Christian leaders from China made history at the 2010 Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, not by their participation, but by their absence. Although some 200 leaders had made preparations and raised the necessary funds to attend, the vast majority were stopped at the airport and prevented from leaving China.
Nearly three years later, about 100 of these leaders were able to join their counterparts from around the world in Seoul, Korea, for the Asian Church Leaders Forum.
This meeting was historic in that it represented perhaps the first time that such a broad spectrum of Chinese church leaders from multiple regions of China and multiple streams within the unregistered church was able to meet with an equally broad spectrum of international evangelical leaders. Much of the focus was, understandably, on the Chinese church itself, with various representatives from China painting in broad strokes something of the complexity of China's church through reports, case studies, testimonies, and interactive workshops. Under the overarching theme of world evangelization, the participants from China also heard from leaders representing the church in Africa, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as other nations in Asia, and together they discussed the role of China's church in the expansion of the gospel worldwide.
At the close of the event, church leaders from China presented the Seoul Commitment, a concise but wide-ranging statement affirming their desire to participate with the global church in the task of world missions. Comprised of four brief paragraphs, the Commitment expresses the aspirations of China's church as well as the challenges it faces as it seeks to build up the community of faith within China while joining hands with the church internationally.
The statement begins with a commitment to the gospel, both its proclamation and its demonstration within Chinese society. For traditional rural church movements, this latter commitment represents a new dimension in ministry. These believers have traditionally seen themselves as very much separate from their society and not having much of an active role within it. Many leaders in the emerging urban church, on the other hand, embrace holistic ministry as central to their mandate. For both groups, the lack of legal platforms within the unregistered church presents a significant obstacle to social action.
The second paragraph focuses on unity as an essential component of the church's witness. The coming together of church leaders from across various traditions and theological persuasions in preparation for the 2010 Cape Town event was itself a testimony to the Chinese church's commitment in this regard, and this spirit was very much in evidence at the Seoul gathering. The absence of any representation from churches affiliated with the Three Self Patriotic Movement did not go unnoticed, reminding many of the ongoing sensitivities and complexities related to the Three Self and House Church divide. However, this initial desire for unity by the Chinese leaders points to the vision of the Lausanne movement that one day "the whole church, including both registered and unregistered churches, would take the whole gospel to the whole world."
Thirdly, the church leaders from China affirmed their commitment to participate in world missions through prayer, mobilization, education and sending. Most of these leaders would be quick to acknowledge that the church's nascent missions movement faces many challenges. However, the quality of the discussions that took place between them and the international missions leaders in Seoul testifies to a growing maturity both in understanding and action.
The statement concludes with a commitment to nurture the next generation of church leadership in China. In recent years the lack of attention to children's and youth ministry has been acknowledged as a weakness within the Chinese church which, if left unaddressed, could potentially undermine many of the gains made in past decades. Thus it is significant that this area would be identified as a key component of the Chinese church's current mandate.
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