With this global convergence, the collective experience of the church internationally does contain models or at least potential approaches for confronting issues that have only recently appeared upon the horizon in China. Herein lies fertile ground for the development of shared approaches to opportunities and obstacles that are not only critical to China but which will likely pose significant challenges to the Body of Christ globally in the decades to come.
Herein also lie the pitfalls of applying uncritically to China assumptions about church life and ministry that have come to shape the development of the church in the West and, by extension, much of church life elsewhere in Asia. Wholesale transference of policies, procedures, leadership arrangements, or forms of worship may appear to meet immediate needs. For those providing these, such contributions may appear to be critical to ensuring that the Chinese church develops in a manner that is doctrinally sound. Indeed these contributions may even be welcomed by Chinese Christian leaders who are struggling to put into place structures that can support the church as it moves forward into an uncertain future.
However, these transferences not only run the risk of imposing upon the Chinese church forms which are culturally inappropriate; they also rob the current leadership of the opportunity to develop their own way forward through a process of much soul searching, prayer, study of scripture, and dialog with one another and with believers outside China. The end results of this process may bear a striking resemblance to the solutions initially posed by helpful outsiders, for the same Holy Spirit is at work in both parties. Yet the process by which the Chinese church reaches this point will have itself been a formative step in the maturing of the church's leaders, taking them deeper into God's word, causing them to reflect upon how the church has responded historically in similar situations, requiring patience and persistence in deliberations among themselves about how to move forward, and ultimately proving Christ's faithfulness to His church as they wait upon the Spirit for guidance.
A previous generation of Chinese Christians, cut off from all outside contact and separated from their leaders, was forced to seek the Lord in this way. Their testimonies bear witness to His faithfulness. While acknowledging that China and its church are at a much different place today, it is nevertheless worth considering whether outside intervention may unintentionally serve to short-circuit the process by which God seeks to mature the current generation of Chinese church leaders.
(Excerpted from Brent Fulton, Ph.D., "Perceived Challenges of Christians in China," in Bruce P. Baugus, ed., China's Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom, Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014. Available on Amazon.)
Image credit: Joann Pittman
Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. 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... View Full Bio