Seeing Beyond the Impossible
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
East Gates is an interdenominational 501(c)3 organization with a unique vision. As massive change sweeps across Mainland China, it is East Gates' vision to ride these winds of change in order to effectively assist the Body of Christ in China, enabling them to fulfill the Great Commission mentioned in Matthew 28:19-20.
To fulfill this vision, East Gates' primary objectives are:
- Identify the Church in China's unmet needs towards becoming all that God desires them to be and help fulfill them
- Help develop strategic and legal ministries inside China, that are conducted and supported by indigenous Chinese, to uniquely meet their own needs so they can take advantage of the new opportunities before them.
Changing Times in China
Since the 1908s, with Deng Xiaoping's New Reforms, massive economic changes have swept through China. New businesses, skyscrapers and housing developments continue to spread across the country's landscape. Along with this rapid economic growth has come greater information exchange technology. There are now 720 million Chinese who use the internet, cell phones and utilize social networking. China is now an integral part of the globalized world. So how has this affected its view on Christianity?
Before we answer this question, it's important to note that China is one of the longest civilizations on earth today. Over the millennia, it has learned from history. In the 20th century, China recognized the near fatal mistakes made by another communist country -- the U.S.S.R. In the former Soviet Union there were massive political reforms followed by poorly thought through economic reforms. As these reforms stretched and pulled at the fabric of society, the government reacted by initiating unwise social reforms. During this time, thousands of western Christians poured into the former Soviet Block. One western religious leader called this period, "the rape of the Soviet Church." The Church in the former Soviet Union became fractured and divided. This lack of unity became a poor Christian testimony to those in power. The Soviet government introduced legislation to limit Christian activities. This impact is still felt today.
China carefully observed what occurred in the former Soviet Union and did not want to incur the same mistakes. The following popular Chinese proverb illustrates this fact -- "It is good to have a hot engine in your car." In essence, you want a "hot" engine that runs efficiently but not a "hot headed" driver. So China's economy is running "hot" right now and its leadership is trying to keep a cool head.
As China's economic reforms move forward, China finds that its political and social reforms can't keep pace. Already, the divorce rate mimics that of the West. Traditionally, the Chinese were known for their tight-knit nuclear families. No more. Mass consumerism, cost of living increases, unbalanced male to female ratios due to decades of the one-child policy have strained the building blocks of their society. The Government has tried to put a tighter reign on corruption but without much progress.
East Gates' friends in China have privately admitted that Communist and Maoist ideologies have proven to be morally and ethically "bankrupt." Reason being, morality was legislated by the system and therefore, became external to the individual. East Gates tries to help the Government understand that Christianity is not just one of the five religions recognized by China. On the contrary, it is a way of life and when an individual accepts Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit's ability to change his or her own life, the transformation is incredible. As each Chinese Christian becomes more Christ-like, he or she becomes a viable part of China's moral solution to a harmonious and stable society. It's a reality China has always desired since time immemorial.
China has become increasingly open to the Christian message. This can been seen with the increase in Christians meeting together in urban, rural and minority tribe settings. The Government, through it's official arms of the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB), Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), and the China Christian Council (CCC) allow indigenous and overseas Christians to worship and function within the scope of its national and provincial religious policies.
It is a new day in China and East Gates has found that by being transparent and developing decades of trust with governmental officials, registered, unregistered Chinese Christians, only positive changes will occur within the Body of Christ in China.
The first known missionaries to reach China, the Nestorian Christians, followed the "Silk Road" in 635 A.D. Later 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, barbaric 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 Overseas 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 them as well. In 1911, Sun Yat-sen led the Nationalists in a revolution against the Manchu Dynasty and won. This event set the stage for the formation of the Republic of China. Christianity continued to spread. Sun Yat-Sen was even 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. We make note of two leaders in particular: 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 (PRC). With the founding of the PRC, the government took control over all religious buildings were and religious institutions. They 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 Marxism's tenets, "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 (TSPM) 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 homes or "House churches."
The most violent phase of the PRC occurred during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). During the most volatile phase (1966-1970), the TSPM was disbanded, churches closed, Bibles burned and destroyed, Christians attacked, thousands killed or sent for re-education in prison labor camps for conducting "counter-revolutionary activities." Before being dismantled, 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 worshiped and fellowshipped secretly in their homes, often in small numbers to avoid detection.
In 1971, two churches in Beijing were reopened solely for the foreign diplomatic community. In 1972, President Richard Nixon visited China. In 1975, at the Fourth National 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. At the end of the Cultural Revolution, reports claimed there were as many as ten million Christians. 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 re-establishing the TSPM.
During the 1980's, the Chinese Church continued to grow at an astonishing rate. The TSPM reopened many of the churches that were 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 had little or no access to Bibles and training and refused to be associated with the TSPM. These ministries smuggled Bibles and Christian literature into China 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 government stability. 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.
Different groups in China.
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 China's government. 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 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 -- 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 TSPM 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 TSPM 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 (CCC, see following definition) recommend policies guiding Protestant Christianity in China to the Religious Affairs Bureau or SRAA. One misnomer regarding the TSPM and churches affiliated with the TSPM, is that the TSPM controls all of the activities of Three-Self churches. While the TSPM does exert a degree of influence over Three-Self Churches, it in no way has the capacity to control all the activities of the churches across China. In all practical matters, many, if not most of the Three-Self churches in China function independent of the TSPM.
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 administers the Amity Foundation, which provides humanitarian relief and assistance to Christians in China. It 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
This unofficial, informal body of believers represents roughly 90% of China's Christian population. They have no formal structure and in general, there has been minimal cooperation between the TSPM and the House church. At times, in the past, the Government has attempted to use the TSPM to control the House church, resulting in greater mistrust between the two entities and persecution. Because of this, the House church movement has had little toleration for the TSPM. This is beginning to change however. Over the years, we've seen and experienced provincial governmental officials developing good relationships with House church leaders and vice-versa. In some instances, the TSPM has even given land to House church groups for the purpose of building meeting points and other church activities. Today, there are many House churches believers that attend TSPM churches and vice versa. The relationship between the TSPM and House church believers differs from province to province. Over the years, the TSPM has become more independent of government control and has become more proactive and assertive 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 that for the most part, 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 - TSPM lines, thus continuing to nurture division. Thankful, there are some that now see the bigger picture and are now praying and working towards greater reconciliation and unity. After all, God inspired the Apostle Paul to write, "Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and 'Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness '" (2 Tim.2:19).
6) The Western Church
Christians in the West have a long history of involvement with China, an involvement that has not always been productive or a good testimony to their faith. 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 influences over the years causing greater division that unity within the Church in China.
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.
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 towards building the Kingdom of God need to change as well. If one uses wisdom, the opportunity now exists to work within the scope of Chinese law with integrity, openness and transparency.
Oftentimes, ministries focusing on China have gravitated towards illegal activities such as smuggling Bibles and literature (courier work), underground training of pastors without the Government's approval etc. These activities continue to reinforce China's long-held view that Christianity is merely a screen and projection of Western imperialism and colonialism. East Gates attempts to rectify this belief by demonstrating that Christianity is not Western or political in nature. If anything, it can have an incredibly life-giving impact on China's society if biblical principles are faithfully and consistently applied.
East Gates’ main priorities to meet the growing needs of the Church in China are the following:
- Legal distribution of Bibles and Christian training materials to all indigenous believers and potential believers in China.
- Provide quality training, discipleship, counseling and encouragement for pastors, lay trainers and co-workers.
- Build bridges of reconciliation between Christians in the registered and unregistered churches.
- Facilitate diplomatic efforts to help China’s government, especially the Religious Affairs Bureau and United Front Work department, gain a better understanding and appreciation for Christianity.
- Outreach to Children and the Elderly
Legal Distribution of Bibles
Since 1987, Bibles have been legally printed at the Amity Printing Press in Nanjing, China and distributed through the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and its administrative arm, the China Christian Council (CCC). Historically, House church Christians, have not had easy access to these legally printed Bibles. That's why the encouraged and received 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. In times past, many of the persecution cases reported were the result of overseas Christian smuggling activities.
In 1994, a history-making initiative occurred. The Lord allowed East Gates to negotiate and sign an agreement with the TSPM, CCC and the United Bible Societies to sell up to 500,000 Bible a year. These Bibles were all printed at the Amity Printing Press and distributed through East Gates' networks to House church Christians throughout the nation with the Government's approval.
What led up to this milestone event? To begin, it was not initiated by East Gates, the TSPM or the CCC. The request for East Gates to obtain legally printed Bibles came from House church leaders in several provinces across China.
In 1993, East Gates distributed 216,000 Bibles to House church Christians in 19 provinces. For every one Bible East Gates distributed, East Gates received requests for five more. The need for Bibles in China was staggering. With East Gates’ large, effective and trustworthy network, in time, East Gates had orders for more than 500,000 Bibles. Obviously, this involved working more in contractual terms with the TSPM, CCC, United Bible Societies and the Amity Printing Press.
Training, Discipleship, Counseling & Encouragement
After the Cultural Revolution (1966-1977), we discovered that Christians that had gone underground grew stronger and more prolific versus weakened and diminished. Today, one cannot really estimate how many Christians there are in China in so much as one cannot truly ascertain how many Christians there are in the West. Just because someone attends church on Sunday or claims one is a “Jesus follower” does not mean the individual is a Christian. As we share with Chinese believers, “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16-20).
Regardless, Christian organizations who focus on statistics and attempt to ascertain demographically how many Christians there are around the world, estimate there are over 100 million believers in China. Although there is continual growth and interest in the Christian faith, there is also backsliding due to the rapid increase of consumerism and other “isms” that vie for a Christian’s faith and allegiance to the One True God. One must keep this all in perspective.
Today, new Christians desperately need to learn from spiritually mature Christians who can disciple them. Unfortunately, since they are rare to find, heresies can develop and Bible passages misinterpreted with tragic consequences.
For example, one Chinese 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 thing, thinking if they could, it would reflect on their faith but they drowned. There are many more incidences of this nature we can share.
God has opened the door for a second history-making development. East Gates has been invited, together with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), to conduct training seminars in locations throughout China. These training and discipleship classes are for the registered and unregistered believers, TSPM and House church members.
Those attending will be given the mentorship, training and Christian literature needed to train others. In addition, we pray that when the two parts of the Christian body come together, Christian friendship, dialogue and unity will deepen between them.
Building Bridges of Reconciliation
For a variety of reasons, Christianity has been perceived as a threat to the sovereignty of China’s government. Unofficial Christian activities have been considered "counter-revolutionary" and Western involvement in the Church has been identified as Western "imperialism" and "colonialism."
The Government, realizing it could not totally eliminate the Church, has sought to control it through the TSPM. They do not officially acknowledge or recognize the House church/ unregistered church. Consequently, there is no formal relationship or cooperation between the TSPM and the House church. Because the TSPM has been used, in the past, by the Government as an attempt to control the House church, resulting in betrayal and persecution, many in the House churches have had no toleration for the TSPM.
EGMI is one of the very few organizations that has well-established relationships both within the House Church networks across China and with the TSPM leadership and churches. EGMI believes that God has placed it in a unique position to have a ministry of reconciliation to help bring unity between believers in the House church and in the TSPM. Already many House church Christians are working in EGMI's networks distributing Bibles. These dear Christians have put aside their bitterness towards the TSPM and are working together side by side, even praying and sharing communion together.
Christian Diplomatic Efforts
China’s government 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 and ultimately nation. As we’ve already mentioned, 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 the former Director of the RAB (now SRAA) Ye Xiaowen, stated, “One more Christian, one less criminal 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 continued dialogue and relationship-building. Continual engagements like this will provide an ongoing opportunity on dialogue regarding Christianity, its beliefs and its positive contributions to society.
Outreach to the Children and the Elderly
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 moral stability of nation depends upon the next generation. This is especially true for China.
East Gates supports and conducts Christian Marriage and Family seminars led by highly qualified teachers to strengthen the family unit in China. As the cost of living increases and both parents are forced to work and cyberspace technology naturally substitutes for their time and affection, marital and family division increases.
So far, our Christian Marriage and Family seminars have been highly effective. EGMI’s goal is to train and counsel indigenous teachers in this critical area.
EGMI continues to support orphanages that express a great need and provide funds for poor students to attend schools.
When it comes to the elderly Christians in China, like those in the West, they oftentimes don't receive the kind of care and provision they deserve.
One of China’s government think tanks states that “China will the world’s most aged society in 2030” and by 2050, China’s older population (over 65) will mount to 330 million, 100 million more than the U.S. population. 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.
For the elderly, EGMI provided major contributions to a Christian elderly home in Hangzhou, China, as well as organized support for elderly Christians in Beijing. EGMI continues to provide social welfare in this much needed area as funds become available.
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 web site, www.egmi.org and our free bi-monthly newsletters.
- Provision - you can provide financial assistance, enabling East Gates to continue legal Bible distribution, subsidizing the church building of churches, 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.
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. A trustworthy 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 them harm or undermines that trust, it reflects negatively on the individual or organization that made the introduction. When this occurs, 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.
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 partnered with and assisted ministries such as : Inner Varsity, The Navigators, American Bible Society, Kairos Ministries, Doulos and a number of other Christian organizations serve the Church in China.
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 and 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 this province 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 the faith practice of those involved? Is it based on truth or heresy?
It's important to have these questions answered before conclusions are 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 Bible 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 registered and unregistered 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 Bible scripture in their daily lives and how to be "wise as a serpents and gentle as a doves" (Matthew 10:16). Please pray for our staff in this area given this is probably the most challenging aspect of our ministry.
We receive this question very often. East Gates is not a mission-sending organization. There are many Christian ministries 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. If we are 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. We can also shed light on 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.
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 (TSPM)
In China, there is one governmental body that oversees all religion. It was formally entitled the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) and later renamed 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 TSPM was established in the late 1950's as a means to oversee the Protestant Christian religion. "Three-Self" stands for "self-governing, self-propagating and self- supporting."
Although the TSPM was originally set up to oversee 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 and China Christian Council (CCC, see following definition) recommend policies guiding Protestant Christianity in China to the Religious Affairs Bureau or SRAA. One misnomer regarding the TSPM and churches that are affiliated with the TSPM, is that the TSPM controls all of the activities of Three-Self churches. While the TSPM does exert a degree of influence over Three-Self churches, it in no way has the capacity to control all of the activities of the churches across China. Many, if not most, of the Three-Self churches in China function independently of the TSPM in all practical matters.
China Christian Council (CCC)
The China Christian Council (CCC) is an organization that 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.
In a country that is basically atheistic and 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:
1.) The openness of the Chinese government for Bible printing and distribution.
2.) The cooperation of the TSPM official and/or registered churches.
3.) The acceptance of the House and/or unregistered churches.
In the past 50 years, the relationship between China's government, TSPM/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 20 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 20 years 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. By God's grace, East Gates was in the right position, at the right time and the right place to fulfill a great need. As a result, we are able to continue this valuable ministry to millions of Chinese.
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 decades 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.
For anyone who has visited China, they will quickly see that it is a immense field ripe for the harvest. The harvest is ready but the laborers few (Luke 10:2).
We believe that the greatest need of the Chinese church is for God to raise up more Christian leaders, disciples and workers that are FAT - Faithful, Available and Teachable; servants dedicated to fulfilling God's will 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.
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, the churches slowly 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, where it is now and where it is going. If one takes this perspective, there is much to hope and be thankful for.