In November, Wipf and Stock published China’s Urban Christians: A Light that Cannot be Hidden, written by ChinaSource President Brent Fulton. The book is an excellent survey of the landscape of the urban church in China, highlighting both the challenges and the opportunities.
Here are fifteen key quotes from Brent’s book, which will (hopefully) motivate you to want to read the whole thing:
1. For China’s Christians, whose ranks swelled in the countryside from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, the push and pull of urbanization have created the impetus not only for physical relocation but also for a rethink of what it means to be the church in 21st century China.
2. Raising up a new generation of qualified leadership, managing church affairs, maintaining the integrity of the faith amidst an onslaught of secularizing forces, meeting the practical needs of believers, and articulating the church’s mission in a manner relevant to its urban context are among the issues that are top-of-mind for Christians in China today.
3. Mainstream Chinese theology, much of it heavily influenced by indigenous church leader and theologian Watchman Nee, traditionally emphasized personal piety and the individual devotional life, giving rise to a privatized faith. New teaching on the church, including that which is coming out of the Reformed tradition, brings a well-developed ecclesiology that sets forth systematically the responsibilities of church members.
4. While traditional network leaders may have spoken approvingly of China’s “post-denominational” church as evidence of the unity among believers in China, urban unregistered church leaders have been increasingly looking to existing denominational structures outside China to address issues of ordination, membership, and church management.
5. Whereas the traditional house church was hidden from society, and the registered church was prevented from playing a significant role in mainstream social or cultural life, a new generation of urban Christians desires to make the church visible.
6. The shift in religious policy and implementation has been accompanied by a significant shift in the social status of China’s Christians. No longer peasants, marginalized from the rest of society and secluded in rural areas, Christians are now increasingly visible as citizens in China’s cities.
7. China’s urban Christian leaders believe that engaging with their society is essential to the credibility of the church’s witness.
8. Today a new generation of younger Christian scholars combines a strong personal faith with a desire to integrate that faith into their academic endeavors.
9. China’s urbanization has created the conditions for the church to be, in scriptural terms, “salt and light” in a society that many would admit is in dire need of renewal.
10. Becoming acquainted in international gatherings may provide an entry point, but international organizations that are serious about pursuing long-term collaboration with cross-cultural workers in China will need to invest in building understanding and clarifying expectations, taking seriously the reality that working with the church in China is in itself a cross-cultural endeavor.
11. The Chinese church’s vision for cross-cultural missions is not new, but the emergence of a new type of urban church may prove significant in making this desire a reality.
12. The current examination of the role of denominations in China today is necessary as leaders seek to shore up areas in the church that have been lacking. Nonetheless, unless this exploration is conducted in a spirit of humility, it is possible that well-meaning attempts to address very real needs in China’s church could unwittingly turn into lines drawn in the sand, accentuating divisions rather than inviting constructive dialog with those of different traditions.
13. Having moved beyond survival mode to a place where it is now confronting questions about its future role, China’s church is at a crossroads. Its current and future leaders cannot ignore the legacy of the past century, but neither do they need to be bound by it.
14. Although China’s Christians have found ways to become creatively involved in various sectors of society, in each of these areas the Party retains the prerogative to tell Christians how far they can go.
15. While deeply committed to having an influence on the life of their cities, China’s Christians are able to face opposition precisely because their hope is set, not on the future of the temporal urban community to which they currently belong, but ultimately on the promise of a city yet to come.
Image credit: Pudong, by sama0903, via Flickr
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio