If you asked most Christians in the west to identify the major issues facing the Chinese Church, the answer would probably be persecution and lack of Bibles. But what about Chinese Christians? What challenges do they see?
One of the sister sites of ChinaSource, Chinese Church Voices recently posted translations of comments made by three Chinese Christian leaders concerning some of the key issues and challenges facing the church in China today. In each case, the perspective is that of the urban unregistered church, but many of these issues and challenges hold true for the unregistered rural churches and even the official Three-self churches.
I thought it would be helpful to compile and list them in one place.
- Declaring truth to be relative
One of the earmarks of the post-modern age is the sabotage of absolute truth and the deconstruction of all things, the belief that nothing is absolute save relativity itself / save the fact that all things are relative. [ ]They find the claims of Christianity unacceptable including statements such as 'salvation is found in no one else' and Jesus' own words that 'I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.' They conclude that Christianity is an expression of self-proclaimed bigotry and dismiss the religion entirely.
- The personalization of morals
The personalization of morals overlooks one's innate knowledge of morality, serving only to bring self-respect and self-love but failing to consider others. It encourages individuals to seek whatever their hearts should fancy.
- The privatization of belief
In China, the constitution guarantees the right of every individual to have freedom of religion. You can believe whatever you want, whenever you want, and no one can interfere. Belief deals with the arena of subjective thought and is by nature free and unfettered. But the so-called 'privatization of belief' says that your belief must stay put in your heart; it must not show up in the home, workplace, neighborhood, or internet, etc.
- The consumption of religion
Church attendees seek to use all that the church offers in order to satisfy their own wants and needs. Everything is liable to be taken advantage of, whether it's the preacher, the choir, the deacons, or even God himself. It is akin to being a church consumer: if the church doesn't satisfy one's appetite or meet one's goal, the consumer utters complaint, casts blame, and finds a new place to 'go shopping.' Such a person has no intention to serve and no sense of commitment.
- The secularization of life
Too many Christians come to church merely to assuage their consciences for things said and done outside of church. They listen to the Biblical message preached from the pulpit, but lack both the heart and power to apply the truth to their lives. Their faith has no substance; it exists only in their heads, not their hearts. In society, churchgoers live according to its secular ways and set the sacred on the backburner. They are thus assimilated into society. Where is the witness of light and salt to be seen?
The Christian Times reported on Pastor Zhang of the Beijing Gospel Missionary Church and the four issues that he identifies:
- Passing leadership from one generation to the next
Following the launch of the 1978 reform and opening policy, the Chinese Church had comparatively more freedom. China became the center of attention for many other countries, especially as its material and economic conditions improved. But did such persons like Watchman Nee or Wang Mingdao, leaders who could influence an entire generation, emerge in the Chinese Church at that time? Nee and Wang not only influenced the Church, they also spoke to a generation via the Church. Are there such lights in the Chinese Church today? We should ponder this, and offer up more prayers that leaders will raise up the next generations of leaders. Not only do we need to establish more seminaries, but the Church must be devoted to praying for these and other things.
- The need for discipleship and professionalization
When we look at the Church, we shouldn't simply focus on an increase in numbers we should pay close attention to the increase of disciples. Only this kind of church will be a good and mature church. Only this kind of church will mobilize more people. [ ] Pastors of churches need to be well-trained in all areas. As society is developing so quickly, people's workplaces, office equipment, and even desks are becoming more and more professional. Professionalization is internationalization; internationalization is professionalization. Our Chinese church must not continue to be such a motley crew.
- Standardization in missions
As the missions movement is rising in the Chinese Church, it needs to be standardized. Missionaries need training and revival. Pastor Zhang shared that their church plans to gather all their sent missionaries once or twice a year for training. Chinese missions needs to be revived and standardized this is a great task that the Chinese Church is facing.
- The church needs to be a service to society.
The Chinese church today needs to find and create opportunities for connecting with society. Of course we still need to go to orphanages and nursing homes, and make them feel our selfless love. Yet we also need even more creative channels.
Pastor Ezra Jin, of Zion Church in Beijing identifies six challenges for the Chinese church: (this is from a section of the article "The Chinese Church and the Global Body of Christ" originally published in the ChinaSource Quarterly.
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.[ ] 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.
- A breakthrough in the relationship between the church and state will bring a new wave of revival and growth.
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.
- The church will have a new role in China's social transformation.
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.
- Building 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.
- More and better institutions for training and equipping leaders are needed.
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.
- The Chinese house church will be much more involved in worldwide evangelism and missions.
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.
Image credit: pray, by Allen Li, 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