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China Watch: One Church Two Systems?

( [email protected] ) Jul 20, 2010 01:35 PM EDT
Deng Xiao Ping’s “One Country Two Systems,” to this day, is still being acclaimed by Beijing as a stroke of genius. Under that overriding policy, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. The process was peaceful, to say the least. Since then both sides are affecting and influencing each other – for good and for bad. And both sides have coexisted.

Deng Xiao Ping’s “One Country Two Systems,” to this day, is still being acclaimed by Beijing as a stroke of genius. Under that overriding policy, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. The process was peaceful, to say the least. Since then both sides are affecting and influencing each other – for good and for bad. And both sides have coexisted.

Beijing has always hoped that the same policy may eventually lure Taiwan to “come to the embrace of the Motherland.” But it is actually economic opportunities that are pulling China and Taiwan closer to each other by the day. And now it appears, it could also be this sort of pragmatism that is causing China’s long and bitterly divided official Three Self Church and the unregistered House Church to join hands.

On Easter Sunday, the recently “eradicated” All Nations Mission Church in Shanghai was somewhat “resurrected.” More than 500 of its members met for an afternoon of praise and

worship, preaching of the Word by their own Senior Pastor Cui, choir, offering and benediction, all conducted without any disturbance from the local authorities.

Everything was back to normal – well, almost. Except that this largest urban house church in China was not meeting in its own premises. Rather, they were hosted in an official Three Self Church in downtown Shanghai. Pastor Cui was adamant to clarify: “We have not caved in and joined the Three Self. We are just using a property that belongs to God and the people.”

Since the closure of his church, Cui has gone on a 40 days water-only fast. He has lost 22 kg. He was physically weak. But his members could all tell: “Our Pastor is spiritually stronger and deeper!”

This joint use of Three Self churches was actually first proposed to Pastor Cui from a high official of Shanghai. He stressed to Cui that old church buildings that were returned to

Three Self were originally built and dedicated to God by western missionaries. The new ones built were mostly from government funding. “There is no reason why only Three Self should

have exclusive use of such church buildings and properties.”

This “creative thinking” is in fact becoming popular in China nowadays. “Beijing is soon to recognize the House Church movement,” has been widely circulated. And in practice, a number of house churches in the capital are already meeting regularly in Three Self buildings on Sunday afternoons and evenings.

“We run our own show,” a Beijing house church leader told us. “They just open the door and lock up afterward. We don’t pay rent. They don’t interfere with what we do. We are still an

unregistered house church.”

Another house church in the south outgrew their Three Self landlord. “We are now in dialogue with them that we use the building on Sunday mornings. They take the afternoons.”

This outlandish proposal was not outright rejected, that we know. I also heard that the local religious affairs bureau had stayed out of the discussion, “leaving it to the Christian

churches to resolve their own internal issues.”

There are several reasons for this new twist. First, harmony is the all-important national drive of today’s Beijing. Three Self, ultimately a Party organ, must have been instructed to

develop better harmony with the house church.

Secondly, it is generally anticipated that Beijing might soon recognize the numerous house churches in the land. Last November it closed down a house church in the city, yet in April,

the same house church was highlighted in the China Daily’s article, House Churches Thrive in Beijing!

Thirdly, today’s leadership of both branches of the Church in China is younger and more tolerant. They do not carry the weighty, historical baggage of their predecessors.

Lastly, market place people, especially professionals and business leaders, are joining both churches. They are urging for “better use of church buildings.” Many of them are community

representatives serving in governmental bodies. They have clout, so to speak.

I asked Pastor Cui, “After all these years of hostility, do you think this ‘One Church Two Systems’ may just work?”

“God has led us thus far...And He knows best.” That was his calm and confident answer.

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About Dr. David Wang:

Dr. David Wang is President Emeritus Asian Outreach Internationa and a specialist on church and missions in China, and author of over 20 books including Still Red.

From Asian Report, issue 300, July and August 2010, Copyright 2010. Reprinted with the permission of Asian Outreach. All rights reserved.