In June of this year, church leaders from all over Asia gathered in Seoul, South Korea for the Asian Church Leaders Forum. In attendance were many Chinese pastors who had been denied permission by the Chinese government to attend the 2010 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa.
One of those, Pastor Ezra Jin of the Zion Church in Beijing, wrote an article for the November 2013 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis, titled A Landmark Encounter: The Significance of the ACLF for the Church in China.
In the introduction, he writes,
Some events only happen after an extraordinary long wait — and during such a wait, many people persevere through failures and frustrations and keep praying in the midst of hardships, making great efforts to see things happen. The Asian Church Leaders Forum (ACLF) held in Seoul in June 2013 was such an event.
It seemed at first like any other international conference. However, for the representatives of the house churches in China, it was a conference of far-reaching significance. The deep sorrow felt by Chinese representatives at not being able to attend the Third Lausanne Congress at Cape Town in 2010 was greatly relieved. Their presence at ACLF symbolically fulfilled the mission of attending Cape Town 2010, and ACLF partly fulfilled the purpose of Cape Town 2010 for them.
He spells out the three main purposes that the delegates to Cape Town 2010 had hoped to fulfill:
1. Fellowship with the Global Church in unity
Since 1949, when foreign missionaries were expelled, the church in China has been isolated from other churches in the world. Though the connection was partly restored after China’s reform and opening up, the church in China still hopes to see a deeper, comprehensive, and more open fellowship with the Global Church.
The existence of the church in China is the fruit of Gospel seeds sown by countless missionaries in the past 200 years with blood and tears, and is the evidence of the mission work of God’s Spirit throughout the church. Chinese representatives hoped to restore the fellowship and connection of the church in China and the Global Church in the body of Christ, to inherit the history of the Universal Church, and to strengthen the mutual understanding of the church in China and in other parts of the world.
2. World mission
They sought to mobilise the church in China to participate in world mission. They wanted to learn what churches throughout the world are doing about world mission, and to see how churches can all partner together to advance the work of the Gospel of Christ.
3. Growing in maturity
They also wanted to help the church in China grow in maturity. Dietrich Bonheoffer once said that God’s people are scattered in this hostile world. This is especially true in China’s context. He then said that when we meet and gather in the name of Christ, it should be a foretaste of God’s eschatological gifts. Hence, Chinese representatives also desired to see different networks and different parts of the body in China become connected through this whole process, to be a witness together as a loving body in Chinese society, and to partner together in evangelisation and world mission.
He then shows how the 2013 Asia Church Leaders Forum fulfilled these purposes, three years later:
It was a significant gathering of Christian leaders. Representatives from different regions and organisations around the world, including 200 church leaders from Asia and the global church, and more than 100 representatives from churches in Mainland China, gathered together. Although not all of the 200 Chinese representatives invited to Cape Town were able to attend for various reasons, the basic constituency of participants remained the same. They were from the traditional Chinese house church; mainly rural networks that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s; emerging urban house churches; vibrant Christian communities in education, culture, and business; and mission organisations in China.
ACLF was highly strategic. The history, current status and challenges of global mission movements, especially in an Asian context, were presented. To meet the needs of churches in China, ACLF also arranged workshops on church planting and pastoring in an urban context, theological education, and world missions. Chinese representatives shared the status and opportunities of Christianity in China in the 21st century, and issued the ‘2030 Mission China’ vision of the church in China for world missions. There were deep interactions and conversations with leaders from around the world about challenges pertaining to the urban church, theological education, witnessing in Chinese society, the ‘Back to Jerusalem Movement’ etc.
ACLF brought comfort and unity. During the three days, many world-renowned leaders did not even have a chance to speak publicly; yet they came just to be with Chinese representatives, and were fully involved throughout the conference. Chinese representatives received their fellowship with gratitude, and felt accepted and included by the global family through their silent companionship.
He shares about the reconciliation that was experienced between the Chinese house churches and overseas Chinese churches:
The most touching scene was on the last day’s morning session when God’s word, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35) was shared. After the sharing, the General Secretary of Chinese Coordination Centre of World Evangelism (CCCOWE), Joshua Ting, on behalf of the overseas Chinese church, solemnly apologised to representatives from Mainland China, for not effectively supporting the persecuted house church.
His action led many to confession and repentance, and brought many to tears. During the past two years, the overseas Chinese church and the house church in China were estranged over the Cape Town 2010 controversies. However, ACLF reduced this divide, strengthening everyone’s determination to grow in mutual understanding, commitment, love, and prayer.
According to Pastor Jin, the future impact of the ACLF will be felt in these areas:
ACLF provides a clear ‘2030 vision’ for the church in China. This vision provides a specific and clear direction for the church, mobilising resources and passion to augment the waves of world mission.
This vision will catalyse strategic meetings and organisations.
The church in China will enter a new phase of consolidation.
As the spirit of Lausanne becomes more deeply rooted, theological dialogues and conversations among churches will inevitably increase, which will have a profound and positive impact on the development and maturity of theology in China.
The leadership networks and platforms formed around ACLF will have a direct impact on urban church planting, the transformation of rural churches, cross-cultural mission to minority groups in China, and overseas missions.
Connections with overseas Chinese churches and mission organisations in different continents will reduce the preparation period for churches in China to participate in world mission.
Finally, he suggests a response from the global church:
The global church should recognise that China in the 21st century still needs careful attention from the mission world. Although China’s Christian population has increased rapidly, reaching tens of millions (33 million according to official statistics), less than 7% of the population is evangelised. China is still the world’s largest country that contains people who have not heard of the gospel, with many unreached people groups.
Furthermore, the Chinese church has experienced enormous challenges of urbanisation. Young people from the rural church are leaving. There is a shortage of pastoral leadership in the cities. The rise of heresy, tensions in church-state relations, and rampant materialism are among many daily challenges facing the church after its recent rebirth.
The global church should join with the church in China in shouldering this responsibility. The deepening exchanges between the global Church and the church in China should lead to a gradual building of deeper partnerships. This could include working together, not only in ministries among indigenous Chinese, but in mission to minorities, in cooperation with churches in China. It could also include opening the door for the Chinese church to be engaged in world evangelisation. At this current stage, the aim should be to increase strategic dialogue and communication.
He also includes a copy of the Seoul Commitment, which was drafted by the Chinese delegates in response to the Cape Town Commitment. Chinese Church Voices posted the Seoul Commitment in July. You can read it here.
Image source: The Lausanne Movement