China and the Reformation Translation Fellowship

John McFarland
01 April, 2008 4 min read

China and the Reformation Translation Fellowship

One goal of Chairman Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ in China (1966-1976) was to snuff out the religious impulse in man. He attempted to do this by persecuting the weak church, ridiculing all things spiritual, and proving once for all that the co-operation of people under their almighty State could satisfy the deepest needs of man.

How did Mao fare? In the middle of that ‘revolution’ liberal Western missiologists were declaring that more than a century of Christian missionary effort in China had been for nothing — ‘The church in China is dead’, they declared.

But did you hear the admission of the Chinese government last year? They are acknowledging that as many as 130 million Christians currently meet in underground (illegal) fellowships.

As this is embarrassing to them, don’t be surprised to learn that they grossly underestimate the numbers — there may be as many as 200 million saints who are paying the high price to boast about Jesus, plus millions more in the above-ground (legal) version of the church in China (Three Self Patriotic Movement).

No advantage to be a Christian

Let us not be too quick to discount all ‘Three Self’ Christians as false, for I have met several personally. They love our Lord, and they are paying a higher price to worship Jesus in their legal churches than Evangelicals are paying in North America. I am not going soft on the truth here — we must understand that there are few reasons to call oneself a Christian in China unless it comes from the heart.

There are many alternative ways in China to satisfy man’s religious impulse — evidence of common grace, divine image-bearing, or the surviving conscience. Buddha, some say, was a closet agnostic who wanted people to focus on peaceable relationships down here. What a wonder to find that millions today revere Buddha himself!

In a similar way Mao, who despised ‘ignorant’ religious people, has himself become an object of near-worship — measured by the appearance of his ‘blessed’ image all over modern China.

Incense pots and Buddha idols are as common in businesses in China as they are in other lands. Going back beyond Mao and Buddha, could the scarlet banners draped around many Chinese doorways (ostensibly bringing generic blessings on those who live inside) be Satan’s mockery of the 3,400-year-old Passover ritual?

Many Chinese still believe they are the descendants of a powerful ancient dragon. One city where we have many siblings is known as Dragon City. As dragons and serpents are historically linked, this pre-Buddha legend may be another distortion — this time of the history-spanning struggle between the seed of the woman and the children of the serpent (Genesis 3). Read ahead to Revelation 12 to see how this contest turns out! But grieve over the deceived masses who align themselves with the wrong contestant.

Culture shapers

On a secular level, one Chinese newspaper ran the following three articles (remember, newspapers there are propaganda arms for the state). One article chided wealthy celebrities in China who are flouting the ‘one-child’ policy by having second and third babies and simply paying the fines for this offence. These fines are very steep for the poor, but no hurdle for the new rich of the coastal cities.

Those in power resent the evident inequity, but rather than open the door for rich and poor alike to have several children, these culture shapers are calling for much steeper penalties for the rich who bring ‘unauthorised’ children into the world. Nothing new here.

By contrast, the two other articles demonstrate that conscience survives even under communism. One lauds the heroic doctor who saved a baby by emergency C-section surgery after the child’s depressed mother went on a drinking binge.

A third article praised a poet-father who adds daily to his epic poem about the joy of raising his twin daughters. What good fortune, that the government has not mandated that one of them be slaughtered — as would be the case if child 2 were conceived one year after child 1.

This hypocrisy mirrors the Western abortion lobbies, ready to invest in extravagant child-care, ‘headstart’ and school programmes for all our wanted children while they are willing to kill a million children per year in the womb.

We may appeal to the surviving consciences of our own countrymen as we ask them to examine why we still love our children.

Literature for longing souls

That Mao failed to destroy the religious impulses of the Chinese people is evidenced by the burgeoning churches (both under- and above-ground), the multiplying cults, the surviving paganism, and living consciences.

Rejoice for a moment. And then resolve to provide Chinese pastors with the best literature possible — to exalt the truth of God’s word, glorify the Lord Jesus, satisfy the longing souls, and build up strong churches to nourish the millions God is drawing to himself.

I hope you know about organisations like Reformation Translation Fellowship (RTF). More than 55 years ago, around the same time Mao was consolidating power, men of vision (Westerners and Chinese alike) were translating great Reformed books into Chinese.

Today, RTF has produced more than 100 titles. Through carefully built networks of helpers in and around China, we are able to put tens of thousands of books into the hands of hungry church leaders.

Many of these books are being printed in China, providing wages for several pastors and their helpers. RTF is moving forward with plans to develop more translation resources, bolster its publishing ministry with actual pastor-training, and offer our books to the millions of Chinese readers who live outside of China.

If God leads you to support these endeavours, you can contact RTF through Rev. Bill Roberts ( or by writing to RTF, 302 East First St., Bloomington, IN. 47401, USA.

John M. McFarland

Board Member of RTF and Pastor at Christ Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church, Lawrence, Kansas

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