More News from China
Years before the last war China saw the gradual emergence of groups of believers who formed independent, indigenous churches functioning more or less after the New Testament pattern. These, with assemblies planted by missionaries from home assemblies, for the most part held aloof from the “National Church” movement. At first they were ignored as an insignificant minority, but during this second stage they began to come under the ban of the Communists. A number of well-esteemed brethren were arrested, tried and imprisoned, and like so many others endured the “brain-washing” technique to the ruin oft-times of both physical and mental health.
The THIRD STAGE developed during the closing days of 1957 and the earlier part of 1958. Confident that the nation was now under effective control, the Communist Party Chairman, Mr. Mao Tzi-tung, proclaimed greater freedom of speech and press, and even invited criticism of Government policies, meaning, of course, constructive criticism! He and the rest of China’s rulers were greatly shocked at the outburst of attacks upon those policies that followed. No doubt unwisely some Christian leaders were outspoken in pointing out failures in the administration. This could not be tolerated! A campaign to rectify such “wrong thinking” was immediately ordered. While the whole populace was affected, again it was the Church that came under special scrutiny through the agency of the Three Self Organisation. Hundreds of ministers were denounced as “rightists and anti-revolutionists” and had their licences to preach revoked. Many were banished to labour camps in distant provinces.
Others were either executed or driven to suicide.
The FOURTH STAGE began in August 1958 with a drastic reduction in the number of churches and the dismissal of many more ministers. In most towns and cities places of congregation for Christians were brought down to two or three. In the populous city of Shanghai the churches were reduced from two hundred to about twenty and in Peking, the capital, from fifty to four.
Redundant pastors were sent to work in the communes, which were by this time in full swing in all the rural areas. As far back as the 1950 Conference with Church leaders, Premier Chou En-Lai had strongly advocated a merger of all the various denominations with the shrewd remark that even the Bible taught Christian unity. With the customary thoroughness the plan was now carried out. All matters of doctrine or differing Church order were subordinated to the requirements of unity and uniformity. One hymnbook only was to be used and one form of service with a single organization in control. All pastors were to be only those duly authorised by the Bureau of Religious Affairs, those who were prepared to conform to the directives of the authorities, and who had undergone periods of indoctrination lasting sometimes for months. Sermons were to be on themes chosen by the Three Self Committee and mainly of a political nature.
Evangelical teaching was forbidden, being considered subversive of good social order. Such subjects as the vanity of this present world, eternal life, Christ’s return to set up His kingdom on earth, sin, Christian separation from the world are now all subjects to be studiously avoided.