Religion in China

China Update, Part 1

As most of you know, China is portrayed as a major world superpower in the Biblical end-times scenario. As such, we have made The Rise of China a major trend, and we do our best to keep you updated.


Over the next few months we will be covering China in depth—we will not bring you the latest “flash in the pan” news about China but rather reveal the undercurrents that have dictated the path of China’s meteoric rise.


And with that understanding in hand, we will look to the future to forecast the possible paths that China may take over the next quarter century. In this issue we examine “Religion in China.”


When the Communist forces of Mao Zedong took over China in 1949, they attempted to eliminate all religion, which they referred to as “an opium of the mind.” The Communist government was atheistic; thus, all expressions of Theism were adamantly opposed.


Again, during the Cultural Revolution of the sixties and seventies, there was a concerted effort to “end all religions.” Finally, with no success in destroying religion in China, the Communist Party adopted a different approach—rather than trying to destroy religion, they would control it.


They recognized five religions as legitimate forms of religious expression. These included Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism (the Christian religion was divided by the authorities into Catholic and Protestant groups).


From this attempt to centralize, register and control all religions, a movement developed within the Christian religion, called the “Three-Self Patriotic Christian Movement.” This movement is known for its: 1) Self-Administration; 2) Self-Support; and, 3) Self-Propagation, thus it is commonly referred to as the “Three-Self Church.”


Due to the Communist perception of “hostile elements from abroad,” meaning interference by foreigners in the internal affairs of China, the Communist Party again cracked down on religion in a further attempt to gain control. They did this by forcing state registration of all churches and state funding for churches.


The Communists refer to those Christians who refuse to register or comply with these regulations and controls as “separatists, underground or house churches.” This results in greater tension between the central government and the “house churches,” as well as between registered churches and the non-registered “house churches.”


Further restrictions were placed upon Christians, including: 1) Where they could officially worship; 2) Who would be allowed to worship—with the restriction that only those over 18 years of age could participate; and, 3) The restriction of the official teachings of the churches, etc.


There are freedoms granted by the government to the registered Three-Self churches that are not bestowed upon the non-registered house churches—some of which are: 1) To worship and minister within the confines of their approved buildings; 2) To have their own government-approved and salaried leaders; 3) To maintain seminaries; and, 4) To print Bibles for the exclusive distribution by the Three-Self churches.


The Three-Self churches and the house churches are also often in conflict with one another over governmental registration. The Three-Self churches adhere to the belief that Christians should submit to governmental authority that God has ordained over them.


The house churches just as sincerely believe that their higher authority is God and when there is a conflict between the government and God’s authority, they must be obedient to the Lord. The government often capitalizes on this disagreement between the Three-Self churches and house churches by encouraging conflict between the two groups in order to pressure the house churches to register.


According to the best available statistics, there are approximately 12 million registered believers in the official State churches and estimated 100+ million non-registered believers in the house churches.

Also contributing to the tension between the government and house churches is the phenomenon of the numerical growth of the “house churches” that is estimated to be approximately 30,000 new converts every day in China, which is ten times the number of new believers on the Day of Pentecost!


This is of special concern to the Communists, since Christianity now outnumbers their Party membership, which presently has only about 70 million adherents.


The house church believers also face other persecutors besides the government and government churches, and that is from cults within China, especially the “Eastern Lighting Cult” that is wreaking havoc on some of the house churches in remote and rural areas of China. This movement is especially acute among these believers because of a lack of Biblical instruction and training. There continues to be a growing need in China for many more teachers to equip and train the phenomenal number of new Christian converts.


There are encouraging signs today of these two groups of believers, registered and non-registered, working more cooperatively together. They cannot organizationally work together, but they can recognize the unity in the Spirit between the groups and thus work together in the Spirit within the limitation of governmental restrictions.


In June 2007, in an attempt to “clean house” before the Olympics in August 2008, the central government began another concerted effort to force the house churches to register. Many believers, especially among the leadership, have been arrested and “taken off the streets,” just in case they might cause trouble by demonstrating and making the government “lose face” with the thousands of foreign visitors participating in the Olympics and the worldwide press coverage of these events.


Also, many foreigners are being expelled from the country who are suspected of doing missionary-type activities in China. In fact, this is the greatest expulsion of foreigners since the 1950s, when all foreign missionaries were expelled.


Of great concern to the Chinese house church believers is what the government will do after the 2008 Olympics: Will there be a continued effort to force house churches to register or will they slack off enforcement after the spotlight of the Olympics is over?


Some type of confrontation seems to be in the making, but what the outcome will be only God in His infinite wisdom knows. Whatever the outcome, these persecuted believers need our earnest encouragement and prayers.


As the house church believers often request, “Please do not pray for persecution to cease, but rather pray that we will have boldness in the midst of persecution!”


Next month: “Economics in China.” We will explore how capitalism has changed China and what its future holds.