In this third section of the article "The Chinese Church: Past, Present, and Future," the author calls for the Chinese church to be engaged in the cause of evangelism and global missions, taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. A vision for missions begins with the pastor, and must be built on the following: 1) prayer, for individual churches and for the church in China as a whole; 2) adequate training for evangelists and missionaries; 3) the Chinese church producing its own missions leaders; and 4) the shedding of "Sino-centrist" attitudes.
Evangelism: The Chinese Church in the Future
A glance at long term trends shows that oppression of the Chinese church has relaxed and religious freedom is increasing. Chinas entry to the WTO, hosting of the Olympic Games and election to the first UN Human Rights Council all provide impetus for the establishment of human rights in China.
This establishment of human rights will and must take place within the framework of the rule of law. In fact, Chinas constitution already ensures the human rights of its citizens, but the problem lies with law enforcement: the key problem with the rule of law in China is the gap that exists between legislation and enforcement. This is apparent in the autocratic way in which law enforcement bodies respond to specific cases: people are more powerful than the law. However, most people aim their attacks at Chinas legislation. It is crucial that both government and citizens surrender to the authority of the law and strive together on this foundation to establish some mechanism for dialogue, while at the same time improving this mechanism so that the impartiality of law enforcement can be monitored.
Despite this, as we look to the development of the church we cannot and need not expect any kind of promise from the government. The Christian faith is not built on government promises, but on the precious word of God, and our God is unchanging.
Some people say that China will become a missionary superpower, and the author wholeheartedly agrees. There are two bright spots in Chinas future: economic revitalization and Christian missions. The former is already apparent, and God will achieve the latter. In view of such a trend, the immediate problem facing the church is a human problem, and we must be prepared to address this. First, the church must look forwards: each church must identify its own goals and direction, actively seek to discern its unique characteristics and Gods particular will, and from this determine its vision. Some Chinese preachers are too narrow-minded and have no interest in mission, while others want to do it but dont know where to start. This reveals that the Chinese church is still very fragmented, lacking cohesion over the issue of missions.
In the authors view, the Chinese church must live up to expectations and take on the commission of worldwide evangelism. It must stride across national boundaries to become a missionary superpower. The preacher must take the lead in this vision. If we are only concerned with growth within our own particular church we will lose even the ability to evangelize. Our sights will be limited to trivial matters and, lacking a great goal, we will run ourselves into the ground over the churchs internal affairs.
We often mistakenly think that first we need to have something (enough money, for example), and only then can we think about doing something. So, we think, the church must first take care to establish itself. Once the Chinese church has reached maturity, once its theological grounding is solid, once we have enough people and enough money – then we can start to think about evangelism.
But God does not first give us the conditions, and then send us out to do something. Our God is our Provider: he first gives us goals and direction, and as we step out he then gives us what we need. This is a ministry of faith. Some churches have told the author that they have already saved as much as 100,000 Yuan, but they dont know what to do with it. This is not right! The authors church has no savings and does not have enough money from month to month, but we serve in faith. We always first set the direction of our service and start to do it, and only then God provides the money. Just like the Israelites crossing the Jordan, we need to first step into the river, and only then God will make the waters stop flowing.
The ministry of evangelism should spur on the growth of the Chinese church, and not the other way round. The church should be strengthened for the sake of evangelism, and the church should be strengthened through evangelism.
The Chinese church should be concerned for cross-cultural mission and should go to places where we do not naturally want to go and where the gospel has yet to spread. And the place with the most unreached people is the Arab world. Not long ago, a man from Afghanistan was sentenced to death for converting to Christianity. CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) courageously called for Christians across the world to pray for him, and in the end he was released. This demonstrates that the Muslim World is not inaccessible to us. Chinese people have many advantages when it comes to missions; for example, Chinese Christians have experience of growing up in an environment of persecution and are therefore more suited to the adverse conditions of the mission field; they can adapt to different food as the Chinese diet is very diverse; Chinese people have good language skills, etc.
If the church, failing to see God's will, has no foresight or burden for evangelism, and then as soon as the religious climate in China relaxes, the church will die. Western church history testifies to this. As the Chinese church begins to put more energy into refining the church and fine-tuning its internal structures, the church will become bureaucratic, programmatic and superficial, and will fall into the same trap as the Western church. The Chinese church should go out and start to evangelize. Of course, the author is by no means suggesting that we should not build up the church (a number of church ministries have been mentioned above), but is rather promoting the use of missions to drive the church forward. The church must start to prepare for this in several ways:
Firstly, by praying for the evangelistic ministry of their own church and of the Chinese church as a whole.
Secondly, by training evangelists to be:
1) Professionals, with the means to earn a living on the mission field
2) Tertiary educated
3) Solid in their theological grounding
It is particularly important that the church trains up missionary families and not just lone individuals. There are already several such families in the authors church.
Thirdly, the church must produce leaders who will stir up missionary consciousness in the whole church. Korea has much to teach us in this respect. Early in the growth of the Korean church, they prayed that by the year 2000 there would be 100,000 missionaries sent out from across Korea – and this goal was met. The next step in their plan is to have sent out one million missionaries by 2020: ten times the total for 2000! There are around 10 million Christians in Korea (25% of the population), so this is equivalent to 10% of Christians, a huge figure.
Korean Christians are also very diligent in their giving. If the pastor calls for people to give to missions, then believers go and sell their house, give the money away, and take out a mortgage on another house, working to pay off the mortgage. Once it is paid off, they sell that house and once again give the money away. Chinese people are weak in this area.
Fourthly, we need to renew our thinking, destroying our Jonah-like nationalism, narrow individualism and sino-centrism. The Chinese church must do this if it is to develop in a healthy direction.
It is imperative that Chinese preachers become mission-conscious – and start now! When we consider the path for healthy church growth we tend to focus on developing theology, resisting heresy, setting up church institutions, cultivating and handing down spiritual traditions, etc. We focus on how to replicate and develop successful models of church, and on the churchs relationship with society: how Christians should witness as salt and light in society. We only know how to consider development from the point of view of the churchs own interests and needs, yet have failed to take into account that the mission of the church is evangelism: to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. To meet the churchs own needs, or to share the gospel: these are two completely different driving forces for development.
Chinas economy has developed and people are starting to become wealthy, but this brings problems too. When people become rich they indulge in all kinds of selfish desires, and China today is full of opportunities for people to gratify their passions. When Christians become rich they must not be like this, but should rather give themselves to Gods work of evangelism, take up the gospel baton and bring it to the ends of the earth. This is what the church of tomorrow must strive for.
Original article: 中国教会的存在形式讨论 (Churchchina.org)
Photo source: World Map, by Sherrie Thai, via Flickr
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