King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. (Dan. 3:1–7, RSVCE)
China’s Paramount Leader, Xi Jinping, is doing a remarkable job emulating not only twentieth-century forerunners such as Stalin and Mao, but ancient forerunners such as Nebuchadnezzar, albeit without any sign of the latter’s repentance. All worship in China, he has declared, is to be State worship first of all. Those who will not fall down before the golden image he is setting up must be hunted down, rounded up, and incarcerated, which means anything from forcible re-education to electric shock treatment to vivisection for the lucrative organ market. Muslim Uyghurs, Chinese Christians, Falun Gong members – it doesn’t matter. All must bow down or pay the price of refusal. The more unfortunate among these doubtless find their way to the fiery furnace.
Daniel 3 continues: “Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews.” Whatever may be happening to faithful Jews in today’s China – they don’t seem to be safe even in New York City – it seems that the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, has stepped forward to denounce China’s faithful Catholics, who in the wake of the secret September 2018 concordat were instructed to go ahead and join those already eating from the King’s table and prepare themselves to bow down to the king’s image; that is, to submit to the Sinicization of their religion. Thus has he himself all but consigned them to the fiery furnace. For since the concordat in question, and the issuing of the Pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China, Xi’s government has stepped up its persecution of dissenting Christians.
This has been confirmed by a report to the U.S. Congress. It is in any case no surprise, for as Cardinal Zen has observed, what Christians in China face is “a system in which pastoral freedom will no longer exist but in everything the Party’s orders will be followed, including the prohibition of minors under 18 years of age from participating in any religious activity.” Xi, obviously, has no regard for the instruction of Jesus to his disciples,, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Or rather he makes this “me” refer to himself. Neither the Church nor its families will have any real say in how children are to be raised religiously. Indeed, it is uncertain that the Church will have much say in the appointment of its own bishops or in the conduct of its own liturgies or in the arrangement of its own symbols and teachings. The Catholic News Agency reports that “the new ‘Administrative Measures for Religious Groups’ will control every aspect of religious activity within China, and will mandate that all religions and believers in China comply with regulations issued by the Chinese Communist Party, which must be acknowledged as the higher authority.”
The extent of that authority must not be underestimated. The Party speaks for God himself, communicating the terms and conditions for divine favor – terms and conditions that have changed, apparently, such that even the Ten Commandments must give way to quotations from the Paramount Leader. It was reported last year already that China’s department for religious affairs had published an article stating that “only Sinicized churches can obtain God’s love.” This blatantly self-serving civil religion which cannot claim a Catholic’s allegiance without material heresy of the gravest sort and without an act of schism, is nevertheless endorsed by some Party-approved bishops, to judge from the most recent news. According to Bishop Fang,“ love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church and the law of the country is above canon law.”
Cardinal Zen, whose protests to the Vatican have fallen on deaf ears, goes so far as to speak of the “murder” of the Catholic Church in China, a term that applies quite literally to its many martyrs and figuratively to the church as a whole. He speaks also of an agreement that clergy are being asked to sign that would effectively justify apostasy. We may well ask how this differs from the oath of allegiance that saints Thomas More and John Fisher refused to sign for Henry VIII – whether indeed it must compromise the Christian conscience even more deeply, given the blasphemous claims of Xi and his Party.
Or to choose another historical example, one nearer to us in time, we may ask how it differs from the demands made by that other paramount Führer, Adolf Hitler, which Bishop von Galen refused on the Catholic side and the signatories of the Barmen Declaration on the Protestant. Alas for the day! Secretary of State Parolin, a career diplomat acting with the pope’s approval, seems to have cast himself rather in the role of Reichsbishof Ludwig Müller, demanding that church leaders do the work of the Party, in this case the work of Sinicization. He has heard “the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble,” and decided that submission is the best course.
But it is apostasy, not diplomacy, to “comply with regulations issued by the Chinese Communist Party” in any fashion that even hints at acknowledgement of the Party “as the higher authority.” For the Church is bound to the one whom God has set at his right hand as Lord of all. It is bound to Jesus Christ as “the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.” Such are the words of the Barmen Declaration, a document of which it is time we were all reminded. It continues:
We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation…
As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords – areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him…
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions…
We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.
Well said! Nothing has changed. Neither the Catholic Church nor the Protestant groups in China can afford to give any other witness than this if they mean to remain Christian. And no Secretary of State, nor any pope, can advise otherwise without forfeiting their own authority in the Lord. Bowing down to Xi is no different from bowing down to Hitler or Stalin or Mao. It is no different from bowing down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image, or Antiochus’s, or Diocletian’s. It is no different from bowing down to those of antichrists yet to come. Christians bow down to no one but the one God and his true Christ, before whom, when all is said and done, every knee will bow willingly or unwillingly.
Let us pray for our persecuted brethren in China, encouraging them and ourselves with the words of Psalm 72: “May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper.”
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