Three Self Patriotic Movement Churches (Part 2)

( [email protected] ) Dec 09, 2003 10:10 AM EST


At a symposium held in Chengdu in April 1985, there was an evaluation of Christian missions. There were three main lines of thinking. According to the first, foreign missionaries were to be identified with imperialist agents. According to the second, Protestants were to be preferred to Catholics because of their contribution to social and natural sciences. According to the third, most were devout religious adherents, consciously or unconsciously working for Western colonialists. It was acknowledged that they had done many good things for China.

This shows the ambivalent attitude toward foreign missions which China has had since 1949. In an era when all kinds of foreign domination were being thrown off, it is not surprising that there should be a repudiation of missionaries and their motives. Hudson Taylor, in one text book, was accused of having his eye on China’s mineral deposits. All the emphasis was on creating a church that was independent of foreign control.

On the other hand, former missionaries have often received a warm welcome when revisiting the scenes of their ministry. There are many stories of elderly Chinese Christians embracing their former teachers. An article in the "People’s Daily" a few years ago described in very favorable terms Alfred Bosshardt’s involvement in the Long March. An article in the "Guangming Daily" in February 1988 claimed that Christian colleges had helped to raise China’s national self-respect.

Although the TSPM is meant to have superseded denominationalism, there are churches in which congregations representing former denominational links meet in the same building but at different times so as to preserve the kind of worship with which they are familiar.

Overseas links

In the light of the above, it does not surprise us that the TSPM is wary of anything which could be regarded as a missionary takeover. In the early years of Deng’s rule TSPM members were urged to keep contacts with foreigners to a minimum.

Gradually, however, as the country came to accept more foreign help for secular projects, the Church hit on a way of doing the same thing. Thus the Amity Foundation was formed in April 1985. The stress was on foreign help not for church work but for other enterprises. The foundation has recruited English teachers from abroad, printed Bibles through a modern printing press on the outskirts of Nanjing, and solicited funds for a variety of social service projects.

In the same year the TSPM told its member churches that they could receive direct monetary gifts from churches overseas, but this was not backed up by any major public statement at national level.

Several delegations of TSPM church leaders have visited Western countries over the last few years, and these visits have been reciprocated. For instance, a group representing CMS enjoyed a warm reception at the hands of the CCC when they visited China in February 1998.

The TSPM has become increasingly concerned about its image abroad. There has been an attempt to give the impression that it is an evangelical body. There are certainly evangelical pastors, and plenty of evangelicals in the congregations, but there is much liberalism as well.

Much criticism has been levelled against "China ministries," which provide Bibles, other Christian literature, cassettes and radio broadcasts for Christians in China. Happily, more and more Bibles are being printed and distributed in China itself, but materials are still far from abundant, and many Chinese Christians have expressed appreciation for donations of materials. To the TSPM leadership, however, such gifts amount to inflitration, and should be resisted.


We would not expect the TSPM to be very keen on evangelism. If the government uses that movement to control church work, to increase the size of the Church would seem to be outside of its policy.

Despite this, the TSPM does talk of evangelism; but the concept does not necessarily agree with that of evangelicals in the West. Bishop Ding has gone on record as saying that the message of reconciliation in Jesus Christ between God and man must be transmitted without foreign accretions and in a spirit of love. Evangelism, he says, does not mean going out with the gospel, but it happens where people live and work.

Despite such statements, we still hear of TSPM evangelistic bands setting out on preaching tours. Maybe it is an attempt to beat house church evangelists at their own game. On such trips there is certainly a lot of "Three Self" teaching.

Social service

Three Self Christians are often eager to contribute to social needs in their locality. In the missionary era, many schools and hospitals were founded by the Church. After "liberation" these were taken over by the State. It has been up to Christians in recent years to develop new initiatives.

Thus we find examples of a church starting a middle school in its hall, a church erecting a new building to house a clinic, another opening a workshop for blind, deaf, dumb and lame people. One church has even opened a restaurant because of lack of facilities in the area.

Some of these enterprises appear to have been undertaken for purely altruistic motives; though some appear to be designed to bring in extra funds.

"Tian Feng"

The only official Protestant journal is "Tian Feng" which means "heavenly wind." It started life in February 1945 as a liberal Christian journal, and continued to be published under the Communists. From 1961 it was produced only monthly, and in 1964 it ceased publication altogether. Only after Deng came to power did it resume publication.

Much space in the magazine is given to supporting the government line and commending individual Christians and congregations for the performance of good works.

The journal is often critical of news from foreign sources. When Western agencies have exposed harsh local regulations, "Tian Feng" has accused them of forging documents.

After the Tiananmen Massacre, the magazine took a more leftist view, which was moderated again over the years that followed. Sometimes there has been a more critical standpoint towards government religious policy.