The revival of the Back to Jerusalem movement (BTJ) in China has caught the imagination of many overseas who would like to partner with Chinese Christians to equip and send missionaries, particularly to the Middle East. While there exist rich opportunities for partnership, the rush to participate in BTJ has also served to highlight some of the pitfalls that can spoil well-meaning attempts to work with the Chinese church.
Wu Xi, who has been involved with China ministry for over 20 years, recently shared these lessons from the BTJ movement, which speak directly to the topic of international cooperation in China service,the theme of this issue of ChinaSource. Brent Fulton
Lessons from International Involvement in the BTJ Movement
Presenting the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
The size of the workforce is the most critical issue in the BTJ debate. In his best-selling book that sparked the current interest in the BTJ movement, Paul Hattaway was careful to identify 100,000 workers as a vision. However, since the only number given in the whole book is 100,000, many among the Western Christian public assumed 100,000 missionaries are ready to be commissioned or have already been sent.
Furthermore, many supporters of BTJ do not choose their words carefully from the pulpit and present the 100,000 figure as fait accompli. Most China ministries estimate the number of current BTJ workers and trainees in the hundreds.
Nobody can dispute a vision God gave to a fellow Christian. As a matter of fact, even the harshest critics of BTJ are very excited about the Chinese church's role as a mission-sending body. The question is how ready is the church and whether this vision will be accomplished in years or in decades. As we share about BTJ, it is imperative that we present not just the vision, but also the reality, so that we will not be guilty of misinformation.
Money Is the Source of All Kinds of Evil
There are two aspects to this lesson. First, are we faithful and transparent in how our ministry handles finances? Do we present the financial need accurately without misleading the donors? This follows closely from Lesson 1. If funds were raised based on the 100,000 figure, then there is a significant issue of integrity.
Second, the financial capacity of the Chinese church often puts her at the receiving end of resources and finances from outside. Is our attitude one of superiority and controlling? Do we threaten to withhold our finances if our partners in China refuse to be bought by our funds? Examples abound of how unwise use of excessive funds, combined with no accountability, have corrupted church leaders in China.
The Importance of Cultural Adaptation, Language Acquisition and Learning the History of the Chinese Church
An incarnational model of ministry demands that we work alongside the Chinese church. We may need to leave behind our own way of doing things and adapt Chinese ways. One of the earlier BTJ training schools was set up on a Western seminary model, complete with cap and gown graduation ceremony. Privately, Chinese church leaders lamented that the entire training program made little contribution. Unfortunately, the Western partners did not understand their Chinese counterpart until after the first class graduated.
In BTJ meetings, Brother Yun (the Heavenly Man) has often been introduced as a spokesman for the Chinese church, a notion that many Chinese church leaders reject. Indeed, the BTJ website points out that the assertion that Brother Yun is a main leader of a house church network may have been made by others in error. Also, the official translator for Brother Yun has not been faithful in his translation on many occasions, adding his own thoughts to Brother Yun's testimony.
Much debate has swirled around the accusations leveled against Brother Yun by many senior Chinese church leaders on the JesusReturn website.
These leaders are responding to two issues from their conservative Puritan background. First, they see the Born Again Movement (with which Yun was associated in China) as a cult and will not hesitate in denouncing it. Along the same line, they reject any association with the charismatic movement which includes some of the fastest growing house church networks in rural China. Second, following the standards of Wang Ming Dao, they consider presenting the partial truth but not the whole truth (see Lesson 1) as a sin. Such a tradition will certainly label someone who preaches falsehood (100,000 as reality versus vision) as a con man.
Partnering with the Overseas Chinese Church
It is interesting to note that the overseas Chinese church has been silent in the BTJ debate. Most overseas Chinese groups know enough about China to realize that the 100,000 figure is a vision, not reflecting the current reality. The Caucasian church should learn to take some cues from the overseas Chinese church which can give tremendous input, avoiding the pitfalls of Lesson 3.
The Great Commission Center has circulated widely a statement on BTJ. The following excerpt is a fitting summary and concluding remark (emphasis mine) to the thoughts I have presented here.
"To ensure the movement's integrity, it is our prayer that this vision will not be harmed by human weaknesses such as misrepresentation, sensationalism, arrogance and exaggeration. We further ask the Lord to protect us from spiritual attacks, that we will be unified and transparent as we commit ourselves to this challenging and significant task."
Image credit: Journal Entry (Joel Montes de Oca) by Chris Lott, on Flickr.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. 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 China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio