Chinese pastors ordered to base sermons on book comparing Bible to Confucianism

Early Rain Covenant Church in China
Early Rain Covenant Church in China | Photo: Facebook/Early Rain Covenant Church

Chinese government officials are demanding that clergy affiliated with the state-sanctioned protestant church base their sermons on a new book that blends biblical teachings with the teachings of Confucius.

The Chinese human rights magazine Bitter Winter reports that clergy affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in Yuzhou city were ordered to begin teaching the Bible through the lens of Chinese culture as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “sinicize” Christianity

The magazine, published by the Italian-based Center for Studies on New Religions, reports that in July, the Religious Affairs Bureau gave all local Three-Self preachers in the city located in Henan province a book titled,The Analects Encounter the Bible.

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The book cross-references the biblical teachings and Confucian theory. 

The book was published in 2014 and written by Shi Heng Tan, who is a member of the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, an entity affiliated with the Chinese government. Heng Tan has been accused of being a key actor in China’s sinicization campaign. 

According to Bitter Winter, Heng Tan’s work has been dedicated to biblical interpretations of the teachings and ideas attributed to Confucius. 

Confucius, who lived from 551 to 479 B.C., is one of the most influential philosophers in Chinese history. Confucianism is a way of life and a system of ethics that has had a profound impact on Chinese culture over the centuries as it teaches subordinates to be obedient to the system of government. 

A pastor from the Yuzhou area told Bitter Winter that arguments in the book completely misrepresent some teachings in the Bible.

One example he provided was the book’s equating of the Chinese word for “etiquette” to the term “the law” in the Bible. He also said that Confucius' definition of “benevolence” is equated to the biblical definition of “love.” The pastor warned that Confucius beliefs should not be equated to biblical teachings. 

“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?” a Three-Self preacher posited. “This is the erosion of Christianity,” 

Others have also warned about the Chinese Communist Party’s attempt to make the Bible compatible with Chinese culture. 

Last year, human rights advocate Bob Fu testified at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., saying that the Chinese government has directed the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the Chinese Christian Council to work on a five-year plan to “sinicize” the Bible. 

The five-year plan, Fu said, included possible re-translations of the Bible and rewrites of biblical commentaries.

Fu said at the time that a re-translation of the Bible would include a summary of the Old Testament with Buddhist 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 last September’s House hearing. "The Old Testament will be messed up. The New Testament will have new commentaries to interpret it."

Earlier this summer, it was reported that multiple Three-Self churches in Qingdao city in the Shandong province were ordered by the Religious Affairs Bureau to sing new patriotic hymns written by the state-sanctioned Christian councils instead of traditional worship songs. 

As Bitter Winter notes, some Three-Self churches have launched classes to study the teachings of Confucius. 

“An Analects study class takes all day long,” one house church attendee living in the Shandong province told the outlet. “The participants even had to take photos holding the Bible in one hand and the Analects in the other, and post the images online.”

For the past 20 years, China has been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations. According to Fu, the state of religious freedom in China is the worst it has been since the Cultural Revolution. 

While the Chinese government seems to be exerting control over how state-approved churches worship, it has cracked down heavily on unregistered independent churches. The government has closed several underground churches and arrested many in recent years.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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