In May of this year, ChinaSource attended the Reformation 500 and the Gospel conference organized by China Partnership. The three-and-a-half day conference in Hong Kong brought together over 3,700 believers (over 3,000 from China) to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Along with hearing from international and mainland Chinese pastors, we interviewed several Chinese attendees to learn more about what drew them to the conference, their take on the current state of the Chinese church, and to hear their impressions of the conference.
We’ve selected excerpts of those interviews showing different perspectives on current church life in China. This week we hear from church planters in Wenzhou combatting secularization and government pressure and a brother from Wuxi shares about the need for healthy church. Next week a brother from a reforming church in Shenzhen testifies to faith and reliance on God and a returnee from Chengdu talks about the need for mentoring and adjusting to church in China.
Wenzhou Christian Brothers, Church Planters
ChinaSource: Could you share a little about your church situation and the Christian life in your city?
Brother 1: We are a church plant. We studied the whole Grace to City curriculum and Church-Planting College curriculum. Right now we have about a dozen people in the church. On Sunday gatherings, there are more than twenty people. Normally, on Friday night we have a fellowship, and then our Lord’s Day gathering on Sunday morning. And then on Sunday afternoon, we bring people who are moved and willing to serve with their time and energy to preach the gospel, out to do street evangelizing.
ChinaSource: What do you feel is the Chinese church’s greatest need? Greatest lack?
Brother 1: The Christian faith along the coast or in similarly developed cities hasn’t taken root too deeply, but everyone’s rejection of Christianity is different than before. They basically don’t have an attitude of rejection towards religious faith—this is really a different and good phenomenon. The bad phenomenon is that people who believe in the Lord have a degree of knowledge of the faith that’s quite superficial.
Yesterday several pastors talked about this problem. . . . This includes us Wenzhou believers as well—secularization is still very serious. On the one hand, the first generation of believers’ mentality was rather utilitarian: this faith is able to solve my immediate personal problems, therefore I will join this religion or faith. But going forward, you realize that this faith isn’t just to solve people’s individual and immediate problems; rather, it speaks of God’s kingdom.
So we need to challenge these second, third, fourth generation Christians to take up their cross for Christ—especially in a place like Wenzhou where we are economically developed, where life is easy and comfortable, and where there is even more secularization. I went to Yunnan for some ministry work there. The brothers and sisters there were very simple, plain, so I could compare the two. In the past several years, I went to many places to minister. The children of people from Wenzhou and the children from other places—they all believe in the Lord—but the children from other places were different. Wenzhou children had kind of a pampered and spoiled feel, and children of believers from other places were—we can’t say what their true essence is like, but by comparison, their zeal for the faith and willingness to the pay the price was different than ours coming from a more peaceful environment.
Brother 2: Wenzhou is known as a place where the numbers of those who believe are rather large. But as for influence on society . . . actually we don’t really feel we have much influence. It’s very weak. So it’s a question of, like several pastors shared in the last few days, our need to let our faith be active in our lives. Many times, life is for life, and faith is—or, religion is for religion [i.e. separating or compartmentalizing life and religion]; we don’t live out our faith. So when we leave church—or, even in church it’s nothing special—and then after we leave church, we may just disappear and have no influence or impact. So, now, how [do Wenzhou believers] take this truth and live it out in our lives, careers, in every relationship, whether marriage or family, with our loved ones—this is the work that we need to do.
ChinaSource: What is the situation in Wenzhou right now? Do you feel government pressure, or is there no problem?
Brother 1: Both aspects are true. . . . We very clearly feel how from the top it is getting tighter and tighter, including in 2014 when they tore down crosses. Afterwards, they hung the [Chinese] national flag, as well as installed monitors. So, it’s a step by step . . . deepening process. Viewed from the top, it seems that they’ve been very successful.
Now we at the bottom feel this pressure, for instance when they tear down crosses. Many believers in the church ask, “Why? The cross was perfectly fine there; why did they tear it down?” Everyone says that this is the government’s control and suppression of the church; it’s the persecution that we feel. And then, in the past few months, starting at the end of March, monitoring systems were installed—this was also forcibly done. And the brothers and sisters say, “Why did this happen?” So we must know that we—the church—will suffer persecution in this world. We should prepare our hearts to be a witness for Jesus Christ. In this respect, we very clearly feel the pressure and feel the control getting heavier and heavier.
On the other hand, the higher-ups—they don’t have written policies. It might just be a certain location’s official [who decides what to do]. For example, the Zhejiang provincial Party committee member may have acted as an individual, or [acted based on] his understanding of what the higher-ups [wanted]. But every official, whether in Wenzhou or in Wenzhou’s nearby towns and villages, has their own ways of carrying out [policies]. Some will implement them rather strictly, some even to the point of starting bloody conflicts. Some might be a little more lenient—they might say, “Hey, just do this thing for me, let me take a picture,” and that’s it. And afterwards, he won’t come to follow up, and he won’t say, “Has this continued? Is the national flag still there? Is the monitoring system still there?” On the whole, no two places are quite the same. So, there’s a saying, “Up top, they have measures; below, we have countermeasures.” In general, we have both aspects.
A Brother from Wuxi
ChinaSource: What are the biggest challenges you face right now?
Brother from Wuxi: I think the greatest thing the church faces right now is developing [a healthy] church organizational structure. The health of the church, its internal structure, is very crucial. But this is a rather arduous process, a slow process. Another—[the location of] church meeting sites will be a future challenge we encounter.
Right now we don’t have a conflict with the government. The government won’t put pressure on you, unless all at once you have lots of people. We only have about a hundred.
ChinaSource: Why did you want to come to this conference and what are you getting out of it?
Brother from Wuxi: I normally watch John Piper’s sermons online, and can see those pastors preach. But, this conference is a big international gathering. So, I came to the actual site to listen, [to let] the Holy Spirit work, because the Holy Spirit through this conference is with us. I believe the effect is better than just listening at home. So I want to, through this conference, let my heart be ignited by the Holy Spirit, to be ignited by the fire of the gospel, so that when I return I can better serve the church. All these brothers and sisters have this hope.
Our church also held a commemoration of the anniversary of the Reformation. I felt that a 500-year anniversary is a special anniversary. For another thing, it is in Hong Kong. I’ve been to conferences before. This kind of conference lets me see the church’s future direction. Now I have a clearer vision of the church’s future.
Participating has helped me a lot because I see a lot of problems in life and in our younger generation. . . . The problems we face [in a tier-two city] may be more than those of churches in bigger cities.
So, we should take root even more in the gospel, and influence this generation even more, because our house churches in these cities are pretty new—only four or five years old. They don’t have a spiritual inheritance and foundation like those churches in tier-one cities, so this will be a future challenge. We, like our friends, are passing on the gospel. The city is truly growing in discipleship; this is the influence of the gospel. Thank the Lord.
[Correction: The brother from Wuxi was wrongly identified in an earlier version.]