Chinese Theological Review 13

A Look Back at the Way We Have Come

Bishop K.H. Ting

With the passage of time, it is good to look back and see where we have come from.

In the 1950s and 60s, Chinese Christianity took three steps which attracted worldwide attention: 1) it upheld patriotism and achieved self-government, self-support and self-propagation; 2) it started Nanjing Union Theological Seminary to train new workers for the church; and 3) it broke out of its denominational fetters and achieved union.

One important thing we did after the Cultural Revolution was to create a Chinese Christian church affairs organ called the China Christian Council. Our main consideration was that in order to make the church well run, we must pay attention to church affairs. The Three-Self organization promoted patriotism and self-government, self-support and self-propagation, which were essential, but our church had a great deal of work to do in the area of church affairs also. Such work did not fall within the purview of the Three-Self organization as it was conceived and it would not have been able to do it well. The establishment of the CCC as separate from the TSPM was an announcement that we could not be content with simply running the church ourselves, we had to run it well. We must be not only self-governed, but well-governed; not only self-supported, but well-supported; and not only must we do propagation ourselves, we must do it well. Just as "red" becomes "expert" through practice and politics become professional in the same way, patriotism and Three-Self must he realized in running the church well. Running the church well is bound to attract more people to the work and this will increase the scope of unity.

For Three-Self patriotism to be implemented in running the church well was a new step some ten years ago. Establishing the CCC was the organizational expression of this step. This was an important step; with this, leadership emerged in Chinese Christian church affairs and the work and ministry of running the church well began to develop.

Secondly, we adjusted our view of Christians overseas and rejected exclusivism. When you mentioned a missionary in the 1950s and 60s, you had to add "imperialist" before the name. We were really a bit self-satisfied then and had no international relationships to speak of. We did not use the term ecumenical church nor did we say the Chinese Church was part of the church ecumenical. To say such things seemed suspect, as if the speaker was not firmly anti-imperialist. The main sign of change in this aspect took place when the CCC became part of the World Council of Churches. This is not to say that imperialism did not invade China, nor that in its invasion of China it did not make use of religion and missionaries, but in judging events and people we must seek truth from facts and not go overboard.

Thirdly, theological thinking broadened. This was not very obvious, but a very important beginning was made. In general terms, sadly, there seems to be only one genuinely important doctrine in Chinese Christianity: If you believe in Christ, then you are justified in God's eyes; if you do not believe in Christ, then you are not justified in God's eyes. From a shallow insistence on this point have evolved many views contrary to common sense: So and so believes, so though he is counter-revolutionary and a traitor, he will go to heaven. Imperialist aggression is bad, but the aggressors were Christians, Justified in God's eyes. The objects of their aggression were non-Christians, not justified in God's eyes, so the objects of aggression got what they deserved - it was God's punishment. There are not many people today who would actually say this, but the idea is still around. Notice to what extent excessive emphasis on one point of faith can turn right and wrong upside down. According to this point of view, God is well aware that the majority of humankind is bound for the eternal flames of hell because they are unbelievers. Yet day and night without ceasing he keeps creating human beings. What kind of view of God is that? Where do we begin to talk about God's mercy?

We know that Paul spoke of justification by faith because the Pharisees attacked Christ and his disciples for not keeping the law. They stressed that in order to be saved, one had to observe each and every Jewish law-circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, all the dietary restrictions and so on. The doctrine of justification by faith arose to counter the Pharisee's reliance on observance of the law as the way to salvation. Justification by faith greatly enlarged the ranks of those who received the grace of salvation. Only in this way could those outside Judaism-the Gentiles receive saving grace. Only then could Christianity evolve from a Jewish sect into a world religion.

Later Martin Luther, too, stressed justification by faith. This was because he opposed the Roman hierarchy and their methods of oppressing the masses, such as the selling of indulgences.

When we study a doctrine, we should ask what it stands in opposition to as well as what it says. There are many doctrines in Christianity besides justification by faith: the never-ending creation of God; the Incarnation, Christ's resurrection; the renewal of creation; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which bestows wisdom; the Beatitudes; the greatest commandment, which is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself; to do unto others as you would have them do unto you; not to be served, but to serve. Paul said that there are faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love-love is a higher virtue than faith. Why not stress these? If Chinese Christianity esteems only one doctrine, this doctrine could easily lead to the contradiction between belief and unbelief, which could lead to endless divisions, damaging the nation's stability. This cannot be God's will, can it?

The situation is changing and a theological renewal is underway. A growing number of co-workers no longer highlight belief/unbelief in their preaching, or speak only of heaven and hell, or of who is saved and who is not. Intuitive pastors who are responsible toward the people do not talk about countless upright people going to hell.

Today, a greater number of the messages being preached from China's pulpits are ethical ones. Religion and ethics cannot be separated. A religion that says nothing about ethics is a very primitive and base religion. Sadly, in Chinese Christianity we still have people who, in order to highlight the contradiction between belief and unbelief, actually reject ethics and promote antinomiansim. They make opposing camps of saving grace and ethics. On the excuse of lifting up the grace of salvation, they stoop to saying that ethics is unimportant. Are they unaware of the great ethical content of the Bible? Six of the ten commandments have to do with regulating ethical behavior.

Theology has to do with faith and on convictions held deep in human hearts. Adjustment is therefore slow; ethics, which enriches faith, develops only gradually. But theological changes are very fundamental changes and have already begun in Chinese Christianity. They deserve our attention.

Fourthly, along with changes in theological thinking, social concerns are being raised in Chinese Christianity. The Amity Foundation emerged as a response to the times ten years ago. More and more provincial and municipal churches are running specialized social service organizations, taking it as their responsibility to alleviate the people's hardships. We do not hear much talk attacking the so-called social gospel any more. Recently we held a national meeting to exchange experiences in church social welfare work.

Fifthly, at present, we are changing our view of Christians and meeting points or what are termed house churches, which are outside the Three-Self organization and adjusting our relationships with them. The majority of these meeting points are also self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating. Those that identify with forces overseas operating behind a cloak of Christianity represent a minority. There are many reasons why these Christians and house churches remain outside the Three-Self organization; for example, (1) [the churches] are too far away and travel is inconvenient; (2) they are not used to what they perceive as different beliefs and rituals at the churches or to the sort of preaching that is done; (3) they feel there are not enough religious activities at the churches; (4) they have problems with the pastors at the church; (5) they were hurt by the leftist line and so they are afraid even now; (6) certain actions of Three-Self or the government have earned them the disaffection of the people and hurt their image. To this day some people look down on them and their defiance has grown; (7) discord sown by overseas influence.

Those who serve Jesus Christ as Lord are our brothers and sisters in the Lord and we have no reason to exclude them. We should help them and serve them. In order to avoid forcing our views on others or forcing union, in order that one day we can consciously choose to be one and become one body, we have suggested to the Religious Affairs Bureau that permission to register churches and meetings points should not be contingent upon being part of or respecting the TSPM and CCC. They have agreed to this. Support of Three-Self is not one of the six requirements for registration. We do not make use of political pressure to force unity; we seek only that all churches and meeting points that carry on normal religious activities can enjoy a legal existence.

There are people in China who have very little or no sympathy for this step we are taking. Would-be infiltrators from overseas are also busy making up rumors, sowing discord and deepening divisions, and so this step is an arduous one. But it is in line with Jesus' prayer that we be one and with the desires of believers. We must then strive to undertake it.

In order to enlarge the scope of unity, I would like to mention here the work of so-called "private meeting points" in applying to the government for registration. Registration can be a way of bringing "underground" meetings points "above ground." It is not good for any nation to have religious believers who must believe and meet secretly. This is no demonstration of freedom of religious belief. "Above-ground," these believers are visible to others and to the government, who can then feel at ease with the situation. The believers can feel secure too. The regulations for registration announced by the Religious Affairs Bureau say that a church or meeting point need only fulfill six simple and easily met requirements in order to apply for and receive permission. This shows that the government is not using registration to reduce the number of churches and meeting points or to make trouble for them but that it wants to allow all normal religious activities to be public and legal.

To tell the truth, to divide normal religious activities into those which have received permission and those which have not, or into underground and above-ground, or public and private smacks of the old Soviet Union style, not that of socialism with Chinese characteristics. If we can do the work of registering religious venues well in China, so that all religious activities can have public and legal status, that will be achievement enough. This is religious work with Chinese socialist characteristics. I am deeply hopeful we can achieve this.

Mr. Luo Guanzong and I requested a meeting with the Head of the legal office of the State Council on the question of registration. The Bureau Head said that registration was simply registration and should be separate from regular work. The registration regulations did not set out how regular work should be carried on. Such work might be very good, but it should not be attached to the regulations. This would add to what was subsumed under the work of registration. We should consider the intent and spirit of these remarks.

There are those who would take advantage of the opportunity presented by registration to have the qualifications of all clergy co-workers within their boundaries reviewed by the TSPM and CCC. This is unacceptable. First of all, this extends the work of registration and puts difficulties in its way. To insist that some of the "private" meeting points that do not recognize the two bodies have their clergy reviewed by them is simply coercion. Secondly, this is a huge job-where will the two bodies find the strength to screen such a large number of people unknown to them? Thirdly, since we have not yet succeeded in enlarging the scope of unity, to set ourselves up as arbiters of other people's qualifications would be to put ourselves in the position of increasing the attacks on unity. The responsibility of the TSPM and CCC in applying for government registration is to encourage and assist churches and meeting points in the process. We should provide a channel for communication by promptly reflecting to the government problems and opinions on the church's side.

One can hardly believe that there are still those who oppose registration on grounds of being "citizens of heaven who obey only God and not man (sic)." But these people did not refuse to be counted as Chinese during the national census. If they have nothing to do with the government, does that mean they will not carry identity cards? The church is a spiritual organization, it is true, but on earth it is also a people's organization. I was recently shown an American publication exhorting Chinese Christians to resist registration in similar terms. If we adopt a closed-door approach to registration and throw difficulties in the way of the process, we will be doing just what these anti-China groups overseas want.

The five steps described above are patriotic and church-loving; they all make Christianity more compatible with socialism. They have been possible for two reasons; (1) because the government has restored order after the Cultural Revolution and undertaken a critique of the ultra-leftist line and (2) because the time was ripe. Christians found them reasonable and acceptable and commended and supported them.

Looking at these five steps today, we find their common point in the rejection of the philosophy of struggle. They are about love, reconciliation and unity. They enlarge our unity and are pleasing to the believers.

In the Book of Revelation, the Holy Spirit instructs John to write a letter to seven churches, the first being to the church in Ephesus. The letter praises the church for its toil and patient endurance against evildoers, its hatred for the works of the Nicolaitans and its ability to discern false apostles. All of this is good. But the Spirit also accuses the church in Ephesus of having abandoned the love it had at first. When a church loses its love, it should remember from what it has fallen, repent and do the works it did at first. I think our Chinese Church can find great revelation from the Spirit's teaching to the church in Ephesus, hear the Spirit's demands and in love, build up the body of Christ.

I would like to mention one other topic here, and that is the government's exhortation to "strengthen supervision in religious affairs." This wording has caused anxiety among many Christians, who feel that the policy has changed. Let me share with you how I see it.

(1) In principle, supervision is a good thing, not a bad one. Industry, agriculture, transportation, commerce, hospitals, schools and libraries all require supervision and religion is no different. An order of service to be followed in worship is also a form of supervision. When we say run the church well, we could also be saying supervise the church well. We should not oppose supervision of religious affairs.

(2) When we speak of strengthening supervision of religious affairs, supervisors do not refer only to government religious affairs departments. Patriotic religious bodies of all religions, including Three-Self and church affairs groups from the national to the grassroots level, all have a supervisory duty; all are supervisors.

(3) The objects of this strengthening of supervision and oversight, are the organizations at all levels from national to grassroots of venues for religious activities, but also government religious affairs departments at all levels.

(4) Supervisors must strengthen themselves. This goes for government religious affairs departments as well as for the TSPM and CCC of the Christian Church at all levels and for grassroots churches and meeting points. In recent years there has been an increase in contradictions within the church and we should propose that these be settled through consultation, allowing believers patriotism and love for the church to be expressed in taking part in this supervisory work.

(5) 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.

(6) Supervision should be done according to the law. There should be no criminal actions such as beatings and arrests, seizure of Bibles, hymnals or church property, or arbitrary collection of fees or imposition of fines.

(7) Church personnel should follow church regulations. Legal supervision of church affairs does not include decisions on church personnel being made outside the church. It' the government has views on church personnel, the church should be amenable to considering and consulting on them. Church finances should also be handled this way. Regulation 145 of the State Council says, "The property and finances of a religious venue shall be under the supervision and use of the supervisory group of that venue."

(8) The national TSPM and CCC, which has experience in church affairs, should play a greater role in leading and guiding in church affairs. This will be beneficial in strengthening supervision, but this is in no way to negate the principle of consultation.

(9) Regulation 145 of the State Council contains clear regulations on the supervision of venues for religious activities. We should study and respect it.

I would be happy to have your responses to the personal views I have set out here.

Speech to the Joint Standing Committees of the CCC and TSPM. April 24, 1995, Nanjing.