The Head of Perdue University’s Sociology Department and a personal friend Dr Fenggang Yang wrote a book entitled Religion in China; Survival & Revival Under Communist Rule. In it he artfully discusses the role religion is playing and has played in Chinese society, especially under the Communist regime. He points out that China has played with several different kinds of approaches to atheism. From militant Atheism, to enlightenment atheism to mild atheism (p 43), since 1949 China’s official policy has fluctuated between these different forms of atheism. Currently under Xi Jingping the pendulum seems to be swinging toward a more militant form of atheism.
Whatever the case has been one crucial fact needs to be emphasize. None of these forms of atheism is compatible or capable of peacefully co-existing with Christianity or perhaps any religion. The reason is simple. For Karl Marx and those who followed his “enlightened theories”, the eradication of religion was the end goal, the summum bonum, if you will. If communism and socialism were working effectively, the natural result would be for people to realize that religion (seen more as superstition) would fade away and be relegated to the footnotes of the pages of history.
This is one very simple reason why I personally believe the Three-Self Church in China is not a legitimate church. Most arguments in support of the Three-Self Church center around the people or individual congregations. Most of the people who worship in Three-Self Churches are sincere, lovers or God. This much I do not doubt. Are these individuals saved? I am quite certain they are. The question of the legitimacy of the Three-Self Church has more to do, however, with whether or not a regime that has as its end goal the eradication of religion can effectively lay claim to being the guardians of the body of Christ in China. More to the point, can they legitimately claim to be, as they do claim, the head of the church.
This is actually a key motivating factor in Pastor Wang Yi’s criticism of the government and of Xi in particular. I have known Wang Yi for 8 years and consider him a close friend. Those who are unfamiliar with him and his teaching often misunderstand his rhetoric and what he is trying to achieve. His critiques are not an effort to topple or overthrow the current regime. They are simply pointing out this fact. The people of God inside China and outside of China need to recognize that Communism can not peacefully co-exist with Christianity as long as the end goal of this or any other regime is to heavy-handedly control and eventually snuff out religion. Peaceful words have their time and place but let’s also not forget that John the Baptist called out Herod’s sin (Matt 14:3-4) and Jesus spoke strong words against the Pharisees in ways that aggravated them (Matt 15:10-12). Should Christians in China always be expected to not rock the boat? In an environment like China which is so inhospitable towards Christians someone needs to speak up. Some have and they stand on the shoulders of spiritual giants.