Earlier this month, a coalition of Christian leaders in China drafted and sent a petition to the Chinese government calling for the religious liberty the Chinese Constitution claims to provide. “For the last six decades, the rights to liberty of religious faith granted to our countrys Christians by the Constitution of the Peoples Republic of China have not been put into practice,” wrote the 19 brave original signatories of the document.

The petition was generated by the growing crackdown on “unofficial” churches in China. As noted in this blog space in April, the Easter crackdown on the Shouwang Church in Beijing is part of a larger, nationwide campaign in which “unofficial” churches —- those that meet independent of government sanction —- are being targeted for repression, and their leaders for arrest.

Up to 70 million believers are part of the “unofficial” Christian movement in China. According to China scholar Dr. William Jeynes in a lecture last week at FRC, the Chinese government is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the construction of officially-recognized churches and seminaries, but the “unofficial” churches remain targets of the central Communist government. Why? Because, notes Jeynes, the government recognizes that Christianity leads to morality and productivity, but is also grounded in the idea that government’s authority is not final. This makes the Communist leaders in Beijing “nervous,” says Jeynes.

In one sense, well it should: Allegiance to Jesus ahead of the state means that authoritarian governments will not have complete control, something for which Beijing’s Party apparatus longs. Yet Christianity, followed faithfully, leads to good order, social stability, and economic growth. This is the clear outgrowth of New Testament faith, and is evidenced wherever Christianity has flourished.

China’s leadership must come to terms with a central paradox: Followers of Jesus have the potential to make the finest citizens, but only if the state does not seek to replace their primary and central loyalty to their Savior with allegiance to itself. Until this happens, the strange dance of Chinese Communism with Christianity eventually will dissolve into a forced march, one that leads to martyrdom and thus, to the greater consternation of the authorities, continued resurgence of “unofficial” faith.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) held an important hearing earlier this month on China’s continued attack on “unregistered” churches and “unofficial” Christians. In his opening remarks, Mr. Smith, long a champion on behalf of persecuted Christians worldwide, said:

Because the Chinese government demands that religious organizations serve the aims of the state, religious organizations must receive government approval to operate. Failure to do so means the groups lack legal protection and the membership is vulnerable to human rights abuses at the hands of government officials. However, many religious observers adhere to the tenet that they must render unto Caesar what is Caesars, but unto God what is Gods, and as a result, they are persecuted.

The Chinese Communist Party, in its historic atheistic commitment to exalting itself as God, cannot manipulate those whose knees bend only before King Jesus. Until it realizes this and allows those brave men and women to practice their faith openly, it will enjoy neither the respect of the world nor the benefits religious liberty brings any society.

For up-to-the-minute reports on the crisis of Christian faith in China, go to China Aid or Voice of the Martyrs.