God and Caesar in China

Bob Fu
Wednesday, May 2nd 2007
Nov/Dec 2006

Between May 2005 and May 2006, nearly 2,000 Chinese house church pastors and Christians were arrested. Though most of them were released after international pressure was applied, many Chinese Christians today are still serving in labor camps. My wife and I have also suffered persecution. When we were arrested in 1996 because of "illegal evangelism" my interrogator started the questioning by quoting Romans 13:1, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." In order to show my submission to authority, he demanded that I reveal all the names and activities of the brothers and sisters attending our house church. That made my conscience struggle a little bit. The extent to which Christians submit to God and Caesar will determine the relationship between church and state in contemporary China.

Today, any religious activities carried on outside the Chinese government-sanctioned patriotic organizations are considered "illegal religious activities," and are subject to persecution. House churches that refuse to register with the TSPM (Three Self Patriotic Movement), the official state agency, come under this category of "illegitimate religious activities."

Why would house churches refuse to register and join the TSPM? First of all, the alienation between the house churches and the TSPM has been deeply rooted in the history of the church in China since 1950. Christians in the 1950s witnessed how the government used the TSPM to destroy both the institutional church established by Western missions and indigenous churches founded by Chinese believers. Many of the pastors were sent to prison during this period through the betrayal of pastors officially sanctioned by the TSPM. Even today, many TSPM pastors work as informants of house church activities leading to the arrest and imprisonment of house church pastors and Christians, like my wife and me.

Second, once a house church registers with the government and joins the TSPM, its activities are limited to Sunday worship. Even midweek prayer meetings and fellowship groups in believers' homes are forbidden.

Third, once a house church registers and joins the TSPM, it can no longer engage in evangelism outside the church building or designated places of worship. But house churches are committed to evangelism. Joining the TSPM would mean giving up evangelism. Thus the issue is to evangelize or not to evangelize?

Finally, the most important reason why house churches refuse to register and join the TSPM is their belief in the lordship of Christ over the church. "Who is the head of the church: Christ or the state?" they would ask. The TSPM accepts the state as the supreme authority of church affairs. House churches that are committed to the sole headship of Christ in the church and to evangelism must operate as illegal groups conducting so-called illegal religious activities, and consequently must suffer the penalties inflicted by the state. In his book Called to the Ministry, Edmund Clowney said something that applies very directly to the church-state relationship in China: "Religion is tolerated when it supports the claims of the state, the Party, the institutional hierarchy." The majority of the house churches have chosen to suffer for Christ and his Word rather than to enjoy the toleration afforded by an anti-Christian state. Through obedience, they have tasted the goodness and tender mercies of the Lord (Rom. 5:3-5).

In his book Their Blood Cries Out, Paul Marshall notes that some who live in the free Western societies, even Christians, know very little or refuse to know, about the mounting persecution toward Christians in countries such as China. "It's hard for them to believe that there are, in today's world, people willing to endure the same certain fate as the Tiananmen Square hero in order to quietly profess a Christian faith." Religious persecution and oppression seem "more suited to biblical texts and ancient Roman history than to evening newscasts" in the eyes of Western Christians. Why are Christians silent in the face of such persecution? Is it ignorance? Is it bias? It may be both. As Paul Marshall notes, American evangelicals tend to emphasize the seeking of the inner peace while the mainline churches are busy with seeking outer and international peace by establishing friendship with all political powers, even with persecutors.

The ultimate cause of this conflict in China is about the lordship of Christ. It is a choice between being loyal to Christ alone or yielding to Caesar's demands to sacrifice Christ's church. It is a test of lordship. Who is lord: Christ or Caesar? By making that choice to obey Christ rather than man, thousands of "prisoners for Christ" choose to suffer with Christ who has made a promise that nothing they will face from the outside can destroy their faith or take them away from the love of God (Rom. 8:31-39).

Wednesday, May 2nd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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