From the China Partnership: On August 30, 2015, Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu published their own version of Luther’s 95 theses in an attempt to reaffirm the Chinese house church’s position on faith before government and society at large, and with a fearful but humble heart, defend the church. This document is a bold statement reflecting the maturity of the Chinese unregistered church. It argues the church’s theological position thoroughly; with the doctrine of creation as its starting point, it places the gospel and God’s salvation plan at the center of the church’s call. These 95 theses are not simply to lay out the state-church relationship, but one of many steps within the reformed Chinese house church towards a sound doctrine of the Church which can in turn form the foundation for understanding the state-church relationship.
On August 8, 1955, Wang Ming Dao, one of China’s most influential house church leaders, was arrested along with his wife and coworkers after publishing an article a few months earlier publicly declaring why they refused to join the Three-Self Church. Ever since that point, the Chinese unregistered house church has faced different levels of persecution and has sought to defend the legitimacy of the church as it refuses to come under direct supervision of the government. This document was written in response to the sixtieth anniversary of Wang Ming Dao’s arrest and as an attempt to lift high the cross of Christ in Chinese society in a time and age when church and state relationships potentially face future tumult.
You can view and read the original document from Early Rain Reformed Church here. We have translated these 95 theses with the desire to increase the global church’s ability to hear, listen to, and learn from the Chinese house church, as well as to request prayer for the Chinese house church to have courage, perseverance, humility, and wisdom in the days ahead. We stand with our brothers and sisters in prayer.
Out of our obedience to Christ, with our hope to be loyal to the whole family of God, and firm commitment in His leadership; the pastors and elders of our church, based on our confessional faith in the Biblical truths, and our never-ending endeavor in seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we have resolved to publish "The Reaffirmation of Our Stance on the House Church" and the following Ninety-Five Theses summary statements. We welcome any believers who have openly confessed their faith in Jesus Christ as humanity’s and their personal Savior, to offer their written critical opinions. Our church is also willing, independently or jointly with other churches in our Lord Christ Jesus that accept our public theses, using this official publication as the basis, to offer ourselves to have open and peaceful dialogue with any level of Chinese government and its agencies, at any time, place, and method that they deem appropriate.
Theses 1-17: God’s Sovereignty and Biblical Authority. Theses 18-31: God’s Law and Christ’s Redemption. Theses 32-39: Against the "Sinicization of Christianity." Theses 40-44: Church as the Body of Christ and His Kingdom. Theses 45-72: The Relationship between Two Kingdoms and the Separation of Church and State. Theses 73-95: Against the "Three-Self Movement" and Affirmation of the Great Commission.
God’s Sovereignty and Biblical Authority
1. The Bible says, "…yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist" (1 Corinthians 8:6a). This means that even for the Chinese, this God is the only God; the domain, history, culture, and everything else of China, are all created, granted, administered, and superintended by this one true God of the universe.
2. The Bible again says, "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). It is saying that the only Son of God, begotten from all eternity past, incarnate into this world, taking on the body of a fallen man, as Jesus Christ, He is the only Savior and Lord of all Chinese lives.
3. When the Bible says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27), this means every Chinese is created in God’s image, including the variety of people groups within China, just like all the people groups around the world, we are all descendants of Adam, our first ancestor.
4. In the depths of our souls there is the image of God; thus all Chinese people, like all the peoples of the world, are all equal in the divine values of personhood, dignity, justice, and love.
5. Therefore in our nature, all humans are personally governed by God. Individuals cannot enslave and humiliate each other. Also, without God’s specific authorization and approval, an individual cannot be governed by another person.
6. When the Bible says, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1), this means that all the authorities that exist in Chinese society, no matter if it is within a family, social institution, or government, ultimately originated from God. All government officials, including the ones on the lowest levels, in their nature are all God’s "appointees."
7. Therefore, the only legitimate reason why any person should respect and be obedient to the laws, or why any lower level officials, members of institutions, or families should also respect and be obedient to a higher authoritative order is because these are all God’s institutions, His orders, and His delights.
8. Therefore, in the ultimate meaning and personal conscience, every person, especially he or she who holds any kind of authority, must be held responsible for his or her actions towards the "the Living God" (Hebrews 10:31), and at the end submit to His righteous judgment.
9. Only God (and His words) is Lord over a person’s conscience. Any man-made and worldly laws, mandates, or opinions cannot exempt the moral responsibilities of a man's conscience before the "God Most High" (Genesis 14:19).
10. Because of this, every person can have and enjoy the freedoms and responsibilities of his conscience. Every person should use his conscience to examine and judge all the authorities, ideas, and mandates from the state, social institutions, or families, based on God and His words.
11. Only when a person’s conscience is in obedience towards God and His words, "doing the will of God from the heart" (Ephesians 6:6), can this person’s obedience towards others and respect for the law be viewed as equivalent to obedience and respect to God, and not submission to human authorities. Because they are "rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6:7).
12. When the Bible says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), this means that only the Bible is God’s inerrant word; it is the only standard of teaching through which all Chinese people may come to know God’s will and mandate.
13. This means that once we turn away from the Bible, ultimately we cannot judge anything to be right or wrong, good or evil; we cannot make a right judgment of conscience on any extra-biblical, secondary, and worldly authorities and standards. Also, we will not be able to determine whether our obedience to those in power and worldly authorities is done in obedience to God and thus enjoys His delights, or whether we give up our personhood and dignity by being enslaved into submission.
14. Once we depart from the Bible, and act according to the extra-Biblical standards and authorities, then it is like what Martin Luther, a servant of God, once said that our conscience will neither be moral nor secure.
15. All Chinese people, whether they believe or do not believe in God, in their hearts have an ultimate standard of morality and values, even though these values can be blurred, in error, or ever changing. We are always using these highest standards to measure whether things are right or wrong, good or evil, and to teach and evaluate the actions of ourselves and others.
16. If any Chinese, or any Chinese worldly authorities and powers, should force extra-Biblical standards, ideals, or mandates on others, or forbid anybody's conscience from using the Bible as the highest standard to evaluate other worldly standards, ideals, and mandates, or force the people to unreservedly believe and blindly obey them, these are the works of destruction towards a person’s reason and conscience, and an attack on God’s sovereignty over a person’s conscience.
17. Anybody who willingly believes and submits to standards, ideals, or mandates that are anti-Biblical, they have really betrayed the true freedom that is in their conscience, and are living a life of slavery and hostility toward God. They may not be in realization of this, or even if some have already begun to realize this reality, they have become accustomed to using all kinds of methods to suppress their own soul’s distress.
God’s Law and Christ’s Redemption
18. To spare us from these distresses, God personally intervened in the history of ancient Israel, and through it saved the Israelites from slavery under the Egyptians, and through His chosen leader Moses, God made a covenant with His people, gave them His Laws, which are now known as the "Ten Commandments," so that the Israelites may know God’s Justice and Holy Will, and also know the sins that distress their conscience.
19. The First Commandment says, "You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Just like a bride can only have one husband, the soul can only have one king, and the Church can only have one Head.
20. Therefore, whoever wishes to be king of our lives, using their own will to replace God’s will, or asks for unconditional obedience, worship, and praise – regardless if it is our spouse, parents, children, or a nation's government or political party, regardless if the methods are through tears or through swords – these kinds of impositions of wills and demands are in their substance religious. They are really seeking to be the family’s, the institution's, or the nation's "god." They are seeking the highest allegiance and obedience of a people's conscience.
21. These kinds of demands and impositions of wills are morally evil. It is antagonistic to God and to humanity. Those who are in submission to them are also committing evil and acts of idolatry.
22. The rest of the Ten Commandments are all based on the principle of the First Commandment. Just like Jesus once said, "And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets’" (Matthew 22:37-40).
23. Just like another passage of the Bible says, "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5). However, nobody, including the Chinese, can rely on themselves to have "a pure heart and a good conscience," and cannot birth in themselves "a sincere faith." Nobody can rely on himself to fully be in compliance to God’s mandate for love, regardless of the kind of painstaking and godly religious life one may live, it is not possible.
24. Because ever since man's first ancestor, Adam (and Eve), disobeyed the covenant (Hosea 6:7), "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), this means that from ancient China till today’s China, we have not one righteous person, because no one person has not been totally depraved in his nature, therefore no one can save himself.
25. The hope for the Chinese is the same for people of all nations - it is in God alone. Not only through the Covenant of Law, "since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20b), but God personally prepared the Covenant of Redemption for His chosen people, through the suffering of the Messiah (Isaiah 53), forgiving the sins of all the people that believes in Him (John 3:15). Also, God will pour out His grace, so those who have been chosen to be born-again in the Spirit (John 3:3), may believe in the Messiah and His works of salvation.
26. Around two thousand years ago in the land of Judah and the city of Bethlehem, Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, was the Christ (Messiah). The Bible declares that this Jesus "and the Father are one" (John 10:30), that He is with God, and that He is God (John 1:1).
27. The Bible has prophesized that all the nations have been waiting for this Savior to come, "that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations" (Psalms 67:2). It has also prophesized that Christ will be the King that rules the nations (Psalms 47:8), for "… he rules over the nations" (Psalms 22:28b). Since it says "the nations," it clearly includes both ancient and modern China.
28. The prophets of the Old Testament prophesized that this Christ will use an amazing way, which means a way that is completely opposite to the ways of the authorities of this world, to save sinners from the powers of this world, flesh, and death. "He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
29. The series of prophecies regarding the Messiah are all fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is the Holy and sinless God, and also the mediator of God’s chosen people and a representative of sinners. He was judged by the worldly authorities, suffered, and nailed to a cross under the Roman Empire, was buried, and entered Hades. On the third day, through the power of God, He resurrected from His death.
30. This core message of the Christian faith is called the Gospel. The Gospel is not just about repairing an individual’s relationship with God through Christ’s sacrifice. It is also about the coming of God’s Kingdom, so all the kings of the land, all the nations and their peoples have been ordered to submit to this Gospel, and this includes China.
31. Just like the Apostle Paul said, "In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16), and also said, "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31). The terms "nations" and "peoples" include China and the Chinese people.
Against the "Sinicization of Christianity"
32. God has used the Chinese culture and the wisdom of ancient Chinese in the past, to reveal His existence to us, because through creation we can see His eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). As the Bible says, it is because of God’s merciful love for our benefit, "He did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17). God has also, through the Chinese culture’s quest for charity, justice, truth, and morality, revealed to us what was written in, or whatever is left of, the use of the Law in our conscience (Romans 2:15).
33. However, God does not discriminate (Romans 2:14), and He did not offer a path of salvation outside of Christ within Chinese history and culture. For all Chinese are like the lawless gentiles, "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Romans 1:21).
34. Not only so, but the Chinese for a very long time, rather than living a life of worshiping the true God, have been living in an evil culture of idolatry, which worships autocracy and prostrates before the Emperor. The philosophical teachings of "no ultimate truths, only virtues" have resulted in a moral self-righteousness. These three cultural norms have been binding the hearts of the Chinese and our institutions up until now.
35. Therefore, we are like all peoples of the world, who are directly accused by the Bible: "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (Romans 1:28-32).
36. Therefore, anyone who on the fundamentals of theology, Biblical theology, and the doctrine of Church, advocates or requires any type of "Sinicization of Christianity," is rejecting Jesus Christ and is antagonistic towards Christianity. It is an act of anti-Christianity, and will fall under the righteous curse and judgment of God.
37. These campaigns or requirements of the "Sinicization of Christianity" include believing that the traditional Chinese culture or religions contain ways to worship the unique one true God revealed in the Bible or ways of redemption similar or even equivalent to that of the redemption of Jesus Christ; proclaiming that traditional Chinese culture and religions include some unique revelations about redemption outside of God and the Bible; proclaiming that the fundamental teachings of the catholic Church must and need to be assimilated with traditional Chinese culture or modern Chinese society and political structures; teaching a type of "Universal Doctrine of Christ" that denies the historical Jesus and affirms that Chinese traditions have implicit teachings about the redemptive saving ways of Christ; and teaching "Justification by Love" or all such teachings that seeks assimilation with traditional Chinese moralistic teachings, and weakens or even denies the necessity of Christ’s atonement on the cross.
38. The Church needs to oppose the "Sinicization of Christianity," that is opposing the use of culture to alter the Gospel, the use of politics to bind the faith, the use of Chinese tradition that is antagonistic towards God to destroy the faithful traditions of God’s catholic Church.
39. This does not include actions that the Church took, while proclaiming the Gospel in accordance to the truths of God, to respect the Chinese culture and traditions, or to willingly accept the limitations of existing culture, either by churches and individuals, for the benefits of such causes. As the apostle Paul says, all these for the sake of the Gospel, "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22b).
Church as the Body of Christ and His Kingdom
40. The Christ who was resurrected from the cross personally chose the Apostles, with our Father God poured down the Spirit (John 14:26), and established the Church (Matthew 16:18). Christ, using His own precious blood, established a new covenant with the Church. This Church is not limited to the biological race of Israelites, but is made of all peoples who publicly confess their faith and are baptized, including Chinese believers. As the Bible says, "…Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9).
41. The Bible proclaims that the resurrected Christ has been given all of the authority in God’s created world and the entire universe "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church" (Ephesians 1:21-22). The Lord says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18).
42. Since it says, "all things are under his feet," therefore China is also under Christ’s feet. Since it says, "all rule and authority and power and dominion," therefore the authority given to Lord Jesus includes the authorities of the Chinese government and its society.
43. This means, regardless of how many Christians are in China, regardless of what kind of political platform China adapts, regardless of the attitudes of the Chinese government or any other societal authorities towards the Gospel, Chinese society is under the sovereignty of Christ. The spiritual reality is that the resurrected Christ, not any rulers, or political parties, or cultures, or wealth, is the One ruling and administering this nation’s history and the hearts of its citizens.
44. Also, the Bible calls the Church that "which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:23). Therefore, although the Church of Christ is spread out among nations, it does not belong to any nation. The Church is a kingdom that the eyes cannot see, whose members are loyal to the sovereignty of Christ. Even though the nations see the Church as a religious institution, the relationship between the Church and State, in its nature, is a two-kingdom relationship.
The Relationship between Two Kingdoms and the Separation of Church and State
45. In church history, the relationship between these two kingdoms is the relationship between the "City of God" and the "City of Man," or sometimes referred to as the relationship between the Spiritual Kingdom and Earthly Kingdom, or the relationship of an eschatological Kingdom of the "Already-and-Not-Yet" of the coming age, versus the kingdom of this age also known as "today’s world that will ultimately be destroyed.”
46. Before our Lord Jesus was crucified on the cross, He proclaimed to the Roman governor that was judging Him and said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). This shows that the Kingdom of Christ is higher than any nations on earth, and also shows that the Kingdom of Christ, before the Judgment Day arrives, will temporarily not use any forceful or military action to enforce its rule on this world. Rather, it uses great love and acceptance, to allow the political powers of this world to exercise the power of the sword.
47. Christ, as the sovereign King of all the earth, through the spreading of the Gospel by the Church and the actions of believers in accordance to their renewed faith and conscience, revealed the reality and power of His rule. When the Roman governor asked Jesus, "Are you the King?" our Lord Jesus in His answer once again talked about the authority of His spiritual Kingdom, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37).
48. Because of this, when the Chinese political authorities ask the Church, is Christ your King? Is our faith antagonistic to the government or seeking to influence the political landscape? We will also give three answers:
49. First, we will answer, God’s Kingdom is already here in China, it cannot be denied by the power of the sword, because His Kingdom is brought forth by the only begotten Son of God, our savior Lord Jesus Christ, who brought forth this Kingdom on the cross through His own death under the power of the sword. Genocides and persecutions can only cause this Kingdom to make even more gains in China, because the cross is the mystery of the Church and the Gospel. Since the Church is the body of Christ, every time the True Church is persecuted, it will bring forth the power of resurrection.
50. Second, we will answer, the Church in China does not belong to the Republic of China of the past, nor does it belong to the People’s Republic of China of the present, and it will not belong to any other political powers in the future. The Church in its nature will be obedient to any authority of the sword granted to the government; we do not seek to rebel against existing governments, nor do we seek special executive privileges or any other governmental enforcement to help us gain influence in society. For God has given this authority of the "sword" to the government (Romans 13:4), and not to the Church. "Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed" (Romans 13:2a).
51. But this does not mean that individual believers, when confronted with violence or illegal infringements from the government or other individuals, are stripped of what God and the laws have granted them, including the rights of regular citizens to use any and all legal means to express their protest, opposition, and exercise proper self-defense. The Church does not require its members, under any circumstances, to give up their right to protest or self-defense against any illegal infringements.
52. Although, through faith one may give up any physical resistance and protest, which delights God and is consistent with what the Lord has done. But this kind of choice can only be said to have the virtue of godliness when it comes out of an individual’s own faith and conscience.
53. Third, we will also answer, just as the government has been granted the authority of the "sword," to help humanity maintain order in society; the Church has also been granted the Great Commission, especially to be a testimony of the Truth, calling out those who belong to the Truth to listen to the teachings of the Lord Jesus, leave their idols, and only worship the One True God.
54. As we have said earlier, if the Church resists the authority of the "sword" from the government and usurps the authority and power of enforcement, it is disobeying God. In the same way, if the government or any social institutions or individuals, use administrative powers to deny the Church’s Great Commission to spread the Gospel, worship, or any other spiritual authorities, they are also disobeying God. The Church has a duty to either privately or publicly rebuke, criticize, and clearly speak up against the fearful consequences of these sins, and also to use the passionate love of Christ to call them to repentance.
55. The Bible teaches that Christ gave the Church this spiritual authority called "The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven." Christ said to His Church, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19).
56. Not only so, but Christ also commands His Church to go, proclaim His Gospel, saying, "You will be my witnesses… to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). After Jesus resurrected, but before His ascension to Heaven, He came to the apostles and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).
57. This indicates that, on this earth, there are no nations who have the proper authority to stop the Church from legitimately using Biblical methods to spread the Gospel, or stop the Church from sending evangelists into different locations to hold worship or missional gatherings. Other than reasons of social order or administration of public good, and the requirements of general and fair limitations to all citizens, the Church should not be discriminated, monitored, or limited solely for religious reasons. For the Church’s freedom of religion to proclaim the Gospel and worship our God is given to us by Christ Himself. Any infringement or stripping of such freedom are evil acts of the antichrist, and will not be spared from the fury of hell fire and God’s righteous anger.
58. This indicates that the Church also does not have any powers, nor can she use submission to extra-Biblical and worldly laws, ideas, or orders, as an excuse to give up or weaken the Great Commission, or to hand over this ministry that concerns the souls of humanity and the glory of eternal consummation to the controls or management of the government, institutions, or individuals.
59. By saying the Great Commission cannot be weakened, this means that all peoples, places, social groups, sexes, classes, and cultures, should have the Gospel of Christ proclaimed to them, and to establish the Church of Christ and to worship the only True God. The Church cannot accept any person's or any authority's discriminatory limits or prohibitions against the Great Commission and the Church's evangelism for all people, ages, or political domain.
60. This does not include that the Church, in a specific society or culture, must accept the reality of environmental limitations such as transportation, safety, or any other structural or technological limits on the ministry of missions. When such historical conditions cannot support the Church to expand on a greater scope, to provide avenues of greater methods or better results for the Great Commission, the Church should have great restraint and at the same time earnestly pray, wait, and work towards the betterment of historical conditions.
61. Under any circumstances, if the Church actively, publicly weakens this Commission in cooperation with the local government or social culture to strip itself of the divine ministries of Gospel evangelism and public worship, or due to the pressures of secular authorities, it limits or discriminates or self-censures the works of the Great Commission, then the Church openly betrays our Lord, betraying what Christ has commissioned the Church, and blasphemes the glorious role of "…stewards of the mysteries of God" (1Corinthians 4:1).
62. In the two thousand some years of Church and world history, the relationship of the two kingdoms, in which the Church holds the power of "the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven" and the government holds the "sword," is commonly called the principle of "Separation of Church and State," or the dichotomy of Church and State.
63. The Bible has recorded that our Lord Jesus, while answering the Jewish question whether or not to pay taxes to the Roman government, said, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). This means that, first, in this fallen world there are still certain things that Christ would call "things that are God's." So in today’s China there are in existence "things of God's." This is the hope of humanity, and this is the hope of China.
64. Second, Christ has proclaimed that "the things of God's" are not the same as "Caesar’s things." Also, God’s things are above Caesar’s things. For God’s things do not belong in the sphere of Caesar’s rule and power. This question and answer happened before Christ was crucified on the cross. Christ had not yet resurrected from the dead, had not yet been given glory and powers, but He still asked to give "things of God" directly and only to God, and not to Caesar.
65. Third, when Christ points to a silver coin and says this, He is also proclaiming that "God’s things" and "Caesar’s things" are overlapping or co-existing. So even on a silver coin, it is at the same time God’s thing and Caesar’s thing. Caesar’s things are external, but God’s things are internal. Caesar’s things are money and personal interests, and God’s things are souls and worship.
66. At this point, Christ has separated two powers – although both of these powers ultimately are derived from His authority. One is "the power of the sword." It is what God has granted to governments. The purpose is that people can administer to all things related to money and personal interests, and be responsible to protect and encourage good behaviors and punish wrongdoings, for God’s own glory and the public good. Even if the government abuses this power, causing the Church and believers to suffer many external losses in their rights, but if they are only being hurt in their bodies and in personal interest, then the Church may fight and make legal appeals for its own interests, but it does not deny that the Church and its members still have the responsibility to obey the government, because these are not matters of "things of God."
67. But there is another power of "the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven," and it is granted by God only to the Church. Thus all that is required of a person’s worship, faith, and things of conscience, these are what Christ calls "things of God." The Church is the community that retains God’s things, and we are called "as servants of Christ" (1Corinthians 4:1). These things of God are the hope of all societies and peoples, including the Chinese society and all the individuals in it.
68. No governments or social institutions have the power to manage or judge a person’s conscience, faith, and religion. Worldly power is limited to managing and protecting a person’s outer body, properties, and public goods and orders. In any definition, the Christian faith is not the affairs of any national government. No government agencies or its associates have the rights to interfere, monitor, or direct the Church’s doctrines, officers, or any Gospel-related ministries. Also it cannot take away or limit the Church’s rights to preaching and sacraments.
69. Although things of the world and things of God are hard to distinguish because they sometimes overlap, based on the freedom of conscience in Christ, the Church can accept any possible external loss of its interests. When it is necessary and for the sake of the Gospel, we encourage believers to have faith and courage to even accept the loss of life. For external loss and humiliation is the true meaning of the cross. As Christ once said, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39).
70. The mystery of the Gospel is based on Christ’s death and resurrection. It turns this fallen world’s principles on its head, the principles that make external, material, military might the highest power. Humanity’s fallen and sinful state made us indulge in these bodily and lustful powers; we cannot help ourselves. Only Christ’s atonement, can destroy the power of death, forgive the sins of those who believe in Him, and give them freedom and life.
71. Therefore, the theology of the Gospel is the theology of the cross. The nation of the Gospel is the nation of the cross. In any age, any political realm, the cross has always been the message of the Church, and the cross must be the method by which the Church preaches this message.
72. Regardless of circumstances, the Church will always rely on the grace of our Lord, remain faithful to the end, and will not give up the power of the "Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven," or offer it to any temporary political or economic power, or in complicity with any political power, to confuse God’s things with Caesar’s things. Otherwise, the Church not only offends and betrays our Lord, but she has also sold-out humanity’s souls and any hope left in the Chinese society.
Against the "Three-Self Movement" and Affirmation of the Great Commission
73. Regarding the power of "the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven," all the apostles have taught us, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Because of this, we are against the churches and their officers and their behaviors in China, which are listed below, and we have to view their behavior as shameful apostasy.
74. This includes: any means of accepting the government's and atheistic political party’s political censoring, credential examination, monitoring, testing, training, registering, and financial contribution to any church officers; church officers who are simultaneously working for the government, political party, or political agencies; or the churches who ordain those that are working in the government, political party, or political agencies as officers; organizing, joining, and proclaiming on behalf of the government, political party, or political agencies in their political propagandas, agendas, even proclaiming them in the church, implementing any political movements in the church; accepting the government’s, political party’s, or political agencies’ limitations on age, location, methods, numbers, and content in the ministries of the Gospel, public worship, and administration of the sacraments; in the foremost ministry of the preaching of the Word, accepting the government’s, political party’s, political agencies’ requirements or pressure, which results in the altering, weakening, or self-censoring of the Gospel message; calling to deny Biblical authority or publicly accepting the acts of heresies; working with or even joining in persecution of members of the True Church that upholds the faith of the Gospel; working with or joining in the slandering, accusations, and persecutions of any missionaries in China or universal missional movements; openly holding idolatrous worship gatherings or ceremonies in churches, such as the raising of the national flag, singing of Communist Revolutionary songs or secular music, public reading of political leader’s statements, etc.
75. Those who have been or continue to betray the Church’s power of the keys of kingdom of heaven, confuse Caesar’s things with God’s things, join with the persecution of the True Church, and those churches and officers that compromise the Gospel and its faith should seek God’s mercy to give them a faithful heart to overcome this world, repent, and return onto our Lord; perhaps the Lord will have unfathomable grace, retract His anger, and still give grace to His people, and enable them to be covered in the precious blood of Christ, faithful to the end, and win the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
76. We believe that the "Three-Self Patriotic Movement," which has lasted for more than half-a-century in China, is a result of some churches’ active or passive cooperation with an atheistic government; it is a movement of the Antichrist. Because it seeks to split the catholic faith and the catholic Church, denies that there is a kingdom of Christ that is higher than the nations of the earth, and attempts to create a "Nationalistic Church" that depends on the political powers. This is a scheme of Satan for the destruction of Christ’s Church in China, and turns true faith into a fake religion.
77. But the Lord’s will is good (Genesis 50:20), and through more than half-a-century’s political persecution and divisions in the Church in China, it has resulted in the rise, fulfillment, and protection of the Chinese House Church, and on three facets listed below, they remain faithful to the Gospel and the way of the cross.
78. First, upholding Biblical inerrancy as the highest standard for the whole life of the church and believers, and as the judgment of all things. Second, firmly upholding "Christ is the Church’s only Ruler," we refuse any atheistic government’s attempted leadership or interference in our Gospel and Truth ministries. Third, based on the principle of "Separation of Church and State," we uphold that the dichotomy of the Church’s power of the heavenly keys and the government’s power of the sword are co-existent. In the realm of government we submit to the rulers, but in the realm of the Spirit we uphold freedom of conscience.
79. We believe that such religious agencies as the "Three-Self Patriotic Agency" and the "Protestant Affairs Agency" are controlled and monopolized by the government. They are administrative agencies that have given themselves to political power, and they are the agents of the Antichrist. These two agencies are "false church," they belong as part of a group of secular national agencies, and they are not part of the Church of Christ our Lord. For the nature of the "Church" cannot be controlled by any rulers or political religious organizations, but rather it is a community of people chosen by God amongst the nations, peoples, and generations, that proclaim and believe in a Spiritual and covenantal kingdom of Christ that cannot be seen (John 18:36).
80. At the same time, even if within the system of "Three-Self Movement," there are only individualistic churches (religious activities centers). There is no independently registered or incorporated "local church." All their churches are under the control of an agency that is evil and faithful only to Caesar’s administration. Only by being part of such an agency can one attain any governmental issued incorporations. The scheme of Satan is precisely to destroy "local churches." Only through taking away local churches’ autonomy and independence can they form a national "false church" and take away the Church’s keys to the kingdom of heaven.
81. We believe that in today’s China, only by completely parting with the "Three-Self" system, completely ending the cooperation in Caesar's conspiracy, solely relying on the Bible and the Lord Jesus’ Great Commission, proclaiming our faith, ordaining officers, re-establishing church properties, recounting the remnants, can we restart building one-by-one a true and independent "local church."
82. The Church must be willing to fight to the death, not for the civil rights and legal statures that we can see, but for the keys to the kingdom of heaven and the power of the Gospel that we cannot see. The Church should never give up her most important asset, it is not church properties, not financial deposits, but what God has given to us, the "mysteries," which is the Holy Word given to us by our Lord, the holy offices, and holy sacraments.
83. Once the Church has corrupted itself in the flesh on the Holy Word, holy offices, and the holy sacraments, depended on earthly powers, submitted to politics, then the Church gives up worship to an idol. The Church has lost her beautiful and glorious nature as Christ’s bride, and that is her holiness; and she will become a whore, and no longer a Church of our Lord.
84. In summary, God, on the one hand, has given the power of the sword to the government (Romans 13:1-13) to administer to worldly affairs and to ensure physical order and peace; on the other hand, God has given the power of the keys of kingdom of heaven to the Church (Matthew 16:19), preaching of the Gospel, administration of sacraments, judging on spiritual affairs, becoming "God’s steward of His mysteries" (1 Corinthians 4:1).
85. This means, on the one hand, the government cannot interfere and make judgment on a citizen’s faith and conscience, and does not have the power to interfere with a Church’s doctrines, offices, worship, and preaching of the Gospel. On the other hand, the Church and her officers have no right to interfere or participate in government operations, no right to take or execute any executive powers.
86. This does not mean that Christian citizens should not be like other citizens that do not believe in religion or believe in any other religions, exercising the right of election, or be an elective, or exercise any other political rights. Christians should not be discriminated or limited because of their faith in examinations, applications to schools, employment, advancements, awards, education, research, public speaking, and service as officials or leadership in any capacity. However, if an officer of the Church starts to serve with the government or take on a government position, then the Church has the right to ask them to give up or resign from their office at the Church; those Christians that partake in the government or take on any political positions, when they are elected to be a church officer, the Church also has the right to ask them to resign and give up their government positions.
87. Therefore, the Church cannot accept an atheistic party’s propaganda ministry or the government’s religious affairs agency interfering with our religious freedom; we cannot accept that above the Church of our Lord Christ there are governmental "administrative ruling departments;" we cannot accept that "religious affairs" constitute part of the functions of government; we cannot accept limits on "self-propagating" on the national level and a scheme on "limited area, limited points, and limited peoples" on the local level; these are nothing more than deception. We cannot accept the so-called political agenda of "religious autonomy."
88. For the real "religious autonomy" is only with Christ as our Lord, and with the Bible as our foundation. Any "autonomy" outside of Christ is a betrayal to the Lord and is from the evil one. The real "Self-propagating, Self-sustaining" truth is that the faithful and unfaithful cannot be yoked together. "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?" (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)
89. In other words, religious affairs will never belong to "China," and it does not belong to any temporary earthly political power; true religion (godliness) belongs to Christ the Lord, belongs to all the land, and belongs to the conscience of all the faithful.
90. In respect to the rulers and obedience to the authorities, the Church is willing and hoping that China will alter its policies to control religious groups. We earnestly pray for the rulers, the leaders of this nation, and all its officials to receive Christ’s grace and forgiveness.
91. Once the Chinese government is willing to give up interference and control over the Church’s doctrines, offices, and proclamation of the Gospel, the Church is happy to accept the government’s role in her external orders and administrative accountabilities, based on public order and the public good, which includes the Church being an independent religious organization and her requirement to register under a department of civil affairs.
92. When the government manages orders and affairs outside of the Church, as long as it does not interfere with the nature of our faith, then the Church will have the responsibility to respect and obey. The Church, serving as a part of society, is also willing to accept any government limitations on technology and material regulations, as long as these limitations do not contradict the Bible and are equally applied to other social institutions, then it is the church’s responsibility to respect and obey.
93. As long as the government maintains the mentality of "Unity of Church and State," continues to consider religious affairs as internal government matters, violently interferes with the Church’s power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and refuses to allow any local church to independently register with any civil affairs departments, the Church must hold firm the above declarations of the House Church, that we will obey any legal, administrative management, and respect the government’s authority of the sword; but on the other hand, with the use of non-violence, maintain our opposition in our conscience, walk in the way of the cross, hold firm to the Church’s sovereignty and freedom of faith, and protect the believer’s freedom of conscience.
94. Also, whether it is in season or out of season, the Church will do her best to proclaim the Gospel (2 Timothy 4:2). For individuals may be bound, but God’s word will not be bound (2 Timothy 2:9); servants may be killed, but the gracious Lord has resurrected.
95. In June of Nineteen Fifty-Five, a patriarch of the Chinese House Church, God’s servant Wang Ming Dao, published a paper titled We are for the Faith. It was his and some Chinese churches’ public declarations on why they refused to join the "Three-Self Movement." On August 8th of the same year in the early morning, Wang Ming Dao and his wife Liu Jin Wen and other coworkers were arrested. Later on, believers and evangelists who followed Mr. Wang Ming Dao's example to hold firm to the ancient Gospel and refuse to join the "Three-Self" were arrested, and the government called them the "Wang Ming Dao Anti-Revolutionary Organization.” This year is Wang Ming Dao’s sixtieth anniversary of his arrest, and "Wang Ming Dao Anti-Revolutionary Organization's" sixtieth anniversary. Up until this day, the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ in China has been under continuous political persecution for sixty years. Because of this, our church decided to publish these ninety-five theses, for the purpose of reaffirming the Chinese House Church’s position on our faith, and before the government and society at large, with a fearful but humble heart, defend the Church.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Early Rain Reformed Church (Chengdu) August 18th, 2015
Image credit: Church chill by Thanakrit Gu via Flickr.