China's Gov't-Approved Church Reaches Out to House Churches

The official church organization recognized by the Chinese government says it sympathizes with the country's house churches and is willing to provide them with Bibles.

"For those house churches without registration, we will try our best to be with them, to recognize them and to help them, so long as they have an orthodox faith, don't stray from the truth and don't follow heretics," said elder Fu Xianwei, chairperson of the national Three-Self Patriotic Movement to some 200 Hong Kong church leaders late last month, according to Ecumenical News International.

In China, there are five government-sanctioned religions – Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism – and a government-affiliated association monitors and supervises the activities of each of these faiths. Only state-sanctioned churches in China are allowed to distribute Bibles.

Protestant churches are required to register and operate under the government's China Christian Council (CCC), the umbrella organization that monitors Protestant churches in China together with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

Many Protestant Christians, however, refuse to work with the CCC/TSPM, arguing that God is the head of the church and not the government. China has an underground Christian population estimated to be as high as 100 million, although experts are quick to point out the difficulty in obtaining the real count.

During a visit to Hong Kong last month, when TSPM leader Fu made his recent address, a 12-member delegation comprised of the recently-elected leadership team of the TSPM and CCC said they are willing to support house churches and work together with them to build the Chinese Protestant Church.

Fu said there are not enough pastors and preachers in China, and the Church is struggling to deal with theological challenges.

When asked if members of the Communist Party could convert to Christianity, the Rev. Gao Feng, president of the CCC, said under the Chinese Communist Party's constitution, the member must follow Marxism, which embraces atheism. However, Gao noted that the doors of the Church are open to all.

According to Yu Jian Rong, a professor of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, participants of a conference on religion and social sciences at Beijing University earlier last month discussed whether it was time to consider officially recognizing house churches and allowing them to register separately from the CCC/TSPM.

Yu said some house churches in China were already in the process of applying for registration separate from CCC/TSPM.

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