The Chinese Government has recently reasserted Sinicization, the project aimed at conforming Christianity into the likeness of Communist China.
Over the past 70 years, China has born witness to one of the greatest movements the world has ever seen. At the close of the Second World War and with the rise of Communism, Western missionaries were removed from China and many left wondering what would happen to the fledgling Churches left behind in that extraordinary land.
Communism has little time for religion, as has been demonstrated in 100 years of socialist run States. Belief in God is deemed to be a threat to social harmony and to those who have power over the people.
As the bamboo curtain descended in the 1950s, God did not turn away from the Chinese people, but behind the scenes, he began an amazing work which has led to so many people becoming Christian, no one can count the number. Estimates range between 40 and 80 million followers of Jesus Christ in China today—possibly more Christians than in any other nation on earth.
It is somewhat ironic that the most ‘Christian’ nation is one with a communist Government with a capitalist facade!
Over the past 20 years, China has gradually opened its doors to the world outside, and in some Provinces, religious toleration is greater than in others. As the bamboo curtain rose a little, Anglo-European Christians discovered that God does not need Western Christianity in order to grow the Gospel elsewhere. The Holy Spirit does not travel through western missionaries into indigenous groups but rather, the Spirit is God’s gift given directly to all who come to faith in the risen Christ. This is not to denigrate centuries of European witness to the Gospel, for we should be thankful for the fact that men and women traveled to China, and many died in order to give the Gospel to that great land. Today there are still many non-Chinese men and women who are serving in a variety of ways inside China, to love the people and show people the reality and good news of Jesus.
Once again, Chinese Christians are facing persecution. The Government is clamping down on Christianity with new intent and severity. According to a report in the ABC, the crackdown includes:
- removing Bibles from online stores
- removing Christian objects from buildings
- closing hundreds of churches
- and forcing Christian icons to include or be accompanied by images of Mao Zedong.
The last of these measures reminds me of Daniel ch.3 where King Nebuchadnezzar exercised religious toleration by requiring all of his subjects to submit to a statue in his image. Who doesn’t like to think of the cross with an image of Mao Zedong standing over it!
One Pastor explained what has happened to his church,
“And then they [the authorities] came into the church saying that things inside should be removed.
“For example, the banner saying: ‘For God, so love the world’ and the scriptures were torn down, and all things related to the Bible and faith had to be cleared out.”
All this would be bad enough, but news this week is highlighting collusion with the Chinese Government by the Vatican.
While President Xi Jinping is beginning to sound like King Nebuchadnezzar, Pope Francis is appearing as one of his astrologers who betrays Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Writing for the New York Times, Ian Johnson has suggested that recent negotiations between the Chinese Government and the Vatican are designed to further stamp out underground Churches. In other words, to reduce even further any little autonomy and freedom Christian Churches might have had in China.
“Beijing’s goal in the agreement, however, appears to be the same as with the church demolitions: greater control over the rapid spread of Christianity, which gained a permanent presence in China in the 16th century.”
The deal will allow the Vatican to have greater say in appointing future Bishops in China (but not full control), and this was contingent upon Pope Francis formally recognising seven Catholics Bishops who have already been appointed by the Chinese Government.
According to Johnson,
“The ruling Communist Party sees the compromise with the Vatican as a step toward eliminating the underground churches where Chinese Catholics who refuse to recognize the party’s authority have worshiped for generations. With the pope now recognizing all bishops and clergy members in the official Catholic churches approved and controlled by the party, the underground church may have no reason to exist.
The move is part of a broader push by the government to clamp down on all aspects of society since Xi Jinping took power as the party’s leader in 2012.”
The founder of ChinAid, a Christian human rights organisation, Bob Fu, has responded to the deal,
“While we understand the eagerness of Vatican for seeking more legitimacy in the eye of the Chinese Communist Party, this reported deal is nothing but a betrayal of both the millions of suffering persecuted Christians in China and the global Catholic Church.”
In other words, Pope Francis has struck a deal with the devil, one which will essentially hand over millions of Chinese Christians (especially Protestant Churches) into the unforgiving hands of the Government. According to all accounts, the Chinese Government is using the Vatican as a tool to increase pressure on underground Churches, either to close or to formally register and come under their authority and control.
It is fair to say that many Christians in Australia are concerned with where things are heading in our own country. There are signs suggesting that new forms of authoritarian secularism are gaining momentum. The project to limit religious freedom and to control public Christianity has certainly gained ground in recent times. These moves need to be called out and pushed back for the sake of all Australians who believe in social pluralism and freedom of conscience, speech, and association. Do we really want to live in a country where the government or where self-appointed militia get to choose how Christian Christians can be or to police how Jewish Jews can be or how Hindu Hindus can be?
Perhaps we should have one eye looking toward China, and ask ourselves, is that the kind of religious freedom we want to have here? We are a long way from the politico-religious scene of our northern neighbour, and yet it is not irrational to suggest that should some Australian political parties and notable social commentators have their way, we would be aiming toward an Australian Sinicization, conforming Christianity into the likeness of Australian humanistic secularism.
With a wonderful sense of divine irony, the future of Christianity in Australia, at least in part, lays with Chinese believers. As many Aussies of European descent turn their backs on God, preferring to worship plastic images of the self, large numbers of Chinese men and women, and of many from other ethnic descent, are becoming followers of Jesus Christ in Australia. It is exciting and encouraging. It’s as though the stupid identity politics and intersectionality ethics created by white middle-class university students, is being blown up before their very eyes.
The reason for writing this post is to raise further awareness of what is unfolding in China and to encourage Christians to pray.
When Paul shared his troubles with the Church in Corinth, he mentioned the efficacy of the prayers offered for him by the Corinthians,
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (1 Corinthians 1:8-11)
When we see terrible things in other parts of the world we respond with sadness, concern, and we may also carry a sense of helplessness, not knowing what to do. As Christians, there is always one thing we can do, no matter where we are are in the world, and that is, pray.
Prayer is not wasted breath to a nonexistent God, as our atheist friends might suggest. We pray to God our Father, who remains Sovereign over all nations even today, and who loves his people dearly, and who is committed to seeing his Gospel grow both here in Australia and in China.