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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Christianity in China

Every year for Father's Day, one of my daughters has a habit of going to a Half Priced Books outlet and picking up a half dozen or so used books for me.  She knows I like non-fiction and am partial to biographies.  Some years I score better than others, as some of the books are discounted for a reason!  But this year, a couple of the books she got me were especially good.  Let me tell you about one of them - or rather let me tell you about my reaction to one of them.

I just finished reading God's Double Agent, by Bob Fu.   It's a true story of Mr. Fu's personal fight with the Chinese government over his calling from God to be a Christian evangelist.  It's a good story and well written.  Quite frankly, the level of detail that Mr. Fu is able to recall is remarkable.  It makes his story all the more believable too.  But the context of the book is disturbing to me.  It paints a picture of Christianity in China that is quite disturbing.  It leaves me in a quandary, not knowing what to conclude. 

I like to think of myself as a Christian contemporary, always staying abreast of the issues.  Moreover, I tend to dig into the issues in a search for the truth.  When radial Muslims bombed America ten years ago, I went and got myself a Qu'ran (the Islamic equivalent of a Bible).  I wanted to see what exactly Islam's position is.  (It's disturbing - but that's for another blog entry.)  When it comes to China, I thought I was fairly aware of the issues of both religion and business.  I pay attention to how our respective governments relate to each other, follow the daily business news, and have done more than a little reading about religion.

The official Christian church in China is known as the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).  It's sanctioned by the Chinese government, runs over a dozen seminaries, prints Bibles, etc.  (  If you're a Christian in China, it's the legal approach to worship.  But then of course we have the "house church" movement in China - where people worship informally in the homes of individuals.  (

Through the years there's been an ongoing struggle between the TSPM and the house church movement.  That struggle has been fueled by Christians in America (and the west in general), as they smuggled Bibles, held secret meetings, etc.  When you read Christian literature from places like Voice of the Martyrs (, the struggle with the Chinese government is justified.  Western Christianity doesn't view the TSPM as a legitimate church, asserting that the government in China (versus Jesus Christ) is the head of that church. 

After reading Mr. Fu's book, it's clear that his view is the commonly held view - that the TSPM is not a legitimate Christian church.  His story regales us of the experiences he had trying to answer God's call to evangelism first under the auspices of the TSPM, and later under the house church movement.  It is in the latter that Mr. Fu experienced his worst persecution.  He was arrested, spied on, tortured, threatened, and treated badly in other ways.  The stories he tells are really awful.  On the surface it makes you want to pick up your own cross against the Chinese government and demand reform.

The U.S. government hasn't necessarily declared that the TSPM is not a legitimate church.  Instead, the U.S. government's position has settled on the issue of human rights when it comes to how the Chinese government deals with what it would have to call religious dissidents.  The U.S. simply alleges that the Chinese government should be more tolerant of self-professed Christians who rebel against the TSPM.  Stories like Mr. Fu's provide plenty of fodder for the American assertion that it's a human rights issues. 

I don't doubt that the Chinese government is treating people badly.  Bob Fu's book is believable.  It's true.  Clearly when someone tries to spread the gospel in China outside of the auspices of the TSPM, they are likely to suffer incredible consequences doled out by the Chinese government.  So that's disturbing.  But that's the obvious. 

In Romans 13:1-5, the Apostle Paul explained to us that, "Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.   So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.   For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.   The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.   So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience."

I know.  You're thinking to yourself, "He's crazy.  The Chinese government is evil."  You'd be right on the latter part.  But I'm not going to give you crazy just yet.  Hear me out.  The Bible also tells us that evil can be the servant of God.  Satan is serving God right now, for example.  Anyone who knows God knows that He is a purposeful God.  He allows evil to run its course for a reason.  We may not understand that reason, but we can have confidence that the (good) reason is there.  Satan is a servant of God, whether he knows it or not.  So are evil regimes and countries.  (

So that takes me to the conclusion that the Chinese government - as evil as it can be - is a servant of God.  This is true whether it wants to be or not.  This is true whether it knows it or not.  In its own perverse way, that government allows worship of the one true God.  In its way, that government allows adults - who are capable of making that choice - to turn to the one true God.  In its way, that government allows parents to pray with their children and teach them the ways of the one true God. 

It may be a communist government.  But if I lived in China, I believe I would try to see how much I could accomplish for the Lord within the Three Self Patriotic Movement church structure.  (Can you believe I just said that?)  It seems to me that more of China's citizens might be impacted if they could see more of Jesus in their daily lives.  But when Christians openly rebel against the government (and flee to America), I wonder how much Jesus the rest of China gets to see.

Like I said, I enjoyed Bob Fu's book.  It's a good read.  But the context disturbs me.  I wonder if open rebellion is the most effective way to honor God when confronted with evil.  I once heard a pastor here in the U.S. say that the best thing that could happen to Christianity in America would be for the government to outlaw it. 

History shows us that persecution has actually been good for the heart of Christ's church.  So in that context, I would have to ask Mr. Fu how many of China's people he is reaching for Christ - now that he has fled the persecution of the Chinese government and lives safely and comfortably in Texas, supported by Americans.

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