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Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body… So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Hebrews 13:3, 6 (ESV)
As we approach Reformation Day 2019, I want to remind my friends, readers, and virtually anyone I possibly can of the historical context leading up to October 31, 1517, as well as the factors finally in place that didn’t exist at the time of “pre-reformers” like John Wycliffe or Jan Huss.
And, in the next breath, it is my plea that my brothers and sisters in Christ would realize that the Reformation has not ended, that it extends beyond the walls of Western civilization, and that other saints in the world today are struggling under oppression not unlike that of the sacralist government of the Roman Catholic Church in the days of the martyrs of ages past.
One of the greatest factors that allowed the Reformation to catch fire is, of course, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press which eventually led to the ability to mass-produce and quickly disseminate copies of the Holy Bible in languages readable to any literate commoner, not just the Latin Vulgate housed safe from the plowboy’s hands in the church.
Yesterday, while shopping around for bible stock photography for a social media graphic, I happened to see a beautiful goldenrod TruTone compact ESV. I zoomed in on the ISBN stamped into the back cover’s imitation leather, found it at ChristianBook.com for $8 (Amazon had it for like $85, hilariously enough,) and bought it.
Behind me at my desk, I have ten bibles, including one passed down by my husband’s grandmother, my husband’s first bible (which survived a devastating house fire and is held together with duct tape,) a massive antique Parallel bible that I snagged from a thrift store, and a growing collection of Crossway’s gorgeous ESV Illuminated Scripture Journals.
Upstairs, my boys are sleeping amongst a pile of books that didn’t have to be approved by any agent of the State or Church, including Phil Vischer’s new Laugh And Learn Bible for Kids (holy buckets y’all, it’s 50% off at Christian Books,) The Ology, and a stack of R.C. Sproul’s beautifully parabolic children’s books.
No, this is not a humble brag of how Truly Reformed™ I am. This is to illustrate the incredible ease that even a lower-middle class, nominally educated, covered in sticky toddlers mother has in accessing God’s Word in America today. When William Tyndale spoke of the proverbial plowboy who he would cause to know more of Scripture than priests or the Pope, I like to think he had mothers like me (who, back in his day, were almost invariably illiterate) in mind as well.
Now, in stark contrast, let’s consider the lower-middle class, somewhat educated, covered by the one sticky child she was allowed to have (two, if she or her husband were only children themselves) mother over in China. Not in the 1500s, but today, October 29, 2019. What does access to God’s Word look like for this woman?
While sources like The Bible Society rejoice that the Bible, once a banned book in China, is now accessible to virtually any Chinese citizen, the reality, from where I’m standing anyway, seems to paint a different picture.
Churches, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, as well as Muslim mosques, are still being burned down and demolished in China today. Their members beaten, imprisoned, or worse.
According to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List:
The management of religious affairs in China lies with the Communist Party now, not just with the government. And Christians are intensely and increasingly feeling this shift and fear of Christian persecution. Since the Communist Party took over, the implementation of the regulations on religion, the treatment of religious groups, especially Christians, became much harsher across the country. Crackdowns against Christians happen countrywide and in both state-approved and non-registered churches. The youth are increasingly being removed from church life; worship is monitored via CCTV and spies; and teachers and medical workers are told they are not allowed to have any religious affiliation.
All churches are perceived as a threat if they become too large, too political or invite foreign guests. A policy of “sinicizing” the church is becoming increasingly influential as the Communist Party is relying strongly on Chinese cultural identity to stay in power. The new restrictions on internet, social media and NGOs—and the new regulations on religion—are all seriously limiting freedom. However, it is not only the introduction of new laws but also the stricter implementation of already existing laws.
In addition, if a convert from Islam or from Tibetan Buddhism is discovered by community and family, they are usually threatened, physically harmed and reported to the local authorities—all in an effort to win them back. Spouses may be forced to divorce, and children can be taken away from Christian parents.
As for God’s Word, it’s not immune to the practice of “sinicism,” the practice of making all aspects of life submit to the rule of the Communist Party and conform to the subjective standards of Chinese culture.
Back in March, a speech given by Xu Xiaohong, head of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the regime-organization which oversees China’s state-approved Protestant churches, made this abundantly clear.
According to the Acton Institute:
Xu made it clear that Protestant churches in China—which, as he and everyone else in the regime knows, are spreading at an impressive rate throughout China’s special economic zones—will be expected to incorporate “the values of socialism” into their theology and develop a stronger “national consciousness.”
Most ominously, this includes producing a new translation of the Bible. It takes no genius to recognize what translation really means in the context of an officially atheist regime which has demonstrated its intention to subjugate any organization remotely considered a potential source of liberty. The translation, Xu also revealed, would be accompanied by numerous annotations from various Chinese sources to make the text “more Chinese.” We can safely assume that the regime has in mind far more than just benign references to Confucius.
As the Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg explains, this goes above and beyond the mere “inculturation” reasonably expected with the spread of Christianity into all the cultures and societies of the world. Inculturation, Gregg continues, is “entirely different from an authoritarian atheist state focused on ensuring its complete dominance of Chinese society seeking to shape the content of what Christianity considers to be its sacred books. For that is to manipulate what Christians believe to be the very Word of God, something wrong in itself but made even worse when it is done in the name of a species of totalitarianism.”
To this very day, noncompliant churches in China continue to suffer as the Communist Party seeks to eradicate “illegal publications,” specifically unadulterated Bibles smuggled in from South Korea.
Back in August, according to The Bitter Winter, the Chongyang county government in the province of Hubei published an open letter titled, “All People Must Take Action and Fully Carry Out Work to ‘Clean Up Gang Crime and Eliminate Evil’ and ‘Eradicate Pornography and Illegal Publications’ in the Religious Field!” equating pornography with unapproved religious texts in the infectious spread of “harmful information” and “publications and information that weaken, distort, or negate the Party’s leadership or China’s socialist system.”
In the Erqi district in the city of Zhengzhou, the Religious Affairs Bureau has even compelled churches to promote the Communist censorship campaign, and now, certain Three-Self churches are prominently displaying such banners and posters in and around their buildings.
But, that undying spirit of reformation lives in our Chinese brothers and sisters, and God has granted many of them the boldness to defend the faith regardless of the cost. One church worker called the campaign “slanderous to God,” according to Bitter Winter, with another calling it a “trap laid by the devil to make people mistakenly believe that there is a severe problem with the church’s ethos.”
“Sometimes the CCP says you’re allowed to have religious materials in the state-controlled church, but then they stop people, so it’s contradictory,” Bitter Winter’s Director-in-Charge Marco Respinti told Fox News. “They are trying to control all of culture, and religion is a huge part of people’s culture. So they’re trying not only to stop people’s public expression of religion but they are also trying to go into personal things — beliefs — they are trying to indoctrinate people through these banning of religious materials.”
Now, I’d be remiss to ignore the fact that many of the magisterial reformers, such as Luther and Calvin, were themselves products of the sacralist societies in which they lived and, therefore, endorsed the violent persecution of Anabaptists, the amorphous post-Lutheran believers who seemed only to agree on their rejection of the validity of paedobaptism. And many an anti-Calvinist will quickly point out Luther’s vicious writings on what should be done to Jews and their synagogues or simply shout (or, more likely, type) “Servetus!” to render invalid any defense of the miracle of the Reformation. But, as W. Robert Godfrey quipped, “it would not surprise Martin Luther to know that he was a sinner. It should not surprise us either.”
But, friends, this is 2019. We have millennia worth of history to learn from and, having done so, improve our approaches moving forward.
There is simply no excuse, no justification, for this type of persecution to endure in China, North Korea, and other Eastern nations. There is no excuse for their myriad human rights abuses outside the church. And, just like there is no excuse for forgetting the Reformation God gave to his church in 1517, there is no excuse for forgetting the Reformation that the persecuted saints in 2019 so desperately need.
Please continue to pray for the saints in China, North Korea, and other nations throughout the world continuing to oppress, imprison, and slaughter them, and thank the Lord for the preservation of his Word in spite of the futile attempts of history’s tyrants to snuff it out.