Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) attacks evangelicals
The political leadership of China's Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) with few exceptions have always espoused liberal theology which has intermeshed with the Marxist ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, since the re-opening of China's state churches in 1979 the official 'line' has been to accommodate both liberals and evangelicals in churches and seminaries. Now, however, there is strong evidence that this is changing.
President Jiang Zemin himself in 1993 called for religion to be 'made compatible with socialism'. In late 1998 TSPM leaders held a significant conference in Jinan, Shandong province at which TSPM head Bishop Ting and other leaders outlined plans to modernise Chinese Protestant theology in line with CCP constraints. In May 1999 Ting expelled three evangelical theological students from Nanjing Seminary because of their evangelistic zeal and refusal to sing CCP political songs on the seminary premises. Soon after three top Nanjing graduates resigned in protest and issued a scorching public denunciation of Ting's liberal theology and a ringing affirmation that Christ was sole head of the Chinese church - not the CCP through the Religious Affairs Bureau and the TSPM.
Since then, Bishop Ting and what is known in Christian circles in China as the 'lao sanzi' (the old Three Self - meaning elderly politicised church leaders usually with a YMCA/YWCA background who espoused liberal theology and even Marxism in the forties and fifties and now occupy controlling positions in the TSPM bureaucracy), have initiated a political campaign to purge seminaries and churches of evangelical influence. This year staff at Nanjing Seminary were changed. Ji Tai, a young teacher reportedly friendly to the house-churches has been effectively dismissed along with several others. In Shanghai a leading evangelical pastor has been dismissed from his large city church. In many provinces across China pastors and seminary teachers have been forced to attend study sessions based on Bishop Ting's 'Select Works'. This has caused enormous resentment. Ting's theology is a mixture of Marxism, process theology and liberation theology with a stress on the 'cosmic Christ' which tends to universalism. He states that there is no fundamental difference between faith and unbelief and that atheists are also acceptable to God. He is even on record as stating that God does not mind very much whether people believe in Him or not. There is great stress on the love of God but His other Biblical attributes such as His holiness, omnipotence and omniscience are subtly undermined. The centrality of the atonement, dear to most Chinese Christians, is almost completely ignored.
Most recently articles have appeared in the TSPM monthly magazine 'Tianfeng' casting doubt on evangelical views of the full inspiration of Scripture. A significant seminar on Biblical authority was held this September in Qingdao, Shandong province. The book of the papers at this seminar was speedily published by the TSPM by October. In the preface Bishop Ting openly attacks the doctrine of justification by faith saying that in the Chinese situation it should be 'watered down'. He also states that the Bible has mistakes. The overwhelming majority of Chinese Christians, whether in the TSPM churches or the house-churches, hold a very high view of Biblical inspiration and the Bishop's views are totally unacceptable to the majority and are deeply
One TSPM pastor stated that he believed 90% of the TSPM pastors in the country are against Ting's campaign to impose liberal theology on the church and the seminaries. However, many younger pastors are afraid to speak out because they and their families may lose their financial support. The heads of two major seminaries who are evangelical have stated unofficially that they also oppose Ting's campaign. However, they recognise the need to deepen Chinese theology - which in many instances is narrowly fundamentalist and dispensationalist - but not in the Marxist direction of Bishop Ting. Rather, they wish to introduce translated books by respected Western evangelicals such as John Stott, who deal with the pressing problems of modernity from a thoroughly Biblical perspective.
If the vast Chinese church in the future is to escape the melancholy fate of so many Western churches which have been devastated by liberal theology over the last century then they need every encouragement to develop a vigorous, contextualised evangelical theology which is both fully Biblical and fully Chinese. It may well be that events taking place now will prove to be a watershed. If Ting's campaign is unchecked, a large section of younger church leaders may be led into the sterile wasteland of a rationalist, Marxist theology. On the other hand, as young Chinese evangelicals become aware of the crisis and the danger of losing the rich evangelical heritage of the Chinese church, won at great cost over the last half-century, this may prove a catalyst which will awaken them to engage Biblically with their own society and to provide mature leadership for the church faithful to the Word of God.
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