Conversations With Chinese Christians

The tragic gulf between the nations of the world in this generation of grief must not be allowed to threaten the unity of the body of Christ. Russians, Chinese, Yugoslavians, Hungarians, Indians, Japanese, Britons and Americans alike belong to that body, equal in dignity and privilege, if they have been regenerated by the Spirit of God. There is neither East nor West in the body of which Christ is the head, but one faith, one Lord, one baptism.

One can sympathize, therefore, with the repeatedly expressed hope for renewed contact between believers in Russia and China and believers in the Free World. Almost six years have passed since American missionaries and Chinese believers have had free conversations. The break in relationships came not without some measure of ecclesiastical animosity; in fact, Chinese member churches requested in 1951 that the World Council cease all correspondence. Of the 4200 Protestant foreign missionaries in China in 1948, not more than ten remained in 1955, some of these reportedly in prison. Of the 6475 Catholic missionaries in 1949, less than 84 remained; 20 of the remaining missionary priests were allegedly imprisoned.

The suffering and sorrow of Christians behind the Iron Curtain are part of the burden that more fortunate Christians may help them bear. If direct help is excluded, at least they can pray and understand. Lack of information about the persecuted church in China has curtailed intercessory interest among world Christians.

Whether this communion of saints is best achieved by exchange groups of ecumenically-minded churchmen making tourist stops in the churches of the Soviet Union and Red China is another matter.

We may waive for the moment the marginal question of whether a contingent of ecumenical clergymen, traveling under State Department auspices, adequately reflects the outlook and temper of American Christianity. Even more important is the question: Is it judicious for American churchmen to go abroad and confer recognition and dignity upon foreign churchmen standing in cordial relations with a regime that has martyred and imprisoned hosts of believers?

Leading churchmen have been agitating for the State Department to permit a delegation to visit Communist China, with the ultimate objective of an exchange visit by Chinese churchmen to the U.S.A. Dr. John A. Mackay, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, has called bluntly for revision of state policy, virtually impugning the present restrictions as anti-Christian: “Christian churchmen simply cannot regard as ultimate and permanently authoritative any governmental edict that would force them to accept a situation which violates their Christian conscience and the eternal imperative of Christian love.” These are strong words, a stinging indictment of American foreign policy from church sources. One wonders whether such words have been uttered in China by the churchmen Dr. Mackay proposes to visit?

Article continues below

When evangelicals think of fellow-believers in Communist China, their hearts go out first to those who suffer for their witness to Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord. The 3000 evangelicals reportedly languishing in concentration camps and prisons would welcome a resumption of contact with believers outside Red China and would ably interpret to them the innate spiritual antagonism between Communism and Christianity.

The relationship of these persecuted believers to the churches and churchmen tolerated by the Red regime in China is quite ambiguous. We are not suggesting that the government-approved church hegemony includes no men of sincere Christian faith and experience struggling in their own way to save the churches in China from extinction, and seeking a more favorable state policy. Nor do we contend that no evangelical workers have joined the pro-Communist church leadership. But nonetheless the evangelical spirit in China has gone to prison and martyrdom, whereas the liberal spirit is the moving force in the pro-Communist ecclesiastical thrust. A sketch of the fortunes of Christianity in China indicates that, although ecumenical leaders convey the notion that there is one Protestant church in China (“the Church on the Mainland”), multitudes of evangelical believers opposed to Communist restriction and control of spiritual activities and now unorganized if not underground are outside the “official church.”

The fundamentalist-modernist struggle in China was confined mainly to the big cities, as a contest waged between leaders of church life. Influential for the modernist cause were liberal books published by the Association Press, including works by T. C. Chao, former dean of Yenching University School of Religion, later elected a president of the World Council of Churches at the Amsterdam Assembly.

When the government-approved Three Self-Reform Church Movement was formed in 1951, inclusivist church leaders emphasized unity on the basis of anti-imperialism, and identified the modernist-fundamentalist debate as a minor disagreement within a major unity. Theological differences were said to add abundance and richness to the unity, rather than to hinder it. The Nanking United Theological Seminary featured “courses in the area of theology and Bible … divided into two sections according to the modernist and fundamentalist point of view.” H. H. Tsui, more than 15 years general secretary of the organically united Church of Christ in China, and who disowns belief in the doctrines of the incarnation, virgin birth, resurrection, trinity, last judgment and second coming of Christ, pursues this course in a recent article titled “We Must Strengthen and Expand Our Unity.” Y. T. Wu, chairman of the Three Self-Reform Church Patriotic Committee, in Darkness and Light, writes: “During the past thirty years my thinking has experienced two great changes. The first was when I accepted Christianity; from religious doubt I moved to religious faith. The second change was when I accepted the anti-religious principles of social science and combined materialism and religious faith in one philosophy.”

Article continues below

Communism had its inception in China just a generation ago, in July, 1921, in an army cell in Canton. Within six years it gained power enough to challenge the government and to threaten all religious faiths. In 1927, shrines, temples and churches were destroyed in central China. Christian missionaries headed homeward by hundreds; missions effort slowed almost to a stall. The Communist withdrew to the mountain areas of China only to recruit and train for a better opportunity, presented by the end of the Sino-Japanese War. Having won the long struggle with the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai Shek, the Communists in October, 1949, set up “The People’s Republic of China.” The Communist cause was unwittingly promoted by a surprising number of Americans; journalists, State Department representatives and some missionaries. Some of the latter, having discarded biblical supernaturalism, tended to view Communism as a form of Christian social and economic reform which the masses needed. Communism was welcomed as an acceptable exposition of Christian social ethics; not even the notion that it is “a Christian heresy” survived. Chinese Christian youth became easy victims, including those in many mission-sponsored colleges.

The Communists appeared in the new role of protectors of all religion; The Common Programme, Article V, guaranteed “freedom of religious faiths.” Five Protestant leaders were invited to help participate in the writing of the new constitution and set up the government. In 1951 one of them became chairman of the Communist-approved church reorganization that claimed to represent 40 per cent of China’s million Protestants. Under government auspices 158 Protestant leaders met to form the united church movement. Church workers and members were urged to adopt the Communist practice of “self-criticism” by searching out and publicizing faults of churches and Christians, a technique which led to the imprisonment of many evangelical leaders. During 1951 alone, at least 228 accusation meetings were held in 133 cities, aimed at Christian workers opposing Communism. Christian conferences in Peking in 1951 and 1954 were largely oriented to the government’s political program. The Christian mission was represented by such slogans as “Loyalty to Country and Church” and “Service to the People.” Government hostility was directed against Protestant efforts that refused cooperation to this state-approved effort. The majority of evangelicals were reluctant to join up. Evangelical Foreign Missions Association points out that there were only spotty defections of a small minority, including a few leaders; the vast majority resisted pressures to join the Communist-approved church agency. Many of their churches have since been occupied or closed by the government. All are pressured to display the picture of President Mao Tse Tung and the Five Star Flag. Leaders have been falsely accused, tortured and imprisoned with the aim of forced confessions. Only in the larger cities are some congregations allowed to carry on, because attempts to dissolve some churches have yielded several congregations in their place. In the case of “unreformed churches,” however, heavy land taxes are imposed, and if not promptly paid, a fine of one-half per cent per day is added. The result of Communist policy is to make evangelical Christianity secret and silent.

Article continues below

The Three Self-Reform (self-government, self-support, self-propagation) Church Patriotic Committee, the Communist government-approved agency representing Protestant church bodies, has virtually replaced the National Christian Council. A bridge between church and government, it attempts officially to direct Christian activity in Red China, exerting pressure on all church groups to affiliate, sponsoring study groups and patriotic campaigns in which Christians must take part, and publicizes accusations and charges against “reactionary elements.”

Article continues below

In 1954 a sixteen-day Conference of the Christian Church was convened, July 22-August 6, in East Peking, with 232 delegates from 62 denominations and organizations attending. Leaders lamented the fact that of the million Protestants it had been hoped to force into the government-sponsored movement, only 414,389 had signed the new church manifesto. This was tacit to an admission that the Three Self-Reform Church group had been unable to enlist the majority of Protestants in China, and represented only a minority. The manifesto pledged support to the construction of a socialist society, to the right of freedom of religion used “in the interests of the People” and to the promotion of patriotism in the churches. Wu Yao Tsung, president of the movement, a member also of the standing committee of the government’s Political Consultative Conference, has taken the line that missionaries of the past extended imperialistic aggression through their preaching of the Gospel. His hostility is clear: “We know that … American mission boards are … studying the reasons for their failure in China, in order to work out a new policy for using the Chinese churches.…” Mr. Wu told the National Conference in 1954: “Regardless of who the person may be, he cannot use freedom of religion as a pretext to engage in activities contrary to the Constitution.”

The reports about Christianity in China issuing from the state-approved church follow an interesting pattern. At the expense of the Peking government, in 1953 nine Swedish citizens led by Bishop Theodor Arvidson, and in 1954 twelve Norwegians with the Rev. Ragnar Forbech, visited Red China and gave approving reports. In May, 1954, 21 leaders of the Three Self-Reformed Church (now using the more appealing title of The Protestant Christain Reform Movement) denied reports of the death sentence and execution of 29 pastors (including Pastor Wang Ming Tao) the previous month by the Chinese People’s Government. They issued a joint statement: “Not a single pastor has been sentenced to death since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. On the contrary, the churches in China are enjoying full freedom of religion.” In January, 1955, Dag Hammarskjold, with the Rev. Gustav Nystrom of Stockholm as interpeter, returned from Peking with appreciation both of the organized church in China and of Premier Chou En-lai. In the interim the American agitation for deputations of churchmen to visit “the Church of the Mainland” has continued to mount.

Article continues below

If the State Department is inclined to lift its present ban on visas to Red China (enforced presumably because the U.S.A. cannot guarantee protection and security to its citizens in that land), some pointed questions must be raised about the renewal of Christian relations. If a Christian delegation goes to Red China, ought not its objective to be those who suffer for their faith and who by virtue of that fact can best interpret to us the clash between government and church? Reports persist that 3000 evangelicals languish in the concentration camps of Red China; dare we learn the truth about them? Is the full picture of the fortunes of Christianity likely to be obtained from those who for one reason or another have escaped the cruelties and hostilities of the Peiping regime and are associated with an agency whose present freedoms derive from a cooperative effort approved as an instrument of government doctrine and policy? This question is of utmost importance.

By the same token, if in the future we are to have a return visit from China, ought it not to be made by Christian leaders who have been imprisoned and who are ready now to assure us either that the Red rulers have had a change of heart, or at least a change of strategy, or that their confinement grew out of just misunderstandings? Might not such a delegation appropriately include Pastor Wang Ming-tao, arrested in Peking the night of August 8, 1955, after 30 years of preaching and writing? Pastor Wang’s story is set forth in the Occasional Bulletin of the Missionary Research Library (Vol. VII, No. 3). The son of Chinese Christians, a college man who grappled long with a call to Christian service, his theological perspectives fell to him from evangelical European missionaries, Pentecostalists among them. He worked independently of foreign denominations and church groups, although in close cooperation with indigenous Christian efforts. During the Sino-Japanese war, before the Communist era, he refused to join the North China Church Union sponsored by Japanese militarists. After the Communist victory, he refused cooperation with the Communist-favored “progressive leadership” in the Chinese church. When the “Three Self-Reform Church Patriotic Committee” brought pressure on him, he openly defied it. Pastor Wang was known throughout China through his writings, and his popularity made him a symbol of evangelical fortunes. Wang’s independency made it hard to tag him as “an agent of imperialism”; for a season government and church leaders even pointed to him as an example of religious freedom under Red rule. But in 1954 and 1955, “progressive” church leaders joined actively in a campaign of public vilification against him. Christians were forced to call him friend or foe. Wang refused to unite with the Church Reform Committee on biblical grounds and for the sake of faith. His opponents labeled him a counter-revolutionary. For his refusal to cooperate with the political front he was sentenced to fifteen years; his wife and son, for the present, are being permitted to carry on his church work. It would be well to let him speak his heart to the American believers. Similar observations are in order with regard to an American delegation. Nothing impressive is involved in a visit by distinguished ecumenical leaders. Those who bear in their bodies the marks of activity and initiative do not always bear the marks of persecution for Christ’s sake. Would not an American delegation to China more aptly be comprised of veterans of American missionary labors in China, men and women who faced the totalitarian tyrant in their own person and who preferred prison to an acceptance of the encroachments of the state against religious freedom and the Great Commission? Would not Dr. Levi Lovegren, released by Communists after years in prison, be qualified? There are Roman Catholic missionaries from America who also have suffered abroad and for that reason qualify. Bishop Donaghy, after release from his long imprisonment in Wuchow, South China, told the press in Hong Kong that Chou En-lai’s claim of religious freedom in China is utterly false. If American missionaries released from prison are lacking in number, why not consider Dr. Walter H. Judd, the distinguished congressman from Minnesota, himself a veteran of missionary service in China in the Protestant liberal tradition, yet a churchman who does not dismiss Communism as merely “a Christian heresy”?

Article continues below

Apart from such safeguards the proposal for conversations with Chinese Christians is of doubtful value, and may easily deteriorate into a monologue by Communist collaborationists.


Ministering Between The Living And The Dead

A patient, suffering from an acute massive hemorrhage, was recently rushed to a hospital. The surgeon had been notified of the emergency and the operating room was ready, the patient being transferred directly from the ambulance to the operating table.

Life was almost gone; the face with pallid greenish tinge spoke of death. There was no pulse, but the heart was still beating. The source of the hemorrhage was quickly located and the necessary steps were immediately taken to control it. A large amount of blood and plasma was needed and these were administered immediately. A few hours later the surgeon could talk with the patient so recently but one step from eternity.

Article continues below

The whole procedure in this case was one of the utmost speed designed to save life, using those things known to be needed and effective to that end.

Science has made possible the equipment and the means necessary for many emergencies which may confront the human body, but, the emergency of the soul must be met by the One alone who came into this world for that purpose.

In a prayer, a successful pastor asked the Lord to never let him forget that as a minister of the Gospel he stood between the living and the dead.

Here we find God’s highest calling: not to relieve a malady which may recur, not to heal a body which must eventually die but to stand as a witness of the living Christ to those who are spiritually dead.

It is a strange commentary on human nature that we will applaud the efforts of a physician or surgeon who acts with speed to avert tragic consequences from accident or disease, but at the same time will often criticize the minister for being “sentimental” or “emotional” if he pleads with the spiritually dead to turn from their sins to the Saviour.

Is this not one of the reasons why the faithful preaching of the Gospel can never be popular with the world. Men do not like to be told that they are sinners. They do not want to hear that they are dead. They resent being told that they are lost. But, that is a part of preaching and a very necessary part.

Some years ago a man was preaching to a large audience in India. He mentioned the weight of sin. A young man arose and asked, “How much does sin weigh? A pound? A ton?” The reply of the speaker came right to the point. “Does a dead man feel a weight when you place it on his body? Just so, a man who is spiritually dead does not feel the weight of sin. But, when God’s Spirit stirs in his heart he becomes conscious of his sin and of his need for one to save him from that sin and its consequences.”

Yes, the minister does stand between the living and the dead. May he never forget it and may his parishioners always uphold his hands in prayer as he preaches and as he daily faces the emergencies of lost souls.

Without the power of God no dead soul can come to life. Only by a miracle of grace can the blind see and the deaf hear. Preaching the Gospel and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are the two requirements for raising the dead.


Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.