The China Syndrome

Enter the Dragon

A few years ago, one SDA congregation near to me was engaged in a debate over the merits of women's ordination.  They decided to have a meeting and study it all out. As was usual in these circumstances, the two sides (pro and con) promised to prepare their positions for presentation.  But when it came right down to it, one side came to the study with their Bibles, the other, brought only their feelings.  You probably can guess which was which.

The meeting, which was chaired by the conference president, ended with him showing a video about all the great work being done in China by women, indeed, ordained women.  The video was aired and a vote quickly taken.  The pro camp won.  But would the majority have voted that way, knowing all the facts?

My Backstory

One hundred years ago, my grandfather was born in south-central China in the city of Changsha.  His father, Elder S.G. White, was a pioneering missionary for the SDA church at that time.  Growing up on Grandpa's knee, I heard mission stories of intrigue and adventure from that faraway land.  It was only natural then that I too ended up going to China, spending years as a missionary for the General Conference nearly 25 years ago.

Prior to serving the church, I was in the United States military.  Little did I know at the time, that aspects of my training and experience in military intelligence would give me peculiar insight into issues facing our church today.


After the civil war in China, which ended in 1949, the Communists took complete control of the government.  Based in materialist, humanistic philosophy, one of the tenets of their system is that there is no God.  Atheism is the law of the land and is taught in every school.

Recognizing that people still had belief systems that would work at cross purposes with communist ideology, the government began a program of co-opting the various religions of China in order to simultaneously suppress them and use them to actually further the aims of the new communist state.  As such, organizations such as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), (The official umbrella organization for all Protestant churches) was founded by the Communist party to control Protestantism, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association to control Catholicism and so on.  How and why do they this? Let's take a look.

Military Intelligence

In the intelligence world, it's best to clearly know who your enemies are.  In fact, I don't want my enemies to disappear.  Rather, I want to know who they are, what they are doing, and control them.  Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, developed a very unique way to defeat his enemies.  First, there was outright oppression.  But then he touted his idea of “Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom.”  This, in 1956, referred to the concept of “Hey, I'm open to anything.  Let's let all forms of political thought blossom so we can pick and choose which is right and best for our country.” i.e. “I need your help with governing.”  People were amazed and began expressing their thoughts.  This had the intended effect.  Those whose ideas against Mao were now exposed and he brutally repressed them just a year later, in 1957.

The Devil has used the Catholic Church with great success in this regard.  After centuries of trying to eradicate Christianity, he thought it best to get himself “baptized” and alter and control Christianity from within.

This is exactly what has happened in China.  It's as if the Chinese said, “Okay, let's let them think they have some freedom, a few churches here and there.  But we will choose the pastors, we will run the seminaries, we will set the doctrines.  And all of it will be to build our vision of a socialistic communist society; that's our goal.”  So while the state was reforming religion under its own auspices, it was systematically destroying true freedom of religion, to the point where it is illegal today for an adult to proselytize a minor--even ones own children!

The Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the CCC (China Christian Council), are very simply counterintelligence organizations created for the control and elimination of true freedom of religion in China.

The State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) in China oversees the TSPM and the CCC.  The SARA is responsible for everything from the training and selection of clergy to ensuring that the religious organizations in China support the policies of the Communist Party.  More on this later.

The Megachurch Phenomenon

In Shenyang, Shanghai, and other places, we see the success of TSPM SDA Megachurches with thousands of members. “Look, look at the freedom and success we are having!” is the cry heard in many liberal SDA publications in the west.  But is all as it seems?

I remember circumstances in the USSR.  One western visitor went to a protestant church in central Moscow.  He was amazed.  There were thousands of people singing, praying, and worshiping together.  Could it be that he heard wrong about all the repression in the Soviet Union?  Were his eyes deceiving him?

Here's the twist.  He didn't actually go to “a” protestant church in Moscow, he went to “the” protestant church in Moscow; the only one!  A city of 12 million and one church.  It was a show church for the West; a place for the security organs of the state to see who comes and goes and to keep tabs on religious “fanatics.”  Could it be the same, to an extent, in China?

Communist Ordinations

Read carefully what I write next: The Communist party in China is ordaining ministers in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  This has been going on for decades but only now has it come to open light.  Don't believe me?  Don't take my word for it.  Let's see what Elder Jan Paulsen said about it.

“China is unique, and the fact is we don’t have true control over who is ordained.  Technically, the CCC (the state-regulated China Christian Council), has the final say, but the decision is usually made in consultation with the local Adventist congregation.  In reality, though, it’s a process that doesn’t always work the same way in every situation.”1

Folks, the CCC in not a “state-regulated” organization.  It IS the state!  It is a counter-intelligence arm of the Communist Party created, along with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, to control religion in China.  I repeat: The communist party is ordaining SDA ministers in China.  Let that sink in for a long minute.

Wagging the Dog

Could it be that in some respects, the Devil is letting some freedoms occur in the SDA TSPM Church in China in order to have a greater destabilizing influence upon the rest of the SDA world church?

Remember, with regards to our official world church, China has no unions, conferences, churches or even members.  None!  There are no constituency meetings, nor any real legal entities, outside of the government owned TSPM SDA Church.  But what a coup that would be if he, the Devil, could take something over which we have little control of (The TSPM SDA church in China) and use that to control us!  Let a deviant theology take foothold in an area where there is no real organized oversight and then when that takes off, Boom!  It spreads to the whole world!

Think back to that church business meeting I mentioned.  Think of all of the articles in various publications and websites we have about the “China” phenomenon regarding women in ministry and about how they “get it” and we don't.

Church/State Relationship

Recently, the Chinese Christian entities helped “celebrate” the 90th anniversary of the Communist party in China with a gala concert in Beijing.

“Before the performance started, Cai Kui, chairman of the Beijing Municipal Christian Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee, made these remarks on behalf of the many pastors and lay leaders in the capital.  He said: “In the past 90 years, the Chinese Communist Party, while closely uniting people of various nationalities and various walks of life in China, has never stopped caring about and helping Chinese Christianity.
Especially since the beginning of the new period [i.e. period of Communist Party rule], with the generous help of the Party and the government, churches have been built everywhere across China and great efforts have been made in training clergymen who actively engage in social work and walk a path compatible with socialism.  At the same time that the living and working conditions of the vast number of clergymen have greatly improved, their social status and political treatment have also risen without interruption.  Facts have proven that the Chinese Communist Party is sincere in its treatment of and support for the development of Chinese Christianity.”2

This statement by Chairman Cai must be understood that it is given in the context of the theater of the absurd.  Everybody knows that the Communist party has never really cared about real Christianity.  The Communist party is officially atheist!  The Communists have brutally repressed, tortured, imprisoned, murdered, harassed and vilified millions of Chinese Christians in the past near one hundred years.  Bulldozing churches was a favorite pastime of theirs!

But there is an “unspoken” rule here with the government saying “I'll let you think you have some Freedoms, but you in turn need to let me think I'm benevolent, even though most of it is a fraud.”  How much does the Communist party really think of their own Chinese Christians?  Listen to this...

One of my American colleagues in China, before he was an SDA Christian, was a company commander of a combat engineering company in the US Army during the Korean War.  They were set up in a defensive position with machine guns, mines and artillery.  One night, the Chinese came and attacked.

These Chinese soldiers attacked with bamboo swords and spears; not much of a match for automatic weapons fire.  The bodies piled up so much that the fields of fire were getting blocked.  In the morning, they cleared the bodies away only to have them stack up again after another night attack.  This went on for several days.  Who were these Chinese soldiers attacking with such primitive weapons?  Why would they do such a suicidal thing?  After the war, my friend became a SDA but it would take 35 years for him to find out just who those Chinese really were.  And who were they?

They were Christian battalions, formed by Chairman Mao.  He rounded up all the Christians he could find and sent them off, with a gun at their backs, to be cannon fodder.  So much for the Chinese Communist Party's love for Christianity!

My friend felt so bad for killing his fellow Christian brothers that he wanted to give something back to the country and so he became a missionary in the 1990's.

In Summary

In short, I believe we have been sold a bill of goods on the work in China.  If you like the China model, then it will be no problem when full-on religious persecution comes to the US and the rest of the West.  There may be a local religious affairs bureau in your own county where you will need to register yourselves along with your property, computer printers, and so on.  You may need a license to preach.  You would also need ordination from a government-approved entity before proceeding.  You may have to allow an hour before Sabbath school so that the local Religious Affairs Unit Secretary can read from the pulpit the latest in Party dogma regarding religion and society (yep, that happens in China too).

Will it for sure happen like this?  I have no idea.  But I do know that it is happening elsewhere in the world already.

Final Hope

In all things, we know that the will of God will eventually triumph.  Satan intended to use Babylon to destroy Israel.  God ended up using it for their salvation.

Let me say this.  Not all pastors are ordained by the communist government.  There are TSPM SDA pastors who refuse this ordination.  And the number of underground SDA churches and pastors that exist who don't recognize the government's right to control them also do not entertain such “ordinations.”  There are Godly believers in all of the various sanctioned & unsanctioned churches.  There is a great work being done by men and by women.  In the government, there are Cornelius’ everywhere.  In one region the Party may brutally suppress religious expression, in another it will turn a blind eye.  There is no hard and fast rule in today's China.  They do as they please.

Finally, let's not just take anecdotes and little stories we hear coming from China, and accept them, without proper perspective.  May God give us wisdom, and may He have mercy on us all.


John Kannenberg is the Director of Great Western Health Foundation, in Fargo, ND

John Kannenberg is the Director of Great Western Health Foundation, in Fargo, ND