A Chinese theology student wrote an essay recently explaining why a group of Chinese Christians protested a Chinese Bible exhibit in the United States this year. The traveling exhibit was sponsored by the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Church in China, the communist committee that oversees China’s official church.
The Bible exhibit, titled “Thy Word Is the Truth: The Bible Ministry Exhibition of the Protestant Church in China,” was displayed in Washington, D.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas, Texas; and Chicago, Ill. According to an online article by The Christian Post, the exhibit shows how the Bible was spread throughout China. Rev. Bao Jiayuan, associate general secretary of the China Christian Council, a co-sponsor of the exhibit, told The Christian Post, “We hope to build mutual understanding between American Christians and Christians in China.”
In his essay, the Chinese student attempted to clarify true church-state relations in China and to explain some common misconceptions about the Three-Self Movement and the reasons why Chinese Christians protested the Bible exhibit. The anonymous writer said Chinese believers opposed to the Three-Self Movement are not necessarily opposed to churches within the movement, emphasizing that many members of the body of Christ belong to Three-Self churches.
“Since it is acceptable to expose the China Red Cross Society’s embezzlement and corruption and its monopoly of charity work, so we can likewise criticize the Three-Self for being politicized, for not being separate from the state and for controlling and restricting the church,” the student wrote. “In any case, when the government violates biblical principles, the church, as the vanguard of society and its conscience, has the responsibility to criticize and to bring up biblical truths.”
The student discredited the idea that Three-Self churches are full because they are successfully preaching the gospel. In China, only one Christian church is allowed per area; therefore, the only Christian church permitted is a Three-Self church. “Just imagine if in all of Shanghai (or Chicago) there were only five gas stations. Each would be jammed with customers,” the student wrote. “So the fact that there are so many people at these churches that meet openly isn’t because they are doing such a great job, but rather is due to the irregular religious policy and the Three-Self’s control and restrictions.”
The student also claimed that the Bible exhibit did not paint a true picture of the availability of Bibles in China. He pointed out that Chinese customs officers still seize Bibles when they are brought into the country in quantities. Several pastors are in prison for printing the Bible without permission, and Bibles in China are sold only in churches belonging to the Three-Self organization.
The exhibit displayed Bibles that Chinese Christians copied during the Cultural Revolution and at other times when Christians were widely persecuted in China. “Yet no mention was made anywhere of who was persecuting the church and [who] had made it impossible for Christians to buy Bibles, or who helped the government forcibly take over the church, or the fact that the Three-Self monopoly on Bible distribution brooks no interference,” the student wrote. “What they are trying to do is to dress up a religious policy that is wrong and not free and the Three-Self’s history of controlling and persecuting the church so as to create the illusion of religious freedom in China and the Three-Self as an organization that loves the Lord and loves the church.”
According to the essay, overseas organizations cooperating with the Three-Self have underestimated the potential consequences of working with them. “Consider this: If the Three-Self wins the support of the overseas mainline churches, and then, in the name of ‘orthodox Christianity,’ begins large-scale persecution of house churches, the harm to the work of the Gospel far exceeds the little bit of ministry that they [the foreign groups] can do.”
The student suggested that if foreign churches want a part in ministering to Christians in China, they should do so by working directly with local governments, training house church preachers and translating Christian literature, rather than working with the government organization. Foreign churches can contact China’s local churches, including churches within the Three-Self, and establish a relationship. “All these would be much better than helping the Three-Self in its propaganda efforts.”
Sources: China Aid Association, The Christian Post