Saturday, April 07, 2007

Why Do Most Chinese Christians Refuse to Register Their Churches?

As I have been working on the upcoming May edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter with its focus on the church in China, I have had the opportunity to pore through a number of new resources that we will be making available next month to our readers for the very first time. As a result, I have had the opportunity to learn more about the church there. This is not to say that I can claim to understand the church in China as well as I would like. I have certainly learned that to make blanket, all-encompassing statements about the state of religious freedom in China is treacherous. Whatever one says is true somewhere in China. But it is obvious that the persecution facing Christians in today's China is quite different than even a few years ago. Unquestionably, the situation has improved significantly in many places. In others, church leaders continue to be imprisoned, meetings are disrupted and church buildings are destroyed. Regardless, Chinese church life continues to be represented in two forms; churches that are recognized by the government - these generally belong to the Three Self Patriotic Movement and are legally "registered" - and the house churches which do not submit to government regulations and restrictions.

It would be unfair to say that all registered churches in China are apostate and that those who worship in TSPM churches are not true believers. It would also be unfair to say that the house church is pure and good in its entirety.

So, why do most Chinese Christians refuse to register with the government? It is important to note that to register your congregation in China is not the same as registering in Canada in order to issue tax receipts. To register in China is to ask the Chinese government for the right to exist. This is to grant the government a right that no human institution possesses. The right to worship is given by God and no one can grant this permission or take it away.

Also, registered churches in China generally must accept the following restrictions:

  1. They can only meet at designated times, in designated places, with designated leadership. Ministries like home Bible studies done outside of the church building and regular worship times are often severely restricted.

  2. The teaching of children and youth under the age of 18 in the church is generally prohibited. Sunday school and youth programs are quite rare.

  3. It is illegal to evangelize outside the walls of the church.

  4. It is illegal to use or possess Christian literature not published in China and approved by the Chinese government.

  5. The Chinese government has a say in who is selected to serve as pastors and leaders. The problem tends to be more pronounced the higher one goes up the TSPM ladder and in urban areas
Most Christians in China believe that to submit to these restrictions would be tantamount to giving to Caesar that which only belongs to God and hence, they refuse to register their congregations. We at The Voice of the Martyrs support them in this conviction.

If you are not receiving our monthly newsletter, may I encourage you to sign up for a free subscription today? There is no other magazine in Canada that will introduce you to the Persecuted Church in China and elsewhere in quite the same way.

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