who hold to their faith and refuse to compromise will disperse and go underground. Others think that the current societal environment, the means of spreading information, and the amount of information, are all drastically different from the 50s, and so the authorities may not take the same approach to Christianity that they did in the 50s. Also, pastoring dispersed groups can pose great challenges to churches and pastors. Given the limited energy of pastors, who are unable to completely pastor the multitude of small groups, small group leaders must quickly grow to be junior pastors.

Answer:

This is a question with many different aspects. Let us approach it by considering the following aspects.

The first aspect is the elements of church and faith. As Augustine said, some elements are core and foundational, and on these there must be unity among brothers and sisters, with not the slightest compromise. As for other elements that are neither core nor foundational, everybody can hold different views on them, and we should seek to preserve diversity, humbly respecting different views and choices. Whether or not the questions are core or foundational, brothers and sisters must not become fighting enemies over a temporary difference in view or choice. Instead, we should rely on the Lord’s grace, be gracious to one another, complement one another’s weaknesses, and show love (charity) to one another. With this in mind, we should ask first that the Lord “keep[s us] in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 21) when we face questions like this. We should not let the black-and-white views of the world, or its atmosphere of class struggle, affect our relationships in Christ.

Secondly, we must calm down and discern whether or not the question we are currently facing is core or foundational. Of course, we must acknowledge the complexity of the actual question, and how it touches on our different backgrounds and mindsets. Even though we are all Christians, all of whom love God and love man, we often have different interpretations or perspectives even when in the same environment. I pray that God blesses us with unshakable love and a heart of great tolerance, that we may seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

In terms of church and faith, we know the three marks of a true church as emphasized by the Belgic Confession: that is, true preaching in accordance with the Bible, administration of the sacraments, and church discipline.

Whether or not a church is registered, as long as we can guarantee that the pastoring staff, staff that serves according to God’s word, can continue preaching God’s truth faithfully, and administering sacraments and discipline in accordance with God’s will, then the core elements of this church and its faith have attained a basic guarantee. In terms of actual operation, as long as we can preserve a church’s independence and conscience in terms of the “right to speak” (preaching the truth), “personnel rights” (ecclesiastical staff elected by the congregation), and “right to property” (church offering used for church ministry), than we have guaranteed the core and foundational elements of our Christian church and faith. We cannot lack even one of these three elements—“right to speak,” “personnel rights,” and “right to property.” We must insist on them.

The second aspect to consider is the discernment of the external environment. We most certainly cannot equate the current situations of Chinese society or the Chinese church with those of the 50s. If we make such a judgement, we are blatantly ignoring reality. Not only would we have made a serious mistake in our discernment of reality, but we would also have made light of God’s grace in these ages of history, and might even have led our brothers and sisters astray. As we all know, Stalin’s and Mao’s totalitarianism reigned in the 50s, and those in power cruelly persecuted the church: burned Bibles, demolished churches, arrested and killed preachers, beat to death those Christians who held fast to their faith. This was naked violence for the purpose of utterly destroying the church.

We must confess that such totalitarianism not only brought great persecution to Christians, but also caused great calamity for the Chinese people. The “Great Famine” from 1959 to 1961 starved tens of millions. The so-called “Cultural Revolution” from 1966 to 1976 directly harmed over one hundred million people, including high officials in the Chinese Communist Party and government, as well as their families and children, such as Liu Shao-qi, Peng De-huai, Deng Xiao-ping, He Long, Xi Zhong-xun, etc.  From this we can see that autocracy and totalitarianism are the great enemies of the Chinese people!

Chinese Christians should not emphasize our own persecutions and calamities. We must clearly affirm our identity and faith as Christians, while at the same time humbly, consciously place ourselves among the greater family of the Chinese nation. It was because totalitarianism caused such horrifying suffering all over the country, that after these various catastrophes, economic reform became the consensus of the Chinese people; rule of law became the consensus of the Chinese people; ensuring that the Chinese people can live with dignity became the consensus of the Chinese people. Autocracy and the disregard for human rights became an ugly, backwards, foolish phenomenon despised by all.

During the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in 1978, the strategy of “Reform and Open Up” was put forth, and this was the first time since the founding of the People’s Republic of China that opening up to the outside became national policy. This turned back the increasingly isolationist policy on the Chinese Mainland since 1949, and brought the People’s Republic of China into an era of great economic development, increasing societal diversity, and relative religious tolerance. During the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012, when Mr. Xi Jinping was elected as General Secretary, he proposed “comprehensively deepening reforms,” and stressed that “all levels of leading cadres must remember, no one has absolute authority outside the law, and anyone exercising authority must do so in service of the people, be responsible to the people, and accept the people’s supervision.”

Since 1978, China has begun fundamentally moving away from class struggle and comprehensive totalitarianism, and has begun accepting the new ideas of rule of law, as well as reformation and opening up. But we must realize that shaking off a couple thousand years of this stagnant culture of idol worship and imperial dictatorship is not something that can happen overnight. Those in authority may still pass evil laws, or break their own laws, or even enforce the law only selectively. When faced with these situations, Christians not only should earnestly pray for those in power and authority—asking that God grants them humility, justice, and wisdom—but we as citizens should also abide by the law, speak righteousness, and actively participate in and discuss politics, and so help increase an understanding and standard of law enforcement among the different levels of government officials in our country.

From the current situation, it seems like the laws put forth by the central policy of the state and the Communist Party are not for the purpose of destroying religion. The fourth article of “Regulations on Religious Affairs” drafted in 2017 says: “The state will protect, in accordance with the law, normal religious activities, will actively guide religion and socialist society to mutually adjust, and will protect religious groups, religious schools, facilities for religious activities, as well as all legal rights of religious citizens.” The statement “will actively guide religion and socialist society to mutually adjust” is very political and very ideological. Ultimately, the core elements of “socialism” are no longer clearly defined in this age of continually deepening reforms.

Thanks to the Lord’s blessings, the current Chinese authorities have fundamentally changed their views and rules regarding Christianity. Even though there is still much need for improvement, or even utter transformation in terms of regulations and enforcement, we cannot deny the improvements. This is an era where rule of law is promoted, and is also the era of media. Chinese society also enjoys some degree of legal protection and freedom of the press. For example, the current “WeChat” app is a wonderful attempt by Chinese authorities to break through the existing situation and broaden freedom of the press. Although WeChat still experiences some level of interference and censorship, we must still admit that WeChat users enjoy a level of freedom that they’ve never had before. To deny such limited progress is to ungratefully bear false witness, which does not please God.

Of course, we must unequivocally urge Mainland Chinese government authorities to completely reverse their ban on parties, religions, and press; return the power to the people; and build a truly constitutional, law-ruled, and democratic republic. This kind of real, comprehensive reform and opening up necessarily takes a certain amount of time and hard work from all parties, and in this process we must learn patience and make our own positive contributions.

Whether it is active conversation, defending human rights by legal means, reasonably avoiding confrontations, or adopting other non-violent methods, we must do all according to our conscience, and should not seek to impose our views on others or demand uniformity. Without question, China is currently in the process of reforming and opening up, and is no longer the communist or socialist society with Stalinist characteristics of the 50s, adopting dictatorial or destructive methods against the Christian faith or church. In terms of discerning our environment, we should take a clear and practical approach.

Third, in terms of theology, we cannot view the “state” itself as the depths of sin, and cannot consider the state itself as evil or perverse. According to the revelation of the Bible and Reformed Covenant Theology, family, church, and state are communities and institutions established by God as means of grace. Beneath God, these three covenant organizations should “fear God, trust Christ, love God and man, obey the Covenant and obey laws.” These three covenant organizations each have their own position, authority, and function. Each carries out its own responsibilities, and together they glorify God and bless humanity.

Of course, each of these means of grace may be abused by sinners, so that the family becomes a wasteland of domestic violence and injury, the church becomes a hypocritical, indifferent den of thieves, and the state an organization of oppression and plundering. But we must not hate, belittle, curse, or abandon the three covenant communities of family, church, and state because of their abuse by sinners. Any act or speech that damages family government, destroys church government, or belittles civil government comes from an anarchic leaning, violates the Bible, and goes against the natural order of things.

This especially applies to the state. The Book of Romans says that state officials are “God’s servants,” that ultimately their authority comes “from God,” that their functions “are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” Therefore, we “must be in subjection” to state officials, “not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience” (Romans 13:1-7).

Of course, there is a limit on submission to anyone, because all people are not only sinners in their essence, but are also limited human beings. This limitation and sin nature are not only a part of state officials, but also family members and church staff. Since all are sinners, anyone at any time may abuse their authority/rights, or commit crimes. As humans and citizens, we must monitor and limit our actions based on the position and guidance God has given us. Whether it is family members, church staff, or state officials, we all enjoy limited authority/rights, and no one may be completely submitted to. If any sinner hopes for, demands, or claims to enjoy complete authority/rights, or if they hope for or demand complete submission/cooperation by others, it is foolish, hateful, and egotistical idol worship. If they do not repent, then surely they will fall under God’s fearful wrath.

One thing Christians must watch out for is that, within the church, there is often a case of idolizing pastors. In terms of pastoring and church governance, this leads to the chaotic situation of having no confession of faith and no charter of governance.

So we not only need to face the sins of the state, but also the sins within the church, including ecclesiastical staff being hypocritical, not given to learning, selfishly interpreting the Bible, or using faith as opportunity for profit!

The Chinese church must learn what is true Christianity with a humble and alert heart, and learn what church governance model is biblical and fits with church orthodoxy, lest we are fooled or used by various cults and heresy in China and abroad, not only following and believing such ourselves, but bringing harm to others and society at large as well.

Fourth, in terms of the relationship of church and state, we must fully realize that the church-state relationship has always been complex, especially in China. In China, imperial authority has always been dominant and overshadowed everything else. The development of religious freedom and civil society is still relatively new, weak, and even chaotic. This relationship affects the relationship of church and state, politics and faith, and political and religious authority. Just as Pastor Tang Chong-rong has emphasized over the years, the basic principle of church and state should be: divine authority is greater than human authority and rights, and human rights are greater than political authority. All authorities on earth should submit under God. Religious authority should submit to divine authority; religious authority should balance state authority, and religious authority should complete human rights.

For a breakthrough in the church-state relationship, we should evangelize broadly, so that people can more greatly experience the power of the gospel. Just as Paul emphasized, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17-18)[1]

The Chinese civil government has both the authority and the responsibility to protect the spread of true Christianity in China. They must not indiscriminately oppress Christians, making it difficult for the holy catholic church to stand and spread the gospel.[2] Among the uncommon people, there might be ambitious ones who would take as opportunity such a crisis of faith between personal religion and society, and create all sorts of “pirated” false Christianity and church, so as to fulfill their own ambitions and desires.

For this reason, “separation of church and state” is not the separation of Christianity and politics, nor is it a separation of Christians from political life, nor is it a separation of the Christian church from politics. Instead, it specifies the division of labor between the two great covenants of church and state, in terms of organization and function. Each has its own position, each its own responsibilities, and each works together with the other. Under this framework, the state cannot establish a “State Administration for Religious Affairs” to manage and meddle with church affairs, just as the church cannot establish a “Church Administration for Political Affairs” to manage and meddle with national politics. No matter what, the state and the church should not be completely opposed, but should work together by division of labor.

Of course, with regard to church and state, Chinese society has long favored the model of the state using the state apparatus and violence to cruelly oppress Christianity, to control the church, or drive it underground. This type of oppression creates a backlash among the common people, and distrust for and lack of cooperation with the state, and ultimately an attitude of hostility.

A preacher among the populace may use this anti-state, anti-government sentiment that exists among society and church, and become the leader of a popular anti-government movement on the platform of resisting government persecution, instead of teaching personal devotional life and repentance, or personal study and growth. This is not according to God’s will. In fact, the European Reformation that started in 1517 began by opposing and reforming the corruption within the church itself!

And so, by God’s grace, I once again emphasize that China’s repentance must begin with the church, and the church’s repentance must begin with us ecclesiastical staff. Pastors must have a consistently repentant heart, and preach a message of repentance, and work hard to live a life of repentance. Wanton oppression of the Christian faith, injury of personal religious freedom, injury of the Chinese citizen’s freedom of public assembly—such actions are against humanity, against civilization, and against humaneness. Such actions are sinful! Those people who constantly vilify and criticize government administrators and officials, but who rarely reflect on themselves, rarely admit their own sins, these are people who have their own motives and desire chaos in the world! In dealing with such preachers who boldly violate criminal law, we do not need the State Administration for Religious Affairs. We need only the police and prosecutors to scout out and prosecute such people.

Of course, as Christians, during this era when Chinese society and churches both face repentance and transformation, we must strive to live at peace with others, including state officials and people of other religions, and should focus our energy on our own study, reflection, repentance, and growth, and at the same time put our greatest effort into being a blessing to others and society at large.

Fifth, in terms of shepherding the church, building a system, coordinating different gifts, and leading teams, a church needs to reach a certain size and number of people. This is basic knowledge and consensus. For the church to go underground, meet separately, using the model of small group leadership, is of course a feasible option under special circumstances. But in reality, such dispersed shepherding can be a great challenge for the church and its pastors.

There is a limit to a pastor’s energy, and he cannot pastor the multitude of small groups, so small group leaders must quickly grow to be junior pastors. But we must take note that these small group leaders may not have been believers for long, or may not be sufficiently equipped, and so we would have a situation of an older child leading a younger child, or even the blind leading the blind.

In terms of partnering spiritual gifts, we really need a certain number of people, a certain team, or even certain facilities. Of course, we have greater information now, and internet videos are more advanced, so such information and routes can make up for the limitations to some degree.

If churches and staff refuse to register according to the “Regulations on Religious Affairs” under the current situation, this a matter of the freedom of religion and conscience that Christians and churches rightfully have, and cannot be reproached. Brothers and sisters who refuse to register think that the “Regulations on Religious Affairs” not only violates the constitution, but also directly violates their own religious freedom and conscience of faith, and they will resist by non-violent methods. Such views and actions deserve respect, understanding, and support.

However, brothers and sisters who refuse to register must not reject the brothers and sisters who consider or proceed with registration, especially those who insist on registering with the Ministry of Civil Affairs as independent legal entities, which is the direction in which all churches should work toward. As Paul says concerning days and food, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:5-8). The key is that we correct our hearts. The key is that we make a choice to live for the Lord. As for the specific method, the guidance that God gives each person might vary. Kai Ruo-si, a Christian brother in Beijing, wrote an article titled, “For Home or Country, an Attempted Discussion of How to Understand the Implementation of the New Regulations on Religious Affairs,” in which he offers relatively moderate, yet deep and practical thoughts on the matter. His main thesis is that: “Rather than refining the individual Christian, God seeks to refine the saints on a communal level. If we say that God wanted the former generation of Christians to learn how to take up their cross and follow the Lord, then we can say on this foundation/tradition, that God wants our current generation of Christians to learn how to serve one another as the Lord washed our feet.” This is a very important reminder. To those churches or brothers and sisters whose views and actions differ from us, we should have an attitude of foot-washing service, of mutual completion. Therefore, whether or not we register, the important point is that we strengthen the establishment of our Christian family, we strengthen the establishment of local Christian churches, and we strengthen the witness of Christians as a whole in the public sphere.

May God bless us and give us greater charity and greater humility, so that we may more joyfully imitate our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and wash the feet of Chinese society, wash the feet of brothers and sisters with different views within the church, and wash the feet of Christians from different churches and denominations. We cannot fall for the devil’s tricks, who causes Christians and churches to attack one another over nonessential, non-foundational issues, tearing each other down to the point of mutual destruction. Christians must hold firm their own conscience, but at the same time, ask the Lord for the wisdom of gentleness and a kingdom mind, so that on the premise of holding firm to our individual conscience, we can actively build up the church and preserve the church’s unity and witness.

Sixth, historically speaking and by observing the current situation, we can see that even registered churches are not all from the same mold, and vary quite a bit in different regions. In some first-tier cities, registered churches are completely controlled in terms of their speech, personnel, and finances, and have lost the rightful independence and dignity a Christian church should have. It is not biblical for churches to be completely controlled by the party or by politics like this.

However, we cannot deny that there are registered churches who still maintain relative independence, especially in the Zhejiang and Wenzhou areas. By God’s grace, many registered churches and their pastors maintain their faith and freedom of conscience, and actively protect and promote the church’s rights and activities.

Pastor Joseph Gu and his Zhejiang Hangzhou Chongyi Church are just such a church and pastor. Pastor Joseph Gu had served as head of the Zhejiang Christian Council and lead pastor of Hangzhou Chongyi Church. He boldly opposed the Zhejiang government’s forced removal of churches and crosses, and was arrested and imprisoned by the police on the charge of “misappropriation of funds.” He was deprived of his personal liberty for almost two years before recently being released. Many preachers of house churches have sincerely called Pastor Joseph Gu a “faithful servant of God” and prayed for him. I personally believe that it would be good if many of the currently unregistered home churches joined in the registration and dialogued with those in authority, insisting on registering as independent non-profit legal entities with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, just as Beijing Shouwang Church has done. This could help government authorities open up some beneficial spaces for the church in terms of interpretation of the law and its application, and perhaps even revise current unreasonable laws.

Currently, one can only register under the “Three-Self” name, and registering under the “Three-Self” name inevitably means government officials exerting control over personnel as well as sermon content. People who hold firm to their conscience and faith, such as Pastor Joseph Gu, may be oppressed or persecuted at any point. So house churches should seek independent registration, and refuse to register under the “Three-Self” name.

As for whether or not one registers, the key is not whether or not we are registering accordance with the “Regulations on Religious Affairs,” but what our attitude is like! Our right to worship God comes from God alone, and there is no need for any registration or government approval. However, congregations of a certain size in society do touch on security concerns, and Christians should consider the opinions and reactions of their neighborhoods and communities from the perspective of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. The ultimate question is not whether or not to register, but under what circumstances one registers. Whether or not we register, or how to register, is a key point in 21st century Chinese Christians going from a personal testimony to a public testimony. Without question, on issues that involve public identity and safety, the church should attain a legal identity within society. But currently, the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Three-Self system are both controlling, and the church should not jump into their net, should not accept the oversight of unbelievers on religious matters.

However, churches can fight to attain a non-profit legal entity status at the level of civil affairs departments. The current trend is that churches must become more and more open, legal, and international, just like China’s direction during the past couple decades of reform and opening up. Chinese society needs the individual witness of Christians, but it also needs the Christian church to be a witness in the public sphere as a covenant body.

The new “Regulations on Religious Affairs” have been passed, and will start being implemented on February 1, 2018. We cannot solely proclaim the coming of a bloody era. “Things are getting bad!” “The church will be persecuted and martyred!” Such understanding and words tend to simplify complicated issues in terms of theology, politics, and law. As all know, the Chinese Communist Party is itself in a time of reformation and transformation. They have not yet completed the change from a secret association, a secret group among the populace seeking to overthrow the national government, to becoming in the truly modern sense, the ruling party. That is, a party that is registered, gathers openly, is publicly elected, and legally holds power.

Therefore, the Chinese Communist Party also has a problem concerning registering for the sake of openness and legality. Up until now, the Chinese Mainland is still not a government truly ruling by law. The Chinese Communist Party is still not a legally registered political party that submits to civil oversight. Therefore, as the senior Party member and cadre Mr. Wan Li told a young professor of the Central Party School in conversation, “Even though our Party has over 70 million members, and is the biggest party, yet to this day this Party has not registered at any social administration department.” “Our country has no meaningful, modern party system to speak of. ‘The country is still the party’s country,’ instead of ‘the party is the country’s party.’” This is our country’s current situation!

Although this country has passed many plans and laws under the control of Chinese Communist Party, it has never strictly carried out these plans and laws. Therefore, the making of laws, its interpretation, and its implementation, all have great flexibility in China. For China to truly become a constitutional, democratic, republican, and free civilized nation, we have a long way to go and a great responsibility. I might even propose, “10 years to grow a tree, 100 years a man, and 1,000 years a civilization!”

Chinese Christians must have a spirit of long-suffering, sustained fighting, and a persistence that spans generations. Let us not think that we are the final generation to receive the gospel, that we will “bring the gospel back to Jerusalem,” and that we will welcome Christ’s second coming. Let us not think that our own cities or towns are the world’s “Jerusalem” or “Geneva”! The Chinese church is still fighting for her own survival, and fighting for the basic freedom of religion. The Chinese people are still in the throes of fighting for basic constitutional rule of law and democratic elections. What excuse do we have for any pride?

In this current era when church, society, and political party all face reformation and transformation, the church should well utilize the space provided by current laws, and fight hard to gain and protect rights for herself and others, and not lightly give up our proper actions in the public sphere by turning to secret and underground gatherings. In reality, the so-called “underground church,” whether they meet at homes or in office buildings, are always under the strict surveillance of state officials. They may be interfered with or banned at any time by excuses concerning public safety, such as fire safety codes, anti-theft codes, or even sanitation codes. Instead of private transactions, why not deal openly and honestly? Let us move from hostility to dialogue, seek to understand each other’s bottom line and needs, and to the greatest degree possible, interact positively, as is beneficial to both society and the church.

But, do pastors of house churches have such courage and understanding? And more importantly, do state officials have such a mind of service and rule of law? As Professor He Wei-fang recently posted, “If none of us are working towards this, then in the end we could only have one book of law, called ‘The People’s Republic of China’s Uselessness’!” I plead that God has mercy on China, that he would not allow China to come to such a desperate situation of utter chaos and forced rebellion.

To summarize, in 2018, do house churches need to register in accordance with the “Regulations on Religious Affairs?” This is a very important, and very complex question, and each Christian and church must pray sincerely and seek God’s guidance in their personal conscience and in their church as a whole. We cannot demand uniformity, and should not seek to unite everyone by our own views. May God bless us, that we may clearly differentiate what the core and foundational elements of the Christian church and our faith are, and that we may discern well our current societal environment. In this era of great change and transformation in Chinese society, what function should the church play? What stage is the church itself at in terms of doctrine, governance, and devotion? We should not make light of the difficulties before us, nor should we dismiss the blessings God has already given us. In the current situation, China already has a basic and relatively comprehensive legal system, and everybody recognizes the importance of rule of law. Those “patriotic traitors” and “power-thieving traitors” who openly trample on the law and basic human rights are already the object of many angry words and essays.

The Chinese Mainland does in actuality have basically sound systems of judges, prosecutors, police, and lawyers, and we are basically at the point of being able to trust the law. And yet, without question, the making of laws still lack true representation and participation of the people, and many laws already in existence violate popular opinion and the constitution.

In terms of the judicial and executive process, there are still many limitations because of the authoritarian legacy and the corruption of the human heart. As for these aspects, as the church of Jesus Christ, we must rely on God’s grace, be always alert, and strong and courageous. Whatever the situation, we as disciples of Christ and citizens of the nation, must seek to go from passive avoidance to active engagement, replacing resistance with dialogue, tearing down with building up, angry words with prayers, curses with blessings, injury with peace-making, hate with love, an attitude of victimization with an attitude of responsibility. We must be truly shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves, living fully our holy catholic standing and function as “the salt of the earth,” “the light of the world,” “the city on a hill,” and “the lamp on a stand” (Matthew 5:13-15). We should pray aloud, teach the law, spread the gospel, establish a text, raise up people, and set an example for the peaceful transformation of Chinese society and culture, so that the church may truly become “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
 

Original Article: 真理的柱石与根基——关于2018年按照《宗教事务条例》进行登记的问答和思考, Wang Zhi-yong

Notes

  1. ^ The verse reference is cited incorrectly. It should be Romans 1:16-17.
  2. ^ “. . . holy catholic church” is a citation from the Apostle’s Creed.

 Image Credit: Matthew Stinson via Flickr.

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