Chinese Church Voices

Is a New Door Opening for Churches?

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

In this article from Christian Times, Yan Yile draws attention to a new government policy that ostensibly opens up the possiblity for greater provision of social services from non-government organizations. Yan argues that the church in China has neglected its duty to “love your neighbor” and needs to become more involved in providing social care. Now is the time to get involved.

Society’s Call to Assemble for Social Welfare: Is the Church Ready?

This year while many churches are focusing their attention on the “Regulations on the Management of New Religious Affairs,” and considering how to cope with possible persecution, another document has been quietly introduced, but it seems that few people are paying attention to it. This document which is good for the church is “The Ministry of Civil Affairs’ Opinions on Cultivating and Developing Community Organizations for Social Development”, published by the Ministry of Civil Affairs on January 8, 2018 (Issuance by the Civil Affairs Bureau [2017] No. 191, hereinafter referred to as “Opinions”).

According to reports, the "Opinions" addresses such problems as unsound management of community social organizations, imperfect cultivation mechanisms, and the unclear role of social services. They have proposed to cultivate and grow the development goals of community organizations, as well as the scope and content of services for community organizations. In support of social organizations, specific and detailed requirements have been put forward. It is necessary to open the way to fully use the functions of community social organizations.

Obviously, the issuance of the “Opinions” is also an important manifestation of the changing functions of the current government. From the versatile all-purpose model of the past to an efficient and streamlined service model, the gaps left by the transformation of government roles and functions need to be filled and played by many social organizations. Therefore, the government is also fully aware of the need to vigorously promote the cultivation of various types of public social welfare organizations.

Therefore, the "Opinions" points out that in China, in areas such as family services, health services, pension services, and childcare services, there exists target allowances for the residents in the community, such as shut-ins, empty nesters, rural left-behind workers, children in dire circumstances, the disabled, etc. High-needs groups should be provided urgent allowances for social services such as life care, sports and entertainment, and health care.

To this end, the “Opinions” proposes a specific near-term outlook: By 2020, each community in the city will have an average of no less than ten community social organizations, and each village in the countryside will have an average of no less than five community social organizations; after another five to ten years, the management system of community social organizations will have become more sound and will have become a powerful supporter for innovative grassroots social governance.

In today’s context, the church cannot focus solely on how to cope with the problem of persecution. We admit that there is persecution, but many times it is exaggerated. Therefore, one of the big issues that the church should consider is how to seize the day, take advantage of the situation, and accomplish something big. This will undoubtedly also involve the transformation of the church itself.

Looking back on the history of the church, Christianity is not only a religion of “saying,” but also a religion of “doing.” There is not only an emphasis on “preaching,” but also on paying careful attention to “loving your neighbors.” This is what the Lord Jesus said and did. In fact, since its birth two millennia ago, the church has been accompanied by various social care ministries. From the church has come various types of public charity organizations, not only practicing Jesus’ teaching of “love your neighbor,” but also doing good social work for the witness of Christ. The church also promoted the advancement of human civilization and demonstrated the power of Christianity.

In China, for of a variety of reasons, the church for quite some time has not been very enthusiastic about social care, and it does not really operate with such a concept. In the past, the church locked itself into a bunker-like mentality while at the same time tied itself up in a strict sacred/secular dualism. There was no clear awareness of social concerns. However, with the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province, many churches seem to have “woken up” and seen the importance of social concern. Although some underdeveloped practices have been exposed during the disaster relief activities, it is still impressive that many churches are now aware of the concept of social concern. They have fostered a burden and calling for this work and are thinking through how to carry out targeted community work as their situation allows.

The Lausanne Conference, which took place more than 40 years ago, has already sounded an alarm for social concern among evangelical churches. The "Lausanne Covenant,” passed at the Lausanne Congress in 1974, gave great attention to the issue of Christian social responsibility. In the covenant, one paragraph reads: "Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ.” We have to admit that the Chinese church has fallen decades behind [on social concerns].

The good news is that while the church has begun to be more aware of social care, the external environment has also been constantly improving. Especially in recent years, with the development of society and the transformation of the government’s roles, the demand for public welfare organizations is becoming more significant. Government departments have also continuously issued relevant laws and regulations, and are encouraging religious communities to participate in charitable public welfare. They are doing this not only by lowering the threshold, but also by giving more support.

The above-mentioned "The Ministry of Civil Affairs’ Opinions on Cultivating and Developing Community Organizations for Social Development" is very strong evidence of this.

As the country continues to open up policy, we ought to see it as being driven by the hand of God. Christians can find a vast world here, where churches and Christians can enter together and participate. In the past, it was said that the church was in a bunker-like mentality. Although there are restrictions on the external environment that factor into this, it is also true that [churches] contain themselves. Therefore, for Chinese house churches, paying attention to social care has another special significance. That is to say, conducting charitable activities can become a good way for house churches that are in bunker-like mentality to reach out to society.

Recently, Christian media interviewed Christian professionals engaged in public charity, and discussed the following topic: “How did the church participate in the development of social community organizations?”

Brother Feng, who is engaged in medical assistance services, spoke with full confidence in the interview: “The progress of society and the implementation of policies, broadly speaking, means there is no longer a bottleneck holding Christians back from participating in, or even establishing social organizations. Everyone can participate in relevant social services according to their abilities. For volunteer services, the area in which I am currently engaged, there is a very low threshold and few restrictions for students and adults to participate.”

From one point of view, the church may have overvalued the visual worship of God. Because of that, they are often busy with purchasing and building beautiful auditoriums, or with the planning and operation of various ministries, but they deliberately or unintentionally neglect the commandment to love their neighbors. In fact, the worship at God's gatherings and the action of loving your neighbors are not contradictory; the two should complement each other.

Therefore, the Chinese church cannot focus solely on the possible oppression and the fight for its own survival, otherwise it will be easily marginalized. The church must have a broad vision, understand the needs of the day, stay in step with today’s context, seize the opportunities in front of them, and take advantage of cultural trends. We have reached the most suitable time to put Jesus' teachings into practice, and we can make a difference in expanding the kingdom of God. As Brother Feng said in his interview, “The Christian church has been devoting itself to social services and promoting social progress. This is what the Bible teaches Christians and what God is doing in person—use love and grace to make the world a better place."

Original Article: 社会公益事业已吹响“集结号”,教会为此做好准备了吗?, Christian Times

Image Credit: the door of church by Allen Li via Flickr.
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