by Aida and William Spencer
Facing the ongoing church cross demolition campaign in Zhejiang Province, China, what should Chinese Christian do? This article points out that more injuries and arrests will happen in the future, but Christians need to fix eyes upon God who reigns forever and is righteous. Please join Chinese Christians’ efforts praying for God’s will to be done in His church and the nation.
What Type of Persecution Is Going on Now?
10/25/2014 China (Christian Post)– The churches in Wenzhou, China were originally founded by Western missionaries. Then all the missionaries were forced to leave in the early 1950s, and the churches experienced division between the official church and the underground church, which went through great persecution. When the persecution subsided, God poured a great revival in the 1970s and 1980s into Wenzhou. The church leaders gradually managed to take back the church buildings which had been confiscated by the government, and built many more in the following decades, with a cross or crosses on almost all the built church buildings. Most churches in Wenzhou enjoyed relative peace with only occasional persecution until this year, 2014.
During the peaceful time, the churches made progress in initiating ministries such as Sunday school for children, fellowship for adults, campus ministry, mission and theological education. But, during the same period, the churches suffered from undergoing theological controversies, division and spiritual deterioration. The secular world affected the church more than the church shaped the world. The churches spent huge amounts of money on church buildings, but the ministers were not well supported.
On Feb. 21, 2014, the government of Zhejiang province issued an official document titled “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” to rectify old residential districts, old factory regions and in-city-villages, and to demolish all illegally built buildings. This document was published on March 13. The three-year operation did not explicitly mention any religious buildings. However, on April 3 a local report in Yueqing Daily reported that demolition of religious buildings was considered to be a tough task. It was reported that, on April 3, Sanjiang Church faced the threat of removal of its cross and demolition of its church building. The building was finally demolished regardless of negotiation and protest.
The attempt to remove crosses from church buildings actually started months earlier before the Sanjiang event. According to incomplete statistics from January 1, 2014 to July 12, 2014, 186 churches had faced the threat of or had already suffered from the removal of their crosses or the demolition of their church buildings. Some church leaders were arrested, and Christians were wounded by police.
The government is evidently using the slogan “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” to justify itself in removing the crosses and demolishing the church buildings. Some of the church buildings might have been built illegally under the acquiescence of the local governments. But most of the churches were legally built. Some churches were built ten years ago or even twenty years ago, and have all required official documents. Moreover, there has been no regulation restricting the height of a cross on church buildings.
We expect that the Three-Year Campaign of “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” will continue. More arrests and injuries will occur in the future.
Christians have reacted to the persecution in various ways. Those who primarily focus on human rights and religious freedom tend to criticize the illegal action of the government and call for protection of religious freedom. Some believe that the significance of the events is for Christians to recognize the real face of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and China Christian Council (CCC), and call the Christians who are affiliated with the TSPM to leave it. They emphasize the invisible church (and invisible cross) rather than the visible church property (and visible cross). Some members of the TSPM have already resigned. However, others disagree. They regard the view that emphasizes the invisible cross but downplays the role of the visible cross as modern Platonic dualism. A few see the visible cross and the invisible cross as one. To protect the visible cross is to protect the invisible cross, for which they are ready to die. There are Christians who have re-erected the cross after it was removed. Some recognize the persecution of the government, while believing that God uses the government to discipline His beloved church. Therefore, the demolition of Sanjiang church is a “tuition fee” we pay to learn a lesson, so that we might turn back to God. A few church leaders have removed the cross from their church buildings in order to save the church buildings. Finally, there are people who insist that the government is doing the right thing, because those churches were all illegally built.
The variety of reactions indicates the complication of the current issue. Conflicts have already appeared among Christians due to the differences of their opinions. A few blame the leaders of their churches because they did not raise their voices to support the Sanjiang church and criticize the government. Some share their concern about the danger of idolizing the cross. Others criticize those who call for theological reflection as being too rational. This could harm the unity of the church and confuse many Christians, for they do not know which voice to follow.
How then does the Bible help the churches deal with this tough situation?
What Principles Does the Bible Provide to Guide the Churches?