Chinese House Churches Agonize Over Registration

Monday, January 5, 2004

Some say registration is contrary to biblical principle.
by Xu Mei

NANJING, China, January 5 (Compass) -- Registration is still a hot issue for China’s long-suffering house churches. The government insists on registration as the only means of legal existence for Protestant and Catholic churches. In practice, registration means subjection to the Communist Party’s Religious Affairs Bureau and other party organs, all of which are controlled by atheists.

In registered churches, evangelism, finances, the appointment of pastors, the content of theological training and Sunday sermons are all ultimately managed by the Religious Affairs Bureau. The degree of autonomy granted to churches, registered or otherwise, varies widely from province to province. However, according to the official policy of the Communist Party, total control of religious affairs is not negotiable.

A house church leader in Jilin province, northern China, recently wrote a letter summarizing the arguments for and against registration. Her letter vividly illustrates the dilemma faced by many house church believers.

“In 1994, a sister in our village voluntarily opened her home for house church meetings. In recent years, God has saved 40 to 50 brothers and sisters. At the end of 2002, officials from our county Religious Affairs Bureau and Public Security Bureau forcibly closed down our church because we had not registered with the government. They considered that our meeting in this way was illegal. If we don’t register, we are not allowed to meet. We are only permitted to believe in God privately in our own homes.

“Several of our church workers have searched the Scriptures and believe it is not right for the church to register. Now our church is scattered and under persecution. If the church registers, it will be like a bride with two husbands.

“The Bible speaks of being subject to the governing powers. We believe as Christians we should positively pay all our taxes. But in matters of faith, the church cannot simultaneously follow Christ and be subject to the government.

“Our church leaders believe that the house churches walk the narrow way. Because of this, they suffer great persecution. But in a neighboring village, there is a big registered church set up 10 years ago. Based on Romans 13, their leaders believe the church should obey the higher powers and register with the government, as long as the government does not hinder them from preaching. Because the viewpoints of these two churches are so different, the leaders have no spiritual fellowship.

“Are our leaders’ views correct, or do they contain extreme elements? Should the church register or not? If it registers, has it committed the crime of spiritual adultery? Does our lack of fellowship with the Three Self church constitute schism?”

Obviously, house churches in China need clear theological and practical answers to the dilemma of registration. Those who believe registration is contrary to biblical principles must find other ways to relate to the government and to defend their right to freedom of religious belief.


Letters from China

Christians reveal personal trials and triumphs.


“Our meeting grew from a dozen to over 30, and the brothers and sisters were very loving -- praying for and helping each other. But later, when we gave hospitality to evangelists from another province, some leaders said we were a cult and did not want to meet with us anymore. They even locked us out on Sundays! They said we should go to the Three Self (government- registered) church to meet. If we carried on holding house church meetings, then they would call the police to arrest us. They claimed that house churches were illegal, and if we did not register, we were not protected by the law.

“Later we were actually arrested. People were more fearful, so we split up. The brothers and sisters still asked me to read the Bible. Normally we listened to Bible school radio broadcasts from overseas and made notes. We desperately need commentaries to help our spiritual growth. Most of the Christians listen to gospel radio and get more from it than going to the Three Self church. Please pray for our church.”

-- Letter from Mrs. B. in Qinzhou City, dated March 10, 2003


“We worship in the big Three Self church. The elderly Christians and the unemployed meet together for prayer, Bible study and hymn singing. But the Three Self leaders of the big church do not allow us to meet as we please. They have encouraged the government to arrest many people. The brothers were unable to argue a way out, and each of them was fined 1,000 RMB (approximately one month’s wages for most people). The sisters were each fined 200 RMB. All were then released.

“After this we formed a house church. One day as we were meeting together in prayer, they entered the church and arrested believers. After the prayers, I stood up in the pulpit for the first time. I wanted to protect a young brother, as he was employed and would be heavily fined. I am a poor widow (I used to be a nurse) with no money even if they want it! I was detained for one day, and in the evening they released me. Later they arrested me several more times.

“The more I love the Lord, the stronger I become, and now I am learning to preach, even though many others are younger and better educated. We have six elderly brothers who are going out to the villages to preach, and some of the younger men are also being raised up to do this. Please pray!”

-- Letter from Mrs. C, Shuangyashan City, dated August 29, 2003


“Ninety-five percent of the Christians in my area belong to rural house churches. The oldest Christians became believers 20 years ago. But we have never seen a proper pastor, and there is nowhere where we can get theological training. The government began to persecute us in 1998, arresting people, confiscating books and claiming we belonged to the “Shouters” group. In 2002, the Eastern Lightning cult disrupted the churches. The leaders from two of our three Bible study groups were won over by them.

“The situation has become very confused. Now, for example, five of the original Christian groups in the town have nothing to do with each other. False teachers have infiltrated and have even been ordained as preachers. The wife of a young believer is sleeping with another man, but just because she is gifted and can speak, she is allowed into the pulpit. I despair when I see the lack of discipline in the church.”

-- Letter from Mr. Wang, dated July 16, 2003


“Our work here is very difficult. People from the Three Self church we originally attended went everywhere preaching that they were authorized by the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) and that we were illegal. If people reported us to the UFWD, then we would be arrested. Many people want to leave the Three Self church, but do not dare. They fear paying the price. Please pray for us.”

-- Letter from Mr. Liu, Guixi City, dated June 18, 2003


“Let me briefly explain our situation. I’m 60 years old and have been a Christian for six years. I live in the mountains and had a primary school education. I’m an ordinary peasant. We have a house church which was pastored by a city church. Every few months they came here to hold baptisms. Originally there were several dozen house churches together. But now those near the city are afraid of persecution. They are unwilling to bear the cross and follow the Lord. Instead they rely on the political rulers to protect them.

“So we have separated from them for more than a year. They want us to be registered with the authorities for “protection” and want our money to repair the church. As we do not attend the city church, they use the political power of the authorities to persecute us. They forbid us to meet. But God is with us and protects us -- we have not stopped meeting! They have not arrested any of us. But we are very short of Christian books.

“Now here’s some good news! My mother, aged 94, has come to faith in God and has set up a church in Jesus’ name in her home. There are now three churches there. They are also persecuted by the authorities, and some have fallen away. Please pray for them, that God would revive his church. We are a Christian family. My son and three daughters and their grandchildren all received the Lord Jesus as their Savior and were baptized.”

-- Letter from Mr. Wei, dated March 6, 2003