Chinese Church Voices

Three-Self Church Reflections on Revised Regulations

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On September 7, 2017, the Chinese government released revised regulations on religious affairs that will take effect on February 1, 2018. Brent Fulton gave a short summary and analysis soon after the regulations were released.

Last month, Tianfeng Magazine, the official magazine of the China Christian Council (CCC) and Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), posted an article on their WeChat blog highlighting the impact of the regulations and why they are necessary. Below is a translation of that article.

Teach According to the Law, Strengthen the Body

2017-09-13 CCC & TSPM: Tianfeng Magazine

The newly revised Regulations on Religious Affairs have finally appeared. This is an important step in thoroughly implementing the spirit of General Secretary Xi Jinping's important speech and the spirit of the National Religious Work Conference, which is conducive to better safeguarding the religious freedom of citizens, strengthening the legal management of religious affairs, further improving the level of legalization of religious work, marking a step up to a new level in the construction of religious work in our country.

The newly revised Regulations on Religious Affairs are a major event for Chinese Christianity. They clarify Christianity's role and strengthen her construction. They offer policy guarantees for the Sinicization of Christianity since the general principles of these regulations are to safeguard the religious freedom of citizens, defend religious and social harmony, regulate religious affairs, improve the level of legal religious work, and protect citizens' religious freedom.

Religious affairs management insists on the principles of protecting the law, stopping crime, curbing extremism, resisting infiltration, and combatting crime. The state protects normal religious activities according to law and actively guides religion to adapt to the socialist society. It protects the legitimate rights and interests of religious groups, religious institutions, religious places, and religious citizens. The regulations emphasize that religious groups, religious institutions, religious venues, and religious citizens should abide by the Constitution and the law! It is the top priority of Christianity to study and implement the newly revised Regulations on Religious Affairs, whose meaning and impact can be highlighted in the following three ways:

1. Legal backing for the establishment of [religious] groups

The important function of the Christian patriotic community in China is to be a bridge between the government and Christian activities and the Christian community. After the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Party Congress of China, Christian patriotic groups at all levels resumed their activities and have played a positive and effective role in assisting the Party and the government to manage their religious affairs and implement the Party's religious policy.

But there are also deficiencies in terms of the role and function of patriotic religious groups and relatively speaking there is a lack of clear norms. Aside from religious groups' own charters, the laws and regulations also lack the relevant basis for the management of religious affairs. There are many urgent issues to be resolved and clarified, especially with the relationship between religious groups and religious places, religious groups and the government's religious affairs department, and its division of functions. The revised regulations implement relevant standards for the roles of patriotic religious groups that give clarity to their roles, strengthen their development, and provide basic legal safeguards.

The new regulations especially mention that the role of religious groups also guides religious affairs and formulates religious order and supervises implementation. They engage in religious and cultural studies, explain the teachings of church doctrine, and develop religious thought. They develop religious education, training, validation, and manage religious staff. The regulations provide legal safeguards for the orderly work and healthy development of Christian patriotic groups. They advance the Sinicization process of Christianity and enhance the adaptive strength of Chinese Christianity with socialist society.

2. Legal protection for personnel cultivation

The healthy development of Christianity depends on the formation of talented personnel. Chinese Christian theological education and various means of personnel cultivation have seen rapid development. Theological schools are rapidly expanding and already involve various levels of training from higher education to secondary education to training organizations. From trainees and ordinary clergy to all areas of society and various social strata and ordinary believers, all are participating in education and training. The new regulations clarify and increase the relevant content at religious schools, formulate more standard provisions for such matters as religious schools' education systems, work unit approval, and principles for running a school.

This is the most direct and concrete embodiment by the Central Government of the speech made by General Secretary Xi Jinping at the National Religious Work Conference. "Religious groups are the bridge and link that unite and connect the Party and the government with religious community figures and the larger religious masses. We must work to provide the necessary support and help for them. We must respect and develop the role they play in the internal affairs of religion, as well as strive to build a politically credible, democratic, and highly efficient leadership group. We must adhere to key criteria of political reliability, religious credibility, impressive character, and can take action at key moments so as to support the religious community to successfully build up talented personnel.

The party and the government always pay attention to and support the work of and development of patriotic religious groups. They promote religious leadership building and training teams of patriotic and religious personnel. If patriotic religious leadership teams are not "politically credible, democratic, and highly efficient," and if personnel do not have "political reliability, religious credibility, impressive character, and can take action at key moments," how can they be that bridge and link?

3. Legal control over fighting heresy

Christianity in general has been deeply affected by the rise of heretical cults and the Chinese Church is no exception. The revised regulations go a step further to normalize the management of religious affairs and provide principles to "safeguard the law, curb illegal [activity], check extremism, resist infiltration, and combat crime." They reinforce supervisory management over religious property and regulate internet religious information services, as well as also clarify pertinent legal liability. The revised regulations provide legal weapons for the Christian Church to resist heretical cults and to promote the healthy development of the church.

The dangers of heretical cults today are not limited to the church's physical locations. The Internet also provides large spaces for cults to hide. China already leads the world in the number of Internet users today and it is very common to use the Internet for religious activities. So, the former notion that "religious affairs should take place in religious places" has already been displaced by the Internet age.

Because of this the revised regulations increased the relevant provisions to manage religious information on the Internet. In the future, one must have approval from the government's religious affairs bureau at the provincial level or higher in order to provide religious information and must follow all the standard procedures relevant to the country's Internet information management services. Unauthorized Internet religious information services or going beyond what is approved or acting as a service to provide approval will be punished according to the relevant laws and regulations of the government departments concerned. This is the most direct and efficient way to restrain heretical cults through the spread of the Internet and it is an incredibly pleasing thing for the church of Christ.

Obeying the law is a basic Christian concept as the Bible clearly teaches. "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work" (Titus 3:1). Chinese Christianity, through study and implementation of the new regulations, will strengthen the establishment of China's national law and religious regulations; will positively lead a large number of believers to consciously obey national laws and regulations; continuously improve national consciousness, civic and legal awareness; defend legal dignity; make obeying the law a natural behavior of the Christian church and believers; continue to strengthen the establishment theological thinking; strive to promote and implement sinicized Christianity; will work towards realizing the struggle towards the goal of "two one hundred years" and contribute to realizing the Chinese people's great rejuvenated Chinese dream to enable Chinese Christianity to promote "Love of country, love of religion; glorify God, benefit people."

Original Article: 岳清华:依法办教,固本强身

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