A Chinese Christian group officially recognized by the government is circulating an open letter in China and abroad detailing plans for the formation of a new government-sanctioned national Protestant church.
Dr. Andrew Hsiao, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary here, who received a copy of the letter, calls it "the most important document in relation to the Christian church in China to come out in recent decades."
The 2,000-word letter from the so-called Three-Self Patriotic Movement was signed by Shen Teh Jung, associate general secretary of the group, which met in Shanghai the last week of February.
"We need greatly to strengthen the pastoral work of our Christian communities," the letter says. "This is an urgent task which calls for our deep commitment and leads us in a most concerted way to see the necessity for the formation of a Christian national structure. After earnest prayer and long deliberation we have decided to proceed with the preparatory work for this organization."
The document calls for the training of church workers and clergy, supports implementation of a policy of religious freedom and proposes "a national Christian conference in the near future."
The letter makes clear that foreign influence is not welcome.
"We are aware that in churches aboard there are a small number of people still hostile to new China today," the letter says. It denounces foreign Christians who "put their hands into our church life in the name of 'evangelism' and 'research.'
"Regardless of the color of their skin," the letter continues, "they are trying in reality to push Chinese Christianity back to the colonial past and earn for it again the onus of a foreign religion taking its stand against the Chinese people. We hope that these individuals would not receive the support of the other Christians and their leaders. We are sure that their pursuits will not mean good fruit in the long run."
The Three-Self Movement (self-government, self-support and self-propagation) was organized in 1951 at the initiative of Premier Chou En-lai to serve as a liaison between the government and the Protestant churches. It was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s, but has reemerged in the last several years with a shifting government policy toward more open relations with the West.