China’s church leaders take a brave stand for freedom of religion

18 September 2018

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More than two hundred Chinese church leaders have issued a brave declaration calling for religious freedom, in an echo of the stands taken by German church leaders against the Nazis in the 1930s and Romanian church leaders against the Communist regime in the 1980s.

The persecution of religion, but especially Christianity, is growing in China. On 10 September, the Chinese government announced new draft measures to control online religious activity that will ban the live streaming of church services, requiring organisations publishing religious information online to obtain a licence. The regulations also prohibit foreign pastors from preaching online.

Earlier this month, authorities shut down one of the largest unofficial churches in Beijing – such congregations are known as “house churches” – after church leaders had refused to allow government authorities to install CCTV cameras inside the building.

Christian leaders have witnessed a pattern of increased pressure since new religion regulations came into force in February 2018.

In response to the rise in persecution of Christians, 279 Chinese pastors issued a public declaration on 12 September 2018 calling on the government to allow full religious freedom. These Chinese church leaders have shown remarkable courage in speaking truth to power. Their declaration concludes, “For the sake of the gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses – even the loss of our freedom and of our lives.” (The declaration is reproduced in full below.)

German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was one of the German church leaders who took a stand against Hitler's regime in 1934

It is not the first time that Christian leaders have taken a stand. In 1934, a group of Evangelical church leaders in Germany issued the Barmen Declaration. It rejected all state control of church activity and religion and thus placed the German Evangelical Church on a collision course with Hitler’s Nazi regime. Among the supporters of the declaration was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor and theologian who later died in a concentration camp. Around thirty-five church leaders in Romania released a similar proclamation in 1989 against the attempts of Ceaușescu’s Communist regime to control the church and curtail religious freedom. They asked for churches to be permitted to worship freely and to be able to train their children in the ways of the Lord.

Today, it is Chinese pastors who are bravely taking a stand for religious freedom in the face of state repression. The freedoms they call for in their joint declaration are the same as those that Barnabas Fund is asking to be enshrined in law within the UK and to be protected for Christians globally.

A Joint Statement by Pastors: A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith

We are a group of Chinese Christians, chosen by the Most High God to be His humble servants, serving as pastors for Christian churches throughout various towns and cities.

We believe and are obligated to teach the world that the one true and living Triune God is the Creator of the universe, of the world, and of all people. All men should worship God and not any man or thing. We believe and are obligated to teach the world that all men, from national leaders to beggars and prisoners, have sinned. They will die once and then be judged in righteousness. Apart from the grace and redemption of God, all men would eternally perish. We believe and are obligated to teach the world that the crucified and risen Jesus is the only Head of the global church, the sole Saviour of all mankind, and the everlasting Ruler and supreme Judge of the universe. To all who repent and believe in Him, God will give eternal life and an eternal Kingdom.

In September, 2017, the State Council issued the new “Regulations on the Administration of Religious Affairs” and began implementing these regulations in February, 2018. Ever since then, Christian churches across China have suffered varying degrees of persecution, contempt, and misunderstanding from government departments during public worship and religious practices, including various administrative measures that attempt to alter and distort the Christian faith. Some of these violent actions are unprecedented since the end of the Cultural Revolution. These include demolishing crosses on church buildings, violently removing expressions of faith like crosses and couplets hanging on Christians’ homes, forcing and threatening churches to join religious organizations controlled by the government, forcing churches to hang the national flag or to sing secular songs praising the State and political parties, banning the children of Christians from entering churches and receiving religious education, and depriving churches and believers of the right to gather freely.

We believe that these unjust actions are an abuse of government power and have led to serious conflicts between political and religious parties in Chinese society. These actions infringe on the human freedoms of religion and conscience and violate the universal rule of law. We are obligated to announce bad news to the authorities and to all of society: God hates all attempts to suppress human souls and all acts of persecution against the Christian church, and he will condemn and judge them with righteous judgment.

But we are even more obligated to proclaim good news to the authorities and to all of society: Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, the Saviour and King of mankind, in order to save us sinners was killed, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God, destroying the power of sin and death. In His love and compassion God has prepared forgiveness and salvation for all who are willing to believe in Jesus, including Chinese people. At any time, anyone can repent from any sin, turn to Christ, fear God, obtain eternal life, and bring great blessing from God upon his family and country.

For the sake of faith and conscience, for the spiritual benefits of the authorities in China and of society as a whole, and ultimately for the glory, holiness, and righteousness of God, we make the following declaration to the Chinese government and to all of society:

  1. Christian churches in China believe unconditionally that the Bible is the Word and Revelation of God. It is the source and final authority of all righteousness, ethics, and salvation. If the will of any political party, the laws of any government, or the commands of any man directly violate the teachings of the Bible, harming men’s souls and opposing the gospel proclaimed by the church, we are obligated to obey God rather than men, and we are obligated to teach all members of the church to do the same.

  2. Christian churches in China are eager and determined to walk the path of the cross of Christ and are more than willing to imitate the older generation of saints who suffered and were martyred for their faith. We are willing and obligated under any circumstance to face all government persecution, misunderstanding, and violence with peace, patience, and compassion. For when churches refuse to obey evil laws, it does not stem from any political agenda; it does not stem from resentment or hostility; it stems only from the demands of the gospel and from a love for Chinese society.

  3. Christian churches in China are willing to obey authorities in China whom God has appointed and to respect the government's authority to govern society and human conduct. We believe and are obligated to teach all believers in the church that the authority of the government is from God and that as long as the government does not overstep the boundaries of secular power laid out in the Bible and does not interfere with or violate anything related to faith or the soul, Christians are obligated to respect the authorities, to pray fervently for their benefit, and to pray earnestly for Chinese society. For the sake of the gospel, we are willing to suffer all external losses brought about by unfair law enforcement. Out of a love for our fellow citizens, we are willing to give up all of our earthly rights.

  4. For this reason, we believe and are obligated to teach all believers that all true churches in China that belong to Christ must hold to the principle of the separation of church and state and must proclaim Christ as the sole head of the church. We declare that in matters of external conduct, churches are willing to accept lawful oversight by civil administration or other government departments as other social organizations do. But under no circumstances will we lead our churches to join a religious organization controlled by the government, to register with the religious administration department, or to accept any kind of affiliation. We also will not accept any “ban” or “fine” imposed on our churches due to our faith. For the sake of the gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses – even the loss of our freedom and of our lives.

Please pray:
  • Give thanks for the quiet courage of the 279 Chinese church pastors, who are taking a great risk by publicly declaring their allegiance to Christ and the Gospel and calling for full religious freedom. Pray that the Lord will keep them safe from those who would seek to do them harm (Psalm 140:4) and that their stand will bring about positive and lasting change for Christians in China.
  • Pray for Barnabas Fund’s Our Religious Freedom campaign, in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Thank God for the way the campaign has already mobilised Christians in all three countries and the wider support it has received, even from some secular groups. Pray that politicians will be receptive to enacting Godly values of truth, justice and righteousness (Jeremiah 4:2) and that the Lord will use the campaign to serve His divine purposes.
  • Ask that the Lord remind Chinese Christians to be submissive and obedient to rulers and authorities (Titus 3:1) even as they walk as children of light under the supreme authority of His will. Pray that the Lord who changes the times and seasons (Daniel 2:21) will incline the Chinese authorities to wisely consider the declaration of the 279 pastors and soften the hearts of government leaders.
  • O Lord, we praise and thank you for Your Word which endures forever (Isaiah 40:8). We pray that Christians in China will hold fast the Word of life (Philippians 2:16) and seek the Holy Spirit in prayer in these times of increasing pressure. Despite new restrictions on online ministry, we ask that Your Word will continue to go out across the land to accomplish Your sovereign will.

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