UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 18!!
The St. Charles Institute reports that the number of those signing this declaration has risen to 344. Quoting from the book of Hebrews, the St. Charles Institute continues, “The world is “not worthy” of seeing this display of faithfulness.”
In the midst of a campaign by the Chinese Communist Government to “Sinicize” religion and demand unswerving loyalty to the Communist Party, Chinese Christian leaders have declared their unswerving loyalty to Jesus Christ. As of September 10, 2018, 279 leaders had signed onto a public statement affirming religious freedom and issuing a call to repentance and salvation.
This is not the first time that Chinese Christian leaders have signed a joint statement of faith while in the throes of intense persecution. In the fall of 1998, house church leaders issued “A United Appeal of the Various Schools of the Chinese House Church” to the Chinese Communist government urging it to end its crackdown on the unregistered churches. Thanks to my amazing archive of international religious freedom material based on 25 years of advocacy, you can see a copy of that 1998 statement below.
The St. Charles Institute, advocates for persecuted Christians, reported on the new action. They provide the entire text of the September 2018 statement, entitled, “A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith” (3rd edition). The declaration opens with the Chinese church leaders’ affirmation of the gospel and their accountability before God to share it with the world:
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 Savior 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.
The declaration includes the following invitation:
Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, the Savior 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.
It goes on to list what churches in China believe, their right to practice freely their religion, their value to and love for their country, and their refusal to compromise with the state. The courageous leaders have all identified themselves both by name and by church, and their concluding statement is a sober one, “For the sake of the gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses—even the loss of our freedom and our lives.”
In case you think the church leaders are being overly dramatic, even The Washington Post is taking notice. On September 10, the Post published an article by Christopher Bodeen for AP, reporting on how China’s government is “ratcheting up a crackdown on Christian congregations in Beijing and several provinces, destroying crosses, burning Bibles, shutting churches, and ordering followers to sign papers renouncing their faith.”
The information came to AP from ChinaAid founder and president, Bob Fu. Fu is quite familiar with China’s tactics. He and his wife, Heidi, were arrested and imprisoned for “illegal evangelism” in 1996 and came to the U.S. as religious refugees the next year where Fu began his work as an advocate for persecuted Christians in China.
Fu and others now warn that President Xi Jinping is waging “the most severe systematic suppression of Christianity in the country since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982.” And simultaneously, the Chinese regime is cracking down on other religious groups. The Post article says “an estimated 1 million Uighurs and other members of Muslim minority groups in the country’s northwest have been arbitrarily detained in indoctrination camps where they are forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the Communist Party.”
Surprisingly – or perhaps not so surprisingly – this new crackdown has come even as the number of Chinese becoming Christians is growing, and the country is experiencing “a religious revival.” Although reports on the population of Christians in China vary, some say there as many as 93-115 million Protestant Christians, according to a report by Eugene Chow in The Diplomat a current affairs magazine for Asia-Pacific. Chow goes on to say that only some 30 million of this number attend official registered churches. The rest are part of the underground house church movement.
Chow cites a 2014 Telegraph article in which Yang Fenggang, professor of sociology at Purdue, calculates that “China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon.” He estimates that by 2030 the entire Christian population of China will exceed 247 million.
Indeed, when the Chinese church leaders wrote their 1998 statement, they numbered house church believers at 80 million. The number has grown although the persecution has not stopped.
The year of that first statement was also the year in which the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) was signed to become U.S. law. During the two decades since then, there have been times of pressure on China. During those times, the Chinese government loosened up on the house churches and they made strides towards legitimacy (NOT registration, NOT Three-Self official churches, but being right out there in the open instead of underground). And there have been times when the U.S. lifted the pressure on China and the Chinese, as they have now, cracked down on the churches.
On this 20th anniversary of IRFA, let us hope and pray that the U.S. will heed the cry of the new statement and pressure the Chinese government to allow religious freedom.