This year ChinaSource marks our 20th anniversary as a clearinghouse of information and relationships for Christians engaged in China. As part of our celebration, Chinese Church Voices is taking a look back with Chinese Christians at what has changed in China over the past 20 years. We have surveyed a range of people from around China and in various contexts who have been Christians for about 20 years or more. We have asked them to reflect on the same five questions related to changes in faith, life, and ministry in China.
This multi-layered tapestry of Christian experience in China shows just how diverse and yet overlapping the Chinese Christian experience can be.
Beginning in September, we dedicated one post per month to summarizing these interactions. In this final post we talk with six Chinese Christians from unregistered churches in one of China’s major urban areas.
We encourage you to go back over the past several months of responses to compare and contrast the variety of Chinese Christian voices today.
Profiles: Six Christians from the Urban Unregistered Church in a Top Tier City
“Charles”—40s, advanced degree, full-time pastor, Christian for over 20 years.
“Rachel”—40s, university educated, bi-vocational ministry worker, Christian since childhood.
“Lorna—40s, middle-school educated, bi-vocational ministry worker, Christian for about 20 years.
“Anna”—retired, advanced education, Christian since childhood.
“Scott”—retired, advanced education, full-time pastor, Christian for about 50 years.
“Jean”—60s, university educated, works in medical profession.
1. In your opinion, what was the greatest challenge to Christianity 20 years ago? What is the greatest challenge now?
For these six, persecution was and continues to be one of the greatest challenges to Christianity. “Twenty years ago the greatest challenge was open persecution,” says Jean. “Today, the greatest challenge is covert persecution.” Each of them noted that persecution is much more subtle today than it used to be. Rachel noted that sometimes the government will send moles, for example, into churches to spy on the activities there.
In addition, these brothers and sisters said secularization and immoral behavior are also concerns for the church in China today.
2. From your perspective, how has the ministry and participation of foreign Christian workers changed in 20 years?
Rachel, Anna, and Jean all highlight that the government continues to make ministry difficult for foreign workers in China. Rachel shared that the government has recently been making it more challenging for foreigners to obtain visas in China.
Heretical teachings continue to spread in China, thanks in part to false teachings coming to China from abroad. Scott notes that there are, of course, good foreign workers teaching sound doctrine, but some foreign workers have brought in heretical teachings in the past 20 years.
Charles describes the growing number of helpful resources and materials that have come into China from foreigner workers. One of the biggest helps for Chinese Christians in the past 20 years has been sound teaching materials and theological education resources. Charles and Lorna also point out the ministry of discipleship from foreign workers has been a big help.
3. For your church or the ministry you participate in, what is available and vital now for ministry that was not available or not important 20 years ago?
All six of these brothers and sisters highlight how biblical teaching has grown in importance and impact today. For these Chinese Christians, a focus on sound teaching and biblical exposition is more a focal point of the church today than in the past.
Rachel, Anna, and Jean note that Sunday School was something not available 20 years ago, but now is vital to their church ministry. They also share that discipleship has grown.
4. Were there any strengths in the church 20 years ago that are less prevalent today?
“Twenty years ago believers were very pure and simple. They longed after and focused on God, and they experienced revival,” Lorna remembers. All six of these veteran Christians share a similar sentiment. Charles notes that twenty years ago believers lived by a “theology of the cross.” They would pay a price to follow the Lord, despite the persecution they knew would follow. In the face of opposition they would stand firm in their faith and their hearts were fervent.
“Today,” he warns, “believers do not thirst for God so much. They hear the Word a lot, but they do it very little, and they don’t serve the Lord with a zealous heart. . . . It is harder to make disciples who can become saints equipped with biblical truth and made into living testimonies.”
Several note that secularization has quenched some of the fire in people’s hearts. “People don’t pursue the truth,” Jean comments. “Believers are neither hot nor cold. They are being enticed by the world,” laments Anna. “Now, because of the great pressures of life,” says Rachel, "they spend much more time at work and on their social lives than in church.”
5. How has your view of China’s place in the world changed over the past 20 years?
Rachel sums up a common sentiment: “Over the past 20 years, China’s economy has developed at a blinding speed, and its position in the world is rising. China’s church is also reviving. The Reform and Opening [economic policy begun in the late 1970’s] opened a great door to China; increased interaction with foreign countries has brought the church many resources, and China has become a missionary-sending nation.”
And yet there is also growing fear about the future of Chinese society. Most of these brothers and sisters, while they respect China’s economic growth, also share their concern over moral decline. “Science and technology have developed at flying speed,” says Jean, “but public morals are degenerating with each passing day. People only care about themselves and lack basic sympathy or compassion.”
China’s rapid economic growth and development has catapulted many parts of the country out of economic hardship. For Christians such as these who live in major urban areas, that change has brought unforeseen challenges and opportunities to the church.
Image Credit: Brian Kelley via Flickr.
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