One of the issues this Quarterly deals with is the twofold challenge facing the church: needing to move from the periphery of society to the center and exchanging a traditional hierarchical control structures for a more democratic leadership style. another issue has to do with the place for Biblical peacemaking.
In this issue Huo Shui, a scholar and longtime student of religious movements in China, portrays the church in China as facing a twofold challenge. Externally the church needs to move from the periphery of society to the center. Internally, church leaders must exchange traditional hierarchical control structures for a more democratic leadership style. The stakes are high, according to Huo Shui, who asserts that, Without these two changes, there is no future for Christianity in China.
The steps Huo Shui prescribes for undertaking these two transformations can be found in a longer version of his article, which is available on the ChinaSource website (see Two Transformations). In summary, if the church is to step in and fill Chinas current spiritual vacuum, Huo Shui says, it needs to take the initiative to position itself as providing spiritual support and moral standards for the society. If the church is able to train new persons who can demonstrate the character of Christ in their daily lives, then the influence of the church will extend beyond its numbers. The church must, on the one hand, open the door widely for all types of people to enter in, while, on the other hand, strengthening evangelism so the church can move out into all areas of society. Finally, Huo Shui says, the church should engage in all kinds of charitable services so that faith and charity become synonymous in China.
Huo Shuis admonitions bear a striking resemblance to James Davison Hunters call to the Western (primarily American) church in his book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Although writing from two extremely different cultural contexts, both Huo Shui and Hunter link the churchs ability to impact the society with its positive creative activity in every sphere. Huo Shuis call for the church to cultivate new persons resonates with Hunters concept of faithful presence, or a recognition that the vocation of the church is to bear witness to and to be the embodiment of the coming Kingdom of God in all areas of life. The new creation spoken of in Galatians 6:15 is, in the words of Hunter, a reference to a different people and an alternative culture that is, nevertheless, integrated within the present culture.1
Both Huo Shui and Hunter also draw a connection between the quality of the churchs inner life and its external witness. Only as relationships are transformed within the church can Christians expect to exert a transformational influence upon the society.
Ken Sande speaks to this issue in his article on Biblical peacemaking. While the outworking of the scriptural principles which Sande examines may look different in a culture like Chinas, the believers central task of reconciliation transcends culture.
Living out a vibrant faith in an increasingly pluralistic post-modern culture is a challenge shared by Christians inside and outside China. May we find new ways to encourage one another on the road ahead.
1James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 95-96.
Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio