April 29, 2011 Written by Elder Wang Yi (Chengdu Qiuyuzhifu Reformed Church) Translated by China Aid Association1. House Churches are Exemplars of Law-biding CitizensIn 1955, Mr. Wang Mingdao wrote an article named “We Do Everything for Faith,” which became the Chinese house churches’ defense in front of kings and the world. For decades, house churches, for the purposes of the Gospel, followed through on their freedom of religion and conscience yet always forbidden by the government. Although house churches faced crackdowns from the Chinese government, they still persisted in spreading Jesus’ Gospels and never stopped their worship and meetings. Although house churches still lack legal status in China, they formed a community life for a few tens of millions of citizens.
Some people might ask, if house churches violate the law in China? My frank answer would be, yes, they do. For 60 years, house churches were always violating the law, whether it was worship, association, doctrine, church benefice and property, sacrament, sermon, spreading the gospel, theological training, selection and appointment of clergymen, printing documents and brochures, or Sunday schools or act of charity. House churches, using the method of “none violence and civil disobedience,” have completely violated China’s religious administration and related administrative law enforcement for as long as 6 decades. If we deny this point, then we are denying the path house churches are taking, and the historical fact of politico-religious conflict in China for more than half a century.
However, more important than this, we have to ask another question—did the Chinese government violate the law? Our honest and brave answer would be, yes, obviously. For 60 years, China has always been violating her own constitution and laws in the religious freedom realm, let it be in worship, association, doctrine, church benefice and property, sacrament, sermon, spreading the gospel, theological training, selection and appointment of clergymen, printing documents and brochures, Sunday schools or act of charity. The Chinese government used an illegal, authoritarian, and barbarian way, to coerce and pressure Jesus Christ’s children and churches in China, for as long as 60 years.
Therefore, we have to ask again, did house churches violate the law? If we talk about the Bible as Christians and churches’ “constitution,” then house churches’ worship and sermon of God and God’s law for 60 years was the perfect exemplary of following the law of God and freedom of conscience in the Chinese society. I have to say, it is “the greatest law of all, as it is given in the holy Writings” (James 2:8). Furthermore, just because we have to follow the law that we inscribe in our conscience and deep in our heart, we have no choice but to violate the religious administrative system enacted since 1950s—because this system deprives of their mission of worshiping God and spreading the Gospel.
If we call the constitution the “king” of the modern state, and if the Chinese government declares that its power is bestowed from the constitution and it abides by the constitution, then I will honestly answer—for 60 years, house churches have been a perfect example of obeying the king and the constitution in Chinese society. In fact, house churches are so law-biding that even when all governmental officials chose to defy the constitution and even sent those who did not defy the constitution with them to the jail, house churches still obeyed their constitutional rights of legally worshiping God and spreading the Gospel. Also, just because we have to obey the ruling constitution, we have to disobey the religious administrative system and related administrative enforcement that clearly violate the constitution.
All house churches’ pursuit is essentially the pursuit of the Gospel. This pursuit directly conflicts with that of the state, and the focus is “religious freedom” that the constitution ensures in Article 35. In other words, social transformation, political improvement, liberty, democracy, rule of law, and human rights are all good things in the eyes of Christian, but these are never the pursuit of churches. Whether it is an enslaved society or democratic society, authoritarian or rule of law, the Bible instructs the churches to be obedient to the power of the rulers. In a word, Jesus Christ’s churches are not interested in any politics or legal systems, but under any political and legal system, churches are always interested in worshiping God and spreading the Gospel.
Therefore, in 60 years of religious persecution, house churches were examples of law-biding citizens and organizations, as they were always peaceful, always enduring. If the Lord allows it, house churches are willing to suffer losses under any political system and abide by any unjust and unfair laws. As a matter of fact, for 60 years, that was exactly what house churches did. However, the only one law that house churches cannot abide by, is the laws that attempt to deprive and control our rights to worship God and spread the Gospel. On a civil level, the house churches have to view these laws as unconstitutional’; on a spiritual level, the house churches have to view these laws as evil and anti-Christian.
Whether it was facing Roman emperors or Chinese Communist Party, whether it was in an ancient society or a modern society, real churches have never changed on this standpoint. Furthermore, precisely it was because of Christian churches’ perseverance and great effort for two thousand years could we achieve the concept of “religious freedom” in modern state and constitutional system that we take for granted.
For a long time, house churches’ pursuit is always clearly written on “The Constitution of People’s Republic of China.” Except for ending religious persecution and providing religious freedom, house churches’ mission of the Gospel has nothing to do with the power of the state and have nothing else to ask from the state.
2. Not politicization but Political PersecutionGlobal Times, a newspaper hosted by People’s Daily, wrote an article on April 25, 2011, reproaching Beijing Shouwang Church’s open door worship and the house churches’ efforts to pursue publicity and legalization for their worship, mission and local church bodies as the “politicization” of the churches. Even among believers, there are people who always get confused about this point. I believe that in order to understand the history and reality of China’s politico-religious relationship, we have to clarify the following few points:
(1) 60 years of religious persecution was never legal persecution, but political persecution. Just as the judgment of Lord Jesus Christ was not a judgment from a legal perspective (according to Pontius Pilate Jesus was innocent under Roman law), but rather a religious and political judgment. Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his lord. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). I want to say to brothers and sisters that if the Jesus we believe was crucified on the cross for the charge of subverting the country, isn’t it us disciples’ undeserved glory to be called “politicians” in our persecution? Our Lord was crucified on the cross, wearing a hat of “King of the Jews,” because He is the glorious King. Similarly, Chinese house churches are reproached as “politicalizing” church events, because we are priests serving a holy God.
(2) The conflict between the state and house churches was never a legal issue but a political issue. No matter whether it was the government or house churches need to face this reality. House churches’ problems were never problems of the enforcement on a technical or administrative level. The problems of house churches were because for as long as 60 years, several tens of millions of believers keep holding onto freedom of religion and conscience. It is one of China’s most serious social political problems.
(3) It was the government’s 60 years of political persecution against house churches, rather than house churches’ 60 years of non-cooperation with the administrative and the executive, that created this political problem with house churches.
(4) House churches’ belief became part of politics, but politics is not part of house churches’ belief. For churches, whether it is worship, association, doctrine, church benefice and property, sacrament, sermon, spreading the gospel, theological training, selection and appointment of clergymen, printing documents and brochures, Sunday schools or acts of charity, it is all a matter of faith, rather than a political issue. But for the Chinese government, as long as the government does not believe house churches have the sovereignty of worshiping God and spreading the Gospel, these issues will always be political problems for the Chinese government, rather than a matter of faith.
(5) House churches’ stance and pursuit are acts to ask the political leaders stop taking them as political problems. That’s exactly why house churches insisted not joining into “Three-Self Patriotic Movement.” As a result of this resistance, house churches have endured 60 years of political persecution, segregation and discrimination. We are tired of secret meetings, tired of secret police, tired of the Chinese government’s fear of the Gospel. Whoever is afraid is continuing “politicizing” the matter of faith into a political problem.
(6) The politicization of “house churches issue” is different from “politicization of churches.” Except for exercising freedom of religion by using a non-cooperative method, did the house churches involve and use the narrow definition of “political” power and method to cause the churches’ “politicization?” According to my understanding and knowledge of modern house churches, I have to answer clearly and with confidence: No, I do not think any house churches and their pastors have any tendency and danger of getting politicized, just like I do not believe any “Three-Self Patriotic Movement” churches and sites have any tendency and danger not to be politicalized. Because politicization of churches happened to state churches following the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement,” rather than to house churches, who refused to join in “Three-Self Patriotic Movement.”
(7) Ending political persecution and protecting religious freedom is the only way to “de-politicalize” house churches issue. Today’s house churches, especially the pastors and preachers have the obligation to voice out for this mission. Past generations of pulpits suffered for religious persecution. This generation of pulpits will suffer for the Lord for ending religious persecution.
3. Voicing Out for Ending Religious Persecution From Saint Justin Martyr’s First Apology to the early martyrs’ large volume of apologetic literature, to Martin Luther and John Calvin and other religious reformists’ apologetic articles and books for kings and monarchs, to Chinese House Churches’ Elder Wang Daoming’s book We Do Everything for Faith, Lord Jesus leads and opens a way to openly defending Christianity and spreading the Gospel in the mist of misunderstanding of “politicization.”
Today, God prepares for house churches’ leaders and brethren far advanced news broadcasting, public opinion, internet, social society, protection and permission of modern legal system, and technical conditions. Woe to us if we can’t defend Christian belief in front of Chinese leaders and the Chinese people in a more open and candid way, voice out for them in order to end 60 years of religious persecution, and raise our propositions on freedom of spreading the Gospel and churches’ sovereignty on doctrine, benefice and property, and selection and appointment of clergy, then all of us clergy.
I call on more clergy to join us in making our voices known, and I plead that the Lord will use all clergy in China, so that the Chinese government and more citizens to honestly face the following realities:
(1) The religious persecution that People’s Republic of China has against Christian churches since 1950 is still not over yet;
(2) Christian churches’ right to freedom of assembly, association, sermon and propaganda are still not recognized by the Chinese government;
(3) The relating religious freedom acts within the Chinese constitution are still a void check;
(4) Christians are openly and severely discriminated against in holding offices, getting education, academia, and publication.
I also plead Chinese leaders and every civil servant who may or may not have participated in religious persecution, to use “the work of the law seen in their hearts” (Romans 2:15), to acknowledge and face the following reality:
(1) On September 26, 1950, the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee published “Instructions on Initiating ‘Christian Declaration’ Campaign among Christianity and Catholic Chuches.” In this document, churches are seen as “the instruments of imperialism.” In the following various political campaigns and persecutions, the Chinese government imprisoned and executed numerous pastors and clergy with a charge of being “anti-revolutionaries,” persecuted the vast majority of brethren who did not participated in the official “Three-Self Patriotic Movement,” including our respectful clergymen Wang Mingdao, Ni Chaisheng, Yuan Xiangshen, etc. Until today, these political persecutions were never corrected, retried and reconciled.
(2) On December 29, 1950, Government Administration Council published “Report on dealing with cultural, educational, relief organizations and religious entities that accept funds from the United States.” Following the enactment of this document, 19 Christian colleges, more than 200 church-run middle schools, and more than 1700 church-run primary schools, hospitals and orphanages were all confiscated by the government. This act of depriving and infringing on religious freedom and church property was never actively and thoroughly corrected in the past 60 years.
(3) On March 31, 1982, Chinese Communist Party Central Committee published “No.19 Document,” which corrected some of the extreme leftist religious policies of the time, but still kept limitation and suppression of Christians’ assembly, association, and propaganda, and this policy dominated 30 years of false legal enforcement on all level of government, including fine, detention, education through labor, imprisonment, abolition, excruciation, and other illegal methods. The impact of this false policy still carries on.
(4) In 2004, State Council violated “Legislation Law”’s regulation on “must make laws to limit citizens’ political rights,” illegally enacted “Acts on Religious Affairs.” There were many limitations and cancellations to Christians’ constitutional rights of assembly, association and propaganda, and continued seeing the majority Christians’ assembly, association and propaganda that are not controlled by United Front Work Department of Central Committee of Communist Party of China and official “Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee.”
As a preacher for house churches, I thank and praise our omnipotent God for all of these persecution and limitations that the churches suffered. Because God permitted and used all of these to carry out his beautiful, nice, pure and right will, and make and purify God’s churches and children in China, and give us what we don’t deserve, a chance to “undergo pain because of righteousness” (1 Peter 3:14). On a higher level, or even personal level, I’d rather this kind of persecution continue to exist, so that we can obey God’s will to get prepared for a longer politico-religious conflict. Because this is the most excellent for Christians’ spiritual life and eternal hope.
But because we voice out for all those persecutors who don’t believe in Jesus’ Gospel and God’s indignation and curses—but don’t we believe in it?
We voice out because we have mercy for all those citizens who cannot be more freely and bountifully have opportunities to hear the Gospel and go to church because of religious persecution. They don’t believe in Jesus’ Gospel, so they don’t care what they are losing—don’t we care?
We voice out because we are often weak and give in when we are persecuted. “If it is possible, let this cup go from me; but let not my pleasure, but yours be done” (Matthews 26:39). We admit that there are times when we are timid, fearful, in the flesh, bitter, and even feels self-righteous and prideful when we are suffering. Therefore, we are not heroes who strive for religious freedom, we are simply asking Lord Jesus Christ to help us get away from temptation and evilness. We are afraid that “the weight of it was very great, more than our power” (2 Corinthians 1:8) and we defamed the great name of our Lord.
60 years ago, the Chinese government threatened every Christian to give their own names and identities to Caesar. From 1950 to 1954, 410, 000 Christians (which constituted for about 50% of the Christian population back then) voluntarily or were forced to sign their names on “The Declaration of Three-Self Patriotic Movement,” publicly betrayed Lord Jesus Christ and His churches, and were forced to leave the public society.
60 years later, the Lord’s churches also call for every Christian, once again, give their names and identities out for the purpose of the Gospel. We have the obligation to use some similar method (another appeal, voice out, petition, apology, and signature campaign) to openly declare in front of the Chinese government leadership their faith, apologize for the Gospel and churches, and brush off the humiliation of the betrayal to the Lord with the precious blood of Christ.
What we need is not another religious “rights movement;” what we need is only an authentic Gospel movement. Our support, petition and voicing out are closely related to the house churches’ unprecedented “Gospel Preparation” Campaign, planting churches in the city, transformation of church sites, religious propaganda, and the cultural mission of the Gospel in the urbanization and social transformation. Through this process, we want to let house churches be more certain of members of the local churches and founding of each church site, and form a visible Christian unity in front of the world. The house churches should use the topic of religious freedom to challenge the conscience of other citizens, strengthen church members’ courage, and call for wavering brethren’s full commitment.
House churches do not need to ask for the deprived rights from the state with passion. Churches humbly plead for the state’s recognition and respect for our freedom that we have gotten for the benefit of the whole country to hear the Gospel.
Churches do not need to depend on external “religious freedom” to preserve and live out their Christian belief. On the contrary, for 60 years, churches have based on Christian belief to live our or own “freedom.” Therefore, the churches’ petition, appeal, apology, signature and voice that intends to end religious persecution is not for the external benefits for the physical churches, but for the extension of Lord Jesus’ kingdom and the beneficence for the other social groups. “Not for fear of wrath, but because you have the knowledge of what is right” (Romans 13:5).
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ to those who have been made holy in Christ Jesus, saints by the selection of God, with all those who in every place give honour to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 2-3).
(Writing after the Year of the Lord, April 29, 2011)