Three Self Token Churches

Almost everyone knows that there’s a lot of professing Christians in China. The majority of that number is made up by members of unregistered, underground churches. But a large percent (12 million people in 1999, growing about half a million every year) belong to the Three Self Patriotic Movement’s Protestant churches. Here’s some quick bullets on the Three Self state-registered churches:

– This is the place to buy Bibles – If you want a Chinese Bible, you need only go to the Three Self Church and buy one from their bookstore. A Bible can cost as little as 10 or 12 kuai (about $1.50 US). No suspicions attached: I’ve bought about 20 at a time. They also sell hymnals and other Christian books and materials.
– They are extremely popular – Packed out every service, several services a Sunday. Our local church has 3 auditoriums, and every one is filled to capacity every week. People sit on every step and on stools in the back of the auditoriums. All told, every church I’ve ever been to runs multiplied thousands every week.
– They are extremely female – They run the show. They preach. They sing. They volunteer. I don’t know who would deny it. There are no men in leadership at our local church, and not surprisingly, few men in attendance. The attendance is at least 80% female. And the attenders are rather old – not many young faces in the room, especially as a percentage.
– They are monitored – There are cameras in every room, and it has nothing to do with a DVD ministry. Any room where people can sit to listen to preaching is required to have security cameras. Chinese law. They are there as an assurance that those that stand behind the pulpit won’t decide to criticize the government. If they do, there’s more than enough proof.
– They are controlled – Doubtless the extent of control is both debatable and varied, but no one can deny its reality. Some say that every sermon has to be submitted for approval before preaching. Some say that the churches are puppets to reiterate the party platform. But all churches are staffed exclusively by state-controlled-seminary graduates.
– They aren’t enough for the city – Only a pathetically small percentage of the city’s population can actually fit into the building every Sunday. But there is hardly a rush by the government to erect new buildings and make more seating available. The churches are simply a token – a cute snapshot for China to hold up whenever their human rights are called into question.
– They are, for the most part, preachers of a social gospel – All this acitivity isn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds. At the end of the day, most of these churches preach a blood-less Gospel. There’s plenty of room for social reform here in China, but there is a critical lack of biblical, Gospel teaching and preaching here.

I thought that when I arrived in China, people would be afraid to take part in Christian activities. But the truth is, they simply don’t see their country the way we see it. They don’t know about persecutions, imprisonments, arrests, etc. All they know is they have “freedom of religion.” They know there’s churches. They also know they have no interest in going. This is against the view that I’ve heard proclaimed by so many: that the Chinese are so hungry for the Gospel that they’re just waiting for someone to come talk about Jesus. Someone talks about Jesus every week here. It turns out, FEAR isn’t our biggest enemy; DISINTEREST and DOUBT are our biggest enemies.

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