Chinese Theological Review 14

Self-Government in the Light of Church Dogmatics

Wang Aiming

The development of Chinese Christianity demonstrates that in the future theological system of the Chinese church, the three-self principle of self-government will be the practical principle for understanding ecclesiology. The absence of ecclesiology is now a rather urgent issue for the fellowship of Chinese Christians, one that the current move toward theological reconstruction will encounter very shortly. I low to understand the intrinsic nature and work out the effective limits of the fellowship of Chinese Christians-what is expressed in the everyday phrase Chinese church-comprises the subject of this essay. As an idea, the principle of self-government is not at all abstruse or involved, but to elucidate its real meaning and make it practicable, one must begin from church dogmatics. I will proceed by first clarifying how an understanding of self-government inevitably touches on the issue of ecclesiology. Then I will analyze the contention that Chinese Christianity faces a potential crisis, to determine whether such a claim is justified in ecclesiological terms on the level of church dogmatics. Finally, I will return to the practical significance of the principle of self-government for Chinese Christianity.

Ecclesiology is Essential to Christian Fellowship

The fellowship of Christians worldwide is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Since the time of the apostles, this has guaranteed the unique sacred nature of the fellowship of believers, that is, the church. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul said, "Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior" (Eph. 5: 23); "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph. 5: 25); "Because we are members of this body" (Eph. 5: 30). Furthermore, in his letter to the Colossians, he wrote, "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col. 1: 24).

These Bible passages express the nature of a church that confesses Christ as Head as a basic article of faith. Consequently, the holiness of the church has become, from apostolic limes on down, the intrinsic determinant of the fellowship of Christians worldwide. This long widely-acknowledged situation will be our point of entry for analysis of the Chinese church today. This is to say, how shall we understand the varied significance of the ecclesiology and incomplete state of the fellowship of Chinese Christians?

In order to broaden our vision to take in the whole life-world of Christian faith, we must proceed from the basics by clarifying the meaning of "church" in theological linguistics and dogmatics. Only in this way can we analyze the current situation of Chinese Christianity in ecclesiological terms and thus make clear the significance of ecclesiology in constructing for our Chinese Christianity an effective mechanism for self-government. Put another way, under what circumstances can self-government be considered to already have begun to appear in the management of church affairs in a post-denominational China Christian Council?

The linguistic meaning of " church"

An interpretation of the term "church" must begin with its western language roots. Its forms in the romance languages, Church, Kirche, kerk, come from the Greek word meaning God's palace. The Latin ecelesia comes from the Greek ekklesia (a gathering, the gathering of Athenian citizens, etc.) extended to "a gathering of Christians" and "church," such as the French eglise Paul uses the term church 65 times in the New Testament. It also appears twice in Matthew, 23 times in Acts; once in James; 3 times in John3; and 20 times in Revelation. In the majority of these cases, it indicates a church in a specific locale. For example, "house church" (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon v.2); or a worship gathering of believers in a certain place (I Cor. 14:19, 28, 34); and at times in the sense of the catholic church, as in "the house of God" (Gal. 1:3; I Cor. 15:9). "The fellowship of God" is the most basic connotation of "church."

Paul is certainly not the originator of the term. He found the true value of this theological descriptive in the clear tradition of a "fellowship of God's chosen," among the earliest groups of Jewish Christians, because this term embodied the "new covenant" God had concluded with them, and the renewed divine promise with its Messianic implications. And precisely because of this, Paul extrapolated church from God's church as many as 11 times, as in I Cor. 1:2; I Tim 2:14; 2 Tim.1:4. Paul also uses "all the churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16); and "the churches of Judea that are in Christ" (Gal. 1:22). In New Testament hermeneutics, "church" carries the exclusive meaning of "Christian fellowship" because it serves Jesus Christ as lord, and in this is distinct from the Jewish synagogue.

According to our linguistic lesson in Paul, "church" is first of all a real entity in the world. Its more profound inner nature is that Christ is at once Lord of Heaven and Lord over all that is in this world. Thus, "church" becomes Christ's fellowship in the world, the fellowship of the divine redeeming grace, righteousness, the suffering, resurrection and ascension of all the saints together with Christ. All living things, through the faith and holy baptism in Christ return to a purified fellowship (Acts 2:38). Humankind thus comes to comprehend that it must first gain holy and unqualified grace before it can hope to be chosen. That is to say, "to love God," is in itself a prerequisite of being blessed and this sort of grace has truly existed in the created cosmos in many aspects of truth, goodness and beauty for a long time (Rom. 8:28-30; 9:10-16; 10:5s; 2 Tim. 2:13s). Through the grace of God and the special action of their own free will, human beings become members of the "church". In this way- narrow factors that determine traditions of religious faith, such as race, ethnicity and family or blood ties are separated from the universal faith in Christ (Gal. 3:28). As the apostle says, "In that renewal, there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is all in all!" (Col. 3:11). In Paul, the catholicity of the church with Christ as its head still lies in its being a chosen group in Jewish eyes, rather than in its function as Yahweh's bridge with gentile sinners (Gal. 2:15-21). This divine bridge between Jewish Christians and gentile converts enables God's fellowship, the "church" to become the place where hope for all humankind resides. In this sense, Paul uses words most familiar among his fellow believers in calling the "church" "God's Israel" (Gal. 6:16; Rom. 9:6). We should note that though "God's church" becomes the most important phrase for the "church" in Paul's terminology, he very seldom uses "God's kingdom" to mean the "church." As for the relationship in Paul's theological terminology of these two important phrases, we must wait for specialized research from the field of New Testament hermeneutics.

From this biblical exegesis, we have seen that for us today, the apostles' determinations about "church" that have had the greatest impact are concepts such as "the church is the body of Christ." "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another" (Rom. 12: 4-5). Similar passages are found at I Cor. 6: 12-20; 10: 14-22; 12: 12-31. Research in patristics shows us that Paul's use of "the church is the body of Christ" gained the broadest response at the time: All those who would follow Christ, no matter whether they were male or female, slave or master, foreigner or native. They were all different limbs of the mysterious body of Christ, all taking upon themselves different responsibilities because of the different gifts bestowed by God, but all as different limbs joined together in one body, all belonging to one head, Jesus Christ. A biblical exegesis of the term "church" would show a deeper level of revelation in all churches worldwide all belonging to one body with Christ at its head.(1) This is the biblical revelation of the doctrine of the church's unity within diversity. I will deal with the basic interpretation of this in the next section.

In sum, theological terminology as a path through biblical understanding of the word "church", enables us to see the biblical expression of the church of Christian believers. We can say without hesitation that on the basis of biblical revelation, the "church" is the fellowship of God, the fellowship of those who believe and serve Jesus Christ, the mysterious body of God Christ, the body of God with Christ as head.

The meaning of " church" in dogmatics

From the ground of dogmatics. Church Councils throughout the ages have never doubted the tradition of the first Council (325) and the four marks of the church set down there in the Nicene Creed. these four marks come from article nine of the Apostle's Creed, "I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church." (2) In the understanding of Yves Congar, outstanding Roman Catholic theologian of the 20th century:

"The unity of the body of Christ binds the members together in the fellowship of the church. It is thus something essential to the church by its very nature. In the 'Nicene' Creed of Constantinople (831) the attributes of holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity go hand in hand with unity. These four attributes of the church mutually imply one another, but it is no accident that unity comes first, for it is directly given with the being of the church as the fellowship that is grounded in the participation of believers in the one Lord Jesus Christ. We may thus understand the other three attributes as implications of the church's unity as one that is grounded in Jesus Christ. The further definitions of the church as holy, catholic, and apostolic elucidate this fact." (3)

According to the Augsburg Confession of 1530, article 7, "the church is the congregation of the saints, in which the gospel is correctly taught and the sacraments are properly administered." (4)

In his 1522 Christmas sermon, Martin Luther said that whoever would find Christ must first find the church. The church, he went on, is not brick and stone, but is the congregation of the saints, where the gospel is correctly taught and the sacraments properly administered.'(5)

In his Institutes, Book 4, chapter one, article 9 on the "church" John Calvin wrote: writes "taut respecting the congregation itself, we must form a different judgment. It they possess and honor the ministry of the word, and the administration of the sacraments, they are, without all doubt, entitled to be considered as a Church. (6)

A study of the documents of the Reformation shows us that the tradition of "church" confession of faith going back to the Nicene Creed had a deep impact on the Reformers, the mainstream theological tradition of Protestantism. Specifically, the third section of the Creed, from the third credo to the seventh credo, perfectly illustrates the relationship among the Spirit, the Church and the Saints. The reformers who shaped the Protestant tradition firmly held that the church does not exist in and of itself, it is in no way born of the subjective will of any person. Luther believed that she is creature verbidivini (created through the Logos and gospel of God).(7) Thus, he maintained that God's Logos and the church of God's people were intimately joined together. Such thinking has guided the mainstream of the Protestant theological tradition.

To be specific, several such concepts have formed the hermeneutical traditions of Protestant doctrinal theology:

" God's Logos' -is the foundation of the church;

The essence of the church lies in the fellowship that links all believers;

Christ is the head of the church, and the church is the body of Christ;

the church as a fellowship of believers guarantees that God's truth and the mission established by Christ will be proclaimed and enacted:

the church is both the reality of the spirit and the embodiment of that reality;

we can distinguish in the church with Christ as its head both the visible and the invisible church. The true church is the outward expression in the visible church of the spirit of the inner invisible church;" (8) the believers who have been called are the sanctified protectors of the church, and thus the safeguard of absolute obedience to Jesus the Head is a prerequisite for an ecclesiology of a church which is a fellowship of believers.

And this is what makes the emergence of a theory of church government inevitable, or to put it in everyday language, the management of the church is a responsibility of Christians living in the fellowship of faith in Christ.

To sum up, the ways in which "church" has been understood show us that the issue of ecclesiology includes propositions such as "the church is the body of Christ." Thus, in the study of any doctrinal question in Christianity, especially those that touch directly upon questions of the doctrine of ecclesiology, such as self-government, we must first make clear that "the church is holy because Christ is its head." This is an absolute judgment. From this, we can then enter into an analysis and understanding of our Chinese Christianity.

The Ecclesiological Predicament of Chinese Christianity

In his 1988 speech "Three-Self and the Church: Re-ordering the Relationship," Bishop K.H. Ting said: "As we know, the goals of the Three-Self f Movement are only to promote patriotism and to promote self-government, self-support and self-propagation within the church. Its aims are quite limited; it is not within the boundaries of its goals and responsibilities to manage or direct the church. No version of the constitution of the Three-Self organization ever stated that its task is to run the church." Later, due to the specific political background, the Three-Self organization moved to "a position side by side with, or even above the church. It became a management department, like a church and yet not really a church; like a government yet not really a government." (9)

This will be our point of entry for knowing and understanding the present ecclesiological predicament of the Chinese church.

It is evident from the situation, that in practice the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Chinese Protestant Church (FSPM) and the China Christian Council (CCC) manage all the business of Chinese Christianity. Post-denominationalism begins from this ground. There is no way to come up with a logical interpretation of this from dogmatic precedent and denominational tradition. All large mainstream denominations which might serve to draw people together were abolished; especially forbidden were those with dioceses as their basic unit which might have had a self'-contained existence comparable to that of the early government departments. Therefore, to join all Christians in the special people's organization of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Chinese Protestant Church had about it a special political inevitability in the atmosphere of the early 1950s. "From the beginning of this movement there has been an important emphasis, and made clear to co-workers and bel ievers, that the Three-Self Movement was not to lead or supervise the church. It is only to call Chinese Christians to love their country, and at the same time to insist that the church in China should not be dominated by churches of other countries." (10)

Along with the development over 50 years of the new political authority, and especially with the substantive transformation in China's international status- unprecedented in its hundred year history of humiliation since 1840, once China regained its standing as a world power, an unprecedented transformation took place in the world of spiritual phenomena as well. With regard to Christianity adapting to the social structure of civil society, the primary question is how to influence mainstream social values through active participation, because the marginalized existence of Christianity in China has been self-evident in modem times and right up to the present. A startling phenomenon is that while China as a whole began to modernize, Chinese Christianity, in many aspects, languished in a special stagnant period, "under government protection." With civil society and the rule of law, the clearing up of corruption, and especially with the establishment in the government system of all sorts of honest and highly effective benign mechanisms, the new Chinese Christian management structure, the lianghui, had no effective recovered internal mechanisms comparable to those in society. Within a considerable scope, there is no way to shape a substantive relationship of supervision and control between the national lianghui and local lianghui. However, aided by the government policies of reform and openness, which brought about flourishing development, the number of Chinese Christians rises daily and churches appear everywhere. Consequently, the fellowship of Chinese Christians and the Chinese church become in reality the objects of leadership and governance of the lianghui. Do those persons at every level of the lianghui who take up this concrete work have an ecclesiastical church consciousness? This is the key to becoming a recognized and effective mechanism for leading and administering the Chinese church.

According to Bishop Ting, "Our work in the church needs to have an adequate basis in faith and theology. The church is a social organization. But from the perspective of a Christian's faith, thinking and frame of mind, the church is different from social organizations such as the Women's Federation and the Red Cross. It is not like any other organization. 11 has its sacred dimension. The church is not only a spiritual fellowship of believers, it is the household of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit - It is the body of Christ with Christ as its head. ... Precisely because of the place of the Church in Christian doctrine, Christians find it uncomfortable and out of order to have any other organization set above the church. They would feel uneasy if the position of Christ as head of the church were taken away. The church will remain always, while movements and their organizations are to serve the church. The essence of Christianity is the church and not any movement From time to time it is necessary to adjust the functions of a movement. A time of adjustment has arrived. The nurture and preservation of the church (Ephesians 5) must be carried out by the church in the church's own way. No other organization can take its place." (11)

If we compare Bishop Ting's view with the reality of the Chinese church, we find that the difficulty for Chinese Christianity is its ecclesiastical weakness. Let us turn to a consideration of the main features of this weakness.

l. Mainstream denominations, that is, those founded on the Catholic tradition of the reformation period, were heirs to a tradition in which autonomy in church affairs was completely suppressed by the administrative structures, even to the point that remnants of the tradition in homiletics and dogmatics have been completely lost;

2. All kinds of smaller aggressive denominations took advantage of government policies aimed at promoting stability to expand their influence and establish national structures. 'the dangers inherent in this situation have yet to make themselves known.

3. The fact that the mainstream denominations are heirs to the catholic tradition from the apostolic age in their dogmatics is a source of collective anxiety for the Chinese government and people who have had their fill of western imperialist aggression and harm in modern history;

4. The preponderance of indigenous denominations is founded precisely on this type of collective unconscious anxiety, and the political-style administrative structures of the lianghui are defense mechanisms in response to the situation. Consequently, it is impossible for effective ecclesiological restrictions to operate in the administration of church affairs in the Chinese church today;

5. Certain illegal behavior and corrupt phenomena that now exist in administrative organs of the lianghui are not present in church tradition, but have not yet expanded to the point where they would continue to exist and worsen at a deeper level in all conditions of civil society;

6 The renewal of ecclesiology is an urgent task for reconstruction of theological thinking in the Chinese church.

Consideration of these six points may aid in recognizing and understanding the predicament facing the Chinese church. I set out to understand their practical significance for the Chinese church from the angle of the principle of self-government.

Self-government as a Practical Principle for the Chinese Church

When English missionary Henry Venn, against the background of 19th century non-western mission fields, proposed the three-self principle: self-government, self-support, self-propagation - a substantive turning point in the history of the missionary movement of world Christianity took shape. Up until 1949 the mission concept of mission boards in China was founded on a goal of each one enlarging its own area of mission. Establishment of an independent Chinese church of Chinese Christians was never a genuine guiding principle for the work of western mission boards in China. In 1952, the political authority of new China had been functioning for nearly three years. A group of denominational leaders from all over China with Y.T. Wu al its head decided, using the mass movement method peculiar to the time, mobilized Chinese Christians on a political level to throw off their dependence on western mission boards and actively involve themselves in the people's progressive endeavor. They proposed "self-government, self-support and self-propagation" as the principle and slogan to unite the masses of Chinese Christians on the path of loving country and loving church. What is more, they used this principle to set up a real governing body for the Chinese church the Chinese Christian Three-Self Reform Movement Committee, which became the Chinese Christian Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee.

The significance of the principle of self-government, seen from the west's approach to the history of global evangelism, emphasizes the issue of indigenization of churches, that is, in non-western nations and regions the church must be shaped by local Christians themselves. Western mission boards must not interfere in local Christians governing their own church on their own authority. In fact, for all the mainstream denominations formed in the 16'h century reformation the Protestants-self-government of their churches was the primary feature of their ecclesiology From Augustine's thinking on the three components of authority Bible, tradition, and the church-and the patterns of understanding the relationship among the three, the mainstream Protestant denominations were entirely the heirs of a tradition based on biblical revelation, shaped by the church fathers' understanding of that revelation, one which, through the holy and catholic church, safeguarded the holiness and catholicity of the word of God in its preaching and pastoral work.(12) The morphology of historical development shows that the mainstream churches that appeared in western countries during the reformation era took the three-self principle as the working principle for their own church work. Indigenous churches not under the authority of Rome held to the Bible as the highest truth, and, founded on the apostolic tradition, churches in the various nations were able to shoulder all responsibility for the holy and catholic church.

Self-government is a prerequisite for self-propagation, and is the foundation of self-support. Anyone with a respect for the apostolic heritage will agree that the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15 was an apostolic council establishing the principle of self-government. From the apostolic age on down, the guiding church principles established by successive Councils were in substance all principles of "self-government," and progressively, by a process of centralization, shaped the right of arbitration in church affairs into the Roman papacy. The teaching authority of the Catholic Church and the codes of the church ensured the administrative authority of the church based on the two aspects of traditional authority and legal authority.(13) Even in our times, on January 25, 1983, the Roman Catholic Church issued a new edition of Code of Canon Law, the principles- and regulations for the governance of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide. At the same time, the 90 articles and decrees of the Documents of Vatican II regulate and restrict the clergy and laity of global Catholicism through governance of church affairs.

Speaking of the large mainline denominations formed during the Protestant Reformation, the establishment of the essentials of the faith, the catechism and church regulations was a matter of the church deciding for itself, as part of self-government, how to go about the concrete tasks of self-propagation. Thus the mainline denominations, which hold the leading place in world Protestantism, all have their own "codes", and furthermore at their conventions and assemblies all adopt church laws which function as constitutions. At the same time. all establish similar organizations, administrative and arbitrative bodies to supervise and implement these laws.

To illustrate the unshakable nature of the self-governing principle, mainline western Protestant denominations, having learned the profound historical lesson of the Catholic Church's overstepping church authority into secular authority, established from the very beginning, based on the concept of self-government, a set of new theories on church-state relationships to deal with issues of rights and justice between the state and those citizens who are both citizens and Christians, as well as between the government and the fellowship of Christians and persons responsible for the governing of the church. The universal existence and development of civil society has led both the church and the government, in their value orientation and in the life of the spirit to clearly respect the constitution. The church relies on the traditional implication of self-government, meaning that the church has the right, within the laws of the nation, to administer all questions relating to its own affairs. At the same time, the church has a responsibility to give over to government departments all criminal cases and church members suspected of crimes outside church matters that offend the laws of the nation. In Calvin, for churches in the reformed tradition, the relationship between the church and the government is given a more complete understanding from a self-government perspective. The heritage has shaped churches in the worldwide Reformed tradition, which are by no means inferior to the Catholic tradition in their ecclesiology and achievements in church governance.

Bishop Ting has written "In all we do we should consider how we can benefit the upbuilding of the Church of Christ and unite Christians under the banner of "love-country. love-church." Therefore all that is improper for the church and displeasing in the sight of Christians should be firmly rejected, no matter who has initiated. ... But many co-workers have wondered, as we find it necessary today to reorder the relationships within our church, how far can we go toward solving the problem if we do not also re-order the relationship with the government? ...I believe that we can anticipate the principle of church-state separation being put into greater effect."(14) From Bishop Ting's train of thought we see that genuine self-government in the Chinese church will be a huge subject, the whole of which will involve a basic understanding of church-state relations.

In my view, it is absolutely necessary for the construction of the Christian Church in China to resolve the issue of the responsibilities and obligations of citizens and believers from the angle of church-state relations. This will entail two aspects, system and tradition. Autonomy for the church will gradually emerge from a correct interpretation and compliance with the principle of self' government. A Chinese church corresponding in autonomy and self-sufficiency to civil society will be a social group honest and noble in structure, because its innate character is honored and observed through and in interaction with its external structure. This is the church returning to taking Christ as its Head. The church is the mystical body of Christ and herein lies its holiness.

The practicality of the self-government principle for the Chinese church lies in the church's need for self-regulation and for using the rules and regulations of church tradition to realize self government and restraint. The catholicity of the Christian Church determines its spirit of universal love in service to society and people. Thus, all governments with a constitutional structure use encouragement and value affirmation within the principle of justice in approving the church's openness and involvement vis-a-vis the people. The Chinese church, under the principle of self-government, must do more to interpret the noble truths of Christian faith-exhorting people to do good, to love others as oneself, and that Christ loves all people then the Chinese people will come to a greater understanding and acceptance of Christian faith. If the Chinese church always looks to government departments (from the internal (church) to the external (government)) to deal with corruption within the church, how can the holiness of the church fail to be thus compromised in the eyes of the non-Christian populace? Can such a church still be the " Church of God" for Chinese Christians? Dependence on government administrative directives will not lead to the construction of a church for Christians-this is the effective meaning of the apostolic in the history of the church. The self-government of the church must follow the laws shaped by church tradition.


In a sermon at Community Church, Shanghai, on April 7 this year, Bishop Ting summarized the development of Chinese Christianity since 1949 in 3 periods:

1) The unifying of the Christian masses to shake off western mission board control and establish the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for an independent, self-run church in the early 1950s;

2) The early 1980s when the remnant of the Chinese church which had endured the Cultural Revolution, proclaimed "Running the Church Well on Three-Self Principles" as its guiding principle; and

3) The autumn of 1998 when the Jinan Conference formally adopted the historic task of "Intensifying the Reconstruction of Theological Thinking."

Looked at from this macro level, the present direction of putting all efforts into advancing the reconstruction of theology in fact includes two basic trains of thought. One is to sort out and ponder what has been gleaned from the historical lessons and experience of Christianity in China in the 1950s and therein trace the orbit, gain and loss of the Chinese church itself in order to take stock and sum up in accordance with God's Holy Word. Second, given that the three-self principle is not an essential of faith of the Chinese church, but a practical principle of our task of witness, to reflect biblically and dogmatically in order to shape achievements in theology and homiletics that possess the special characteristics of Chinese Christianity that will usher in the new age that is about to begin.

The topics I have dealt with in this paper are those which have begun to take shape against the background of theological reconstruction in the Chinese church. How to understand the past and present of the Chinese church from the viewpoint of upholding the three-self principle is of course an essential question for theological reconstruction. A biblical studies and dogmatics based interpretation of self-government is the first order of business, a historical understanding and judgment comes second. We have seen that, relative to the missionary era, the Chinese church, under the leadership and administration of the lianghui, has become completely self-governing. Moreover, it is precisely because self-government has become the practical principle for all overseas work that our Chinese church has been able to have a completely equal partnership with the ecumenical church. At the same time, proceeding from the three-self principle, we respond to other churches or persons within the church who do not respect this equal partnership with confidence and dignity in terms of faith and dogmatics, dealing with them by advice, avoidance and even rebuke.

The issue at hand is that the principle of self-government has not been realized in the internal affairs and work of the Chinese church. This is not to say that responsible colleagues at all levels of the church are powerless to deal with the internal affairs of the church, but to say that within the Chinese church, the principle of self-government has not yet been effectively established according to the model stipulated in the church constitution, nor has it shaped a regulatory structure. Observation shows that across the board at every level of the lianghui, government religious affairs offices' directives or policies are used as "regulations" and precedent in dealing with internal affairs of the church. Consequently, we have the following scenario: if the local cadres of government religious departments administer the laws and policies of the nation relating to religious affairs justly, then the local church flourishes; it is honest and orderly.

The reverse is also true: state and religious authority can join to harm the nation and the church, though in fact such cases are extremely rare. However, just as there is a great deal of murky water between the sweet and the muddy, between administrators of high moral character, who practice self-denial in public service and those who administer the law in order to break and profit from it, it is undeniable that there are many simply marking time in government service. If the internal affairs of the church were entirely run by government bureaucrats who took as their primary duty government of the nation and benefit of the people, and in the majority of circumstances, simply responded by formulating principle, there are very few nationwide who, in spite of being professional cadres in government religious affairs departments, genuinely possess even the most rudimentary knowledge of religious affairs. Much less, given the fact that for the Chinese government, such principles as were formulated would be, in terms of dogmatics and church-state relations, a particularly westernized Christianity.

Thus there are two situations for those responsible at all levels for the government of the real-life church:

1) Basing themselves on the tradition of biblical and doctrinal studies, they will need to understand and comply with the good intentions of government cadres, and administer directives according to their own conscience in dealing with concrete church affairs while at the same time, for the good of the nation and the public, revising in practice certain articles or directives of religious policy from government administrative offices that might fall short;

2) Administrators with individual or family self-interest take advantage of the lack of expertise or ignorance of individual cadres in government religious affairs offices, or even cater to them for their own ends, setting up secret mutually beneficial deals, forming individual or family fiefdoms within the church in the name of the government. At the same time, using the government policy of stabilizing and enriching the nation as an excuse, they claim that to conduct church affairs entirely in line with believers' wishes will be harmful to stability, pressuring the local government so that it can only support the local church to the advantage of these religious dictators. Thus, for a substantial number of believers, especially intellectuals, the hardest thing to accept are these church administrators who basically have no faith, who are surprisingly able to gain the favor of the local government and join the local People's Political Consultative Conferences and People's Congresses. These people do little except shout political slogans like "love country, love church," "uphold the three-self principle," uphold and protect the leadership of the Party and government;' basically living off religion and cheating religion, and in the end, cheating the government and harming the nation. In consequence, accusations like "The three-self church is unsaved," take on a ring of truth for local Christians.

In fact, church tradition has determined that church self-government is in no way equivalent to believers "democratically" ruling on all church matters by a show of hands. As I said above, the ecclesiology of Christ as the Head determines the church's holiness and purity. In guaranteeing the principle of self-government in dealing with church affairs, church tradition has gone through a long evolutionary process. After enduring the tempering and testing of the storms of all sorts of heresies in the early period, the self-government principle in church tradition soon became an inseparable part of ecclesiology. This is to say that the church itself had a set of self-governing methods founded on biblical revelation and apostolic tradition. This is something no government administrative regulations can in any way equal or replace, and this is amply illustrated by church-state relations throughout history, in China and elsewhere. Similar to what Bishop Ting said in his talk of April 24, 1995, in Nanjing, "Government supervision of religion is mainly concerned with politics and the law. It supervises activities that transgress the Constitution, laws and policies; it does not supervise church affairs. In church affairs, the government should respect the faith of the church and the good tradition and system of democratic supervision which the church has formed over time. Supervision should be done according to the law. There should not be criminal actions such as beatings and arrests, seizure of Bibles, hymnals or church property, or arbitrary collection of fees or imposition of fines. Church personnel should follow church regulations. Legal supervision of church affairs does not include decisions on church personnel being made outside the church ... Church finances should also be handled in this way."(15) And, "(Let) the church . be managed well in its own way."(16)

Thus, the issue before us is how to make the principle of self-government part of the governing charter of the Chinese church, so that it becomes an internal regulation, and not a high-sounding advertising ploy.

As a topic for consideration, against the background of a Chinese church promoting with all its might the theological reconstruction proposed by Bishop Ting, on the eve of the 50 th anniversary of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, research on three-self is a primary topic for Chinese theological reconstruction. It touches upon the past, present and future of the Chinese church. I believe that if we truly want to do an effective practical reflection upon the three-self principle, we must begin from the three fields of biblical and doctrinal studies and church history. In this way, we can see that theological reconstruction is a historical event in the history of Chinese Christianity and will inevitably become a historical turning point.

Wang Aiming is Acting Dean of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary.

1 Oscar Cullmann. I Unity through Diversity [in French] (Paris: Cerf, 1986), 5-12.

2 For the Nicene Creed, see Creeds of the Church through the Ages, Zhao Zhonghui et al trans. (Taipei: Reformed Translation Group, 1998), 10.

3 Quoted in Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, Geoffrey W. Bormiley, trans. (Edinburgh: T & T 'Clark, Ltd., 1998), 405-406.

4 La Confession d'.Augsbourg, 1530, (Paris-Strasbourg: Editions Lutheriennes, 1948), 25.

5 Marlin Luther, Epitre de la grand'messe du jour de Noel, MLO, X (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1967), 298.

6 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, John Allen trans. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1949).

7 Luther, De la Captivite babylonienne de I'Eglise 1520, MLO, II (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1966), 245.

8 From Augustine to Luther and Calvin to Zwingli, how to distinguish the "true church" has been an important question for doctrinal understanding. In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus' parable of the Sower and the Seed and in chapter 22:14 "for many are called, but few are chosen," have served as biblical evidence for the formation of the church from the church fathers to the founders of Protestantism, i.e., that not all members of the visible church are part of God's chosen. In the church there are good believers and there are hypocrites, that is, there are those who take up the mission to which they have been called, and there are those who only pretend to be spiritual in order to cheat others. Therefore we have no right to call ourselves holy. In 1520, Luther wrote that there are two churches, the first type is natural. essential and true. ibis is the inner spirit of Christ's mystical body. The second is a constructed church and is external. This is the visible, external body of Christ. [De la Papautede Rome, MLO, 11 (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1996), 2] Thus the Reformed tradition believes that any word or action that goes against God's Logos sullies the purity of the church as the mystical body of Christ. At the same time this tradition maintains that secular troth. goodness and beauty do exist only in the visible external church. In this way, the solution to hypocrisy and fallenness, corruption and evil in the church becomes a primary issue for dogmatics in the ecclesiological tradition because it directly relates to the purity of the church.

9 K.H. Ting, "Three-Self and the Church: Re-Ordering the Relationship." love Never Ends: Papers by K.H. Ting ( Nanjing: Win Press, 2000), 340, 341.

10 Ibid., 340.

11 Ibid., 342-343.

12 F. Cayre, Patristics, vol.2, Wu Yingfeng, bans. [in Chinese] ( Taipei, 1981), 608.

13 Henricus Denzinger, Tianzhujiao xundao wenxian xuanji , 2nd ed., Shi Antang. trans. ( Taipei, 1981).

14 Ting, 345-346.

15 Ting. "A Look Back at the Way We Have Come," 498-499.

16 Ting. "Three-Self and the Church: Re-ordering the Relationship," 347.