Protestant Bishop K.H. Ting, leader credited with rebuilding Christian church in China, dies

Published: Saturday, Dec. 1 2012 8:25 a.m. MST

K.H. Ting

David Neff, ChristianityToday/F

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Richard Mouw, president of the Fuller Theological Seminary, says people are often surprised when he tells them of preaching to Christian congregations numbering in the thousands in mainland China.

"The fact is that Christianity is flourishing in China, and much of the vitality is due to the labors, over many decades, of Bishop K.H. Ting," Mouw said.

Ting, an Anglican bishop and recognized leader of China's government-sanctioned Christian churches, died Nov. 22. He was 97. Memorial services were held Tuesday.

Mouw said his friendship with Ting, also known as Ding Guangxun, began with an invitation to speak at Mouw's 1993 installation as president of Fuller in Pasadena, Calif. Critics of Ting's close relationship with China's Communist Party and government pressured Mouw to withdraw the invitation. Ting's relationship with Fuller began 10 years earlier when a Fuller delegation led by Mouw's predecessor, David Hubbard, visited China.

"We stuck with the decision, and the bishop participated," Mouw said in a statement. "The visible protest during the ceremony was carried out quietly and with respect."

Ting is considered one of the most influential Christian leaders in China since the 1950s, serving as chairman of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches in China and president of the China Christian Council. He was vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference from 1989-2008.

"He has a positive legacy in many people's eyes because he pushed forward Protestant Christianity and its interests in China, albeit under the scope of the government," Carsten T. Vala, an expert on Chinese Protestant Christianity who teaches at Loyola University in Maryland, told the Los Angeles Times. "But he was also a lightning rod, seen by those in the house churches as having compromised by leading the Communist Party-controlled church."

Ying Fuk-Tsang, a divinity professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the China Post that Ting should be credited with rebuilding the church after the Cultural Revolution and pushing the government to adopt policies favorable to religious freedom. He said Ting also spearheaded reforms in the state-sanctioned church, making it less political and serving believers' spiritual needs.

"He has made contributions as well as mistakes — and no other Christian figures had as much influence as (he did)," Ying said.

Mouw said Ting worked closely with the government in formulating and maintaining "the Three-Self Principles" that provided the framework for religious life in China. The principles required that approved religious bodies be self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating.

Designed to protect the Christian church from outside undue influence, Mouw said they also reflected an insight fostered by Ting "that Chinese Christianity must not be a mere 'western' import" but be relevant to current thinking in China.

Born in 1915 in Shanghai, Ting studied at Saint John's College in that city and earned bachelor's degrees in both literature and theology. In 1946, he and his wife moved to Canada where he became mission secretary of the Canadian Student Christian Movement.

Ting also studied at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York from 1947 to 1948. In 1951, the couple returned to China. In 1955, he became a bishop in the Anglican Church and was a principal of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary until his death.

Ting often greeted delegations that Mouw led to China. In one of their last meetings, Ting asked Mouw if it was a good idea to have the head of Chinese churches carry the title of bishop.

"I smiled when he asked me that question, telling him that he was putting a Presbyterian on a theological spot," Mouw said. "But then I said in seriousness that I was firmly convinced that having a bishop, as a single revered leader, had been a genuine strength for the Chinese churches in their decades of negotiations with party officials about issues of religious freedom."

EMAIL: mbrown@desnews.com

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