Bible, Main, News, Persecution, Teaching
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China: When church and governments collide

Guarding Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China Photo: Stephan Rebernik/Flickr/Creative Commons

Guarding Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China Photo: Stephan Rebernik/Flickr/Creative Commons

In 2014, speaking at a religious forum in Shanghai, Wang Zuoan a senior bureaucrat with China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs told of the government’s plans to “nationalize” Christianity in that country.

Though Zuoan didn’t couch it in exactly those terms he spoke of Christian theology adapting to Chinese conditions and culture.

There was no doubt in the minds of Chinese Christians that this meant the communist party was planning to take over Christianity and use it to promote its platform.

Since that announcement, the Chinese government has moved forward on its plan, that included the removal of crosses from Churches. To date citing building code violations over 1,200 crosses have been removed and in some instances churches destroyed.

The government even sent a number of Christians to jail for opposing the cross removals including Pastor Huang Yizi, from the eastern province of Zhejiang. The government also recently sentenced Pastor Bao Guohua and his wife Xing Wenxiang to 14 years in prison for leading opposition to crosses being removed. The government also falsely accused them of fraud so it could up the sentence.

There are two types of churches in China — the government sanctioned and the house church movement. The house church has experienced rapid growth and because the government has basically ignored them, many moved above ground and rented buildings to conduct public worship services.

However, with the recent crack down, many may return to their secretive ways.

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research, in 2010 there were 68 million Christians in China and the organization expected the number to reach 70 million by 2050.

However, others believe the number of Christians could be much higher. Sociology professor Fengang Yuang from Purdue University, who is considered an expert on religion in China, suggests the number of Christians in China could reach 160 million by 2025 and 247 million by 2032.

And he even adds that these are conservative estimates and the actual numbers could be much  higher.

This explosive growth would explain the Communist party’s recent efforts to gain control of the movement.

In an interview with the Religion News Service Yang said,

“Many Christians do show a level of independence from government interference. This worries officials. They want to find some way to maintain control, and sinicization is the latest effort to tame Christianity through a more systematic campaign.”

The sinicization with Chinese cultures includes outward forms such as the removal of crosses from building, having churches constructed with a more Chinese appearance and even singing hymns using Chinese-styled music.

However, Yang believes the real motive is to have the church preach the government’s communist message.

This problem is not new. The early church also struggled in its relationship with governments.

On one hand the Apostle Paul wrote that Christians were to submit to those in authority (Romans 13:1-7).

However, there were limits. When Jerusalem authorities began to push the early apostles to quit preaching the gospel, it was Peter who stated at a meeting with the Jewish council “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

It was a brazen statement before a hostile crowd. But to fully understand what was happening here, we have to look at what took place just hours before this meeting.

Earlier in the chapter we read how a miracle revival had broken out in Jerusalem. In fact, Jews living in the country brought their sick into the city to have them prayed for. People were being added to the church daily (Acts 5:12-16).

This provoked Jerusalem’s religious authorities and they had the apostles thrown in a “public jail” (v 18). The Bible is very clear this was not some religious prison but the jail used for murderers, thieves and drunks.

But a curious thing happened that night which delivered a very clear theological statement to the early Christians.

As the apostles were sitting in jail, an angel appeared to them — and there is no other way of saying this — the angel broke them out of jail. He opened the prison doors allowing them to escape. As the apostles were leaving the angel told them to return to the Temple and to preach the gospel (Acts 5:19-21).

This was not the only time that God freed early Christians from jail. It happened two other times — Acts 12:5-17 and  Acts 16:16-40.  In the latter incident, it was secular, not Jewish religious leaders, who threw the Apostle Paul in prison.

Now if you and I tried to spring someone from jail, we would be breaking the law and end up in prison ourselves.

But here we have God doing exactly that.

The jail break in Acts 5 left a very clear message to the early church — when it came to preaching the gospel they were not subject to human laws — which led the Apostle Peter to say Christians must “obey God, rather than men.”

But the Apostle Paul is adamant in issues not pertaining to this exemption, the early Christians were subject to those in authority.



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