Today, we are gathered here to solemnly celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).
To have this gathering is not easy. The COVID-19 pandemic that broke out at the beginning of the year was fierce and unprecedented. It was “a major public health emergency marked by the most rapid transmission and most extensive spread of infection, and the most challenging forms of control and prevention since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). From mid-June onwards, heavy and widespread rainfall in southern China triggered serious floods in the Yangtze River Basin. Faced with countless odds and challenges, the Chinese people, including Christians, through hard work and tremendous sacrifices, and under the strong leadership of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, eventually overcame all obstacles and difficulties, achieving great success in epidemic control and prevention and in flood control and mitigation.
We wish to express our deepest condolences to families of martyrs and compatriots who died in the tough struggle against the pandemic and floods!
In the past 70 years, China’s development and achievements have attracted worldwide attention. Under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the people of all ethnic groups across the country have overcome obstacles and forged ahead, achieving the great leap of the Chinese nation from “standing up,” “getting wealthy” to “becoming strong.” In the past seven decades, under God’s guidance, the Chinese Church has always held high the banner of “Loving Country and Loving Church,” walked with the Party and the people, heart to heart, and made tremendous achievements.
At present, we are at the historical intersection of the “Two Centenary Goals.” It is a critical period for the Chinese Church to promote the further contextualization and adaptation of Chinese Christianity to socialist society. Let us hereby review the achievements and experiences of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) gained over the last 70 years, and unite in our efforts to advocate a well-functioning Chinese Church in the new era, enhancing the spiritual legacy of “Loving Country and Loving Church” and realizing the vision of further contextualization.
On behalf of the National Committee of CCC&TSPM, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all leaders, guests and colleagues! I would like to pay our deepest respect to the memory of church pioneers such as Mr. Wu Yao-tsung (Y. T. Wu) and Bishop Ting Kuang-hsun (K. H. Ting) who initiated and furthered the Three-Self Patriotic Movement! I would like to pay deep tribute to our predecessors who have been committed to the TSPM! My heartfelt thanks go to all brothers and sisters, and friends at home and abroad who have shown continuing care, understanding and support to the TSPM.
Part One: Review of Past Achievements
Seventy years ago, the Three-Self Reform Movement initiated by Mr. Y. T. Wu and other pioneers enabled the Chinese Church to achieve independence and self reliance. This great initiative, a crucial step in the further contextualization of Christianity, changed the development trajectory of the Chinese Church, laid the foundation for her adaptation to socialist society, and cleared the obstacles for a well-functioning national church. On September 23, 1950, The People’s Daily published the full text of “Direction of Endeavor for Chinese Christianity in the Construction of New China” (commonly known as the “Three-Self Manifesto”) as well as an editorial. The publication of the “Three-Self Manifesto” marked the start of the Chinese Church’s journey in becoming self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating, bringing along Christians onto the path of loving Church and loving country and becoming a positive force in the construction of New China.
“While hard and long is the path, persevere and we will get near.” Looking back over the past seventy years, the Chinese Church has gradually moved towards the goal of becoming well-governing, well-supporting, and well-propagating, with the achievements of the TSPM manifested mainly in the following stages:
1. Resolutely Follow the Three-Self Patriotic Path and remove the foreignness of Chinese Christianity
The founding of the PRC in 1949 completely changed China’s tragic modern history of being poor, weak, and bullied for more than a century. Under the leadership of the CCP, the Chinese nation embarked on a magnificent path towards great rejuvenation.
We cannot deny that missionaries have, in the past, made positive contributions to the Chinese people, but most of them held a strong sense of the superiority of western values thereby transforming and eliminating the sense of mission in Chinese culture, causing severe estrangement, contradiction and conflict between Christianity and Chinese society. The Chinese church became an “offspring” of foreign missions, and was perceived as a “foreign religion” by the Chinese people. The most outstanding contribution of the TSPM has been to remove the label of “foreign religion” from Christianity and change Chinese people’s perception of it. This has completely freed the Chinese church from the control of foreign forces, and the self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating Chinese Church is now firmly governed by those who love our country and our church,
2. Assist in the Implementation of the Party’s Religious Policies and Safeguard the Legitimate Rights and Interests of the Chinese Church
Since the establishment of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (National TSPM) in 1954, the local Christian Three-Self committees have dedicated themselves to assisting the government in implementing the Party’s freedom of religious belief policy and religious regulations in accordance with the law. Wide ranging field research of grassroots churches and TSPMs were launched to identify and understand the existing issues in church development. Contact with relevant local government departments was enhanced while various channels were established to facilitate the participation of Christians in the political process, to raise their concerns, and to safeguard the rights and interests of the church and its members.
Much work has been done not only in helping churches restore their properties and assist in the implementation of relevant policies, but also in offering advice and counsel in the process of revising the Constitution, laws and regulations concerning religions, making the Chinese Church a positive force in uniting believers, maintaining religious harmony and social stability.
3. Adhere to the Biblical Teaching of Unity, and Establish a Unique Governance Model
The TSPM freed the Chinese Church from the control of western denominational missions and promoted the way for United Worship among churches across the country. At the Third National Conference of Chinese Christianity held in 1980, the China Christian Council (CCC), a national ecclesial organization, was established, leading Chinese Christian unity into a new phase. In a spirit of labor division and cooperation, the CCC and National TSPM served together as “useful vessels” for the wellbeing of the Chinese Church. The CCC&TSPM formulated and revised the “Church Order of Protestant Churches in China” which laid a solid foundation for the Chinese Church to become a “uniting church,” and guaranteed the accomplishment of Chinese Church unity in terms of institutions and regulations.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the CCC’s foundation. In the process of implementing the Three-Self principles, Chinese Christianity has gradually formed a CCC&TSPM governance model that suits China’s national and religious conditions.
On the one hand, it continually guides the clergy and the lay in raising political awareness, upholding the patriotic tradition, fulfilling social responsibilities, and promoting the adaptation of Christianity to socialist society. On the other hand, it proactively serves churches and believers, playing the role of guiding, regulating and supervising the work of churches, and promoting a healthy and orderly development of the Chinese Church, so that more people are willing to hear the gospel and bear witness to Christ. This unique governance model has gradually matured in the context of Chinese society and churches, and the spirit of the TSPM has gradually been internalized and embedded into the structure and growth of the Chinese Church.
4. Carry Out Church Ministries and Promote Harmonious and Healthy Development
The TSPM is dedicated to building a well-functioning Chinese Church and promoting various ministries in accordance with the Three-Self Principle. According to incomplete statistics, there are currently 38 million Christians in China, 60,000 churches, over 14,000 ordained ministers, 22,000 full-time preachers and 22 seminaries. More than 85 million copies of the Bible have been published and distributed since the Reform and Opening Up.
In the last 70 years, the Chinese Church has focused on establishing and improving rules and regulations, leveraging the strengths of Christianity and guiding believers in being salt and light in various social services contributing to poverty reduction. Christians join in community engagement in response to public health crises, and work in health care, elderly care, disabilities assistance, targeted poverty alleviation, disaster relief, education, public facilities construction, environmental protection and other fields.
5. Deepen the Construction of Theological Thinking and Lay the Theoretical Underpinning for the further contextualization of Christianity
In order to change the situation whereby Chinese Christianity has long been overshadowed by western theological thinking, to develop a clearer understanding of God’s unique leadership of the Chinese Church, and to promote the adaptation of Chinese Christianity to socialist society, the CCC&TSPM convened a plenary committee meeting in Jinan in 1998. The adoption of the resolution “On Strengthening the Construction of Theological Thinking” was a milestone for consolidating the achievements of the TSPM, deepening its meaning, and rooting Christianity in the soil of Chinese culture.
In 2012, CCC&TSPM formed a theological thought construction preaching team, and designed a 2013-2017 five-year plan outline for the preaching team, envisioning a formulation of Chinese Christianity’s own theological system and providing theoretical underpinnings for the wellbeing of the Chinese Church in accordance with the Three-Self principles and the further contextualization of Christianity in China.
6. Strengthening Fellowship with the ecumenical movement and enhancing the International Influence of the Chinese church
Sticking to the Three-Self principles, the Chinese Church has no affiliation with foreign churches, but being an independent church does not mean seclusion and stagnation, but the building up of Christian ties, developing amicable exchanges, and establishing cooperative partnerships with churches and Christian organizations from all over the world on the basis of mutual respect, equality and friendship, and mutual sharing.
In friendly exchanges with others, the Chinese Church shares China’s policy on religious freedom with the ecumenical movement, bears witness to the progress and development of the Chinese church and society, and makes positive contributions to non-governmental exchanges. Churches in mainland China also further exchanges with those in Hong Kong and Macao on the principle of “non-affiliation, non-interference, and mutual respect”. We also strengthen friendly exchanges with churches in Taiwan and overseas Chinese churches. We resolutely safeguard the sovereignty of the country and the church, and oppose the use of the Christian religion to infiltrate China and undermine the Three-Self principles. In the 70 years since the TSPM was launched, its trajectory and accomplishments have enriched the universal character of the church. By sharing our experiences and bearing good witness to the diverse development of the church world wide, it has also strengthened the confidence of some Asian, African and Latin American churches in taking an independent path. The Chinese Church will actively participate in the ecumenical fellowship with a more open attitude and play its due role.
The TSPM advances with the times and tries to pursue progress and renewal. In 2000, the CCC&TSPM held a meeting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Movement, and published “Stride into the New Century with One Heart, Loving Country and Loving Church”. At its 60th anniversary in 2010, the TSPM published “Inheriting the fine legacy of Love for Country and Love for Church, Undertake the Historic Mission of the TSPM in the New Era.” The Movement’s mission is to continuously explore ways and means for Chinese Christianity to better adapt to socialist society, and clearly adhere to the path of further contextualization of Christianity in China.
In this new historical stage, how should Chinese Christianity understand the social responsibility and historic mission of the TSPM in the new socialist era?
How do we build a well-functioning Chinese church commensurate with the situation of our motherland, with its own identity and in accordance with the three-self principles? These are the concerns that Chinese Christians should reflect upon and directions they should diligently pursue.
In 2014, when celebrating the 60th anniversary of the TSPM, the CCC&TSPM formally proposed “the further contextualization of Christianity in China”. Four symposiums have successively been held since 2014 to promote this.
The “Outline of the Five-Year Plan for the Further Contextualization of Christianity in China (2018-2023), was formulated and implemented in 2017 in order to deepen the construction of theological thinking in the new era, promote the harmonious and healthy development of the church, bring into play Christianity’s positive role, practice the core values of socialism, and continuously expand the breadth and depth of adapting to socialist society and helping to clarify the basic meaning, significance, goals and tasks, as well as specific measures and organizational guarantees in furthering contextualization. It is pointed out that further contextualization is Biblically based, committed to core beliefs, inheriting the traditions of the universal church and the Reformation, and rooted in the fertile soil of Chinese culture, in faith and social engagement, to practice the socialist core values, spread the gospel and witness for Christ, and build a well-functioning church.
Whether it is the initiation of the TSPM, or running the church well according to the Three-Self Principle and strengthening the construction of theological thought, these are all aimed at building a contextualized Chinese Christian Church rooted more deeply in Chinese culture and adapted to the conditions of Chinese society in the era of transformation, moving from being a “Christianity in China” to becoming a “Christianity of China”.
Part Two: Reflecting on our experiences
To realize further contextualization has been the common aspiration and vision of different generations of Chinese Christians. At the start of the 20th century, some fore-runners among Chinese Christians advocated self-reliance and indigenization. However, because of the absence of a single main body representing the Chinese Church and the lack of strong support from the majority of Christians and those from different walks of life, their influence and achievements were extremely limited.
It was not until the initiation of the TSPM in 1950 that the Chinese Church truly embarked on independent development, taking a firm step towards the further contextualization of Christianity in China, receiving strong support from the Party and the government, and winning the approbation of both believers and the people. Adhering to further contextualization is not only an inevitable choice in running the church well in accordance with the Three-Self Principle, but also the high expectations of the government and people for Chinese Christianity.
The United Front Work Conference held in 2015 and the National Religious Work Conference in 2016 regarded “adhering to the path of further contextualization of religions in our country” as an important task. In the report to the 19th National Congress of the CCP, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that it was necessary to “fully implement the Party’s basic policies on religious work, adhere to the further contextualization of religions in our country, and actively guide religions to adapt to socialist society.”
Adhering to the path of further contextualization of Christianity in China not only means practicing independence and self-governance in terms of institutions and regulations, but more importantly signifies promoting political awareness and the construction of theological thought, so that the Chinese Church can adapt to socialist society. Based on the history and progress made since the initiation of the TSPM, we have summarized three insights.
1. The TSPM is progressive, integrating the patriotic and spiritual power of Chinese Christians
Patriotism is the heart and soul of the Chinese people. When the TSPM was launched, it declared the patriotic stance of Chinese Christianity, and demonstrated that Chinese Christians had full confidence in the infinitely bright future of the PRC under the leadership of the CCP. This is a political movement that originated from within Christianity. It always takes, as its own responsibility, to elevate patriotism and social responsibility among Chinese Christians. Using the earth-shaking changes in Chinese society as a vivid teaching resource, we are dedicated to deepening patriotism and public awareness among Christians, uniting and guiding them to stand in solidarity with our country and people to realize our common vision.
We have always clearly realized that the harmonious and healthy development of Chinese Christianity benefits from the development of our country and the implementation of the Party’s freedom of religious belief. In the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics, inheriting and carrying on the spirit of patriotism is the deepest driving force for adhering to the direction of further contextualization and uniting Christians to participate in economic construction and work with our people to realize the great rejuvenation of our nation. Consciously supporting the leadership of the CCP, bravely assuming civic social responsibilities, and practicing the core values of socialism have become the ideological consensus and daily practice of more and more Chinese Christians. It is especially notable that in this year’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fight against floods, Chinese Christians have made more than 200 million yuan worth of donations. Chinese Christians firmly stand in solidarity with our people through working together and helping one another in the face of disasters. This reflects the elevated spirit of Christian patriotism and enriches the patriotic meaning of Christianity in the new era.
The TSPM united all Christians willing to run the church well in accordance with the principles of independence and self-governance and in keeping with gospel truth. We eliminated sectarian disputes and realized unity in worship. Whether it is “to build a Chinese Church led by the Chinese people ourselves” or “from the Three-Selfs to the Three-Goods;” whether it is to “strengthen the construction of theological thought” or “promote the further contextualization of our Christianity,” the TSPM has always adhered to the mission and goal of running the church well and to “join and knit together” Christians in various places. In order to run the church well, the TSPM promoted the establishment of the China Christian Council to highlight its ecclesial nature. The TSPM, which is now both political and ecclesial, is a progressive force in promoting Chinese Church development, and is deeply loved by God and the people.
2. The TSPM is innovative, constantly exploring ways to adapt Chinese Christianity to socialist society
The Chinese Church has been carrying out internal reforms for 70 years, winning recognition and praise from all believers. From the perspective of church development, results have been good. In the process of constantly seeking to adapt to social development and the needs of the times, the innovative nature of the TSPM enables the Chinese Church to show its robust vitality and endows her with a source of power. The launch of the TSPM is itself an innovation, enabling the Chinese Church to resolutely eliminate the imperialist power and influence upon Christianity, to resist imperialist aggression, and maintain world peace and justice. The innovative nature of the TSPM lies in endorsing the leadership of the CCP, sharing in weal and woe with the nation, living in harmony with the other religions of our country, and guiding Christians to actively participate in the great undertakings of our country in its Construction and Reform period.
The innovation of the TSPM is reflected in the promotion of Chinese Christianity to form a unique CCC&TSPM governance model, which has become an important organizational guarantee for Chinese Christianity to adhere to the Three-self Patriotic Principle, deepen the Movement, and adapt to socialist society. In recent years, the CCC&TSPM has been constantly adapting to the new situation and new requirements, exploring the development path of the Movement in a new era, and focusing on areas such as updating institutional rules, doing business in accordance with laws and regulations, cultivating church talents, pastoring and serving believers, and consolidating united worship, participating in social services, strengthening exchanges and links with overseas churches. We have charted a new path in church governance, offering a Chinese solution and a Chinese model for the construction of church polity in the ecumenical movement.
Theological development that encourages Chinese Christian theological thinking to grow roots in Chinese culture is one embodiment of the TSPM’s innovativeness.
From the initiation of the TSPM, to the construction of theological thought, and to the movement for the further contextualization of Christianity, the TSPM has continued to innovate with further contextualization as its most fundamental motivation and goal so as to see the adaptation of Christianity to socialism. The CCC&TSPM explored and improved the new model of “training, demonstration, preaching, and promotion” on theological thinking by its preaching team. On the basis of inheriting the essence of faith and promoting fine traditions, it reflects the spiritual pursuit of Christians in the new era, and interprets the gospel message on the basis of Chinese culture, consolidating the theological foundation for Christianity’s adaptation to socialist society, enriching and improving the theological system with Chinese characteristics and in coherence with the requirements of the times, and promoting the renewal of Chinese Christianity.
3. The Movement has a long-term nature, further strengthening the mission of contextualizing Chinese Christianity
“Hundreds of boats compete with one other, and those who strive will become first”. Today, the task of the TSPM remains unfinished. It is a long term goal of the TSPM to forge ahead to realize the Chinazation of Christianity in the new era of socialism and it is the direction of the TSPM in the new era. We must try our best to unite Chinese Christians who love our country and love our church to work together to build a church that upholds Christ and preserves unity; a church that is loyal to the truth of the Bible, rooted in Chinese culture, and has a contextualized Chinese theology; a church that has the courage to assume social responsibilities and to bear witness to Life through how we live it; a church that belongs to the communion of saints and that makes unique contributions to the ecumenical movement.
The Movement freed Chinese Christianity from the influence of colonialism and imperialism in the past, and truly realized self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation. It provided valuable practical experience for theological reflection and laid a good foundation for the further contextualization of Christianity. Past experiences have shown that only by continuing to adhere to the Three-Self Patriotic Principle, continuously responding to social expectations, and working together with the people of our country, can Chinese Christians better adapt to the development of socialist society and truly run the Chinese Church well. Only by running the Church well can the positive role of Christianity be better appreciated, and more beautiful testimonies of the faith of the Chinese Church be shown to the world.
Part Three: Problems and Challenges
The 70-year history of the TSPM has shown remarkable results for all to see. As our country enters the decisive stage of building a moderately prosperous society in an all-round way, and socialist modernization is accelerating, Chinese Christianity has also been undergoing profound transformation and changes. With a stabilizing numerical growth and fast changing demographic structure of the believers, the Chinese Church is entering a transitional period.
The numerical growth of believers has stabilized while the change in the demographic structure has accelerated. The Church is in a period of transition: shifting from focusing on quantitative growth to the pursuit of improving the quality of faith, from focusing on personal testimony to constructing theology, from emphasizing the expansion of church ministry to actively integrating into it social services, and from focusing on self-growth to seeking to learn from churches in the ecumenical movement.
There is currently a misunderstanding in the church that the Three-Self task has been completed and the Three-Self Principle is outdated. In the new era of socialism and with the new situation of Chinese Christian development, we need to guard against the phenomenon of downplaying or deserting the Three-Self Principle in the churches, continue to pursue the legacy of “Loving Church and Country,” firmly grasp the Church’s direction, raise the quality of personnel training, strengthen the ideological firmness of young leaders, and guide believers to stay firmly committed to their faith and political and national policies. It is clear that the TSPM must seek the healthy development of the church, contribute to social harmony and stability and face up to the following problems and challenges under the current new situation.
A weak institutional framework makes it difficult to effectively play a bridging role.
At present, our country is vigorously promoting the modernization of the national governance system and capabilities, and the development in social governance has raised requirements in the standards of church governance. For over 40 years of Reform and Opening up, the CCC&TSPM governance model of the Chinese Church has played an irreplaceable role in improving church governance through the processes of legalization, democratization, and standardization.
However, it is undeniable that some local level CCs&TSPMs still suffer from relatively weak institutional structures. They are behind in upholding regulations, have an inadequate grasp of policies, are limited in theological vision, insufficiently connected with and lacking in supervision and service to local churches, and lacking in a system of democratic governance. This situation needs to be improved, and the awareness of the rule of law needs to be strengthened. The lack of institution building has made it difficult for them to effectively play bonding and bridging roles, thus weakening church cohesion.
1. The overall shortage of talents in the church becomes an obstacle to running the church well
Since the Reform and Opening up, Christianity in China has developed rapidly, but the training of clergy has been relatively slow. Many factors such as rapid economic and social development and social transformation have led to a shortage of “talented” personnel in the churches. Although the Chinese Church has enhanced its capacity building through various means, at this stage, there remains a huge gap in the ratio of clergy to believers.
The curricula and theological education system of the Chinese Church need urgent adjustments in order to promote further contextualization, run the church well based on the Three-Self Principle, and to meet the social development needs and demands of the era. There has to be increased professionalism of teachers, and the expansion of channels for talent development. In order to promote research and interpretation of Chinese Christian classics, beliefs and doctrines, there is an urgent need to increase the number of talented personnel with good Chinese cultural knowledge and high theological attainments.
In the information age, foreign infiltration, heresies and cults have spread with the rapid development of the Internet, posing challenges to clergy. At the same time, local churches have not always been able to make proper or good use of talented personnel. These problems need to be given attention. On the whole, the training, employment, and social security system related to personnel development in Chinese Churches lags far behind the needs of social development in the new era. The shortage of trained church personnel severely constrains running the church well in accordance with the Three-Self Principle.
2. The existence of unregistered meeting points hinders the visible unity of the church
For 70 years, the TSPM has always regarded unity and service in the body of Christ as the goal and requisite of running the church well. As long as faith is orthodox and law-abiding, the CCC&TSPM shall engage with others in service and in unity. The reason why there are unregistered meeting points in our country are complex. Some are the product of external influences and historical legacies while others derive from previous denominational differences. There are also factors such as increasing social differentiation, the influence of postmodernism, the unreasonable spread of church sites, poor governance, the lack of cohesiveness, the shortage of pastors in existing churches, and so on.
The existence of unregistered meeting points has brought certain difficulties to running the church well according to the Three-Self Principle. It has affected the work of the TSPM in bringing unity to the body of Christ, and seriously hindered the visible unity of the church. Local churches should actively provide services for believers in accordance with the Three-Self Principles, and do a good job of uniting and guiding believers at unregistered meeting points outside the CCC&TSPM network.
Meanwhile, we resolutely oppose the use of Christianity as a cover for illegal purposes by any organization or individual. We support the action of the government in banning unregistered meeting points which fall into this category based on the law and for national security reasons.
3. The increasing infiltration by foreign forces is undermining the achievements of independence and self-governance
There have been endless ways in which Christianity has been employed as a means of infiltration. There are those who have entered China as tourists, lecturers, investors, or engaged in public charity activities. Others who share the same ethnic Chinese identity and language have used them advantageously to carry out underground theological training and support leaders of unregistered gathering points. Still others use online platforms to proselytize in China. These infiltration activities undermine the three-self principles, and seriously endanger the adaptation of Chinese Christianity to socialist society. They challenge the achievements of the TSPM.
In recent years, criminal activities by foreign forces using religion to endanger our country’s national security have been rising, severely undermining regional stability and public safety, and severely endangering national sovereignty and unity. With the growing influence of the China model in the world, Western countries led by the United States hope to continue their dominance of the world order using Western concepts, norms and values, creating disputes to contain China’s development, and promoting the so-called “China threat theory” in public opinion. They use Christianity to play the human rights card, exert pressure on China, interfere in Hong Kong affairs, use Western ideology to assess and interfere in internal Church issues, severely demonizing the TSPM, in an attempt to divide China and make Christianity a tool for westernization.
Therefore, we must always remain vigilant, resolutely resist foreign infiltration, and safeguard the achievements of our churches’ independence and self-governance.
4. The frequent inroads made by heresies and cults, has been damaging to the image of the TSPM
After the Reform and Opening up, Christianity developed rapidly, and many heresies and cults under the banner of Christianity also emerged. “The Priesthood of all believers” became one of the excuses for them to interpret the Bible and Christian doctrines at will. In places lacking in supervision and where basic beliefs were still weak, the combination of extreme charismatic beliefs and traditional folk feudal superstitions produced some Christian heresies and cults that took root in the countryside.
In recent years, heresies and cults have shown many new features. Some foreign heresies and cults, such as the Shincheonji Church from South Korea, have entered China and established contact with domestic cultic organizations that provide a platform for their spread within our country. The internet has made the spread of heresies and cults even more clandestine, extensive and destructive. The lack of positive publicity and guidance through public media has given these heresies and cults more opportunities to undermine church and society.
Heresies and cults brutally trample on social order, deny the canonicity of the Bible, twist church doctrines and rules, trick believers into “renouncing the faith by paying attention to the deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1), seriously damaging the public image of the TSPM.
Over the years, there have been numerous incidents of heresies and cults endangering personal safety and causing the defrauding of believers for profit. During this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, cult organizations such as the Shincheonji Church used the pandemic to proselytize and spread their “doomsday” panic, which undermined social stability and hurt people both physically and mentally.
Part Four: Facing the Future
“The Hero’s Pass of the enemy is like a wall of iron, yet with firm strides, we will conquer its summit.” At present, although the TSPM has made many achievements, there are still problems that cannot be ignored. In the future, we need to join hands in solving these problems, starting from the “Five Continues,” (see below) to further the contextualization of Chinese Christianity, to expand and deepen Christian adaptation to socialist society and move towards a Chinese Christianity that reflects the new era.
1. Continue to uphold the legacy of Love for Country and Love for Church, and carry forward the Three-Self patriotic spirit
To run the Chinese church well in the new era, we must continue to uphold the legacy of “Love for Country and Church,” and vigorously carry forward the spirit of the TSPM. As important promoters of the Three-Self Principle, CCC&TSPM institutions across the country must continuously improve their own system construction and supervision mechanisms, strengthen institutional development, effectively play the active role of religious organizations in promoting patriotism, and steadily point the Chinese Church in the direction of a democratic, orderly, healthy development with love for God and love for people. Only in this way can we truly become a strong bridge and bond connecting the Party and government with believers.
The CCC&TSPM in various places across the country should thoroughly study the instructions and speeches of General Secretary Xi Jinping on religious work since the 18th National Congress of the CCP, especially the spirit of the Central United Front Work Conference and the National Religious Work Conference; earnestly implement the newly revised “Regulations on Religious Affairs” and its supporting regulations; firmly internalize the concept and the mindset of the rule of law. It is necessary to further implement the “Church Order of Chinese Protestant Churches,” the “Pastoral Staff Code of Conduct of Chinese Protestant Churches”, and run the church well in accordance with laws and regulations. Chinese Christianity must always walk in step with our country and people, continuously enhance national self-esteem, self-confidence and pride, consciously transform patriotic thoughts and emotions into concrete actions that are compatible with socialist society, and consciously support the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system, firmly establish a sense of guarding territorial integrity, resolutely safeguard the unity of the motherland, national unity and social harmony, consciously serve the overall situation of the country’s development, and take the initiative to make a difference in the historical journey of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. In this way, we will continue to write a beautiful chapter on Loving Church and Country in Chinese Christianity in the historical process of realizing the Chinese Dream shared by all the sons and daughters of China.
2. Continue to deepen the patriotic meaning of the Three-Self, enrich and improve Sinicized theological thought
To run the Chinese Church well in the new era, we must continue to deepen the patriotic meaning of the Three-Self and take further contextualization as an important direction. We will continuously enrich and improve theological thinking, and empower seminaries and talents to play their respective roles. We must continue to optimize the structure of talent training, strengthening the construction and improvement of the talent echelon, to cultivate talents who are well rounded in spiritual, moral, intellectual and physical abilities. We must pay attention to the continuing education of pastoral staff, and strive to shape them into clerical talents who are “politically loyal, religiously accomplished, morally respectable and trustworthy at critical moments.” To this end, it is necessary to formulate the “Medium and Long-term Plan for the Training of Christian Talents in China,” to promote educational reforms and the development of seminaries and to formulate the “Outline of the Medium and Long-term Development Plan for Chinese Christian Theological Education” as soon as possible.
The TSPM gave birth to the theological construction of Christianity in our country, and provided it with rich research resources and concrete testimonies. Constructing theological thinking is the top priority of running the church well according to the Three-Self Principle. It is the core meaning of the further contextualization of Christianity in China and determines the breadth and depth of the adaptation of Christianity to a socialist society. In the future, we must continue to vigorously strengthen the construction of theological thinking, form interpretations and theological expressions of Christian classics with Chinese characteristics appropriate to the needs of the times, providing a theoretical underpinning for promoting the further contextualization of Christianity. Guided by the outstanding problems identified, we will start from concrete conditions, draw lessons from historical experience, and consolidate the ideological foundation for the adaptation of Christianity to socialist society, further enriching and improving contextual theology. Meanwhile, we must continue to do a good job in the transformation and popularization of results in theological research, continue to expand the audience, and help Chinese Christians live their lives based on a true understanding of faith, a lively spirituality and positive attitudes. It will further enhance the overall meaning of the Three-Self Movement, enrich and improve the theological construction of Chinese Christianity in the new era, and provide a steady stream of ideological or theoretical support for the Chinese church in the new era.
3. Continue to adhere to the Three-Self Principle, and strive to do a good job in the various ministries of the Chinese church
To run the Chinese church well in the new era, we must continue to adhere to the Three-Self Patriotic Principle, consciously resist foreign infiltration, and dare to cast sword against hostile infiltration and destructive forces. We shall be wary of ideological infiltration using Christianity, wary of separatist activities carried out by foreign institutions under the banner of Christianity, wary of church separatist activities in the name of missions, and earnestly safeguard the hard-won independence of the Chinese Church. We must continue to work hard to do a good job in the various ministries of the Chinese Church, and use the concrete results of the healthy development of the Chinese Church to effectively counter all demonizing attacks by hostile forces.
The Three-Self Patriotic Movement is an innovative movement that will be long lasting, stable and far-reaching.
In future, we must continue to remove the imprint on Christianity as a “foreign religion” in our country, strengthen our role as light and salt in society, glorifying God and benefitting people. It is still necessary to continue to establish and perfect the “true self” in theology and promote Chinese Christianity as the authentic “Christianity of China”. We must continue to absorb the excellent legacy of Chinese culture, and root ourselves in its fertile soil, becoming a religion that the Chinese people identify with. We must continue to promote and practice the core values of socialism and work to further Christianity to truly adapt to socialist society.
4. Continue to expand the Three-Self patriotic base and strengthen the cohesion of the Chinese Church
To run the Chinese church well in the new era, we must continue to expand the Three-Self patriotic base. Chinese Christianity must further enhance internal unity on the basis of mutual respect, and strengthen the overall cohesion of Chinese Christianity. It must directly face the work of uniting with illegal gathering points, summarize and improve the effective practices and experiences of “church guiding meeting points,” bear one another with love, communicate with one another in peace, enhance mutual understanding through strengthened contacts, and resolve problems through active service. We should make good use of the media platform in the church, and tell the story of Chinese Christian Three-Self patriotism, patiently explain the meaning and goals of the TSPM, effectively eliminate the misunderstandings and doubts of some believers, further expand unity, strengthen cohesion, and promote the unity of the Chinese church as a whole.
Chinese Christianity must continue to expand the base of Three-Self patriotism, continue to dig deeper and sum up the historical experience of the TSPM, inspire confidence in promoting the healthy and orderly development of Christianity, and further transform it into useful assistance for future work. We must actively seek out existing shortcomings and deficiencies in the development in order to promote the cohesiveness of the Chinese church. We must consciously abide by laws and regulations, carry out Christian activities in an orderly manner, prevent illegal and adverse events, prevent extremely harmful thoughts in Christianity, enhance awareness of resisting overseas infiltration activities, consciously safeguard the independent status of the Chinese Church in the worldwide church, and carry out foreign exchanges in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and friendliness. In this way, we will attract and closely unite Chinese Christians under the patriotic banner of the Three-Self.
5. Continue to move towards the Three-Self Patriotic goal and actively adapt to socialist society
To run the Chinese church well in the new era, we must continue to make solid progress towards the goal of the TSPM, strive to achieve the transition of the Chinese Church from the Three-Self to the Three-Good, and continue to adhere to the direction of the further contextualization of Christianity in the new historical period. We shall steadfastly follow the “Planning Outline to promote the Further Contextualization of Christianity,” to actively adapt to socialist society, so that we can witness for Christ in the motherland, run the church well, present a good image of Chinese Christianity, and play an active role in the construction and development of our motherland.
The further contextualization of Christianity in China is an important goal of running the church well according to the Three-Self Principle. It is the objective requirement for the development of the Chinese Church itself. It is the only way to adapt to socialist society. It is the direction of the future of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. It is the ardent anticipation of the Party and the country and the responsibility of the clergy and the believers. To effectively promote the further contextualization in our country, we must start from the aspects of political identity, social adaptation, cultural integration, and respect for beliefs, firmly and consciously abide by the teachings of the Bible, practice the core values of socialism, carry forward the fine legacy of the Chinese nation, and demonstrate an overall image of Christianity characterized by unity and progress, peace and tolerance. In this way, we truly inherit and elevate the important and promising spirit of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
Dear leaders, guests and colleagues: After seventy years of hard work, the independent and self-governing Christian Church has made it in the annals of history. It is both a milestone and a new starting point. After seventy years of unremitting efforts, Chinese Christianity has continued to innovate and advance through exploration, and has achieved fruitful results.
Everything in the past is a prologue. In the face of major changes in today’s world unseen in a century, the seventy years of cumulative experiences of the Chinese Church will surely help the new mission and new responsibilities given to us in the new era. We will surely integrate Chinese traditional culture and assume social responsibilities, in continuing to tell the story of Chinese Christianity.
Let us hold high the Three-Self banner and abide by the Three-Self Principle, adhere to the direction of the further contextualization of Christianity in China, always keep faith, hope, and love under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let us move forward courageously and do our best to build a church with a harmonious and healthy development that wins the favor of both God and people. Let us build our country into a prosperous, democratic, civilized, harmonious and beautiful modern socialist country, and to make new contributions to the realization of the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation!
About the author: Rev. Xu Xiaohong is Chairman of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Chinese Protestant Church. He delivered this report at the conference to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, on September 23, 2020 in Shanghai.
The article was published by Foundation for Theological Education in South East Asia on Chinese Theological Review 31.