Dividing the Church What is TSPM Leadership Up To?
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 Peoples Republic suggest there are serious differences between the TSPMs 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 dont say.
Teachings on the end-times, for instance, on suffering for the Gospels 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 churchs 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 TSPMs 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 policyaimed at widening the Partys circle of influ?ence while isolating perceived enemiesis behind such statements. One observer said this policy has brought much grief to Christians in Chinas 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.