Lead Article

The Chinese Church and the Global Body of Christ


I have been asked to share about the role of the Chinese church within the global Body of Christ, and so I share my experiences as an evangelist who has served the Lord for more than 20 years in China. I'd like to share from I Corinthians 12:26: "If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together;" and from Galatians 6:2: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." I will be addressing three 30-year periods: 1949-1978; 1979-2008; and 2009 to the present.

It is a great honor to be able to attend this conference and to share what God is doing in China and in the world. I pastor Zion Church in Beijing and also serve in a seminary. I was born in northern China and in 1986 I entered Beijing University. During my junior year, I experienced the Tiananmen Square event. Two months later I visited a church, and two months after that someone shared the Gospel with me. That desolate fall afternoon, in the corner of a TSPM church, I received Christ as my savior. That very night I knew how I should spend my life.

In 1992 I quite my job in a foreign company in Beijing and decided to go into full-time ministry. Perhaps I was the first person with a bachelor's degree who entered seminary in China following the Cultural Revolution. After studying and teaching in the seminary for seven years and serving in the TSPM church for ten years, in 2002 I came to Fuller Theological Seminary to study. In 2007 I went back to start a house church, called Zion Church, in Beijing. I do not know how you feel, but having served in the TSPM for more than ten years I knew that it was not pleasing to God. So when I returned, I decided to serve in the house church.

At the time I started my church in 2007 in an office building in Beijing, a minister from North America came to visit. He said, "If you're church can last more than three months it will be a miracle." At that time we had a 300 square meter meeting place. This visitor said that there had never before been such a large meeting place for Christians in Beijing, so I was challenging the government. This was not a "house church." In addition, since the Chinese house church has no tradition of giving regular offerings, how could we pay more than $4,000 per month in rent?

However, we've been at it for more than four years! We have experienced many challenges, but we're still here. Our worship space has been extended to 8,000 square meters. Every weekend we have about 700 people. We have successfully planted two more churches around Peking University and Beijing Normal University. We have also sent two missionary familiesto Lanzhou and to Yunnanwho have successfully started churches there. People from other churches in China visit our church and say, "Pastor Jin, certainly you must have someone in the government helping you behind the scenes." I reply, "I do have someone helping me behind the scenesin heaven."

Four and a half years ago when I started this church, I could not have dreamed of what we see happening today. Every Sunday we have about 10-20 newcomers, 80 percent of whom are coming to church for the first time. When I was serving in the TSPM church everyone who attended was older than me. But in my church today they're all younger than I am. They have very good educations and very good careers. God's work in China today is really wonderful. It's like Ephesians 1:18-19 says; we really do not know the hope to which He has called us, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

I have been asked to share about the role of the Chinese church within the global Body of Christ, and so I share my experiences as an evangelist who has served the Lord for more than 20 years in China. I'd like to share from I Corinthians 12:26: "If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together;" and from Galatians 6:2: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." I will be addressing three 30-year periods: 1949-1978; 1979-2008; and 2009 to the present.

1949-1978

During this time the Chinese church was forced to be separated from the global Body of Christ. The Communist Party came to power in 1949, and in 1950 they expelled all foreign missionaries from China. More than 150 years of Protestant missionary work in China came to an end. The Chinese church lost its most important leaders and was orphaned. In 1953 the Party launched the Three-self Patriotic Movement, the goal being to sever all connections between the Chinese church and the church overseas, particularly anyone in the Chinese church who was considered an "imperialist."

The Chinese church experienced a political movement that was unthinkable to the church outside. Some Chinese Christians, contrary to their own consciences, were willing to accuse the foreign missionaries and even the faith in order to stay within the movement. Others refused and suffered persecution and imprisonment, including Wang Mingdao, Watchman Nee, Moses Xie, and others. Even the survival of those who stayed within the TSPM, going through a difficult process in order to change their own perspective, was by no means guaranteed. As the revolution gained momentum, the TSPM churches began to be shut down. Eventually, there were no churches to be seen anywhere in China. I know many of you prayed for China during that time, and some organizations in the midst of this darkness persevered in faith, delivering Bibles and spreading the Gospel message.

1979-2008

In 1979, China opened its doors and resumed its interactions with the outside world. We saw revival in countryside, followed by the revival of the Three-Self church in the cities. After the Tiananmen incident in 1989, the urban house church also began rising up. China began experiencing the most rapid urbanization process in the history of the world. The cities became an area where the government was not able to exert effective control. At this time many Christians from around the world found creative ways to enter China. The global church began serving in China in various ways, including Bible distribution, Christian publishing and broadcasting, church planting, personal evangelism, theological training, social services, and evangelism among minority peoples. The revival in China cannot be separated from this support and participation by overseas Christians. At the same time, there have also been some negative effects, including the emergence of denominationalism, heresies brought in from abroad and corruption of leaders due to financial issues. Nonetheless, during the past thirty years the Chinese church has experienced great growth.

2009 to the Present

Now we've entered a third era. Some people would ask why I put the beginning of this era at 2009; is this not rather arbitrary? However, this year was very significant in Chinese history. Chinese intellectuals entered into a heated debate about whether or not China's reform would continue. The reform launched by Deng Xiaoping, emphasizing economic prosperity, had lost its ability to motivate, its popular support, and its direction. All of the negative effects of reform were being felt by the people at large. All the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC were tinged with the realization that the tensions in society had reached the boiling point. At the same time we saw new trends emerging in the Chinese church. The Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 opened up for the church a new space in which to rise up. The Chinese church suddenly leapt into action, revealing its latent power and resources.

In addition, at this time church leaders in China responded to an invitation from the International Lausanne Committee to send a sizeable group of participants to the Capetown 2010 conference. Although in the end we were not able to participate due to the pressure from the government, the Chinese house church had in the previous two years of preparation developed powerful networks, and its passion for world mission had been aroused like never before.

I believe these phenomena point to the dawning of a new era beginning in 2009. I believe that in the next 30 years, whether in breadth or in depth, the global body of Christ will connect with the Chinese church much more than before. I also see the church in China facing six challenges in the next 30 years. These challenges are not ours alone, but are for the global church as well.

Six Challenges

First, China will remain the largest mission field in the world. During the next 30 years, China will still contain the largest number of nonbelievers and unreached people. We must give attention both to the extreme level of difficulty as well as to the extreme strategic significance of the evangelization of China. In the past, I was very encouraged by reports of the number of Christians in China, for it increased my faith and gave glory to God. However, more and more I do not pay as much attention to these numbers. For no matter how many believers there are today, China is still less than five percent Christian. China has 2300 county-level cities. According to one study, only one third of these cities possibly have a church. The further west one goes, the fewer Christians one finds. The evangelization of China demands the concern not only of Chinese Christians, but of the church worldwide.

Second, there will be a breakthrough in the relationship between church and state in the next 30 years which will bring a new wave of revival and growth. Many foreign observers talk about signs of a new relationship between church and state in China. But China is a huge country; the government is not going to suddenly change its religious policy. During the first thirty years following the establishment of the PRC, the religious policy of the Chinese government was characterized in broad terms by the "opiate of the people" theory, with the goal being to exterminate religion. Since opium was harmful to the people, it needed to be destroyed. During the second 30 years, under the United Front policy, the patriotic religious organizations were used to control religion. Religious activities within patriotic religious organizations like the Three-Self Patriotic Movement were allowed, but those outside were targeted for persecution.

Today, it is clear both to the people and to the government that the past policies were a failure. All the police and all the officials I have talked to agree with me that the Chinese house church can never be destroyed. In the next thirty years, the theory of building socialist civilization will be the main guiding principle for the government. In this environment the government will promote a policy of acceptance, forbearance and even support for religion. In the quest to build socialist civilization, Christianity will become a dynamic force. In the Chinese policy environment, this is a revolutionary conclusion. Once the Party comes to this conclusion, no other force will be able to oppose the church in China. Why have Shouwang and Zion Churches not been destroyed by the government? Because the whole picture has changed. Yet very few people in China today understand that God has opened a huge door for the Chinese church.

Third, this is a new era in terms of the role of Christians in the midst of China's social transformation. China's society is awaiting a huge transformation, like a pregnant woman who is just about to give birth; however, she needs the strength to do so. Many people are looking to the church to provide this strength to help the Chinese society give birth to a new day. I believe the next thirty years in China will be similar to the period of the 1920s to the 1940s. At that time a thousand years of feudal rule collapsed, and a new republic was established. This was also the most dynamic period in history for the church in China. The church was active in every area of societyeducation, culture, politics and economics. The significant transition in the next 30 years will be from the Party's authoritarian rule to the emergence of a modern nation. There is no force that will be able to stop this development, for whoever gets in the way will be destroyed. I believe that the elites of today have the potential to play an important role in this social change. I am particularly looking forward to how Christians can play a role similar to that of believers one hundred years ago who, during a time of epic change, made a great contribution to the Chinese people and nation.

The crux of the matter, and my fourth point, is whether we will be able to build local churches that are full of life. Only if the church can bring healing to the individual, build healthy families, establish a supportive community and provide moral direction to society, will the Chinese church receive favor that is far beyond anything we can imagine today.

However, the challenges in shepherding the church are great. During the past four and a half years, I have met many people in China from all walks of life. They all share one thing in common; they all have been wounded. They cannot see any hope in front of them. Could the church really bring healing to these people, bring meaning to their lives, build communities, build strong families and bring a dynamic power to the societythis is the question the church needs to seriously consider. We know there is a dearth of well-educated pastors in China today. We also need a breakthrough in the relationship between the house church and the TSPM.

Fifth, we see the need to work together to develop leaders and to establish all kinds of new training, research and educational institutions. Can we seize this opportunityto develop church leadership, as well as leadership throughout Chinese society? If the church can provide a new generation of leaders for China then God's name will be lifted up.

Finally, and most importantly, in the next thirty years China's house church will be much more involved in worldwide evangelism and mission. We have been singing the song, "Missionary China," for the past twenty years, and we believe this will be a reality in the next thirty years. The house church in China is joining forces with the larger world church in places such as Brazil, Africa and Southeast Asia in order to do our part in the task of world evangelization. While China remains the largest mission field, it might also become the world's largest sending country.

Looking to the Future

However, most important is the future. The revival of the Chinese church will surely result in its participation in the task of world evangelization. When I was attending a conference in Korea, I met 150 pastors who are working among Chinese students there. In Southeast Asia, Africa and particularly in North America, there are many evangelists from China spreading the Gospel. When I led a retreat in Yunnan province for evangelists who are serving among seven different ethnic groups, I was struck by the fact that, among the Miao nationality, there are two different types of Miao, the Sichuan Miao and the Yunnan Miao, and these two groups are totally different. The Yunnan Miao have already sent missionaries to the Sichuan Miao. Another minority group in southwest China has sent workers across the border to their ethnic "cousins" in a neighboring country. Some from southern China who had planned to attend the Lausanne conference have already established a missionary sending base in Thailand. Recently, I attended a meeting of church leaders in Beijing where one network from northern China was preparing to send four families to Pakistan. All these are just the beginning.

In all of this, what is the unique role of the North American church? First, the American church model will continue to influence the Chinese church in the next thirty years. China will never become just like America, especially where the area of church and state is concerned. However, the American church model will profoundly affect the thinking of Chinese Christians, intellectuals and social elites. Second, America has the world's largest concentration of Christian human and educational institutional resources. Chinese Christianity and the transformation of Chinese society need this power. The American church is also providing the leadership for the world's largest Christian networks.

I would like to close by offering the following suggestions to the American Church. First, it needs to build a partnership with the Chinese church. American Christians are gracious, easy going and easy to build relationships with; thus they are warmly welcomed in China. The church in America is huge, but the church in China will one day be the largest Christian community in the world. So today we need to begin to cultivate friendship and collaboration, for in the future this will have an effect upon Christianity worldwide.

Next, we need to simultaneously send and receive. We need to send top quality people to China to assist in the spread of the Gospel there. At the same time it is important to reach those who are coming from China. Most of China's best and brightest are coming to America. If they can be successfully reached and discipled, this will have a decisive impact upon the future course of China. In addition, the best Christian intellectuals must be prepared for leadership in the church. I would particularly like to promote one-to-one sister church relationships between congregations in the United States and congregations in China. In this way they can serve one another's needs and work together to plant new churches. Finally, we need to welcome Chinese Christians to participate in networking with the Global Body of Christ.

Image Credit: 100_5328 by J, on Flickr

Ezra Jin

Dr. Ezra Jin is pastor of the Zion Church in Beijing and also serves in a seminary.以斯拉金是锡安教会的牧师, 当任重要任务。不仅是自己教会的培训,也帮助其它的教会牧养和培训。 View Full Bio