China Attempts To Remold Christianity In Its Own Image

News Image By Tom Olago August 12, 2016
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The Chinese government is increasingly working towards suppressing Christianity as far as possible: tearing down church crosses, destroying buildings and arresting politically-incorrect Christians. Despite all of that, there are indications that China is on track to have the world's largest Christian population by 2030 - approximately 250 million.

Little wonder then that China has decided to take the path of subtlety: convert the Christian church into a subservient 'tool' of the State. 

As John Sudworth for the BBC News reported late March, Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party may have failed to destroy the church, but the modern Communist Party has gone one better: it has succeeded in co-opting it.

Today, according to some estimates, there are more Christians in China than Communist Party members. Up to 100 million were expected have celebrated the Easter weekend this year.

But what it failed to destroy, the Party still wants to control. So, an officially atheist government effectively runs its own churches and controls the appointment of its own priests. Like Pastor Wu Weiqing from Beijing's Haidian Church.

"We have to remember first of all we are a citizen of this country," he says. "And we are a citizen of the Kingdom of God. That comes second."

When asked if Jesus would be comfortable with the Communist Party government in China, Weiqing replied: "Absolutely. I think so."

Sudworth notes that the comment is a perfect illustration of the Communist Party's latest grand plan for religious belief. Over the past two years, the authorities say they have been trying to develop their own unique version of Christianity, "a Chinese Christian theology" according to one top official.

Such a theology needs to be compatible with China's political development which, it seems clear, really means subservient to it. In this view of faith, then, it is easy to see why even Jesus should find Himself being welcomed into the Communist fold.

This approach from the government leaves Christians with only two options: comply and compromise your faith to please the powers that be, or go underground - risking arrest and detention - in order to seek first the Kingdom of God.

The typical underground church is held in a private home cell group and with as much secrecy as possible. In one such cell, a member named Xu Yonghai bluntly stated: "Official churches are in fact just political institutes," he says. "It is impossible for us to leave Jesus and follow the Party."

And despite all the persecution, the truth of Jesus Christ still marches on. Brandon Showalter for the Christian Post (CP) recently quoted Rodney Pennington who studies religious trends for OMF International.

"We are overjoyed with what the Lord has already done in China," said Pennington, vice president for mobilization of OMF, a missions organization, in a recent interview with The CP.

"But that doesn't mean the task is 2030 China will almost certainly have the most evangelical Christians...and that will greatly shape the global evangelical Church in the coming years".

Yu Jie, a Chinese Christian and democracy activist, said in an essay published in the August edition of First Things that Chinese Christians are known to say "the greater the persecution, the greater the revival." If recent reports are correct, the persecution has indeed been great but the revival has been, in Yu's words, a "gushing well or geyser."

Certainly not music to the ears of the authoritarian Chinese government. As Showalter pointed out, China is still officially an atheist country.

In April, CP reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping told his Communist Party members that they must be "unyielding Marxist atheists" who will command Christians and other religious groups in the country.

Yu noted that there are three times as many illegal house churches as state-sponsored ones, and that repression is particularly bad in Wenzhou, "China's Jerusalem" in Zhejiang province, where an estimated 15 percent of the population is Christian.

So having realized that persecution tends to have the opposite effect to that intended - to crush, cripple and intimidate - China now ardently pursues its Trojan Horse technique.

As Andrew Brown recently argued in his opinion post for the on a recent outbreak of persecution of Christians in China, the officially communistic nation now doesn't want to suppress Christianity - just control it. After all, there are already thought to be more Christians there (some 100 million) than members of the Communist party (87 million).

The great majority of Chinese Christians are Protestants of one sort or another. This numerical advantage over Catholicism appears to stem at least in part over poor relations between the Vatican and Beijing. 

The strain has resulted from China's attempts to dictate who controls Roman Catholic leaders: the Vatican asserts its right to do so without political interference or imposition by the atheistic Chinese government.

On the other hand, Brown opines that the decentralized structure of the Protestant movement helps it to grow and spread, but also makes it much harder for governments to cut lasting deals with it. That's the same kind of problem European governments face with Islam: who are the leaders?

Some of the churches attacked in the most recent wave of persecutions have been official and state-sanctioned members of the "Three-Self" movement, a Protestant denomination that is meant to be entirely under government control (many of the churches have CCTV cameras facing the pulpits, to check the sermons for political unorthodoxy).

All this suggests a party that really does not know what to do. Marxism is emptied of content in today's China, and capitalism alone will not supply big collective dreams. Nationalism is too dangerous. But Christianity cannot be entirely tamed.

In conclusion, Brown states that perhaps the most striking statistic in this story is that Christians now make up about 5% of the Chinese population. 

That is rather more than the proportion of Muslims in Britain as a whole. It's about the level when religious minorities become too big to ignore, and yet too small to feel secure. This week's outbreak (of persecution) won't be the last, he predicts.

This, despite indications that this worn-out tactic continues to backfire. Thomas Williams, in a report for earlier this year, stated that the crackdown is leading more and more professing Christians underground.

Williams explained that in recent months, Beijing has ramped up its persecution of house churches, demolishing crosses from places of worship and driving followers deeper underground.

"If the independent church is no longer allowed, I will just go home and pray," said Dong Baolu, an underground Chinese priest. "There is only one road for us Catholics."

The persecutions don't stop at church levels - they cut across wider aspects of life, targeting Christians for discrimination and penalties in various ways. 

CP's Stoyan Zaimov recently reported that Chinese students attending a Christian house church in the central Guizhou province are being threatened by government authorities who are warning them that if they don't stop going to the church, they will be barred from going to college.

"This notice was sent to all of the schools in Huaqiu," explained Mou, the person that human-rights advocacy group China Aid said was in charge of Huaqiu Church. "They (public security) intend to cleanse us and ask us to join the Three-Self Church."

The Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a government-run Protestant church, does not permit the "brainwashing" of teenagers or children by bringing them to religious services. China Aid explains that children younger than 18 are not allowed to receive any religious education.

The house church members have also reportedly been pressured into signing a document vowing that they will not take minors into the church. 

Additionally, parents have been told that they will be sued if they bring their children to church, while the children themselves will not be allowed to take the college entrance exam or be admitted into the army.

In a separate report, Zaimov observed that seminary students in China are being forced to live under "absolute obedience" to the Communist Party and put the State ahead of God.

Persecution watchdog group China Aid correspondent Guo Baosheng stated: "It is obvious the seminary has degenerated into absolute obedience to the Communist Party's so-called Christian pastors' education base, becoming a Communist Party school dressed in the cloak of Christianity," Guo wrote.

"In this way, they submit to Caesar and [operate] contrary to God. They distort the true way [to God], and [these actions] will certainly accelerate the demise of the Three-Self Church and its seminary."

The seminary's president, Pastor Pan Xingwang, reportedly supports the ongoing cross demolition campaign, which has also led to hundreds of Christians arrested and sent to prison for speaking out and protesting against the government's actions.

Matt Moir, in a article earlier this year, noted that these actions are part of an attempt to mold Christianity to China's own image: A Chinese version of Christianity.

A pastor from Zhejiang province in eastern China said the intent of sinicizing Christianity is "to reform and remold Christianity into a (Communist) Party-dominated tool that can be used in its service."

China Aid, a Christian human rights organization based in Midland, Texas, released a report stating that sinicization is nothing less than an attempt to "de-Christianize the church in China."

Xi Lian, professor of World Christianity at Duke University, warns that if Chinese authorities do, indeed, fear the rise of a robust, defiant Christianity in China, they should think carefully about the strategy they use to address it. He thinks Christianity is "here to stay," and that its membership and influence will only expand.

"The harsher the state's treatment of Christianity, the more vigorously and unpredictably it will grow," he said.

The Chinese government, like all pagan governments throughout history, assumes that it is dealing merely with the ideology of men like themselves; that it is merely a contest of opinion and will. 

In so doing, they reckon without God and fail to factor into their equation the reality of Divine intervention. The Church of Jesus Christ, however, is not a man-made institution. As Jesus Himself clearly states, "I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16.18)

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