Chinese house church leaders and groups sharply criticized well-known evangelist Luis Palau for what they called the "irresponsible and misleading" remarks he made during his trip to Beijing last week.
"While we understand the Rev. Palau's passion and eagerness to get into China's 'charity market,' we can't agree with his overall assessment and prescription regarding the situations of the Chinese church," the Rev. Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association (CAA), said in a statement released by CAA yesterday.
During a Nov. 19 press conference in Beijing, Palau urged Chinese House Churches to register with the Chinese Communist government to "receive greater freedom and blessings from the government."
Furthermore, Palau compared church registration in China to churches registering in the United States or Argentina in order to pay taxes and receive tax returns.
"To equate the church registration requirement by the IRS in the USA for tax purpose to forced registration under the Communist Party's Religious Affairs Bureau for controlling purpose is totally misleading," responded Fu, who had met with Palau earlier last summer in Midland, Texas.
The CAA president's comment echoed those made earlier by persecution watchdog groups in the days follow Palau's statements.
"This is like comparing apples and oranges," wrote Glenn Penner, Communication Director for Voice of the Martyrs Canada, on Tuesday in a statement received by The Christian Post. "Registration in China requires that the names of all members be submitted to the government. It is asking for permission to worship and to receive literature without harassment. Registration in the U.S. and Argentina does not require this or any of the other restrictions mentioned above. Churches in the West do not need to register with the government to exist, only to enjoy certain, optional privileges. It is not illegal to worship in an unregistered church.
"We are not talking about the Chinese church issuing tax receipts," Penner added. "We are talking about giving to Caesar what belongs to God. To equate the two demonstrates that he has been badly misinformed of the true nature of registration in today's China."
Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, the Chairman of Chinese House Church Alliance (CHCA), found Palau's claim that "today, you don't get arrested unless you break the law" ironic, challenging the evangelist's remarks with evidence that house church pastors are currently being persecuted.
"Barely two weeks ago (on November 8) a Beijing house church pastor Cai Zhuohua was sentenced to three years simply because of printing bibles and other Christian literatures." said the Chinese house church leader in the Nov. 24 statement released by the CAA.
"We demand the Rev. Palau to retract his irresponsible remarks which deeply hurt the feelings of hundreds of house church prisoners and their families" Zhang concluded.
The CCA noted in its statement that Zhang, who had been arrested many times for his faith, had been kidnapped at Beijing Train Station by the Chinese security agents one day before Palau's press conference.
South China Church (SCC) Spokesperson "Sarah" Liu Xianzhi, who had served 6 years imprisonment and was tortured severely until 2004, also responded to Palau's statements.
"I do want to let Rev. Palau know there are still 16 pastors and evangelists from our church serving in different prisons in China now," she said, in the CAA statement.
According to the CAA, over 1,000 South China Church (SCC) pastors, evangelists and believers were arrested and imprisoned since 2001.
"We really appreciate Palau and other folks' efforts and concerns for Chinese Christians, but we also have to point it out that genuine religious freedom could not be achieved simply by registration," said Ray Jian, a prominent Christian scholar who is ministering a house church in Beijing.
"What Chinese Christians really need is not such kind of naive ideas or even simple-minded actions as to hope to "promote greater religious freedom through diplomatic means." Instead, humble hearts and prayerful love are much more appreciated than simply teaching what Chinese Christians should do," Jian concluded.