Dear Praying Friends:
When ordered by the authorities not to preach the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Peter declared, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 5:19-20).
Inspired by those words, as well as by the oft-repeated Great Commission issued by the risen Christ, missionaries and evangelists have often ignored prohibitions against preaching the Gospel, preferring suffering to guilty silence.
To Obey or Not to Obey?
After a period of toleration, Roman Catholic missionary activity in China was prohibited in the mid-18th century, and had to be carried on clandestinely and at great risk.
The first Protestant missionaries faced the same legal restrictions in the early 1800s. Some obeyed, and worked either outside of China or, later, in areas where treaties allowed them to preach the Gospel.
Others chose to disobey the law, and plunged into the interior of China to test the limits of official opposition which, they discovered, varied from place to place. A warm reception by the general populace, and occasionally by the local gentry, encouraged them.
The same contrast can be found today, both among Chinese Christians and foreigners who want to share the Gospel among the Chinese. Many choose to work with the official-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement/China Christian Council, where regulated Christian activity is approved. Most Chinese Christians, and many—perhaps most—foreigners prefer to operate outside the restrictions of the TSPM/CCC.
They do not believe that the government should dictate to the church or that the church should serve political ends. In particular, they want the freedom to engage in teaching and evangelism without being restricted by designated places, times, and personnel.
The law does not allow foreign Christians to teach in unregistered congregations; to make disciples; to evangelize publicly; or to contribute money to local Christians. Those who violate these rules can be expelled, and their Chinese friends will face increased suspicion, surveillance, and perhaps even punishment.
Clandestine activity entails other costs as well: One has to be careful at all times. Communication by telephone and email must be in code or go through secure channels. Meetings could be disrupted by the police at any time. Everything takes place under a cloud of secrecy and tension, which can vary from mild to severe.
Furthermore, everyone knows that the government is almost certainly aware of all this “secret” ministry. Officials often look the other way, but they harbor mixed feelings about foreigners who knowingly flout the laws of the land. Some express open contempt for what they consider to be hypocrisy, especially when student or work visas are used only as a pretext or “cover” for missionary work.
Obeying the Law
On the other hand, many foreign Christians have chosen to honor the regulations concerning religious activity by non-Chinese, citing the examples of Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah, who worked within the “system.”
They serve as teachers of English and other useful subjects; dispense medical care; work with charitable organizations; carry on legitimate business; apply themselves diligently to full-time study of Chinese language or culture; participate in scholarly research; and more.
In these fully lawful roles, they not only make a contribution to the building of a healthy Chinese society, but earn trust, respect, and open doors, as the latest issue of the MSI Professional Services Bulletin explains and illustrates (www.msips.org).
We have decided to follow this path also. All of our “religious” activity takes place outside of mainland China, not only because we think this is the most strategic way of reaching Chinese worldwide, but because we want to avoid unnecessary trouble, both for ourselves and for Chinese who deal with us.
Thus, we openly share the Gospel in North America, Taiwan, and England; prepare literature in Chinese; publish web sites that are available to Chinese around the world; and equip others to serve among the Chinese.
Likewise, our academic and scholarly work takes place in the full light of day, through legal publications, conferences, lectures in Chinese universities, and conversations with Chinese scholars both inside and outside China.
We have found that we don’t have to break any rules to have full scope to evangelize non-Christians, edify believers, and equip present and future leaders for the Chinese church and society. In fact, we have our hands full!
We have neither the right nor the desire to criticize others who seek to obey the Great Commission differently. Each of us must answer to conscience and, finally, to God, and there is no room for judging the servant of Another, though there is plenty of space for respectful disagreement and discussion.
Would you pray for us, that God would prosper our publications, including my books and the Salt & Light series; greatly use our web sites; and enable us to communicate his grace and truth effectively in our personal encounters?
Your fellow servant of Christ,