Should We Love Our Country?

I’m sure we are all agreed that a Christian should obey the secular powers:

Romans 13:1-6

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

There should be one, and only one, exception to this rule, and that is when the secular power over us passes laws which try to force us to sin. In which case, we disobey and take the (unjust) consequences. Daniel and his three friends had this problem when the powers in their day tried to force them to worship other gods. They had to disobey and take the unjust punishment, in one case a fiery furnace, in another a den of lions.

And it’s not just trying to force people to worship another god. In the first century A.D., the Roman authorities quite happily allowed Christians to worship their God freely, but only if they worshipped Caesar as well. But Christians can’t share their God with anyone else, it would be against the first Commandment, so they were thrown to the lions.

A few things have happened over the last few months here in China, which have now made this country no different from first century Rome. Let me tell you about them.

First of all, earlier this year, the best preacher from the church we attended suddenly left and we have since found out they’ve joined an underground house church. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now looking back, maybe they saw what was coming.

Then I was no longer invited to speak at church meetings any more. Now, that’s probably because I’m rubbish. But it may also have something to do with the fact they are clamping down on any “foreign influence” in the church.

Then thirdly, we are currently visiting Lanzhou where my wife’s parents live. We walked past the main church the other day only to find a large prominent Chinese flag flying outside. I thought that was very odd, so I started to do some research into this, and came across the following article from an English language official news web site in China:

China’s Five Major Religious Bodies Propose to Display National Flag in Places of Worshi 

On July 31, 2018, China's five major religious groups jointly issued a proposal calling for religious premises to raise the national flag, according to the WeChat account of the United Front Work Department of the CCP.

The proposal was issued by national religious organisations, including the China Christian Council (CCC) and Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), YMCA, and YWCA in the sixth meeting on the Foundation of Joint Meeting System for National Religious Organisations held in Beijing.

The move is meant to increase religious figures’ and religious believers' national, civic, and community consciousness.

The proposal calls on national religious groups to set examples to establish and improve a system that displays the national flag. They are called to guide religious believers to support, respond to, and actively engage in displaying the national flag.

In addition, the proposal states that religious communities should organise study sessions on the constitution and the laws regarding the national flag. When conditions permit, the national flag should be displayed in religious activity venues.  A flag-raising ceremony should be conducted at secular and religious festivals and celebrations.

The national flag, when raised or carried in a procession with another flag or flags with religious logos, shall be in front of the other flags and be either at the centre, above the other flag or flags, or in a prominent position.

I have to say at this point, I’m yet to see a flag flying outside of a mosque.

Now, I know some churches in the U.K. fly flags. I’ve no objection to flags on war memorials or things like that. It’s not unlawful for a Christian to join the armed forces. We need them to defend us, just as we need a police force. But should we be forced to fly a flag in our churches and sing patriotic songs? No! That’s bowing the knee to Caesar 

Looking into this further, I discovered that on 1st February 2018 the government implemented a plan for the “Sinicisation” of religion, i.e. making all five recognised religions (Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, Taoism and Confucianism) more “Chinese” (although Confucianism is Chinese enough already). 

I can understand this in a way, because, not only is this a reaction against Islamic terrorist influences from outside coming into the Muslim community, but in the church too, over the last few years, dodgy influences from abroad (notably the USA) have been coming in, and the government’s decree is a reaction against all these things.

In response to this, the TSPM Registered Protestant churches have come up with a five year plan. And it’s over-reacted in a terrible way. The only thing this will do is push the church underground again. I reproduce certain parts below (my emphases):

....consistently strengthening its political awareness in recognition of contemporary China, consciously integrating into its culture and adapting to society, establishing a blood line linked with the Chinese nation, sharing honour and dishonour with the motherland, ....

....Embrace and support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Be guided by the core values of socialism and endorse the system, ways, theories and culture of our country's development. ....

....The historical lesson that the propagation of Christianity in China has suffered from repeated setbacks reveals the failure to overcome its foreign nature. ....

....overseas forces which are against China and the three-self movement have come up with the "three visions" to deceive people and cause misunderstandings about the Sinicisation of Christianity....

....enhance patriotic education, nurture and practice the core values of socialism, continue to deepen the development of theological ideas, consolidate the theological basis of Sinicisation and accelerate and improve the quality of talented teams to take root in Chinese culture and express Christian faith through Chinese culture....

....Promote the core values of socialism on campuses and in classrooms with teaching materials that instil them into students' minds. Teaching demonstrations and exchange activities should be organised on the core values of socialism. In theological colleges, develop classroom teaching and campus culture to propagate these values....

.... the Chinese Church should be guided to find a development model that adapts to Chinese society and gradually establishes a theological system for the Protestant churches in China that can adapt to the socialist society. ....

....Bible study needs to be strengthened to establish a correct view of the Bible and the biblical hermeneutics in conformity with the situation in China as a foundation for deepening the development of theological thought. Be conscious of fostering research talent on the Bible and lay a solid foundation for reinterpreting the Bible and writing annotations for it.....

....Curriculums require a higher proportion of teaching on the core values of socialism, patriotism, Chinese history, literature, philosophy and arts along with other traditional culture. Pushing these subjects on campuses and in classrooms allows for the correct guiding of students.....

....Maintaining the direction of Sinicisation requires Protestant churches to take off the "tether" of the West and adopt China's "elucidation" by conforming interpretations of church doctrines and rules to distinguished Chinese culture and to form a Sinicised way to express Christian faith....

....Encourage original interpretations of the Bible, spirituality, literature and art into church life in China....

....Hold special performances along with art and touring cultural performances....

....Use Chinese unique national paintings, calligraphy, seal carving and paper cutting as well as cultural expressions that people love to see as manifestations of Christian faith. Organise art exhibitions and stimulate Sinicised creativity.....

....Study in depth the spirit of the 19th National Congress of the Party,....

....By taking the opportunity of 20 years of developing theological thought, organise symposiums or seminars to explain the internal connections between development of theological thought and the Sinicisation of Christianity. Hold commemorative activities such as Sinicised art and cultural shows. Review and conclude the five-year planning work of preaching groups for developing theological thought. Adjust the group's functions, responsibilities and work approach to promotion of the Sinicisation of Christianity.....

....To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, organise art exhibitions such as calligraphy, painting, paper cutting, sculpture, photography, etc., to demonstrate achievements of Sinicisaion of Christianity. Conduct patriotic education, stay in line with people's hopes and be devoted to construction of a great socialist motherland... make patriotism deservedly righteousness for Christians....

....Combine celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Chinese and the Union version of the Bible by organising related commemorative activities and seminars for promoting Sinicised biblical interpretation. Recruit Chinese Christians to annotate the Bible so as to provide basic theological support for advancing the Sinicisation of Christianity....

....defend against foreign infiltration in the new era....            [that’s me!]

....Hold special performances of Chinese original sacred music, hymns and paeans; start work on compiling and publishing Sinicised hymn books to further blend Christian and excellent Chinese traditional culture and advanced socialist culture....

....To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, launch educational activities on the theme of realising the core values of socialism.... 

....propagate through preaching groups and other activities so the majority of believers inherit the excellent traditions of their predecessors' love of the country and the church and promote the conscious recognition of the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party of China and the road of socialism....

That’s enough of that. None of this is the role of the church. Basically, the church is being told to put the state first. Christians are told they must worship the flag more than God. That’s why people are leaving the registered church and heading back to the underground churches again.

Oh yes, and Bibles are no longer allowed to be sold online, they’re only to be sold from official church premises.

What would you do in a society where this is happening? The U.K. is not far off from this. We are almost being compulsorily forced to adhere to “British values,” which would today include acceptance of practices we cannot approve of. For example, if we’re ever forced as a church to conduct a same-sex marriage, there’s only one option:

2 Corinthians 6:17

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

Should we love our country? Well, we should certainly obey it in all things lawful. But, apart from that, Christ said:

Matthew 10:37

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

I then came across the following statement which has been signed by over 300 pastors and elders of underground congregations (as of Sept 4th 2018). I think this is rather good:

A Joint Statement by Pastors: A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith

We are a group of Chinese Christians, chosen by the Most High God to be His humble servants, serving as pastors for Christian churches throughout various towns and cities.

We believe and are obligated to teach the world that the one true and living Triune God is the Creator of the universe, of the world, and of all people. All men should worship God and not any man or thing. We believe and are obligated to teach the world that all men, from national leaders to beggars and prisoners, have sinned. They will die once and then be judged in righteousness. Apart from the grace and redemption of God, all men would eternally perish. We believe and are obligated to teach the world that the crucified and risen Jesus is the only Head of the global church, the sole Saviour of all mankind, and the everlasting Ruler and supreme Judge of the universe. To all who repent and believe in Him, God will give eternal life and an eternal Kingdom. 

In September, 2017, the State Council issued the new “Regulations on the Administration of Religious Affairs” and began implementing these regulations in February, 2018.  Ever since then, Christian churches across China have suffered varying degrees of persecution, contempt, and misunderstanding from government departments during public worship and religious practices, including various administrative measures that attempt to alter and distort the Christian faith. Some of these violent actions are unprecedented since the end of the Cultural Revolution. These include demolishing crosses on church buildings, violently removing expressions of faith like crosses and couplets hanging on Christians’ homes, forcing and threatening churches to join religious organisations controlled by the government, forcing churches to hang the national flag or to sing secular songs praising the State and political parties, banning the children of Christians from entering churches and receiving religious education, and depriving churches and believers of the right to gather freely.

We believe that these unjust actions are an abuse of government power and have led to serious conflicts between political and religious parties in Chinese society. These actions infringe on the human freedoms of religion and conscience and violate the universal rule of law. We are obligated to announce bad news to the authorities and to all of society: God hates all attempts to suppress human souls and all acts of persecution against the Christian church, and he will condemn and judge them with righteous judgment.

But we are even more obligated to proclaim good news to the authorities and to all of society: Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, the Saviour and King of mankind, in order to save us sinners was killed, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God, destroying the power of sin and death. In His love and compassion God has prepared forgiveness and salvation for all who are willing to believe in Jesus, including Chinese people. At any time, anyone can repent from any sin, turn to Christ, fear God, obtain eternal life, and bring great blessing from God upon his family and country.

For the sake of faith and conscience, for the spiritual benefits of the authorities in China and of society as a whole, and ultimately for the glory, holiness, and righteousness of God, we make the following declaration to the Chinese government and to all of society:

1. Christian churches in China believe unconditionally that the Bible is the Word and Revelation of God. It is the source and final authority of all righteousness, ethics, and salvation. If the will of any political party, the laws of any government, or the commands of any man directly violate the teachings of the Bible, harming men’s souls and opposing the gospel proclaimed by the church, we are obligated to obey God rather than men, and we are obligated to teach all members of the church to do the same 

2. Christian churches in China are eager and determined to walk the path of the cross of Christ and are more than willing to imitate the older generation of saints who suffered and were martyred for their faith. We are willing and obligated under any circumstance to face all government persecution, misunderstanding, and violence with peace, patience, and compassion. For when churches refuse to obey evil laws, it does not stem from any political agenda; it does not stem from resentment or hostility; it stems only from the demands of the gospel and from a love for Chinese society.

3. Christian churches in China are willing to obey authorities in China whom God has appointed and to respect the government's authority to govern society and human conduct. We believe and are obligated to teach all believers in the church that the authority of the government is from God and that as long as the government does not overstep the boundaries of secular power laid out in the Bible and does not interfere with or violate anything related to faith or the soul, Christians are obligated to respect the authorities, to pray fervently for their benefit, and to pray earnestly for Chinese society. For the sake of the gospel, we are willing to suffer all external losses brought about by unfair law enforcement. Out of a love for our fellow citizens, we are willing to give up all of our earthly rights 

4. For this reason, we believe and are obligated to teach all believers that all true churches in China that belong to Christ must hold to the principle of the separation of church and state and must proclaim Christ as the sole head of the church. We declare that in matters of external conduct, churches are willing to accept lawful oversight by civil administration or other government departments as other social organisations do. But under no circumstances will we lead our churches to join a religious organisation controlled by the government, to register with the religious administration department, or to accept any kind of affiliation. We also will not accept any “ban” or “fine” imposed on our churches due to our faith. For the sake of the gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses—even the loss of our freedom and our lives 

Of the over 300 signatories, five were from churches in the city we’ve been living in for the last five years, although I’ve never heard of any of them. That’s the problem. They can’t advertise their presence because the authorities will find them. But that means we can’t find them either 

Please pray for the Christians in China, the leaders of the TSPM church and the leaders of the state. All Christians want is to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”

1 Timothy 2:1-2

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty

And pray for the same in the U.K. as well.