Serving China’s missionary church will require seeing “success” through a new lens, defined not by big-budget projects and exotic stories, but by the faithfulness of those who are willing to labor in obscurity on the margins, often unannounced and unnoticed, with perhaps few visible results.
Here we have a multi-faceted picture of churches that may identify with one another confessionally, but which differ on questions of where and how to worship, the role of women in the church, and how to relate to government authorities. Far from representing a rigid, cookie-cutter approach to church life, the Reformed tradition as it is currently lived out in China is dynamic and adaptable, reflecting the resourcefulness that has enabled the church to thrive amidst all kinds of adversity.
Leaders in the policy arena face the difficult task of taking constructive action while at the same time being intentional participants in a larger conversation that could directly impact their options. In a similar way, Christians engaged in China are called to expand the larger conversation beyond the currently acknowledged reality, exposing their fellow believers to new possibilities through a deeper relationship with China and its church.
Embedded in today’s evangelical China narratives, particularly the narrative of the persecuted church, is the assumption that regime change will inevitably bring about greater openness for the gospel in China. But is that what Chinese history tells us?
Remembering Andrew Walls
While Walls identified strongly with the church in Africa, where he served as a missionary from 1957 to 1966, his scope was global. His reframing of Christian history brings a much-needed perspective to the stories we often tell about God’s mission in the world, including in China.
Many of the China stories told by Christians inside and outside China are uplifting accounts of faith, of changed lives, and loving communities. There is clearly a disconnect between these voices and those that have unfortunately become mainstream within some evangelical circles. When it comes to their rhetoric about China and the Chinese, it is time for these Christian leaders to take themselves, as well as the gospel, seriously.