In the topics explored in the ChinaSource Quarterly, the impact of change has been a reoccurring theme throughout the years:
- Changes in China, its government, society, and its approach to faith
- Changes in the church in China, its leadership, outreach, and challenges
- Changes for foreign workers in roles and opportunities
In 1999 Brent Fulton opened his first editorial with the words, “Someone has said that change is the only constant in today’s fast-paced world. In the case of China, social and economic change seem to be pulling the country inexorably forward.” Since that beginning the staff of the ChinaSource Quarterly has sought to observe the changes that were happening, anticipate what those changes might mean, and then bring together contributors who could knowledgeably and wisely analyze and comment on those changes.
Although change has affected all aspects of life in China and the Chinese church, certain topics have stood out and will probably continue to impact ministry in China. The following are key articles from recent years that we believe will continue to have relevance for readers into the years ahead. The articles are listed according to the broad topic that each deals with and the date each was published.
Lastly, Bill Job’s article “Some Things Change, Some Are Timeless” appeared in the 2015 autumn issue, Serving in the Midst of Change. The article is reproduced in full and it recounts the personal story of one long-term worker who experienced profound changes in how he served in China. We trust his story will prompt readers to examine their own lives and be better prepared to serve in China in the midst of change.
Church and Society
“Faith Going Public: Urban Christians and Civic Participation in China” by Mary Li Ma and LI Jin.
View from the Wall feature in ChinaSource Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2012 spring issue, Global China: Implications for the Church edited by Brent Fulton.
The authors provide a review of the origins and history of the house church movement and a discussion of the current urban house church situation including civic engagement and Christian publications.
Church and State
“Urge for Faith: Postmodern Beliefs among Urban Chinese” by Fredrik Fällman.
Supporting Article in ChinaSource Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 3, 2013, summer issue, The Postmodern Generation and the Church in China edited by Brent Fulton.
Historical events following Mao’s death left an ideological vacuum in China. This created a strong need for faith, even an urge, so as to avoid the risk of further social disruption and political instability. While postmodernism, with its relativity and lack of absolutes, tries to fill this void, it also leaves people questioning and open to exploring faith.
“How China’s Religious Affairs Bureaucracy Works” by Carsten T. Vala.
Supporting Article in ChinaSource Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 4, 2013, winter issue, Religious Policies in China and Their Influence on the Church edited by Joann Pittman.
The author helps us to understand the workings of the religious affairs bureaucracy, first by following the story of an aspiring pastor, then by viewing them historically. The Chinese Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement Association, China Christian Council, Religious Affairs Bureau, and United Front Work Department are all discussed along with how they interact, lines of authority, and the role of guanxi.
“Is Persecution Worsening? Perspectives on the Changing Religious Policy Environment in China” by two senior house church leaders.
View from the Wall feature in ChinaSource Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2017, spring issue, Journeying with the Church in China edited by Brent Fulton.
Is persecution in China increasing? Two house church leaders, one who was imprisoned in a labor camp for a few years, and the other, who is a Chinese scholar with strengths in theological education and the history of the Chinese church, give their viewpoints on this topic.
“Contemporary Confucian Revival and Its Interactions with Christianity in China” by Kevin Xi Yi Yao.
Lead Article in ChinaSource Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2014, spring issue, Confucius and Christ: Conflict, Compromise or Communication edited by G. Wright Doyle.
Chinese society today has turned fairly religious with Protestant Christianity and Confucianism experiencing the most growth in recent decades. As these two traditions interact more and more, the tension and rivalry between them intensifies. Dr. Yao looks at the roles that each plays in today’s China along with the place of the so-called New Confucian Movement. As the current Confucian revival represents an attempt to regain Confucian dominance in Chinese society, what is the response of Christianity?
“Intergenerational Challenges in Christian Marriages: A Sociological Case Study of Urban Young Christians in China” by Mary Li Ma.
Peoples of China feature in ChinaSource Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2, 2016, summer issue, Christian Ethics and Family Living edited by Mary Li Ma and LI Jin.
Over recent generations, marriage expectations have changed. For young Christians in China, marriages are taking on new ethical norms that include challenges. Parental pressures in finding a spouse as well as in planning a wedding can create much tension. After marriage, childbearing and rearing continue to generate challenges between the young couple and their parents. The one-child policy has exacerbated these difficulties. Christian couples are swimming against many secular tides in these areas.
Returnees and Partnerships
“Functioning as the Body to Build the Body: Working Together for Chinese Returnees” by Debbie.
Supporting Article in ChinaSource Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 3, 2016, autumn issue, A Call to Partnership in Chinese Returnee Ministry edited by Stuart.
Many returnees have difficulty getting involved in a church once they return to China. The author looks at how agencies, churches, and individuals working together can help returnees become part of a church body. She also explores the benefits of working together internationally and concludes with the importance of partnerships and reasons they can be difficult.
The author asks the question: “Is the Chinese church truly ready to face the task of world evangelism?” He goes on to discuss ten issues facing the mission endeavor as Chinese churches begin to send out workers. He addresses the focus of missions, its work, management, and goals among other topics. He also highlights the need for supportive care for the missionaries themselves.
“Why Believers Need to Understand Church History” by Brother Liu.
View from the Wall feature in ChinaSource Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 3, 2017, autumn issue, The Chinese Church and Its Historical Past edited by Andrew T. Kaiser.
We must know the past to understand the present. For the most part, Chinese Christians do not understand Chinese church history; therefore, they often have no means to properly respond to changes in society. A look back at Chinese church history shows us that many of the difficulties faced by today’s Chinese church have similarities to those that have confronted the church over the years. Not only can history suggest appropriate ways to respond to today’s difficulties, it can help us discern God’s purposes in the present.
“Opportunities and Challenges When Foreign Workers Leave China” by Rachel.
View from the Wall feature in ChinaSource Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 4, 2017, winter issue, Transitions edited by Brent Fulton.
A Chinese Christian reflects on the positives and negatives that leaders, seminaries, and churches in China face when cross-cultural workers leave the country.
“A Pastoral Perspective on Contextualization: An Interview with Pastor ‘Peter’” by Jackson Wu.
CSQ Article in ChinaSource Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2018, spring issue, Contextualization and the Chinese Church edited by Jackson Wu.
In an interview with a pastor from eastern China on the topic of contextualization, the topics discussed include: the tension between Christianity and being Chinese; the lack of a contextualized Chinese theology; obstacles to Chinese contextualization; what Chinese missionaries need to know about contextualization in order to be effective; how foreigners help or hinder Chinese contextualization; and what foreigners misunderstand about the needs of the Chinese church.
Church Structure and Organization
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of intellectuals in Christian communities. The traditional emphasis of the Chinese church on the believer’s spiritual life no longer satisfies the intellectual desires of this new faith community. Naturally, as people’s desire for a systematic study of theology grows stronger, how to understand the Bible and “truth” with a deeper knowledge have become the pursuit and priority goal of this new generation of urban Christians. The pursuit of godliness is a good thing, but the author warns of some dangerous tendencies that may occur.
By Bill Job
Lead Article in ChinaSource Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 3, 2015, autumn issue, Serving in the Midst of Change edited by Andrew T. Kaiser.
Everything changes. We should be used to this by now, but, we usually resist it. As a result, we are stressed when we encounter the reality that some things must change to be relevant. I can no longer buy pants in the size I wore in high school!
So, it should not be a surprise that the role of foreigners in China changes. It is expected, and we should be prepared to offer what is relevant in the new season. Unfortunately, my observation is that we believers are not usually among the early adopters. Instead of asking the Lord for what his ideas are for today, we tend to anchor ourselves to what he said years ago and forget to ask for fresh input from heaven.
When I arrived in 1987, China’s needs were apparent. Foreigners knew how they could contribute. Many Chinese needed to speak English and could not. There you are; it was a clear need—and we came and truly helped. There were clear needs for medical upgrades in both skills and knowledge—and we came and truly helped. There were clear needs to interact commercially with other nations, and there were clear needs to help the disadvantaged—and we came and truly helped.
During the 90s, not much changed. English was still needed and we continued coming as teachers. International business was taking off, and some came to work in that area. Throughout the decade, manufacturing grew dramatically, and China took center stage as the world’s supplier of anything anyone wanted to buy.
China became stronger. English played a major role and was still needed. But, other areas of education also became important. All the skills of business, accounting, management, logistics, and customer service were also needed.
The first decade of this century saw the collapse of the world’s financial system in 2008. With that downfall came the loss of confidence in depending on international business as a way of achieving economic strength. With that shift came a huge change in China’s willingness to look to the West for its future. When that happened, China’s perceived need for Westerners changed as well. It had become very capable in many areas and therefore did not need what foreigners had been bringing.
Throughout past decades, foreign Christians hoped to help Chinese Christians. I recall my first trip to China in 1986, when, as I stood on a street in Guangzhou, someone quietly came up to me, six inches from my face, and said, “I have heard of Jesus. Is it true?” That experience gave me the feeling that the needs were very basic and yet significant; I would certainly be able to help in this area.
However, looking back over 28 years, I see that many of my ideas, flowing from my worldview, were not healthy from a Kingdom point of view. Back then, I assumed, as I had been taught, that the entire Christian experience was founded on knowledge. By that I mean that I did not know some very important things. At first I did not know I was separated from God by sin and that Jesus came to save me from that problem and reconcile me to himself. I needed to learn that truth and I did. Then I moved on to realize my knowledge of the Bible was nonexistent, and so I began to add to that knowledge. Eventually, I completed seminary studies and tried to fill in all the knowledge gaps that I had. My ministry in the United States took the form of teaching because I believed that the basic problem was lack of knowledge. Certainly, there is much to support this worldview.
Then, in my early years in China, I began to meet people who did more believing in what they were learning than I did. I began to meet people who did not know as much as I did, but they believed much more in what they did know. It was unsettling.
The Lord was dismantling the basis of my worldview and changing my foundation from “knowledge” to the idea of “obedience.” I began to realize that God did not seem to care so much about what I knew as he did what I obeyed. He highlighted the issue of obedience in scripture in a way I had not been willing to see. I began to realize that perhaps I should not be teaching what the Bible said unless I was also doing it. Statements like, “Do not worry,” became troubling because I saw how little I obeyed. Likewise, “Bless those who curse you,” took on new meaning when I learned that six women, identified as witches, were cursing me.
As I began to obey his word more, I began to experience what I think of as his life. My life changed dramatically, and I began to shift from a heavy yoke to the light yoke he promised.
At that point, I realized that my influence on the lives of my Christian friends might not have been as positive as I had hoped. If I was simply trying to fill in their gaps of knowledge with what I understood to be the truth, then they would only get the benefit of knowledge. If I was honest, I would admit the accumulation of knowledge had not helped me achieve what my heart actually desired. It was obeying what I knew that brought life. My observation of the impact of what we think of as higher education was clearly disappointing. After a couple of years of focused study on spiritual subjects, several of my local friends had obviously not matured in their spiritual lives as I had expected.
However, the foundation of my worldview shifted once again from “obedience” to the “life of God.” This began to change how I thought about the gospel. I began to see it as the message of the very life of God being available to me and others. Of course, I had to understand my separation from God because of sin and his life given for me, but that was not the end point, it was only the beginning. The destination was experiencing the very life of God—he in me and I in him, just as he promised.
I mention this because it affects the role of the foreigner in China. Sometimes I meet someone who introduces him- or herself as a person sent to bring the gospel to China. I often think to myself, “Which gospel?” If you had asked me when I had first arrived, I probably would have described my understanding of the gospel as the gospel of sin management. I was fully prepared to give those lost people the knowledge they were lacking to deal with this universal problem. But, I was not bringing them the gospel of the “life of God.” That was not what I had been taught. It was not how I was thinking. There is a big difference between the gospel of sin management and the gospel of the “life of God.”
This whole shift in my thinking has taught me to seek intellectual humility. I have come to see that I still need to understand what the Kingdom is and how it works, but I have so much more to learn. Until my stories seem like they could have come from the Bible itself, I want to keep pursuing a better understanding of what I have been given—this life of God. I need to better understand how it works. In this regard, I feel I have learned more about the Kingdom in the past five years than the previous forty-three.
While countries like China will develop and grow, their need for foreign interaction will change. What they used to need, they may no longer feel they need. We might see the situation differently, but that does not really matter. We will be allowed and invited to interact only where they feel the need for our influence.
China has in many ways taken its deserved economic position in the world. Chinese companies now compete head-to-head with many of the best in the world. Sure, there is much to learn, but the invitation to help will go out to those who can bring specific and developed skills. That is the nature of this season in China. No country wants to feel dependent on others.
Still, the deepest benefit foreign believers can bring is the benefit of a life that flows from God through Jesus. The universal need for this does not seem to change as a society develops. Perhaps, it might even increase as a society achieves economic and technical greatness. Often, when that greatness comes, along with it comes the expectation that it has now achieved its purpose. Nevertheless, when you poke beneath the surface, you always find that what our hearts (and theirs) deeply long for is not found in that greatness. It is only found in a relationship with God through Jesus that is experienced as we practice dependence upon him. If we can provide a living example of how this life works in us, we can always bring a treasure to any country in any stage of development.
The problem will be who gets invited to come and stay. Those invitations will change according to the felt needs of China.
One day we were having a management meeting in one of my companies trying to deal with the economic collapse of 2008. Some felt that God had let us down because we lost half our orders that summer. But one leader made the statement that he would rather have one year in our company than 100 years in a large successful company because in our company he learned to walk with God. I was shocked, but delighted, to hear that was his assessment.
I believe that if we help people learn to walk with God as they watch us do our jobs, that will always bring a treasure to any country in which we live and serve.