The Church in China

Third Thursday in Eastertide
Eve of the Feast of St. Philip & St. James, apostles & martyrs

I have been doing some reading of late about the Church in the People’s Republic of China. For a very long time, I have always held a primary view that the only legitimate churches in the PRC are those who are underground (whether they be underground Protestant house churches or underground Roman Catholic churches).

My grandfather when he was alive kept telling me that the churches who were registered and affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and China Christian Council (for Protestants) and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (for Roman Catholics) were legitimate churches and were spreading the Gospel. House churches were either joining the “official” church or still choosing to remain underground, but persecution of the underground church varied from location to location (in some places, limited persecution while others had more).

Stories of the Bible being tremendously unavailable that I had heard from contemporary Western missionaries were only partly true and that the Chinese Bible (usually the Chinese Union Version) was being printed and distributed by the Amity Foundation (through registered churches). Any Christian who wanted a copy of the Bible only had to go to a local registered church and obtain one.

I have since come to a more nuanced understanding and appreciation of the strictures which Protestants and Roman Catholics have to abide within and by in the PRC. On the one hand, I can appreciate the freedom of conscience which those who have chosen to remain outside the “registered” churches though I do wonder about whether or not those who do so have taken seriously what St. Paul wrote to the Romans (i.e. Romans 13:1-7). On the other hand, I can also appreciate the concerns of those outside of the PRC that the TSPM, CCC and CPCA are government controlled organizations that are hindering God’s work amongst the Chinese people (but again, that pesky Romans 13:1-7 passage comes in again).

And I am quite surprised that in the recent church history of China, how Anglicans have played quite a major part. I can see a potential reason why when I take a look at the recent promulgation of the Protestant Church in China’s Church Order (you could call it similar to a set of articles of faith mixed with a set of canon laws). While it is in a sense, “post-denominational”, the fact that there are provisions for the ordination and consecration of bishops in there (plus the term “Holy Orders”) is surprising given that the amalgamation of Anglicans, Church of Christ, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, etc into the TSPM and CCC would normally mean that episcopacy isn’t on the table (as is sort of the case with the Church of South India and the Church of North India, where episcopacy isn’t there in name, though it is in constitution).

But it is, and I suspect it is there courtesy of one man, Bishop K. H. Ting who for a long time, was a sort of spokesperson for the PRC’s Protestant Christians. And who was ordained, consecrated and enthroned in 1955 as Bishop of Zhejiang Province of the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui, the Anglican Church in China before it ceased to exist around 1958. Well, within the PRC at least. Taiwan ended up becoming a diocese within Province 8 of The Episcopal Church of the USA. And the Diocese of Hong Kong & Macau became a separate province and autonomous church within the Anglican Communion.

Given his involvement with the setting up of the CCC and the Amity Foundation, I suspect that my grandfather might have had the privilege of working with Bishop Ting when he was in the PRC on one of his many mission and church-related trips (potentially if Amity Press was the printer of the Chinese Study Bible, published by Rock House Publishers).

So I am looking forward to getting stuck into Reconstructing Christianity in China: K. H. Ting and the Chinese Church by Philip L. Wickeri. Reviews of it are hard to come by, but from what I have seen, it appears that this is a fair and balanced assessment of both Bishop Ting and Protestant Christianity in the PRC as a whole. My gut feeling (on the brief browse I have had thus far) is that my opinions of the Protestant Church in China will change as a result of reading this book which is authored by one who has worked in the PRC for the cause of Christ over the last twenty or so years.

Now if only those pesky Christian retailers here in Australia would include this within their catalogues for retail sale. I mean, if of all places, St. Paul’s Book Store (which is an outreach of the Society of St. Paul, a Roman Catholic society of priests and religious brothers and sisters) can stock it, why can’t Koorong or Word.

Oh that’s right, it’ll prolly only sell 3 copies nationwide so the profit margin would be horrible… on the other hand, how about some new Jesus bangles… and we can’t undercut the selling of The Heavenly Man which is about the house-church movement in the PRC compared with this account of the “official” church in the PRC… [end sarcasm]

On that note, Brother Yun’s book is quite a good read, lest any of you think I am knocking the house-church movement. All I’ll say is that Bishop Ting and Brother Yun are both in my prayers, as are their respective ministries.

+ bf 2308hrs

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One thought on “The Church in China”

  1. Generally it is the organization that invites the persecution. The political idea may be ‘you like Chist, fine; but I hate the church.’ Traditionally China doesn’t take on the idea of organizations between the State and the individual, and equates private societies with a certain level of vice. I always think this point of view originates legalism and strengthened by unification and confucian proactiveness.

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