With so much attention focused on the house churches in China, we often overlook what God is doing in the registered Three-Self churches. This lack of knowledge leads to a lack of understanding. ChinaSource Quarterly recently had the opportunity to talk with a pastor of a Three-Self church in a city in northern China.
CSQ: Could you tell us something about your church?
Pastor: My church is located in a rural district of my city. There are usually 800 people who attend our morning services. This past year, in an effort to reach younger people, we started a Sunday evening service which has grown from 10 to over 100. Every year I baptize approximately 200 people. We praise God for this growth.
Our pastoral staff is quite small. I am grateful to God for providing an assistant pastor to help lead the church. We rely heavily on lay workers to help care for the members.
In addition to serving the church, I also provide pastoral care for dozens of registered meeting points in the villages and smaller towns in the district. Altogether, there are 5,000 Christians whom we serve. One of my primary responsibilities is to provide training for the lay leaders of these smaller congregations, something I do according to a systematic plan.
CSQ: Is your church a government church?
Pastor: I don't view it as a government church; the church belongs to Jesus Christ. One of the topics in our training program for lay leaders is the doctrine of the church. What I teach clearly is that the church is the body of Christ. It is the bride of Christ. It is the family of God. It is made up of people who have been made new by Christ. Christ is the head and we are in him. God is sovereign. Even though there is supervision from government bodies, the church does not belong to the government; it belongs to Christ. We are not serving the government; we are serving Christ. Once we clearly understand this, then we can know how to have a relationship with the government and help them understand what the church is. We can be salt and light in society.
CSQ: Many people in the West assume that the government supervises what you preach. Is this true?
Pastor: It is the Holy Spirit who directs my preaching. I have never once reported to or needed approval from the government for my preaching.
CSQ: How easy is it for your parishioners to get Bibles and other Christian resources?
Pastor: It is easy for our believers to get Bibles. They can be purchased in our church and at all the meeting points in the district. Audio Bibles are also very popular, especially for some of the older believers who cannot read. These devices come with not only the Bible but also sermons and other study resources. Many churches also have their own web sites where people can learn about the church and about Jesus. We are currently setting up a web site for our church.
I know that many people outside of China have heard that the Bible in China does not include the book of Revelation; I would like to say that this is not the case. There has never been a time when sections were not included in Bibles that we use in China. I'm not sure where this idea came from.
CSQ: What type of interactions do you have with government officials?
Pastor: Since churches are members of society, we must obey the local regulations and customs. Local officials don't like surprises, so I make sure that I inform them when we have large-scale events, such as special Christmas or Easter services. I assure them that we have taken all the necessary measures to make sure the event will be held safely. This may include detailing our fire prevention plan, or even detailing how we will provide toilet facilities for the extra people who will be coming to the church. They are not interested in restricting these events but want to make sure that they are conducted safely.
I am showing them respect by keeping then informed. They are not interested in the content of our teaching, only that we are doing things in order. I believe that God loves the government officials too; treating them with respect is a way to create an opening for sharing the gospel with them.
I also want them to know that what we are doing brings benefit to society; our activities are blessing the community. When they understand this, then they can be supportive of what we are doing.
CSQ: What challenges does your church face?
Pastor: The biggest challenge is the call to share the gospel with everyone in our district. We praise God for the 5000 believers in our church, but in a district of close to one million people, this is still a small number. There are still hundreds of thousands of people in our towns, villages, and work places who have never even heard of Christianity or Jesus. It is my passion that everyone, not just in my district or city but in all of China, will hear the gospel and proclaim Jesus as Lord. So as a pastor, I want to help my people build a strong foundation for their faith and train them in evangelism.
We also face the challenge of cults. Those who are not well educated or well grounded in their faith are very susceptible to false teaching, so we must teach them how to discern what teachings are true and what ones are false.
CSQ: Do you have anything else you would like to say to your brothers and sisters?
Pastor: I know that many people, both inside and outside of China, have opinions about the Three-Self churches, but I can clearly see that God has given me this platform to spread the gospel. The most important thing for me is that I have not been called by any person but by God. No matter what I do, it is God, through the Holy Spirit, guiding me and giving me strength. It is not the work of a person. For this, I am grateful to God.
Image Credit: Joann Pittman