Here in China there are many religions that preach illegally. Only a few churches are state approved, and those include the Catholic church, and another Christian church. But running underground are a lot of "home" churches that meet and preach without the government's permission. Most feel that the end justifies the means, and that if they are working for the greater good, then it doesn't matter if they are doing it illegally. I question that way of thinking.
To understand this issue, you must understand China history. In years past, Christians came in force to preach the gospel, but the foreigners also brought with them opium which destroyed many Chinese lives, as well as war. China's distrust of religion runs very deep. In addition, the communists tried to wipe out all unnecessary traditions and superstitions during the cultural revolution. You could say that they wanted their politics to be the religion of the country. So now they have changed politically, and have allowed some religion, but are very cautious about which religions are allowed.
One of the things that makes the Chinese government nervous is the fact that when people band together in unity behind a cause, they can be easily led to rise up against the government. Recently there have been some dangerous moments with groups such as Fa Lun Gong. So the government is cautious about any group that might be rallying forces to rise up in protest of any nature. Any religious group is watched carefully to make sure this doesn't happen. Currently, preaching by missionaries is illegal here in China. Those who do preach are doing so illegally.
Our church has a special agreement with the government of China. We have built up a relationship of trust with them to the point that we have agreed not to proselyte, or even congregate with Chinese nationals. In exchange, the government allows us foreigners to meet together freely, and also allows the Chinese national members to meet with each other freely. We aren't even allowed to know the names of those living in our city who are Chinese national members of the church. We keep our worship one hundred percent separate. Some of other faiths might feel that this isn't the way to do things. But as I have lived with this restriction, I have come to see that this is truly the only way to build a relationship of trust with the Chinese government, and with the Chinese citizens as well.
The Chinese citizens know the law. They know it is illegal to preach. What do you think goes through their mind when someone comes to their neighborhood illegally preaching? I can tell you, from talking with a Chinese friend of mine, that their first thought is distrust. They don't want to get in trouble because of involvement with these groups. How can we be expected to represent God if we do so illegally? How can we justify dishonest means in the name of God? How can we expect them to trust us if we are doing something distrustworthy? Really, it pays to follow the law, no matter our own personal convictions about it.
But I must admit that I am frustrated because of those who still continue to preach illegally. It hurts not only their cause, but my cause as well. It makes the government distrust religion in general even more. It makes the people also distrust religion. If, and when our church is allowed to preach here, we will have to fight those preconceived notions of distrust. And it also puts the lives of Chinese members in jeopardy. Is it fair to ask them to worship illegally? Is it fair to put them in danger of arrest? Some might say that the ends justify the means, and that even if they die for the cause, they will die in God. But my belief is that God does things in wisdom and in order. He also does things honestly. We need to keep that in mind if we are going to represent Him. We also need to trust that God does things according to His own timetable. He loves the Chinese people, and will give them the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, but He will do it when it is His timing, not our's.