Sunday 16 September 2012

Reporting Now - Chinese State Church

 Bibles Cannot be sold from public bookshops

The state of China’s state church

Release patron and author Martin Goldsmith was invited to speak at registered (government-approved) Bible colleges and churches in China and found staff, church leaders and members to be 'spiritually alive' and eager for growth. So have critics of China's state-controlled Protestant churches and organisations got it all wrong? We asked Release partner Bob Fu of China Aid for his perspective on religious freedom in China today.
Martin Goldsmith:
In November 2011 my wife Elizabeth and I were invited to teach in three Bible colleges in the central and northern cities of Xian, Nanjing, Lanzhou and Tianshui. The invitation came through a Norwegian former All Nations Christian College student and her father, who were born in China and Taiwan respectively, speak perfect Mandarin and have many close personal friends in China. She has also written a Chinese course on Christian family life which is published by the official church printing press, Amity Press.

While we were in China, leaders from the government-sanctioned TSPM (Three Self Patriotic Movement) invited us also to preach in various registered churches. One unregistered church also invited us to speak. Although Elizabeth has some knowledge of Mandarin, all my own teaching had to be interpreted.
Bible School was at first rather cautious about opening its doors to us, but through the strong recommendation of the leaders who had heard us in Xian, they gradually thawed and finally we were warmly welcomed. The other schools each received
us with open arms. All the schools proved very receptive.
We got the impression that both teachers and students were very biblical and spiritually alive'
Martin Goldsmith
Both students and staff were very enthusiastic about our teaching and we enjoyed their warm fellowship. In each school the leaders discussed with us their plans and goals for the further progress of their school.
We got the impression that both teachers and students were very biblical and spiritually alive. This was underlined by their times of worship and prayer and also by the testimonies they shared with us, both privately and in meetings.
There is a hunger for upgrading the teaching levels, but not to the neglect of the spiritual and practical ministry emphases. Talking with people we realise that faith in Marxist communism and atheism is dead in China, although the Communist Party still holds the power.
Spiritual hunger
One can only say that China is facing an ideological vacuum which includes a spiritual openness. As a result the churches are growing apace and are keen to grow further – one provincial church leader shared her vision with us. She had divided the province into 18 sections with the aim that each should plant one new church this year and start one new Bible School.
The churches, Bible schools and other meetings we went to were all quite biblical and evangelical. The registered churches were more formal than unregistered churches. They have robed choirs, robed pastors and preachers and the actual form of the meetings is more formal.
In no meeting we attended was there any obvious'political'teaching, but we can imagine that this depends on the spiritual character of the local leaders. China is so huge that what is true in one province may not be true elsewhere. it is impossible to generalise from one's experience in any one part of such a huge and diverse country.
Talking with people we realise that faith in marxist 
communism and atheism is dead in China

Bob Fu:
Martin is quite correct to point out that: 'China is so huge that what is true in one province may not be true elsewhere. It is impossible to generalise from one's experience in any one part of such a huge and diverse country.'
However, on the national policy level, the general policy is very clear that if you are not registered and controlled by the Government's religious affairs bodies and its subordinated'patriotic'organisations (which for Protestants is the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the China Christian Council (CCC)), the status of any Christian gathering is'illegal'and thus is subjected to government persecution in the name of'legality'. This has been happening in many, many areas every year.
`The goal of the officially-sanctioned Bible colleges is to make 
 Christianity "compatible with socialism"'
Bob Fu
Martin reports:'In no meeting we attended was there any obvious "political" teaching, but we can imagine that this depends on the spiritual character of the local leaders.'
The national leaders of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) have stated clearly that the goal of the officially-sanctioned Bible colleges is to make Christianity 'compatible with socialism' and to train clergymen to 'love their country first and then to love their religion' *
This is why last year some of these pastors, Christian leaders and seminary presidents sang songs to praise the greatness and'eternal bond' between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the
'Chinese church'. Courses in political studies are compulsory in all of the government-controlled seminaries, though Martin might not be allowed to see them in the classroom.
Martin Goldsmith:
We met with only one unregistered church. They invited us to meet with their leaders in a public eating house for supper. To our surprise they asked me to share a biblical message with them in public there – other people eating could of course also listen in!
We then went to the main local Three Self church where the unregistered
church met in an upper room. After some worship the pastor gave an enthusiastic Bible message. Then I preached and
our Norwegian friend gave teaching on Christian family life. There was obviously a close relationship between the official Three Self church and this unregistered church.
The unregistered church only had about 150 people at their meeting, so they could fit nicely into a smaller room at the top of the huge six-storey TSPM church – the main auditorium seats 2,000 people. This particular Three Self church has three Sunday services, plus a Saturday service for those who have to work on Sundays.
`We got the impression that today the laws are more open and greater freedom prevails'
Martin Goldsmith
So, while the unregistered churches tend to have a multitude of smaller churches (sometimes sadly divided), the Three Self Church feels safer with the Government and has huge churches which are very open publicly. Thus the huge new church in the city where Elizabeth's parents worked back in the 1940s has a very large red cross on the top of its building.
We also visited a YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) social ministry and the official Amity Press, but otherwise only met people related to the churches or to the Bible schools. Of course many of them had suffered badly under the Red Guards in the horrendous days of the Cultural Revolution, but we got the impression that today the laws are more open and greater freedom prevails. I am sure, however, that they are careful not to be unwise or politically provocative.
We were amazed in one testimony meeting that a Tibetan Christian lady in full Tibetan traditional dress gave her
testimony of conversion in front of several hundred Christians. She was also quite happy to talk with us after the meeting and allowed us to take photos of her too.
The main pressures the registered church leaders shared with us related to the growth of the church and Bible schools. They seemed very aware of the need for more quality Bible teaching in their growing churches and were struggling on how to develop the church not only in the cities, but also in the villages.
They were very keen to get all the help we could give them on making the Gospel more culturally Chinese with a Chinese understanding of Scripture, of theology and of Christian leadership. Using my Jewish background I tried to help them in this and they received this with enthusiasm.
When we visited Amity Press we were told that they bad now distributed over 55 million Chinese Bibles in China (plus over 35 million for the Chinese diaspora).
Knowing that there are perhaps some 100 million Christians in China (about 20 million in the Three Self churches, and possibly 80 million in unregistered churches), we thought they would feel the need for more Bibles than they can at present print – even though they are producing 70 Chinese Bibles every hour day and night.
But they replied that many of the village Christians cannot read and write, so they felt present production quantities were sufficient. We still have a question mark in our minds about this.
Overall, we were thrilled with our visit, but were very much aware that our experience in the north does not fit what is happening in some other areas. I realise too that we didn't come up against incidents of persecution whereas Release's ministry relates particularly to persecuted Christians.
Bob Fu:
Regarding the testimony of the lady from Tibet, I can only suspect that this was a 'good show' for foreign friends. If it is true that'today the laws are more open and greater freedom prevails', it is hard to explain the campaign to get rid of the only existing churches in Lasa, Tibet, last December, and the refusal even to approve the application for a TSPM church.
The Tibetan and Uyghur peoples are two of the most oppressed groups in China who are not even allowed to practise their own traditional religion freely. China Aid has
copies of official documents which show how the Communist Party forbids these people from converting from Buddism and Islam to Christianity–which I call the communist version of sharia law. It is illegal to distribute Tibetan and Uyghur versions of the Bible.
Christian brothers and sisters are still imprisoned today in China
Bob Fu
Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit is the perfect example. He did nothing wrong or illegal but he received 15 years' imprisonment purely for his Christian conversion from Islam and his ministry among his people.I cannot judge the sincerity of individuals' faith, but even if these Christians Martin met are very genuine, fact that Christian brothers and sisters ai still imprisoned today in China contradi the suggestion that'the laws are more of and greater freedom prevails'
 Yes, compared to the so-called Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, there is more openness and freedom today. But compared with the period before 1949 when the Communists took power, China then had many more seminaries and ten or twenty times the number of Christian churches in every city compared to the number of churches and seminaries in today's China.
The population of China has grown three to four times the size it was in 1949 but today there are far fewer churches and seminaries than before 1949. So the great freedom for religion was when the Chinese nationalist party was in power.
Regarding Amity Press, while it is commendable that the Chinese Government has allowed them to produce 55 million Bibles, yet it is still totally forbidden for the Bible to be sold in any public bookshop in China. Amity Press is the only organisation in the whole of China that is allowed to publish and print Bibles.
The official reasoning for not printing more Bibles (because of the concern that many Chinese farmers are illiterate) is nothing but an unfounded excuse. I know many, many so-called illiterate farmers and they can read and understand their Bible very well.

Population: 1.3 billion
Capital: Beijing
Government: Communist state
Religion: Non-religious 40% , Chinese Universalists 30%; Christian 8.5%; Buddhist 8.5%; Atheist 8%; Other 5%
China's rich cultural heritage
stretches back thousands of
years - but this heritage has been undermined by China's recent history under communism. The People's Republic of China was formed in 1949 under Chairman Mao Zedong. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, his purge of anything or anyone that did not conform to his communist vision cost the lives of millions of Chinese people.
Today, China has moved from a narrow centralised economy to a free market economy which is the fastest-growing on the planet. But its social reform has not kept pace with economic changes: its regime maintains strict control over all aspects of society.
Although the constitution provides for religious freedom, China's Government has consistently tried to control religious practice. All religious groups are required to register. Those that refuse are regarded as 'illegal' and sometimes forced underground. State-sanctioned churches are closely monitored.'Illegal'groups are frequently branded 'evil cults', which makes it easier to prosecute them; their leaders particularly risk torture or imprisonment.
Under the Chinese system of 're­education through labour, between three and five million people are detained in prison camps, often without trial. Some are held for their religious views.
In an attempt to silence its international critics, China has in recent years passed laws
purporting to underline its commitment to religious freedom.
However, such laws appear to be contradicted by secret official documents leaked to the international media. These speak of the regime's intention to'boost Marxist atheism research, propaganda and education' and to'ban all uncivilised conduct in spreading superstitions' -a description often used to describe the activities of unregistered churches.

 .....secret official documents leaked to the

 international media. These speak of the regime's

 intention to'boost Marxist atheism research,

propaganda and education'

extract from

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