Three-Self Church clergy forced to interpret the Bible through the prism of traditional Chinese culture – part of CCP’s campaign to make religions “more Chinese.”
by Wang Yichi
On July 18, the Religious Affairs Bureau of Yuzhou city in the central province of Henan distributed to all local Three-Self preachers a copy of the book entitled The Analects Encounter the Bible and demanded them to prepare their sermons based on it. Published in 2014, the book, written by Shi Hengtan, who holds a Ph.D. from Peking University, is a member of the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and claims to be a Christian, is dedicated to biblical interpretations of the Analects – a collection of the teachings and ideas attributed to Confucius (551-479 BC), the most influential Chinese philosopher and teacher.
The Analects Encounter the Bible is reportedly aimed at building bridges between Christianity and Confucianism – a system of moral and ethical philosophy that is the basis of values and social conduct of the Chinese – and helping Chinese Christians learn more about the traditional culture of their country.
However, the book has caused controversy in the religious community, and many Christians view the arguments in the book as misrepresenting the pure Christian doctrine. Some have even described the book as heretical, cautioning Christians to be wary of such CCP-orchestrated doctrinal erosion.
As a preacher from Yuzhou area explained, the arguments in The Analects Encounter the Bible distort the teachings of the Bible entirely and are misleading Christians. For example, the book states that the Chinese word li (“etiquette”), as explained in the Analects, is equivalent to “the law” in the Bible; that the “benevolence” espoused by Confucius corresponds to “love” in Christianity. According to the preacher, “etiquette” and “benevolence” in the Analects are used to explain the ethics and morals between people, while “the law” in the Bible is an obligation to God’s people, required for them to uphold in order to keep their relationship with God. “The love” in Christianity, the preacher explained, refers to loving God and people according to God’s words. Ethics and morals are standards put forward by human beings and are different from God’s requirements in essence, and they should not be equated with each other.
The preacher gave an example of the misinterpretations of the Bible in the book: the Confucian saying “All men within the four seas are brothers” is the equivalent of “Whoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50). The preacher calls such comparison absurd because the Confucius’ message means that if a person treats others with respect, according to a set of morals, then everybody else will treat that person the same way, like a brother, which has nothing to do with “doing the will of my Father.”
Excerpts from The Analects Encounter the Bible.
“An Analects study class takes all day long. The participants even had to take photos holding the Bible in one hand and the Analects in the other, and post the images online,” said a house church Christian from Jinan city’s Lixia district in eastern China’s Shandong Province.
Some Christian preachers have pointed out that the government’s requirement for the clergy to engage in mandatory comparative readings of the Analects and the Bible is a way for the CCP to “sinicize” Christianity, and is part of a campaign to contaminate Christian beliefs in China.
Liu Yi, a renowned Chinese pastor, living in the US, has warned believers about the government’s involvement in promoting such activities: “In 2015, I wrote multiple articles exposing the conspiracy behind this activity, and explained that it is intended to help the CCP promote the ‘sinicization of Christianity’ in churches. Shi Hengtan has continuously denied on his WeChat public account that the activity is related to the sinicization of Christianity. However, based on Shi’s social identity, his activities, and the speeches he has delivered, he cannot be disassociated from the campaign to sinicize Christianity.”
In a ChinaAid article, Jonathan Liu, the former Senior Pastor at the Chinese Bible Church of Maryland in the US, mentions Shi Hengtan’s interview with the CCP’s mouthpiece, the Global Times, in 2012, where he claims that his teaching the Analects is another effort to help Christianity integrate into Chinese culture. “What makes me wary is that he [Shi Hengtan] is so active in the so-called ‘sinicization of Christianity’ campaign being waged by the Chinese government,” pastor Liu writes in the article. “This has made me take another look at his activities.”
The CCP’s policy forcing the Christian clergy to integrate traditional Chinese culture and socialist ideology into the daily religious activities of congregations is widespread across the country. In April, the local Two Chinese Christian Councils in the northeastern province of Jilin issued the Notice on the Implementation of the Four Requirements Activity Proposal and Active Execution of the Four Requirements, demanding churches to hold tea ceremonies and organize comparative readings of the Analects and the Bible, with the aim of integrating the traditional Chinese culture into the Christian doctrine. Similar documents have been adopted by municipal governments in Shandong, Henan, and elsewhere.
“The CCP is subtly changing our faith. Since reading the Bible is now the same as reading the Analects, doesn’t it mean it suffices to read the Analects and to believe in Confucius? This is the erosion of Christianity,” said a Three-Self church preacher.