Chinese Theological Review 16

Closing Speech to the 7th National Chinese Christian Conference

Cao Shengjie

By the grace of God, this 7th National Chinese Christian Conference comes to a successful conclusion today. Looking back on the meeting, several points stand out:

First, this is the first national Christian meeting to be held in the new century and forms a significant link between past and future. It has been the object of widespread attention and emphasis by colleagues and fellow Christians at home and abroad. This is obvious from the many letters and telegrams of congratulations that have been received. The prayers and support of our sisters and brothers were important in guaranteeing that this meeting would be a success.

Second, the direction of this meeting is clear. In the summing up made at the 50th anniversary of the TSPM in 2000, we formulated our basic goal of "running the church well according to the three-self principle." The duty of this meeting was to give substance to those goals. General Secretary Jiang Zemin's speech at the National Meeting on Religious Work held by the State Council in 2001 gave us a clearer understanding of the basic task in the religious work of Party and State, which was of great assistance to us in planning for a positive role. This role is to be unshakable in our resolution to help the Party and government thoroughly implement its policy of religious freedom, while at the same time safeguarding the legitimate rights of Christian circles; to go further in establishing the concept of the rule of law, making observance of the law a prerequisite in initiating religious activities; taking the initiative in adapting to socialist society; taking greater responsibility in upholding the principle of independence and self-determination. The speech given by Director Ye Xiaowen of the Religious Affairs Bureau at the opening formalities of this Conference drew on the realities of Christianity and gave us hope.

Third, the demands of our future work are fairly concrete. The Work Report of the outgoing Standing Committee underwent collective discussion and six revisions before being finalized. It raises basic demands and concrete duties for future work. Delegates' reactions have been marked by seeking truth from facts and many suggestions can be implemented. The Constitutions of the CCC and TSPM also underwent major revisions, assuring that these two bodies will be strengthened in structure and organization.

Fourth, more has been done to ensure a greater proportion of younger delegates. There are 300 delegates at this meeting from all 30 provinces, autonomous regions and directly-administered municipalities. The 105 delegates under 40 are one-third of the total. One hundred twenty-nine delegates are in the 41-60 age range. Together with those under 40, these make up 78 percent of the total. This means that upwards of three-fourths of our delegates here are below 60 years of age, with the median age at 49.6, lower by three years than the median age at our last meeting. The proportion of women delegates - 26.9 percent - is also 1.1 percent higher than previously. Thus, the graying of Chinese Christianity has been slowed somewhat.

Fifth, the sense of unity has been strengthened. The enthusiasm throughout this meeting and the views expressed by delegates in the small groups and plenary show that a consensus lacking in past meetings has here been achieved on some large issues of principle. In his opening speech, Bishop Ting congratulated this meeting beforehand on being a united meeting, and today we can say that we have not disappointed him.

Let me list some of the issues discussed at the meeting:

Christianity must keep up with the times. In this third stage of the TSPM, it must firmly grasp the central work of theological reconstruction if it is to truly achieve adaptation to socialist society. Delegates showed a profound understanding of the fact that theological reconstruction is necessary to the very existence and development of the church. Socialist society is developing rapidly and we must witness to the unchanging truth of Christianity in an ever-changing era. On a ground of theological reconstruction we must have reasonable explanations and develop the peace, joy and encouragement that Christianity brings to people and renew and enliven content, thus enabling ever more people to know and accept it. In his opening speech, Bishop Ting once again pointed to the importance of developing Christian morality and this received a warm response from delegates. And, concerning the resolution on the Work Report of the Standing Committee, he further stressed that through the good works of Christians we must ensure that the slogan "a good Christian is a good citizen" becomes a reality. Delegates also pointed out that theological reconstruction is not mere empty theory, but is aimed at promoting self-propagation, raising the standard of preaching and enabling us to truly lead Christians on the path of integrating a firm faith with patriotism and love of church. In terms of theological reconstruction, we must both raise the level of theory and enable all Christians to enjoy its fruits. In this regard, we still have a great deal of work ahead of us.

Christianity has always stressed international relationships. In our situation of greater openness, on the foundation laid down for us by the older generation of church leaders, we will continue our efforts in this direction. At the same time, we lay full stress on the new situation and new problems that have followed reform and openness. Delegates at this meeting have raised many concerns about outside forces making use of Christianity to interfere in China; these are not only to be found outside the church, but inside as well. Many delegates expressed the idea that "the greater reform and openness, the more we must maintain independence and self-determination." This is a pertinent and necessary theme and we must intensify education in patriotism and three-self. Delegates also said that the only fundamental way to resist infiltration is "self-strengthening." On a foundation of doing the work of strengthening the church well, we must strengthen our determination to resist outside interference, raise our pastoral workers' awareness of independence and running the church well ourselves, while expanding communications to enable ordinary Christians to improve their powers of discernment in these matters.

We face a great enemy in the proliferation of heresy and cults. They do direct harm to many of our fine brothers and sisters, and do serious damage to the church and the society. A resolution "On Opposing Evil Cults and Resisting Heretical Beliefs was passed during this meeting to deal with this situation. Delegates said that we are shepherds and watchers. We must do a good job of protecting the vineyards the Lord has entrusted to us, not letting the wolves In to do harm. At the same time, it was said that CC/TSMs at all levels must do more concretely to run the church well, those responsible for the churches must unite and management must be orderly in order to lead believers well.

If the national CCC/TSPM are to strive to accomplish the tasks described above, we must, when It comes down to it, rely on the CC/TSM at all levels, the local churches and our Christian colleagues. We must strengthen contact and communications, and do our work with one heart and unity of mind.

New committees and Standing committees were elected at this National Conference, and EIder Ji Jianhong and myself wereelectedasleadersof theTSPMand CCC respectively. We thank our colleagues for the trust placed in us; we also tremble, for the responsibility is great. Compared to past leaders of these two bodies, we find ourselves wanting, whether in spiritual attainments, knowledge or ability. But we take this responsibility as another instance of God's calling and we dare not refuse. We can only rededicate ourselves before God, and with the support of the leaders, and the guidance of our elders, Bishop Ting, Mr. Luo and Mr. Flan, pour our greatest efforts into the work before us. The CCC/ TSPM must strengthen themselves. The regulations of our church order are not for others, but are first of all meant to restrain us, the leaders. We resolve to place ourselves in the service of the whole church, to listen to the voices of believers, to proceed strictly according to our Constitutions, and strive to increase the coherence and effectiveness of the work of the CCC/TSPM. We sincerely request the prayers of delegates here and of colleagues and fellow Christians across the nation. Moreover, we ask that you ceaselessly regulate and supervise us, that we may from start to finish walk the path God points out to us.

We place our hopes for the future of the church in the hands of our young and middle-aged colleagues. There are many young people among the delegates to this Conference, some of whom already bear important responsibilities within the church. We hope you will be further tested and refined, that you will not rest content with what you have thus far achieved, but make further advances in your spiritual lives, in morality, in theological attainments, and especially in firm understanding of patriotism and love for the church. The times are beckoning you, and the church needs your services; whether or not you are fitted to be a worker the Lord can use, depends upon your own resolve and actions.

Our Conference here has received care and attention on many sides, support and substantive assistance from the leaders of the United Front Department of the Party Central Committee and the Religious Affairs Bureau. I would like to express heartfelt thanks on behalf of us all.

Now I declare this 7T" National Chinese Christian Conference to have finished all aspects of its agenda and come to a satisfactory conclusion. May the grace of Jesus Christ remain with us all. Amen.

Tian Feng, 8/2002: 14-16.