CHINA: Church autonomy, patriotism are supreme principles, Protestant leader says

April 26, 2007

Autonomy and patriotism remain supreme principles for China's government-approved Protestant church in responding to rapid changes in society and protecting Chinese civilization against foreign influences, a Protestant leader has said.

"The 'three-self' principle is an integration of loving Christ and the nation," said Ji Jianhong, chairperson of the national committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, who led a 10-strong delegation for a one-week visit to Japan beginning April 19.

His comment was made during a lecture given as part of a class on Christianity at Kwansei Gakuin University, a Methodist-run institution in the western part of Japan.

During the lecture, Ji emphasized that the "three-self" principles, which include self-governance, self-support and self-propagation, are "the life of the development of the churches that are linked with Chinese culture."

The Protestant churches in China are officially recognized by the government and are in 2007 marking the 200th anniversary of Protestant missionary work in the country. They have about 20 million believers and 50,000 churches, said Ji.

"There is no subordination in the [churches'] relationship with the State," Ji said, asserting that there is religious freedom under Chinese religious laws and regulations as long there is no disturbance of public order. The Roman Catholic Church and other churches that operate unofficial and underground groups known as "house churches," however, contend that religious freedom is seriously curtailed in China.

Asked by a student in the audience about the churches' freedom to allow foreigners to evangelize in China and translating foreign theology books into Chinese, Ji said they belonged to the "future tasks" of the churches in China. "It is possible [to do so] if they are requested by the Three-Self churches."

Asked why Christianity in China is growing rapidly, Ji told Ecumenical News International: "Because Christianity [in China] reflects the national interest, and Christians do good work in bearing witness."

On the question of what young people are seeking from Christianity in a rapidly growing economy which is widening the urban-rural gap in China, Ji said, "The number of young people in the churches is growing more than ever, because they are seeking something spiritual rather than their material satisfaction."

The Protestant churches in China are united and jointly run by his committee and the China Christian Council. They describe themselves as "post-denominational."

Chinese church website