With a growing Christian population in China, the country’s atheistic government is doing everything it can to control the religion of its citizens. In an important address in the spring of this year (April 23), China’s president, Xi Linging, called on authorities to stick to the religious policies of the Communist Part of China (CPC). Since it is good to know something about the challenges Chinese Christians face, this article passes on some highlights of Xi’s speech as reported on in the English language website of Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.
Although the president promised to fully implement the Party’s policy of religious freedom and retain the principle of religious independence and self-administration, he added ominously that he would also “help religions adapt to the socialist society.”
“Religious groups …must adhere to the leadership of the CPC, and support the socialist system and socialism with Chinese characteristics, Xi said. They should ‘merge religious doctrines with Chinese culture, abide by Chinese laws and regulations, and devote themselves to China’s reform and opening up drive and socialist modernization in order to contribute to the realization of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.’”
Xi also said: “We should guide and educate the religious circle and their followers with the socialist core values, and guide the religious people with ideas of unity, progress, peace and tolerance.” Religious groups should “dig deep into doctrine and canons that are in line with social harmony and progress, and favourable for the building of a healthy and civilized society, and interpret religious doctrines in a way that is conducive to modern China’s progress and in line with our excellent traditional culture.” Also, Xi stressed “in no way should religions interfere with government administration, judiciary and education.”
With an eye to Western missionary endeavours, Xi stated: “We must resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means and prevent ideological infringement by extremists.” CPC members must act as “unyielding Marxist atheists, consolidate their faith, and bear in mind the Party’s tenets.” “Efforts should also be made to help teenagers form a scientific outlook of the world, and guide them to believe in science, study science and promote science.”
In a Christianity Today article (April 28,2016), Brent Fulton noted that government control over religion is deeply embedded in China. “Since imperial times, state power has been seen as ultimate. It is, and has always been, the prerogative of the Chinese state to define orthodox belief and to set the boundaries for religious groups whose doctrines fall outside official limits.” With Xi’s new initiative to try to control Christianity, it would seem likely that “a new law on religion is not far off.” Such new legislation could include government meddling with Christian teaching and determining what is acceptable to believe. “While ‘religion serving socialism’ has been in the CPC lexicon for some time, direct intervention in the beliefs and practices of individual religions – including calls for the ‘Sinification’ of Christian theology – have become more common under Xi.”
All of this bodes ill for the majority of Chinese Christians who reject the officially recognized ecclesiastical organizations. They rightly see that the government has no legitimate spiritual authority over them. Up to now, local officials have left many of these house churches alone, but with the CPC wanting to supervise religion more closely, “its becomes evident that there is no place for the majority of Chinese Christians within the prevailing hierarchy.”
The future will show that no political entity or oppression can stop the Son of God as he continues to gather the enumerable multitude for that great day. May this reality continue to encourage God’s people in China as they seek to obey the King of kings.
By C Van Dam
(Dr Cornelis Van Dam is Professor emeritus of Old Testament at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario. This article is from Clarion, August 26th 2016, and is published here with his permission.)