BEIJING (BP)–Yu Jie will quickly tell you that the Ark Church in Beijing is not underground.
Many churches in China are indeed underground and try to operate without government detection. But the Ark Church operates openly and unashamedly, refusing to submit to the government’s demands. Though not the pastor, Yu was one of the church’s founders and is one of its three elders. The church began with three couples in 2001; now it consists of more than 40 people, most of them young professionals.
In an interview with Baptist Press, Yu talked about the situation with his church and the broader circumstances for Christians in China.
Yu was placed under a form of house arrest in late July, with police watching his home around the clock. Anywhere he went, he had to go in a police car. He was expressly forbidden to go anywhere near the Olympic sites. But various foreign reporters have visited him at his house without incident.
Yu, a relatively new convert to Christianity, said his conversion came as a result of two factors. The first was the nature of sin, and how people must deal with it.
“In Chinese culture, many people don’t believe there is sin,” Yu said.
Instead, they cling to a belief in the innate goodness of people. But as Yu studied Scripture, he was forced to confront its teaching that man is inherently sinful, and not innately good. That was a difficult truth for him to accept.
“I believe I am a good man,” Yu told himself. “I’m always better than others.”
He carefully considered this matter as he attended many Bible study groups, until he came to the understanding that God’s demand for humanity was perfection –- much like an archer shooting an arrow. “Close” doesn’t hit the bull’s eye. Through the Bible -– especially the four Gospels -– Yu concluded that nobody meets that standard, and that Jesus alone lived a perfect life.
A second factor leading to his conversion was the understanding of love.
“Without the love from God, there cannot be any love between people,” he decided.
Firmly convinced of the truth of Christianity, Yu was baptized in 2003.
His new faith has given him a theological grounding for his opposition to the government that began long before his conversion. The dissident Yu has lambasted the Chinese government for its unconstitutional denial of freedom of religion, and for its persecution of Christians.
Though soft-spoken in person, he is not one to pull his punches in his writing. He regularly denounces the murderous reign of Mao Zedong.
“It is inconceivable that the Olympic Games, one of the high points of civilization, be held in Beijing as long as the body of the assassin lies in the heart of the city,” he wrote in a Hong Kong magazine, as reported by the City Journal.
In a column in the Chicago Tribune earlier this month, Yu expressed again his disdain for the politics behind the Olympics in Beijing.
“Beijing shouldn’t be host of the Olympic Games anyway,” he wrote. “At the moment, China should invest the money in the country’s education and public health systems, rather than building gigantic and glamorous stadiums to show off its status and save face.”
He argued in the article that the Olympics have not brought any joy to the Chinese people, only dissatisfaction and fear.
“Everywhere you go, you see soldiers with loaded guns patrolling the street,” he wrote. “Missiles have been installed near the Bird’s Nest (Olympic stadium), where the Opening Ceremony took place. Taking the subway or the bus is like going to the airport; one has to undergo all sorts of strict security checks. Beijing no longer belongs to its residents. The whole city has been plunged into a state of extreme fear.”
Such opinions have not endeared Yu to the Chinese government. Indeed, his writings have been banned in mainland China. He has even spent a night in jail.
But Yu recognizes that his treatment at the hands of government officials has been mild compared to that of some of his Christian brothers and sisters. He said more than 2,000 Chinese Christians currently are imprisoned in China solely because they refuse to worship the way the Chinese government has mandated. Many of them have endured beatings and torture. Those whose churches submit to government control through the Three-Self Patriotic Movement do not face such hardships.
Yu was clear that his opposition to Three-Self churches should in no way be extended to everyone in those churches. He recognizes that many strong Christians are involved in Three-Self churches, and even acknowledges that some pastors and other leaders are godly people. For a nation as vast as China, there’s a great deal of variety in the Three-Self churches, and they’re not all bad. It’s the system as a whole that he opposes.
He is hopeful that one day, when the law in China allows for greater freedom of religion, Three-Self churches will disappear entirely. And he is optimistic that such increased freedoms are on the horizon -– not because the government will lose its desire to control, but because it will not have adequate power to do so.
Yu’s dream is that Christians will lead the way in transforming China into a land of greater freedoms, and that Christians will become a larger, more influential part of society. Despite his distaste of the politics behind the Olympics, he expressed hope that the work of Western Christians during the Olympics might provide a spark for change. In a statement he prepared when he spoke to a group of legislative staffers in Washington, D.C., last year, Yu encouraged Christians to come to China –- not for stealth evangelism campaigns, but overt ones.
“Even though they will be expelled, each expulsion case can become a news event, a crack that opens up the iron curtain,” he wrote in the statement.
Asked how American Christians can pray for him and for Christians and churches in China, Yu listed three specific requests.
First, he asked that other Christians pray that Christians in China will be allowed full freedom of religion, so that they can worship as they see fit.
Secondly, he asked for prayer for the 2,000 persecuted Christians who are sitting in Chinese prisons and labor camps.
Thirdly, he requested prayer for the increased education of Chinese Christians, and that they would practice pure Christianity from the Bible. Because so many churches are still underground, Yu said they don’t always have access to educational material like books and other literature. Because of this lack of access, problems often arise in churches as they stray from biblical doctrine. Chinese Christians desperately need more books about the Bible to be translated into their language, so they can be faithful to Scripture and be holy in their living.
Tim Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University, visited China from Aug. 6-16.