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June 1988


Editorial Comment

China's Intrigue

In Hudson Taylor's Day....

Why is the China Inland Mission/North America's 100th Year Celebration So Significant For Us Today?

Why Suddenly Are Many Reports On the Number of China's Christians So Drastically Subdued?

At the Center

Dividing the Church-- What is TSPM Leadership Up To?

China's Three-Self Church

Wise as Serpents, Harmless as Doves: Christians in China Tell Their Stories

Around the World

Regional Workshops Spark Cooperation!

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Dividing the Church What is TSPM Leadership Up To?

—Brent Fulton

“Observant China visitors know the church in China is predominantly evangelical,” says K.H. Ding, chairman of the Chinese government-sanctioned church, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). Leaders of the TSPM have certainly done much to expand contacts with evangelicals overseas and to bolster the evangelical image of the officially-recognized church.

But unofficial reports filtering out of the People’s Republic suggest there are serious differences between the TSPM’s use of “evangelical” in its communication with foreign visitors and its understanding of the term in relation to church life in China.

Further, while TSPM leaders complain loudly about foreign evangelicals “interfering with” and “dividing” the church in China, they seem proud of creating divisions among Western evangelicals.

On matters of theology, Chinese church leaders and their evangelical counterparts in the West are able to find much common ground, says Dr. Jonathan Chao, director of the Chinese Church Research Center in Hong Kong. The differences, he says, are to be found not so much in what the Chinese church leaders say, but in what they don’t say.

Teachings on the end-times, for instance, on suffering for the Gospel’s sake, on separation from the world, and on the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, are conspicuously absent from most TSPM literature. In fact, directives handed down from provincial TSPM officials last year specifically forbid preaching on these topics.

But the most serious omission, according to Chao and others, is in the area of evangelism. TSPM officials say the church’s main task is to strengthen the faith of those who have become Christians in recent years, not to promote further church growth. According to Ding, evangelism “does not have as its only or main target the number of converts.”

Such statements, together with practices like the “Three Designates” and other restrictive policies (see story, p. 10-11), contrast sharply with the evangelical image the TSPM seeks to promote among Westerners.

According to analysts, TSPM leaders extend a warm hand of fellowship to Christians abroad who do not question the TSPM’s view of evangelism, but they isolate and condemn those from abroad who take part in evangelizing the Chinese people, and who aid Chinese Christians who are outside the TSPM camp.

At a national meeting of Christian leaders in 1980, China Christian Council Vice President Han Wenzao said the TSPM should pursue a “policy of differentiation” between overseas groups that are friendly toward the TSPM and those who engage in radio broadcasting, Bible delivery, and other forms of direct ministry to China. He called the latter groups “enemies of the New China.”

Observers in Hong Kong say the Communist Party “United Front” policy—aimed at widening the Party’s circle of influ?ence while isolating perceived enemies—is behind such statements. One observer said this policy has brought much grief to Christians in China’s growing house church movement, where TSPM pressure has been leveled against evangelistic activites.

In a speech last year entitled, “We have friends all over the world; anti-China elements are at a loss,” Han described the success of United Front efforts. As TSPM influence overseas has expanded, he said, it has effectively split “pro-China” and “anti-China” evangelicals in the West. Those conducting China ministry without TSPM permission, he said, are “being fired on in their own backyard.”

Some find it ironic that the same man who accuses Western evangelicals of attempting to split the church in China should be proud of TSPM success at dividing the Western evangelical community!

In sum, Western Christians who are concerned about the church in China need to rethink their relationship with the TSPM both in terms of its effects on the Christian community in China and on the unity of the evangelical movement worldwide.

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