The original motivation was for the Chinese church to respond to missions just as the many Western missionaries working in China had done. The vision was to take the gospel westward, starting from China and then beyond China, following in the footsteps of the missionaries. This was a common vision, shared by many, as God had given the same calling to different Chinese churches on different occasions. This BTJ vision must have had the hand of God in it. However, this vision should not be fulfilled only by the Chinese churches; it should be fulfilled in partnership with churches worldwide.
As Christians, Chinese pastors have a passionate feeling for Jerusalem. At the same time, Chinese, historically, have had strong emotions about the Silk Road. In the twenty-first century, the Chinese church can send missionaries along three Silk Road routes: North from Beijing to Xian, to Lanzhou, to Kasghar and to Central Asia; Central from Beijing to Xian, to Lanzhou, to Hotan, to Tibet, to Nepal, to India and to the Persian Gulf; South from Beijing to southern China, to Southeast Asia, to India and to the Persian Gulf. BTJ is also a missionary movement taking the gospel back to Jerusalem and to all the unreached peoples along the routes of the Silk Road, particularly in the 10/40 window. It seeks to reach the Muslims in western China and Central Asia, planting churches all the way to the Persian Gulf before reaching Jerusalem.
BTJ is a faith mission movement. The original Chinese pastors received much from the Western missionaries; in response, they took on the challenge of mission by faith. This is not to suggest that the Chinese will take the last baton of the Great Commission. The Chinese church desires to work together with churches from other people groups to bring the world’s remaining 4.2 billion people to Christ and complete the Great Commission.
Responses from Chinese Churches towards BTJ
I will consider the responses from the perspectives of four different mainline Chinese church streams; the charismatic, the evangelical, the conservative fundamental and the Three-Self. These divisions are rough ones only for the purpose of our discussion. The Chinese church has never divided itself clearly along denominational or theological lines. However, these four theological positions are quite defined today and will be even more so in the future.
1. An enthusiastic response from the charismatics. This refers to charismatic house church leaders in various provinces. The influence of the charismatics is quite strong although they represent only a small number of Chinese churches. These charismatic churches have been very active in evangelism sending teams to various rural areas, preaching and planting churches. They are also in regular contact with overseas charismatic groups. They have held BTJ meetings since the 1980s and are connected with overseas BTJ agencies (most with a charismatic background). They are actively promoting BTJ in the Western world and are largely responsible for sparking the overseas discussion on BTJ in recent years. Within China, they have special training schools and are waiting to send workers to Central Asia.
Since these charismatic churches are sending the workers out in haste, many missionaries receive very little training in cross-cultural ministry. The casualty rate of these workers is very high. We hope that these churches will be able to provide systematic training and send out well-equipped workers as they respond to BTJ.
The money raised overseas for BTJ must have good supervision and accountability. Several books published overseas on BTJ have significantly exaggerated the suffering of the Chinese church and its ability to send workers. Sending one hundred thousand workers in ten years to Central Asia is an unacceptable exaggeration. Nevertheless, many Western Christians are accepting these figures as truth.
2. A non-committal response from evangelicals. This refers to some of the more open-minded churches, usually led by younger pastors. These churches are usually urban churches or near universities. They are active in evangelistic work and have connections with overseas ministries.
These church leaders feel that at this time the Chinese churches do not have enough resources to send out missionaries. They also think that the Chinese church should focus on the unreached areas within China first. However, they are not opposed to cross-cultural missions but feel they should be well prepared before launching such work.
Some of these churches have already started specialized missionary training schools for cross-cultural workers. They have invited mission trainers to design their curriculum and internships. They are also promoting prayer support by sharing the BTJ vision among other churches and publishing books on missions. They have networked to support the sending of future missionaries and to set up “mid-way stations” in Central Asia to receive missionaries from China.
My view is that with good planning, the evangelical churches in China will be able to send many well-equipped missionaries in the future.
3. Opposition from conservative fundamentalists. By and large, most Chinese house churches are conservative fundamentalists, accounting for as much as seventy to eighty percent of these churches. They were originally started by Western, conservative, fundamentalist missionaries and have grown tremendously under persecution. Their firm biblical stand attracted many believers. Over the past twenty years, these churches have worked together and seen much success in evangelism and church planting.
Many of their leaders are opposed to the BTJ movement. The main reasons given are:
- They want to concentrate on missionary work within China first. They believe the church is not ready to take on overseas work.
- The movement has become a fund-raising scheme for some people or exaggerates the ministry of house churches.
- Some over-zealous responses to BTJ result in high-profile publicity for the house church, endangering their ministry.
- The BTJ movement has no biblical basis.
Recently, some well-known leaders from these churches have united to oppose BTJ. They are particularly concerned about the lack of accountability of funds raised by the charismatics. However, some younger leaders from these churches feel that although individual actions by BTJ promoters are unacceptable, they and the BTJ vision are separate issues. Missions work should not be hindered by individual actions.
These fundamental house churches have much mission work going on in many areas: church planting in rural villages and cities, ministry on university campuses and work among minorities. In addition, these churches have organized many leadership training programs: for laymen, Christian workers, pastors and Sunday school teachers. As long as God continues to revive these churches, they will become China’s main mission sending force in the future.
My hope is that leaders will rise up in these churches to promote mission work systematically.
4. A cold response from the Three-Self churches. There is no enthusiastic response to BTJ among the 40,000 Three-Self or registered churches. They know very little about major mission activities and do not want to participate in them. The former is because BTJ information is shared only among house churches in China but not publicly. The latter is due to the restrictions of the theological stand of the Three-Self and government policy.
Some younger pastors within the Three-Self church are interested in BTJ and have participated in secret. These younger Three-Self pastors are more open-minded and often engage in evangelistic work including pioneer church planting near their churches. In the last two to three years, they have organized leadership training programs and have sent short term workers to northwest China. They also have training programs for missionaries.
I hope these younger Three-Self pastors can participate in BTJ work more actively in the future.
Foreseeable (or Present) Negative Attitudes and Motives
- Emotionalism. The Chinese people are rich in emotions and very relational. The term “Jerusalem” draws a passionate response from Chinese believers. This is not bad in itself, but the resulting attitudes and actions are important. One should not be drawn to BTJ because of romanticism and mysticism.
- Jumping on the bandwagon. Some may consider themselves BTJ participants just by taking a tourist visit or handing out tracks in Jerusalem. This is unfair to the workers who spend a lifetime serving in that foreign land.
- Over-spiritualizing missionary service. There is a mistaken notion that participation in missions (short or long term) is a more spiritual calling than other callings. The Lord’s Great Commission is for all believers to preach the gospel to the ends of the world.
- The fast track approach. Do not fight to be the first one in the movement. A worker sent out without proper preparation will cause harm not only to himself; other colleagues will be needed to undo the damage.
- Comity territorialism. Some people have no desire to partner with others to fulfill the Great Commission. They prefer to run their own show. Worse still, they will attack others or divide the mission field. They do not have the resources to complete the task but take over the field and do not allow others to participate.
- Claiming another’s credit. Some groups count ministries that belong to others as their own. Others exaggerate their results.
- Fund raising. Some people are already using BTJ to raise money. This is a major concern of the Chinese house churches. There are persistent rumors that funds raised by some agencies have not been managed properly and have no public accountability. This has raised questions among many churches.
What Does the Future Hold?
There is already great confusion today even before the BTJ movement has been formally launched. I foresee the following possible responses from the Chinese church.
- House churches in China will observe this movement carefully. Many major house church leaders are aware of and observing carefully BTJ activities conducted overseas. The main questions being asked are who is promoting it and what has been done. The protocol of the house church is to respond only to people whom they respect. They will not trust just anyone. I believe that unless some respected leaders come forward to promote BTJ and demonstrate practical actions, there will not be significant or united activities for BTJ.
- A generation of younger Chinese ministers will take up this mission. In a few years, the older generation of original BTJ workers will pass away. Will the next generation of Chinese pastors be prepared to receive the mission of BTJ or take the gospel from China to others? At this time, the house church does not yet have this ability. I hope that younger leaders will rise up to lead the ministry of missions. I have great hope in the younger generation which is rich in spiritual life. They will be raised up by God to promote cross-cultural mission work among the Chinese churches.
- Overseas Chinese churches will continue to hold meetings and training sessions both large and small. Many people from both the evangelical and charismatic churches overseas have already focused their attention on this movement. BTJ conferences, both large and small, are being organized in various places. There are also seminaries and training schools being set up for BTJ, both to train and to send workers. We still need to see how these people will be sent out and their ministries in the field. I believe we will see Chinese workers in Central Asia very soon.
God willing, BTJ will be a major missions endeavor in the twenty-first century. I hope that church leaders worldwide, especially the churches in China and overseas Chinese churches, can analyze this movement carefully, find the right direction for BTJ and complete the Lord’s Great Commission together.
Wen Mu, an overseas Chinese, is a seminary president involved in theological education in China and other countries. This article, originally written in Chinese, is an abridged translation by the editor. Taken from “May Your Kingdom Come,” Great Commission Center, California, 2005. Used with permission.