What is East Gates Ministries International?
East Gates Is An Evangelical Ministry With A Unique Vision
As change sweeps across the Chinese mainland, it is East Gates' vision to ride these winds of change in order to legally assist the Body of Christ in China, enabling it to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) both through evangelism and in spiritual depth through discipleship.
East Gates Is A Ministry With A Twofold Objective:
First, East Gates is working to identify unmet needs and unique opportunities of Chinese Christians as they work toward fulfilling the Great Commission.
Second, East Gates seeks to develop strategic, indigenous and legal ministries inside China, which are conducted and supported by Chinese, to uniquely meet their own needs so they can take advantage of the new opportunities before them.
Why is there a need for a ministry like East Gates?
Changing Times in China
China is in the midst of massive change. Sweeping economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping have taken hold throughout the country. New businesses are opening at a staggering rate. Shops that sold mainly infrastructure support commodities like machinery copper wire, ball bearings etc. are now selling everything from Levi jeans to Rolex watches unleashing the pent up desire within the population for material things. Along with this rapid economic growth has come greater information exchange technology. Faxes, computers and modems, once tightly controlled, are now available to ordinary citizens. Cellular phones and satellite dishes are popping up all over China. With this staggering growth in the ability of the population to acquire material things and to both send and receive information, China has embarked upon a course that cannot be easily turned back from.
China recognizes the near fatal mistakes made by the former Soviet Union. In the former Soviet Union there were, first, massive political reforms followed by poorly thought out economic reforms. As these political and economic reforms stretched and pulled at the fabric of society, the former Soviet Union again reacted by initiating poorly thought out social reforms. At the same time, thousands of western Christians poured into the former Soviet Block, in what one western religious leader has called "the rape of the Soviet Church." The Church in the former Soviet Union has been fractured and divided. This lack of unity continues to be a poor Christian testimony to those in authority. Even now, new legislation continues to be introduced to limit Christian activities.
China has watched this turmoil very carefully and has reacted in controlled fashion. As a popular saying in China illustrates: "It is good to have a hot engine in your car. This means it is running efficiently. However you do not want the driver to have a hot head. This would be bad. You want a hot engine and a cool head. China's economy is running hot right now and its leadership is keeping a cool head".
As Deng's economic reforms move forward, China recognizes that social reforms must be made to accommodate the impact of the changing economy. Already the divorce and suicide rates are climbing, materialism is rampant, the traditionally strong Chinese family nucleus is beginning to break down and corruption is spreading at an alarming rate.
Friends of East Gates in the government of China have privately admitted that Communist and Maoist ideologies have proven to be morally and ethically "bankrupt". The reason for this is that morality was legislated by the system and was therefore external to the individual. East Gates is trying to help the government understand that Christianity can be part of the solution because when an individual accepts Jesus Christ, the motivation for moral and ethical behavior is internalized. The desire of the Christian is to become more like Christ and this benefits any society.
China is increasingly open to the Christian message. The Government, through it's official arms, the Religious Affairs Bureau, Three Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council are granting greater freedoms for both Chinese Christians and oversees Christians who are willing to work within the scope of the law. It is a new day in China and East Gates has found that by being transparent and open, working with credibility and trust established over an extended period of time with Christians and Government officials alike, positive change can come about within the Body of Christ in China.
Can you give me a brief history of the development of Christianity in China?
The first known missionaries to reach China, the Nestorian Christians, followed the "Silk Road" in 635 A.D. Latter followed Franciscan Monks and then Jesuits Priests in the 16th and 17th centuries. None of these early missionaries were very successful as Christianity was perceived to be a foreign barbarian religion and converts were severely persecuted. It was not until the early 1800's that Protestant Christianity began to make inroads into China. Unfortunately many of the early Protestant missionaries traveled on merchant ships up and down the coast of China. Most of these boats carried opium. As opium was forced upon the Chinese during the two opium wars, Christianity became identified with western imperialism and colonialism in the worst way through forced opium trade.
Perhaps the best-known missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, arrived in 1854. Hudson Taylor was known for wearing Chinese clothes and adapting to the Chinese culture. He was one of the first missionaries to travel extensively in the countryside preaching and teaching. In 1865, he founded China Inland Mission. Today it is known as Oversees Missionary Fellowship (OMF).
During the late 1800's, missionaries poured into China, buying land, building churches, schools and hospitals. The "Boxer Rebellion" took place in 1900 and thousands of Christians and their converts were murdered by rebels before an army, representing foreign interests, squashed the rebels. In 1911, Sun Yat-sen led the Nationalists in a revolution against the Manchu Dynasty and won, setting the stage for forming the Republic of China. Christianity continued to spread, even Sun Yat Sen is said to have been a Christian. In 1921 the Chinese Communist Party was formed. By 1930 the Communists had gained strong grassroots support.
At this time, there were half-a-million Protestants with about 6,000 foreign missionaries and 2,000 ordained Chinese pastors. Alongside the foreign Christian effort, however, there were also indigenous Chinese churches emerging, with two leaders of particular note: Watchman Nee and Wang Ming Dao. By 1949, the Communists lead by Mao Zedong had overthrown the Nationalists and founded the Peoples Republic of China. With the founding of the PRC all religious buildings were taken over by the government and religious institutions were required to be loyal to the Communist Party. By 1952, missionary activity had been effectively eliminated and their institutions closed.
Mao believed that one of the tenants of Marxism which is, "religion is the opiate of the people", was especially applicable to China and the persistent problem of Christianity. In 1954, the Three Self-Patriotic Movement was established to help oversee and control Protestant Christianity. In 1958, the year of the "Great Leap Forward", the TSPM gained control of all Christian publications and Christian activities. Simultaneously, Christians who refused to become associated with the TSPM went underground and began meeting secretly in "House churches".
The most violent phase of the PRC was the Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976. During the heart of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1970), churches were closed, Bibles were burned and destroyed, Christians were attacked, thousands were put to death or sent for re-education in prison labor camps for conducting "counter-revolutionary activities" and the TSPM was disbanded. Before being disbanded, the TSPM was used by the government to suppress, or as some believe, to try and eradicate the church in China. Still, the believers did not abandon their faith. They met in ways similar to those recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. They worshipped and fellowshipped in their homes, secretly and often in small numbers to avoid detection.
In 1971, two churches were reopened in Beijing strictly for the foreign diplomatic community. In 1972, President Richard Nixon visited China and in 1975, at the Fourth People's Congress, freedom of religious belief was granted under the PRC's constitution.
The death of Chairman Mao Zedong in 1976 opened up a new era in China. Foreigners began visiting China and confirmed reports that the Church in China had not been eradicated but instead had flourished. Reports claimed that there were as many as ten million Christians at the end of the Cultural Revolution. This phenomenal growth came about under severe persecution with no large-scale organization or leadership. God, through His Holy Spirit, oversaw, and continues to oversee, the tremendous growth in the Church in China. By 1979 the church had grown to as many as 20 million believers. The government responded by reestablishing the TSPM.
During the 1980's, the Chinese church continued to grow at an astonishing rate. The TSPM reopened many of the Churches closed during the Cultural Revolution and began to open seminaries. In 1987, they opened the Amity Press in Nanjing which along with the United Bible Societies, was devoted to printing Bibles and hymnals strictly for TSPM churches. During this time, a number of foreign ministries were established to help meet the needs of the majority of believers who refused to be associated with the TSPM and therefore, had little or no access to Bibles and training. These ministries smuggled Bibles and Christian literature as well as conducted underground training opportunities for House church Christians. While this activity was greatly needed at the time, it nurtured the government's suspicion that Christianity was imperialistic and that Christians were "counter-revolutionary."
Christianity continued to grow and greater freedoms were granted by the government until the unfortunate tragedy of Tiananmen Square in 1989. After Tiananmen, the government, responding to what it observed in Eastern Europe, began cracking down on "pro-democracy" dissidents and others who were considered to be a threat to the stability of the government. This included both House church and TSPM Christians.
During the 1990's, the Church in China continued to grow at a phenomenal rate with somewhere around 50 million believers countrywide. Freedoms were increasing for believers both in the House and TSPM churches.
A ministry like East Gates fills an important niche in meeting the needs of China's Christians. With its valuable and extensive network of relationships within the House church and its established credibility with the government, East Gates is strategically positioned to be an advocate for greater opportunities for all of China's Christians.
Who are the major players in the Chinese Church?
China's Christians face a number of challenging complexities in their unique country - culturally, spiritually and politically. There are five major groups that impact and affect China's Church.
1) The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
This includes the United Front Work Department, which is responsible for setting religious policy. It also includes the Religious Affairs Bureau, which is responsible for recommending and implementing religious policy.
For a variety of reasons, Christianity has been perceived as a threat to the sovereignty of the government of China. Unofficial Christian activity has been considered "counter-revolutionary", and western involvement in the Church has been identified with western "imperialism" and "colonialism". The government, realizing that it could not totally eliminate the church, sought to manage it by establishing the Three Self Patriotic Movement in 1954.
2) The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM)
In China there is one governmental body that oversees all religion. It is formally entitled the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB), but recently was renamed to the State Religious Affairs Administration (SRAA). This government organ oversees the five major recognized religions in China, they are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestant Christianity. Each of these religions has an associated organization that was set up in either the 1950's or the 1970's to oversee their affairs.
In the case of Protestant Christianity, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement was established in the late 1950's as a means to control the Protestant Christian religion. Three-Self stands for "self-governing, self-propagating and self- supporting." Although the Three-Self Patriotic Movement was originally set up to oversee and essentially control Protestant Christianity by the Chinese government, it has evolved into a large organization with Christian Conservatives and Evangelicals on one side, and religious liberals, party and government loyalists on the other side.
The TSPM, along with the China Christian Council, (see following definition) recommend policies guiding Protestant Christianity in China to the Religious Affairs Bureau or SRAA. One misnomer regarding the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and churches that are affiliated with the TSPM, is that the TSPM controls all of the activities of Three-Self Churches. While the Three-Self Patriotic Movement does exert a degree of influence over Three-Self Churches, it in no way has the capacity to control the activities of all of the churches across China. Many, if not most, of the Three-Self Churches in China function independent of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in all practical matters.
3) The China Christian Council (CCC)
The CCC is the administrative and social arm of the TSPM. It operates parallel to the TSPM. The CCC was established as a body to facilitate and nurture the growth of the Protestant churches across China.
The CCC oversees and ministers the Amity Foundation, which provides humanitarian relief and assistance to Christians in China and also oversees and administers the Amity Printing Company and Amity Printing Press, which prints the majority of Bibles and Christian literature in mainland China. The CCC is responsible for the printing and distribution of these Bibles, hymn books and other Christian literature.
The CCC handles the promotion of theological training and is responsible for developing friendly relations with overseas churches and Christian organizations.
4) The House Church
The unofficial, informal body of believers represents roughly 90% of the Christian population. There is no formal structure, nor has there been cooperation between the TSPM and the House church. At times, in the past, the government has used the TSPM in attempts to control the House church, resulting in betrayal and persecution. Because of this, the House church movement has had little toleration for the TSPM. However, this is beginning to change. There are now many individuals within the House church that attend TSPM churches and vice versa. Over the past number of years, the TSPM has become more independent of government control and has asserted itself more in acquiring greater freedoms for Christians.
It must be noted that the House church is not nationally organized or administrated. The House church is made up of thousands of independent, small groups, many who do not agree with nor associate with one another. Also the term "House church" is commonly used to refer to both Protestant and Catholic small group meetings.
5) Overseas Chinese Christians
These expatriate Chinese no longer live on the mainland. However, they continue to be passionately concerned about their homeland and the difficulties facing Christians there. The majority of these Christians are divided along the House church - Three-Self Patriotic Movement lines, thus continuing to nurture division. However, there are some that now see a larger picture and are working and praying for reconciliation and unity.
6) The Western Church
Christians in the west have a long history of involvement with China-an involvement that has not always been productive. There have been many well-intentioned organizations and missionaries who have confused western values, both social and political, with Christianity. This ethnocentrism has not served the cause of Christ effectively in China. There has also been western denominational influence over the years. Today, although denominationalism is diminishing in the west, it is on the rise in China, further dividing an already fractured Church.
Historically, the Church in China has been estranged from the Chinese government. The Church is also fragmented within itself. Bridges need to be built in all directions; reconciliation and common ground must be sought not through the compromise of essential spiritual truths, but through mutual understanding, friendship and respect.
How does East Gates work strategically in China?
Someone once said "It's hard to move forward when you are looking in the rear view mirror" too many people today spend valuable time "looking in the rear view mirror" instead of looking ahead with vision and flexibility. As times change in China, the strategies that Christian ministries employ in building the Kingdom of God need to change as well. There is now the opportunity in China to work both with integrity, openness, transparently and also within the scope of Chinese law.
Many of the ministries focusing on China today have gravitated towards illegal activities such as smuggling Bibles and literature (courier work), underground training of pastors without the governments approval. These activities continue to reinforce China's long held view that Christianity is, in effect a projection of western imperialism and colonialism. East Gates is attempting to rectify this belief by demonstrating that Christianity is not western, is not political in nature and can have a positive impact on society if applied based upon Scriptural principals.
What kind of projects is East Gate involved with?
East Gates has four project priorities in China:
- Legal printing and distribution of Bibles and Christian growth materials to House church Christians.
- Legal training, discipleship and encouragement among China's Christians in both the Three-Self and House church.
- Bridge building efforts to bring reconciliation between Christians in the House church, and brothers and sisters in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
- Christian diplomatic efforts to help the Chinese government; especially the Religious Affairs Bureau and United Front Work department, gain a better understanding and appreciation for Christianity.
Distribution of Bibles
Since 1987, Bibles have been legally printed on the Amity Printing Press and distributed through the official church, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and its administrative arm, the China Christian Council. House church Christians, however, have not had easy access to these legally printed Bibles. That's why they have been receiving smuggled Bibles. In China, it is illegal to bring large quantities of Bibles and literature into the country. It is also against the law for Chinese nationals to receive smuggled materials. When Chinese Christians receive smuggled material, they put themselves at risk of detention, interrogation and even imprisonment. Many of the cases of persecution being reported are the results of Christian smuggling activities.
In a history-making development, the Lord allowed East Gates to negotiate and sign an agreement with the TSPM, China Christian Council and the United Bible Societies to sell up to 500,000 Bible a year, printed legally in China with the government's approval and distributed through East Gates' networks to House church Christians all across the nation.
This approach was not initiated by East Gates, the TSPM or the China Christian Council. The request for East Gates to obtain legally printed Bibles came from House church leaders in several provinces across China.
In 1994, East Gates had orders for more than 500,000 Bibles placed with the Amity Printing Press in Nanjing, China. Over 200,000 have already been distributed to House church believers. In 1993, East Gates distributed 216,000 Bibles to House church Christians in 19 provinces. For every one Bible East Gates distributes, East Gates has requests for five more. The need for Bibles in China is staggering.
Training, Discipleship and Encouragement
You've probably heard of China's massive revival. Experts say that there are presently between 30 and 50 million believers there. This includes many new Christians who desperately need to learn from Christians with enough spiritual maturity to disciple them. Since this is rarely the case, heresies can develop and Bible passages are sometimes misinterpreted with tragic consequences. For example, one man heard the story of Abraham and Isaac, and subsequently sacrificed his son on a hilltop. In another case, some individuals heard of Peter walking on the water. They tried to do the same and drowned.
God has opened the door for a second history-making development. East Gates has been invited, together with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, to conduct training seminars in several locations across China. These will be both for members of the House Churches and for the officially registered Three Self Patriotic Movement churches. Those attending will be given the training and literature needed to train others. In addition, we pray that when the two parts of the Christian body come together, dialogue and Christian friendship and unity will deepen between them.
For a variety of reasons, Christianity has been perceived as a threat to the sovereignty of the government of China. Unofficial Christian activities have been considered "counter-revolutionary" and western involvement in the Church has been identified with Western "imperialism" and "colonialism". The government, realizing that it could not totally eliminate the Church, has sought to control it through the Three Self Patriotic Movement.
The "House church" does not officially exist in China. There is no formal structure, nor is there cooperation between the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the House church. Because the TSPM has been used, in the past, by the government in an attempt to control the House church, resulting in betrayal and persecution, many in the House church movement have no toleration for the TSPM.
EGMI is one of the few organizations that has well-established relationships both within the House Church networks across China and with the Three Self Patriotic Movement leadership and Churches. EGMI believes that God has placed it in a unique position to have a ministry of reconciliation helping to bring about unity between believers in the House Church and in the TSPM. Already many House Church Christians are working in EG's networks distributing Bibles. These dear Christians have put aside their bitterness towards the Three Self and are working together side by side, even praying and sharing communion together.
Christian Diplomatic Efforts
The government of China has long been apprehensive about the activities of Christians in the country. Authorities have feared that Christians would prove to be a destabilizing force in the community. Historically, Christianity has been perceived as "western" and "imperialistic" in nature. Continued illegal activities by western Christians only reinforces this misconception.
In September 1993, East Gates invited ten top Chinese officials to America to observe the complementary relationship between church and state. God's hand powerfully guided this effort as the Chinese delegation saw the way Christians are helping their country deal with social needs such as those of AIDS victims, prisoners, unwed mothers, prostitutes, poverty and racial intolerance. The delegation met Christian politicians and community leaders at the local, state and national levels. They also met Presidents Richard Nixon and George Bush, both of whom spoke of their Christian faith.
The message was clear. Christians do not diminish America. They enhance it. The same can only be true of Christians in China.
As a result, over the years, East Gates has received special invitations from the Chinese government. EGMI has been invited to come back to China with a ten-person delegation for the next three years. This will provide an ongoing opportunity for dialogue regarding Christianity, its beliefs and its positive contributions to society.
Other Needs and Responses
Children's ministries are vital in China. To date, the Chinese government has not officially permitted children under the age of 18 to participate in religious activities. It is the belief of EGMI that the future of the Church in China depends upon the children.
Elderly Christians in China sometimes don't receive the kind of care and provision they deserve.
For the children, EGMI continues to support orphanages and provide funds for poor students to attend schools.
For the elderly, EGMI has supported an "elderly sisters" home in the mid-coastal region of China, as well as organized support for elderly Christians in Beijing. EGMI provided major contributions to the construction of the brand new Christina elderly home in Hangzhou. Even in the socialist environment of China, the government realizes that it is unable to meet all of the needs of its people, and has been favorably impressed with the way Christians care for the needs of other Christians.
How can I be involved in East Gates?
As the world watches the dawn of a new day in China, East Gates continues to be on the cutting edge of God's agenda there. Would you like to participate? There are three main opportunities for involvement: Prayer - you can pray for East Gates on a daily, committed basis. We will keep you informed about our projects through our prayer letters and newsletter, East Gates Connection.
Provision - you can provide financial assistance, enabling East Gates to continue legal Bible printing and distribution; subsidizing church buildings, discipleship and training; Christian diplomacy; and outreach to the children and elderly.
Proclamation - you can share East Gates' vision, objectives and strategy with others, providing factual information about our ministry. If you would like to be involved, we invite you to contact us.
How does East Gates partner with other ministries working inside of China?
East Gates has partnered with a number of ministries working inside China over the years. Because of the sensitive nature of working as a foreign ministry working inside China, East Gates has to be selective in who we partner with and how we partner with them.
East Gates has had the privilege of establishing extremely good relationships at all levels in China, from the top leadership of the Chinese government, down to the House churches in the rural and minority areas. These relationships are extremely valuable and are built upon trust. Trusting relationship or "guanxi" is a very important part of Chinese society and Asian society in general. When you have a trusting relationship with someone inside China and you introduce him or her to someone new, they take that introduction as an endorsement. If, in the future, the individual or organization you have introduced them to does something either intentionally or unintentionally that brings harm to them or undermines the trust in the relationship, it reflects very negatively on the individual or organization that made the introduction. When this happens, the initial relationship is harmed, sometimes irreparably. This is why East Gates is very careful to partner with ministries that have a similar philosophy and approach to ministry in China. We look for organizations that seek to assist the indigenous Christians in China and what is developing in their church context and culture, as opposed to partnering with organizations that seek to transform the church in China with their own ministry. We also look for organizations that are willing to take a long-term view of their work in China, ones that are not impatient, impetuous, nor seeking to get immediate results.
If you would like to be involved, we invite you to contact us.
What are some examples of Christian ministries that East Gates has partnered with in the past?
East Gates has helped the Radio Bible Class print and distribute "Our Daily Bread." We assisted Josh McDowell Ministries in publishing and distributing "More Than a Carpenter" and "Evidence That Demands a Verdict." We have also assisted Inner Varsity, The Navigators, American Bible Society, Kairos Ministries, Doulos and a number of other Christian organizations, individuals, as well as large churches.
East Gates seems to minimize the fact that religious persecution of Christians exists in China while while others say it is very prominent. What is the true story?
Oftentimes, letters and calls come into East Gates asking whether the persecution of Christians in China is as bad as the media and other ministries claim it to be. We are sent news clippings, brochures or newsletters from other organizations or ministries showing how they contradict what we claim to say is happening in China. They want to know the truth.
For anyone who has worked in China for any length of time, they come to realize that, "Whatever you say about China is true and whatever you may hear about China may not be true."
There are many other ministries serving China like ourselves that do not speak to the religious persecution issue as often as others might wish but it does not mean we are not aware of the fact it exists. Having worked closely with Chinese governmental officials, registered and unregistered churches in every province over the past decade, East Gates knows the topic of religious persecution is a complicated one. As with most controversial subjects, it's important to keep a balanced perspective. Judgment of China's religious situation should not be based solely on one person's testimony, a few ministry reports or a couple of newspaper articles. They may reflect only one thread of a very large tapestry.
It's important to keep in mind that China is a very large country. Chinese may "all look alike" but they are more culturally diverse than Europeans. Given this context, the history of each of the 31 provinces and the background of each local provincial official will differ; application of the rule of law and religious policy in one region may not be the same as the other. For example, in one city, thousands of House church believers may go to a mountain to pray and worship without feeling threatened whereas in another province, a handful of believers must meet in a warehouse at 2:00 am so as to not draw attention.
When you read or hear of news on religious persecution in China, it's important to form an educated opinion versus a purely emotional response. Here are some good questions to ask: 1) How did the conflict begin? 2) What province is the religious persecution occuring? 3) Does it have a history or track record of religious persecution? 4) Is the persecution truly religious in nature or is it due more to politics or a personal grudge between members of the two parties? 5) What are the backgrounds of the provincial governmental officials in the area? 6) Are there outside or overseas ministries involved that may be creating the problem? 7) What are the Christian beliefs of the local pastor and the believers? 8) What is their faith practice? Is it based on truth or heresy?
It's important to have these questions answered before the conclusion is quickly made that the Chinese government oppresses all unregistered House church members. There are cases where indeed this may be true but there are also cases where the local religious officials have helped House church members purchase land to build their meeting point. In the same venue, there are situations where registered church members will not speak with unregistered church members and there are also cases where both sides get along very well, share the same worship facilities and are in good terms with the local religious officials.
In summary, when it comes to religious persecution in China, there is much more than what meets the eye. Religious beliefs can be used to cover the real issue which may be corruption, politics or generational family conflicts. If the conflict does indeed center around religion, there will be cases when governmental officials are to clearly to blame and there will be situations when local Christians are the source of the problem. Usually the latter occurs when believers do not interpret Scripture correctly, act upon erroneous teachings from outsiders or do not use wisdom in expressing their faith. This only invites greater scrutiny and misunderstanding of the Christian faith and its followers.
For this very reason, East Gates believes time, financial resources and energy are always well spent when providing Open and House church leaders and believers with appropriate Christian resources and support for their training programs/centers. At the same time, we honor many of their requests to come and listen to their special and challenging situations, trying to provide them with wise counsel on how to apply Scripture in their daily lives and how to be "wise as a serpents and gentle as a doves." Please pray for our staff in this area given this is probably the most challenging aspect of our ministry.
I would like to serve in China. Do you have any short or long-term mission projects I can be a part of?
We receive this question very often. East Gates is not a mission-sending organization. There are many Christian ministries that that fulfill this function very well. East Gates is more than happy to advise, counsel and provide consultation to those who have a sincere interest in serving their brothers and sisters in China. Given information on a person's background, work or ministry experience, interests, giftings and heart for China, we can provide helpful suggestions on how a person(s) can prepare to serve in China; what to expect and not expect and how to appreciate serving in a very different culture. Feel free to contact us if you would like information in this area and we would be happy to help you.
I've heard various terms used for the church in China and I am somewhat confused. I hear the terms "Three Self Patriotic Movement," "China Christian Council," "Official Open Church," "Underground Church" and "House Churches." Could you please clarify and define these terms for me?
This is indeed a frequently asked question and one that is not easily or simply answered. As with most things relating to China, terminology and definitions are sometimes overly complex. Perhaps it is best to simply list out the terms and define them.
Three-Self Patriotic Movement
In China there is one governmental body that oversees all religion. It is formally entitled the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB), but recently was renamed to the State Religious Affairs Administration (SRAA). This government organ oversees the five major recognized religions in China, they are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestant Christianity. Each of these religions has an associated organization that was set up in either the 1950's or the 1970's to oversee their affairs. In the case of Protestant Christianity, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement was established in the late 1950's as a means to control the Protestant Christian religion. Three-Self stands for "self-governing, self-propagating and self- supporting."
Although the Three-Self Patriotic Movement was originally set up to oversee and essentially control Protestant Christianity by the Chinese government, it has evolved into a large organization with Christian Conservatives and Evangelicals on one side, and religious liberals, party and government loyalists on the other side. The TSPM, along with the China Christian Council, (see following definition) recommend policies guiding Protestant Christianity in China to the Religious Affairs Bureau or SRAA. One misnomer regarding the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and churches that are affiliated with the TSPM, is that the TSPM controls all of the activities of Three-Self Churches. While the Three-Self Patriotic Movement does exert a degree of influence over Three-Self Churches, it in no way has the capacity to control the activities of all of the churches across China. Many, if not most, of the Three-Self Churches in China function independent of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in all practical matters.
China Christian Council
The China Christian Council (CCC) is an organization that operates parallel to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. The CCC was established as a body to facilitate and nurture the growth of the Protestant churches across China. The CCC oversees and ministers the Amity Foundation, which provides humanitarian relief and assistance to Christians in China and also oversees and administers the Amity Printing Company and Amity Printing Press, which prints the majority of Bibles and Christian literature in mainland China.
How do you distribute so many Bibles in China?
In a country that is basically atheistic, Socialist in nature with such a vast territory and large population, it's almost inconceivable to think that tens of millions of Bibles have been able to be distributed to believers in House churches over such a short period of time. Three major elements have contributed to this miracle of God:
- the openness of the Chinese government for Bible distribution
- the cooperation of the Official churches
- the acceptance of the House churches
In the past 50 years, the relationship between the Government, Official churches and House churches has not been stable or harmonious. It has almost been impossible for the three parties to cooperate and accept one another. But within the past decade, God has shown His mighty hand and great love through what has been accomplished through the distribution of millions of Bibles throughout China. The remaining issues are easier to solve and are mere technicalities.
Today, East Gates has a Bible distribution network that covers almost the entire country. This network has become more established as relationships with House church members deepen. In the past ten years, House church leaders have seen that there is no danger associated with receiving Bibles distributed by East Gates through the CCC, therefore, they give us their trust and positive support.
Our success in distributing so many Bibles legally are due to many factors, the greatest of which is timing. When East Gates first started distributing Bibles to House churches ten year ago, House churches were developing and flourishing. Also, China was experiencing a revolutionary change economically. East Gates happened to fill a great need at the right moment. Thanks to God's grace, East Gates was in a position at the right time and the place to fulfill a great need. Therefore, we are able to continue this valuable ministry to millions of Chinese.
What is your answer to people who say there is a need to smuggle Bibles into China because there are so few Bibles to the number of Chinese who really need them?
Today, the number of Bibles printed inside China are able to fulfill the needs of Chinese believers who request Bibles. Every Bible distribution point in China has Bibles in stock and the printing volume is based on demand. To smuggle or pilfer Bibles into China like many did 20 years ago is not necessary despite whether it is legal or illegal. Bringing in Bibles from overseas as gifts to friends or relatives do not fall under this category.
What is the greatest need within the churches in China today?
For anyone who has visited China, they will quickly see that it is a field that is ready for harvest. The harvest is ready but the laborers few. We believe that the greatest need of the Chinese church is for God to raise up more Christian leaders, disciples and workers that are faithful, experienced and fulfill the will of God.
How do US-China relations affect East Gates and other ministries who serve in China?
Given the global village that now exists, the destiny of the US and China are indelibly entwined. The geopolitical, economic and social situation in both countries directly affects the religious venue. We've seen this clearly in the Falun Gong movement that has directly affected China and other parts of the world. Given China's history, religion is a sensitive issue. Therefore, any ministry working in China must be objective, impartial, fair and use much wisdom when sharing and spreading the Gospel. To understand how China's entrance into the World Trade Organization (WTO), Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) and other rights of passage directly affect ministry in China, see Ned Graham's Testimony before the Senate Committee on Finance entitled: US-China Trade Relations and the Impact on Religious Activity in the PRC.
What gives you hope about the Body of Christ in China?
There has been much growth in the Body of Christ in China over the past 20 years. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the majority if not all of the churches went underground. After 1976, slowly the churches resurfaced. It was as if they rose from the ashes. Believers came out of the woodwork stronger in vision and faith, knowing that God has sustained them for a greater work ahead. Today, the House churches in China still have many insufficiencies. They lack qualified pastors and there is a shortage of teachers or lay trainers who have theological training. As a result, many churches lack unity in the Spirit. Within the management of many House churches there is much individualism. Many things need to improve. What needs to be considered, however, is where the church in China has been and where it is now. If one takes this perspective, there is much to hope and be thankful for.