Who gets to define religion? Actually, the better question is – who gets to redefine religion? Maybe even who defines “of”. We’re looking at China in this series, but the same issues come up everywhere. It’s all about who sets the rules. One thing we can be sure of – it’s not God. Not in China. And not in my country or yours either.
Consider the adjacent image.
Pray. But pray to who? Or is it pray to what?
It’s old. Faded. Not cared for.
At least, it’s not cared for in the way something for God should be treated. And that’s totally in line with freedom of religion in China.
What is freedom?
Let’s look at another image. This time the eagle. Here in the U.S., the eagle is a symbol of freedom. But freedom looks different depending on who we are and our point of view.
Here’s the thing about freedom – of religion or of anything. Do you see that eagle flying around in the sky? That eagle is free. But he’s probably looking for someone to eat. Something alive. And when the eagle finds his target, a little bit of freedom is lost. A life is gone. And the eagle remains free.
With people, freedom of religion is kind of like that. Someone’s “flying around” above us. Someone who either doesn’t like our religion, or likes theirs better. Sometimes they hate our religion so much they want to kill it. If they’re strong enough, they can certainly take out individual people. Even any given church building. But can they destroy an entire religion?
We know from history that powerful people can certainly change religions. Things that were once thought to be truth because they were in the Bible – all of a sudden they aren’t so true anymore. Because some powerful person changed them. The Pope even changed the Our Father for Catholics (aka the Lord’s prayer for the rest of us).
In China, they’re trying to work on both changing and killing Christianity. Changing it, by literally taking Jesus out of His position as the Son of God. Killing it, by creating a new version of Christianity to replace the old one. To replace God’s original version. Will it work? Time will tell.
If China can redefine religion, will other countries follow?
Will religious regulations in China to eliminate God be a blueprint for others to follow? Can anyone beat God? Maybe China? Or is this another case of “The more you tighten your grip …?”, as in the Princess Leia quote from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope? If China does succeed though, will it become a blueprint for other countries to follow?
I started to write about this a few years ago. It concerned me at the time. It still does, especially since it seems to be working. Slowly, to be sure. But China takes a long-term view of pretty much everything. Slow is fine, as long as the goal is reached.
The articles were pretty popular too. But they were very time-consuming to write. Too much formatting. Too much information in each one. Shorter ones would have been better.
So that’s what I’m going to try now – in my third attempt to write about these Chinese religious regulations. By writing more articles, covering smaller pieces of the regulations in each one. And I can write more about the impact in China, as well as the possible impact in other countries. Maybe even mine. And yours.
What is the goal for China’s religious regulations?
Obviously, from the title, at least one goal is to redefine religion in China. But are there other goals?
Part of the goal of the Chinese government is to water down Christianity to the point where it retains so little of Jesus’ teachings that it means nothing. Of course, in China, the official position of the Communist Party is that there’s no God. Therefore no Jesus. No Salvation. Everything comes from the Party and all allegiance is to the party. God must be eliminated in order for that to happen.
It’s like the adjacent image. You can still see the crosses, representing Jesus dying on the cross for the salvation of all who believe in Him and follow Him. But you can also see the Chinese flag, trying to cover up the crosses. It’s symbolic of China trying to eliminate God.
It’s not just Christianity either. It’s any religion. So while this is about Christianity specifically, things in it do apply to any and every religion in China.
I dare say, even atheism, which is a religion by definition, will be affected by these regulations. we’ll see why and how as the series progresses.
In essence, the Chinese government is trying to put the Chinese people into the scenario of the Church in Laodicea from Revelation. They want to, in many ways, redefine Christianity to very much reflect the state of the Laodicean church.
Things seem hopeless for them. By them, I mean both the people in the ancient church described in Revelation and the Chinese people today.
A reason for hope in spite of new religious regulations in China
And yet, Jesus promises the right to sit with Him on His throne to those who overcome in the Church in Laodicea. Since this is prophecy, the same promise should be outstanding to the Chinese Christians.
And so, this attempt at oppression seems tailor-made for a “new hope” for the people in China. And even though they may start off with a watered-down Chinese Christianity, Jesus says that anyone who really tries to reach Him will succeed.
Here’s why I say that:
To the Church in Laodicea
Rev 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
The Three Self Church is the official “Christian” church in China. It’s also known as the Three Self Patriotic Movement. That tells a lot about how much of a “church” it is in the normal sense of the word. In China, it’s got nothing to do with worshiping God. It’s about a group of people essentially worshiping the Chinese Communist Party.
The Chinese people who fall prey to these regulations and are members of the state-run Three Self Church definitely fit into the “neither cold nor hot” description. No matter how much they might want to know Jesus, they won’t learn the truth about Him at a Three Self Church. No matter how much they may actually think they know – they really don’t. They need to learn from the real Christian Church – one of the underground churches in China.
And those underground churches are one of the targets as China tries to eliminate God. As we’ll see in this series, unapproved Christian churches must either “convert” to Three Self Patriotic Movement Churches or disperse. If not, then as they’re found, they’ll literally be blown up. At the beginning of the process, it was the big churches. But over time, smaller ones are being targeted as well.
As mentioned, progress – even slow progress – is all they need. The Communist Party doesn’t necessarily participate in the kind of thinking that says I want it all, and I want it now. Waiting is not a problem for them.
Rev 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
We see the image of Jesus knocking. Those who really want to know Him will hear that, open the door, and they will know Him. And it doesn’t matter what the government does. God will not be kept from those who want to know Him.
We’ll see though, this is a journey that’s full of danger and perils. The problem with inviting someone into an underground church is that you never really know if it’s safe. You never really know if that new person will be the one to turn you in. Ask yourself, if you had to deal with that in your church in your country, would you still go to church?
In North Korea, some even go to church in a boat to try to stay undetected. Think about that. North Korea. It can be freezing cold. And you’re out in the ocean in a little boat. Would you go to that “church”?
Rev 3:21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Finally, here’s the promise we look at earlier. And what a promise. Such a reward for overcoming the efforts of the Three Self Church and the atheist government behind it.
That reward hinges on God’s faithfulness. However, it also hinges on something else. Our faithfulness, or rather the faithfulness of those who attend the underground churches, knowing they may well be found out. It’s reminiscent of something from the Old Testament book of Daniel.
The Image of Gold and the Fiery Furnace
Da 3:8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You have issued a decree, O king, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Da 3:13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
Da 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Da 3:19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.
Da 3:24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, O king.”
Yes, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were saved from death at that time. It was the soldiers who threw them into the fire who died. But that’s not the norm. Look at Jesus’ original Disciples. All but one, John, died horrible deaths because of their refusal to abandon their faith in Jesus and renounce their God.
More likely than not, that’s the same fate awaiting some of the people in the underground churches. Especially the leaders. Question – would that have any impact on your faith?
How the Chinese Christian Church can be seen as a modern-day Church in Laodicea
So we can look at the new religious regulations in China as the Chinese government redefining Christianity. In this series, we’ll look at the current Religious Affairs Regulations in China – which went into law in 2005. We’ll also look at the proposed replacement Religious Affairs Regulations – 2016. The 2016 version was met with many complaints. As a result, the Chinese government had a one year review of the proposed regulations and has just passed the final version – Religious Affairs Regulations 2017. The approved version took effect in February, 2018.
We’ll compare all three sets of regulations, and see whether the opening sentence of Article 2 is actually true.
Citizens have the freedom of religious belief.
Or is it merely a talking point that makes China appear to have religious freedom?
Given the opening paragraph of Article 4, I think we’ll see the answer to that question is quite clear –
Article 4: The State, in accordance with the law, protects normal religious activities, actively guides religion to fit in with socialist society, and safeguards the lawful rights and interests of religious groups, religious schools, religious activity sites and religious citizens.
Conclusion – Can the atheist government in China redefine religion?
There are nine Chapters in the new document containing religious regulations in China. Here are the chapter titles, to give you an idea of what’s coming in this series.
Title: Religious Affairs Regulations
Promulgating Entities: State Council
Reference number: Order No. 686
Promulgation Date: 2017-8-26
Source of text: //www.gov.cn/zhengce/content/2017-09/07/content_5223282.htm
I: General Provisions
II: Religious Groups
III: Religious Schools
IV: Religious Activity sites
V: Religious Professionals
VI: Religious Activities
VII: Religious Assets
VIII: Legal Responsibility
IX: Supplementary Provisions
Along the way, we’ll compare each article in every chapter with previous iterations of the Religious Affairs Regulations document. As mentioned, we’ll look at the 2005 version that’s being replaced. We’ll compare that with the proposed 2016 document, to see what’s been added/removed/changed. Then, we’ll see how the Chinese government reacted to the complaints about the 2016 proposed document by comparing the proposals to the final version – Religious Affairs Regulations 2017.
Who gets to redefine religion in China – Focus on Christianity
Even though the religious affairs regulations cover all religions in China, this particular series will focus on Christianity. That will be preparation for an upcoming series on the Three Self Church, which is China’s Communist Party controlled version of Christianity.
Some of the rules that govern Three Self Churches are: //www.billionbibles.org/china/three-self-church.html
• The Communist Party is the head of the church in China (Three Self churches report to the Three Self Patriotic Movement, which reports to the State Administration for Religious Affairs, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party).
• The Communist Party has the final decision on who can preach and what can be preached.
• Preaching about resurrection and the second coming of Jesus is forbidden.
• Preaching against religions that deny the deity of Jesus is forbidden.
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Pray Image by Prawny from Pixabay
Eagle Image by Klappe from Pixabay
Cross Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
I overlaid it with the Chinese flag