Chinese Church Voices

Reflections from a Three-Self Pastor on the Challenges Faced by the Church in China

From the series Challenges Facing the Church in 2018

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.

Two weeks ago Chinese Church Voices published an article by Brother L, a house church pastor in Shanghai. Brother L shared his opinion on challenges facing the church in China and blames much the church itself for finding itself in its current predicament.

The Chinese Church Voices team has gathered two alternate views on the church’s current challenges, one from a reformed house church pastor in a first-tier city and one from a Three-Self pastor. This week we publish the third article in this series, a response from Pastor Wang (not real name), an evangelist for approximately 10 years in a registered church in the Beijing area.

A Reflection on the Current State of the Chinese Church

Since Xi Jinping came to power, China has been experiencing a tightening of policy in all areas, including the economy, culture, education, and other areas. In terms of the church, the Three-Self Church and house church both face the risk of complete tightening of religious policy. The recent government led Construction of Chinese Christian Theology and the New Regulations on Religious Affairs are the best examples. Everything points to the fact that the Chinese church will no longer grow as it did in 30 years of Reform and Opening Up and economic prosperity. Chinese societal growth has not conformed according to the civilized manner and logic of modern society. The superficial prosperity cannot cover the various societal ills. And yet, this type of Chinese development has been reflected in the church. Church buildings increase. The number of believers continually increase. And the problems facing the Chinese church are also increasing. The current tightening of religious policy will cause more of these problems to become more apparent.

Currently, the Chinese government is strengthening its control over both house churches and Three-Self churches. I see the Chinese church arriving at a crisis of identity. Christianity’s role in Chinese society, as well as its purpose and function, are not very clear. Both the house church and the Three-Self church face this problem. In addition, the Chinese government’s tightening of religious policy is an unfavorable factor for the church. That is to say, the current Chinese church is very brittle on the inside. How will Christianity coexist with the Chinese ruling party in society? The Chinese church remains at the stage of crossing a river by feeling the stones. It does not have enough power to defend itself as a unique social symbol.

Second, the Chinese church lacks talent and theological education. The Chinese church did not grasp the best opportunity to develop its own contextual theology. Theological education and church development were not in step. The education level of pastoral staff is of low quality, and seminary and theological education are relatively behind. There are practically no masters who are thoroughly familiar with both Chinese and Western theological classics. Concurrent development with western theological education is nonexistent.

Currently, theological education in China also lags greatly behind Chinese society. Chinese churches rarely have pastors or leaders who can respond to Chinese culture, deep contradictions, or current problems faced by society. During the Republican era, Chinese churches produced leaders like Zhao Zichen or Liu Tingfang, who were able to respond to the challenge of Chinese culture. From this we can know that quality church development and theological foresight is still lacking in Chinese churches.

In addition, the Chinese church missed a golden opportunity for church development. Compared with the western world, the Chinese church still has much room for growth: The vacuum created by contemporary Chinese culture, as well as the loss of traditional values after the Cultural Revolution, left a great space for church involvement.

The greatest challenge facing Chinese Christianity is not the government, but Chinese culture, as well as Chinese society’s secular characteristics. How the church might provide a political theology or spiritual faith is very important. In the current environment, China has made great economic achievements, but there is no clear achievement in terms of cultural construction. All that is laid waste awaits revival. Revival of humanities and faith is a mission that is left to the church’s involvement in Chinese culture.

Finally, intense resistance theology and thinking is not appropriate for the current Chinese environment. On the one hand, Chinese society is not suitable for developing resistance theology, and this is decided by China’s rich history as well as its reality. On the other hand, the sensitive identity of Chinese Christianity can easily lead to church-state conflict. Conflict between Chinese churches and politicians or the wider population will only increase the difficulty of Chinese Christianity’s survival. The extreme measures taken by many house churches are not only unable to force the government to open the doors of freedom, but provide the government with rationale for stricter controls.

In conclusion, the culture and political environment in which the Chinese church exists does not allow it to be careless. We Chinese Christians should not blindly study western methods or American methods, nor should we always view ourselves as victims. It is common sense that Chinese church development must work with Chinese culture, be grounded in Chinese society, and serve our Chinese brethren.

Original Article: Submitted by the author to ChinaSource
Translated, edited and posted with permission from the author.

Image Credit: St. Paul's Church, Qingdao by Joann Pittman.
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