Challenging Divine Authority

“There was no prior warning. They came in, sat down and interrogated me for a whole day without a break. I later found out they questioned many of my colleagues too. They pressured them to provide information about my ‘religious activities.’ This sudden, dramatic action by the hospital management made me look like a criminal!”[1] Stories like this are a regular occurrence for the Christian brethren in China.[2] Despite the fact that China has “religious freedom,” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not tolerate unregulated religious practices. According to Open Doors USA, China is the 17th worst nation for religious repression, exhibiting “very high” levels of persecution, especially church life. Since 2019, the country has risen twenty-six places, reflecting a rapidly deteriorating situation for Christians in the country.[3]

As a totalitarian system, communism is hostile towards religion as it threatens authority. Karl Marx declared that “communism begins where atheism begins,” and communism “abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality.”[4] There can be no higher power than the state, which will act in place of God, deciding what is accepted as “truth” and “morality.” Knowledge of the Divine undermines the overreach of human authority by pointing to the highest authority and source of all legitimate authority, our Heavenly Father (John 19:11; Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13-15, ESV).[5]

The Gospels clearly show human government’s response to Divine authority. Matthew records Herod’s reaction to Jesus’ birth by ordering the death of every child under the age of two (Matthew 2:13-16). Jesus reminded Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). The King of kings is a reminder that human regimes are not the ultimate power, and because of this, the CCP seeks to control the gospel message.

The CCP maintains power by focusing on internal threats. Over time, the CCP has learned that killing religion is not realistic, but the government must control it.[6] This realization drove experimenting with methods to control the Chinese people’s fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, press, religion, association, and other core human rights.[7]

In 2018, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, the CCP instituted a new law reforming religious freedom in China.[8] The regulations were broad in scope. For starters, religious organizations must adhere to the leadership of the CCP and the directives implementing the values of socialism, subverting religious authority under the state.[9]  Additionally, to prevent parents from raising the next generation to fear God, the regulations restrict children under the age of 18 from attending any religious service or event whatsoever.

The 2018 law has also strengthened the effort to eliminate “Underground” Catholic and Protestant churches, which have existed since the Cultural Revolution. Instead of freely worshiping, Chinese Christians are required to join the CCP-controlled “Catholic Patriotic Association” and Protestant “Three-Self Movement” churches.[10] Only when the government can force believers into state-run churches can it attempt to control religion. For example, in the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association’s plan to Sinicization the church, the Catholic “Church will regard promotion and education on core values of socialism as a basic requirement for adhering to the Sinicization of Catholicism. It will guide clerics and Catholics to foster and maintain correct views on history and the nation and strengthen community awareness.”[11] Although the 2018 law does not acknowledge they restrict a person’s ability to practice his or her faith, according to The Heritage Foundation, the “regulations do violate international standards of religious freedom.”[12]

The CCP uses a number of heavy-handed techniques to control Christians within the country. Among the techniques is the use of technology to create a surveillance state. In planning the surveillance effort, the CCP mapped out the “four basic needs” of human life: food, clothing, housing, and transportation. The regime also mapped our five “quality-of-life needs:” healthcare, finance, arts, education, culture, and leisure travel and placed surveillance technology at these key locations.[13] This allows the communist government to track religious and political opponents with local informers, DNA records, and facial recognition technologies.[14] In some areas, the CCP has gone as far as requiring citizens to scan their identification to make purchases such as gasoline in an effort to track peoples travel habits. Some cities even use cameras to track each vehicle entering or leaving along with a photo of the driver to ensure there is no unauthorized travel.[15]

The Chinese government has also worked to restrict the online sale of Bibles and is working to “amend” Bibles that are not state-approved.[16] The effort to control religious doctrine has led to arrests. In 2019 Pastor Wang Yi was sentenced to nine years in prison and had his property seized. The pastor was charged with “inciting to subvert state power” and “illegal business operations.” The charge of illegal business operations stemmed from the printing of books about Christian culture.[17] Not only are Christians the target of China’s communist regime but over a million Uighur Muslims have been imprisoned in “reeducation camps,” which torture and brainwash. Tibetan Buddhism is also targeted with “population replacement” and violence against Buddhist monks and nuns. China also targets Falun Gong practitioners and harvests their organs for sale.[18]

Christians have been a target by the forces of this world since the Lord founded His Church. We were warned that “savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock” (Acts 20:29, NIV). As Christians, we need to pray for our brothers and sisters in China. They are praying for us. In a Voice of the Martyrs interview with Pastor Bob Fu, 700 house-church pastors prayed for the US as they witnessed what was happing throughout 2020.[19] Despite what many in the US may say, our nation is still a beacon of light to the world.

Citations & References [1] “China,” Open Doors, 2021, https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/china/.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Paul Kengor, The Devil and Karl Marx: Communism’s Long March of Death, Deception, and Infiltration (Ashland: TAN Books, 2020) ProQuest Ebook Central.
[5] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
[6] Thomas Farr, “China’s Second Cultural Revolution,” First Things, January 16, 2020, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/01/chinas-second-cultural-revolution.
[7] Walter Lohman and Justin Rhee, ed., China Transparency Report (Washington: The Heritage Foundation, 2021), 35, https://www.heritage.org/sites/default/files/2021-06/China_Transparency_Report.pdf.
[8] Bob Fu, “China: Worst Persecution in 40 Years,” interview by Tod Nettleton, Voice of the Martyrs Radio, June 12, 2021, https://www.vomradio.net/episodes/detail/china-worst-persecution-in-40-years.
[9] Farr, “China’s Second Cultural Revolution.”
[10] Ibid.
[11] Thomas Farr, “Diplomacy and Persecution in China: A new strategy for promoting religious freedom in China,” First Things, May 2019, https://www.firstthings.com/article/2019/05/diplomacy-and-persecution-in-china.
[12] Lohman and Rhee, China Transparency Report, 36.
[13] Jessica Batke and Mareike Ohlberg, “State of Surveillance: Government Documents Reveal New Evidence on China’s Efforts to Monitor Its People,” China File, October 30, 2020, https://www.chinafile.com/state-surveillance-china.
[14] Farr, “China’s Second Cultural Revolution.”
[15] Batke and Ohlberg, “State of Surveillance.”
[16] “China,” Open Doors; Farr, “China’s Second Cultural Revolution.”
[17] Kate Shellnutt, “Outspoken Chinese Pastor Wang Yi sentenced to 9 Years in Prison,” Christianity Today, December 30, 2019, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/december/chinese-pastor-wang-yi-early-rain-house-church-sentence-pri.html.
[18] Farr, “China’s Second Cultural Revolution.”
[19] Bob Fu, “China: Great Suffering During 100 Years of Chinese Communist Party,” interview by Tod Nettleton, Voice of the Martyrs Radio, June 19, 2021, https://www.vomradio.net/episodes/detail/china-great-suffering-during-100-years-of-chinese-communist-party.

Tyler Tennies

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Tyler Tennies (BS, Henley-Putnam University; MS, Michigan State University) is a husband and father of two currently studying Christian theology and doctrine at Liberty University’s John Rawlings School of Divinity.

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