“Sinicization” is the name that describes China’s most recent attempts to systematically undermine Christianity in the country. Rightly, those who have witnessed or heard about these government measures have shaken their heads in grief, even anger. While such nationalism is antithetical to the gospel, we need to ask, “How do we distinguish nationalism from patriotism?”
Practically, when does love for country become idolatry?
I think most people agree that Chinese TSPM churches have crossed that line and embraced nationalism. But one has to ask, “Are these steps enforced by the government all that different from what we see in American churches?”
Placing American flags alongside Christian flags on church stages. Singing patriotic songs in place of songs of worship to Christ. The average church attender is more offended by someone not standing for the American flag than they are pastors who dilute or misrepresent biblical teaching.
In countless churches, people are more likely feel like outcasts because (s)he is not a Republican than because of their behavior or lifestyle.
Celebrating political freedom as though American democratic rights were in Paul’s mind when he wrote, “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). Likewise, 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” How many congregants are led to believe that Christ died to secure the right to vote or the American Bill of Rights?
While this might not be the explicit message of many pastors, it the implicit meaning conveyed whenever we collapse concepts. Contemporary notions of freedom ought not to be confused with what Paul means by “freedom.” In some ways, American syncretism is worse, because it is voluntary. At least Chinese churches are compelled by the government to “sinicize.” Countless churches in the States “Americanize” willingly, even enthusiastically!
Thomas Jefferson as Chinese Theologian?
In my previous post, I showed a picture of a sermon outline from Chinese TSPM church. It used 2 Corinthians 6 and Mark 16 to espouse the value of socialism. How might one see a similar dynamic in American fellowships? Here are a few ideas from my own experience.
I once heard a godly, yet confused American pastor apply Psalm 33:12 to the United States. The psalmist writes,
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
He created “scripture by subtraction.” The Smithsonian Magazine explains,
Jefferson created his own gospel by taking a sharp instrument, perhaps a penknife, to existing copies of the New Testament and pasting up his own account of Christ’s philosophy, distinguishing it from what he called “the corruption of schismatizing followers.”
If you’ve read my previous posts, Jefferson’s actions should sound a bit familiar. This rewriting of the Bible is essentially identical to China’s plan to “sinicize” Scripture.
The official state plan states,
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.
Bob Fu, former house church leader and founder of China Aid, elaborates. He explains that the atheist government plans to
“re-translate the Bible or re-write biblical commentaries.”
According to its latest outline, Fu said, a retranslation would be a summary of the Old Testament with some Buddhist scripture and Confucian teachings and new commentary for the New Testament.
“There are outlines that the new Bible should not look westernized and [should look] Chinese and reflect Chinese ethics of Confucianism and socialism,” Fu told The Christian Post after the hearing. “The Old Testament will be messed up. The New Testament will have new commentaries to interpret it.”
Disrespect for the Dead?
Comparing Chinese Sinicization with American nationalism patriotism will offend many people. Objectors will argue, “You are disrespecting thousands of men and women who died for us!!” For now, I won’t debate the merit of that criticism. Instead, I’ll pose a better, more important question:
Does not American-style Sinicization dishonor Christ, who not only died for all nations but also rose from the dead?