We’re Moving!

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In June 2012, ChinaSource launched Chinese Church Voices as a platform to give those outside of China a chance to “listen in” on the conversations that Chinese Christians are having online in the public space called The Internet.

Since our beginning, we have published 140 different posts, all translations of content from Christian online platforms within China. Readers from 40 different countries (including China) have viewed these posts.

For technical and financial reasons, we have hosted this site on WordPress, a popular blogging platform.

This email is to alert you to the fact that in early December we will be moving Chinese Church Voices to the new ChinaSource website. You could say we’re bringing it “home.”

By moving to the ChinaSource site, we hope to more fully integrate it within the family of ChinaSource publications. Being on the ChinaSource site will also allow for cross-referencing the content with other similar content produced by ChinaSource.

In order to prepare for the move, we will cease posting new content for the next three weeks.

We are grateful for your interest in Chinese Church Voices, and invite you to make use if this hiatus to follow the ChinaSource Twitter feed, (@chinasourceorg) where we will continue to post links to interesting and timely articles about the Church in China.

P.S. The ChinaSource Annual Report 2013-2014 is now available. Rejoice with us in what God has done!

Photo by kafka4prez, via Flickr (creative commons license)

 

 

 

Making the Most of Christmas

The popularity of Christmas in China (primarily as a commercial activity) has given Christians increased opportunities to share the gospel. In the short article translated below,  a preacher in Beijing encourages his parishioners to be intentional about inviting family, friends and colleagues to church during the Christmas season.

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A Young Preacher in Beijing Encourages Christians to Use the Time before Christmas to Spread the Gospel.

On October 26, during a worship time at a house church in Chaoyang District of Beijing, a young preacher encouraged the congregation, reminding them that the time between October and Christmas is the golden harvest season for urban churches. It is during this time that many will visit a church for the first time, and many of them will be seekers.

He encouraged the congregation, saying “let’s work together for the gospel; with sincerity and courage let’s invite our relatives, friends and colleagues, and even those whom we don’t know to come to church.”

He also shared his own experience: “I came to Beijing many years ago to get my Bachelor’s degree. This is where I work, and also where I met God. I came to faith, and was married in the church. I grew in faith as a Christian and also as a husband in the church. If someone asked me, “do you love Beijing?” I would say that I do! As a Beijing citizen, I love Beijing; it is my second home.”

However, mingled with this love are pain and tears.

Although Beijing is a bustling and beautiful city, it is the same as other cities.

Behind the tall buildings, there are shadows. Under the neon lights, there are tears of blood.

Behind the facade lies all kinds of sin, idolatry, discrimination, and strife.

At the same time, the city is full of displaced souls that are anxious and broken.

Every Christian who comes to church has a calling and a mission given by God. The Christian faith is one that goes out and comes in (returns).

Jesus called his disciples to follow him, and then sent those disciples to preach the gospel and to make disciples.

Every Christian must receive this call, whether in Beijing or in your hometown. Bringing people from all corners to the church.

This is the responsibility of every Christian who works and worships in Beijing.

If we don’t do it, who will?

Today, we must not only pray for our churches, but for the “above ground” churches as well. We must pray that all churches will be able to fulfill the mission entrusted to them by the Lord — to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Original article:北京一青年传道鼓励基督徒抓住机会 圣诞节前广传福音 (Christian Times)(Translated and posted by permission)

Photo by ChershireCat@TO, via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

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Do Chinese Men and Women Deserve Each Other?

Chinese young people are no different from their counterparts anywhere in the world in that a main question they face is the one of whom to marry. China’s rise and modernization has, in some ways, made this a more complicated question as ideas about marriage and qualifications for a spouse have evolved.

There are many lively online discussions about all this, but a recent online article titled “Chinese Men Do Not Deserve Chinese Women” created quite a dust up. Joining the conversation was a Christian who penned his thoughts on the matter in the online publication Territory. The title of the post is “Chinese Men and Women: Who, in the End, is Good Enough for Whom?”

Territory is an online journal for Christian intellectuals that explores matters of faith, culture, and contemporary society. The best place to read Territory is on their Sina Blog. You an also subscribe to receive it directly to your mobile device via Weixin (WeChat). Their Weibo handle is 微信newjingjie.

In the article translated below, the writer addresses the current situation, looks at the historical and cultural standards for men in China, and then highlights what the Bible says about godly manhood.

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Summary:

‪The article “Chinese Men Do Not Deserve Chinese Women” has received a lot of attention, raising the question, “who then deserves Chinese women”? Men and women have hurled accusations and thrown eggs at each other, demonstrating the brokenness of human nature. Only by facing and acknowledging that their own image has been destroyed by sin, that their own righteousness cannot possibly save them, can men and women experience a longing for redemption. Brokenness is the road that man must walk in order to return to a healthy and glorious image.

Chinese Men and Women; Who in the End is Good Enough for Whom?

‪Recently, the article “Chinese Men Do Not Deserve Chinese Women” has received a lot of attention online. But to single out Chinese men and roast them over a fire is unfair, since no one man can represent Chinese men on the whole. This type of symbolic discussion can make a person depressed and makes it very difficult to have a constructive discussion.

‪This viewpoint that “Chinese women have quickly modeled how to carry themselves according to sophisticated standards, while Chinese men are very crass, very unfashionable, and very rigid,” seems appropriate. In fact, it sounds very similar to when we say that “Made in China” products are good quality, affordable, and appealing, but corporate management and innovation are not equally good. The gap between the outward appearance of Chinese people and their internal state is quite big, big enough to ignore the gap in differences between men and women.

‪Taking a closer look, the popularity and “likes” of these opinions conjures up an image of a thicket of dispirited males over which towers an unyielding superwoman. Acknowledging the mutual attraction between the two sexes and expecting mutual support for each other has been reduced to a joke, not to mention the self-sacrifice and real practice of submission to another’s character necessary to preserve a loving marriage. Speculating from a psychological point of view and from the popularity and spread of similar opinion pieces, perhaps there are a considerable number of Chinese women who had the misfortune to grow up in broken homes, who carry around resentment at the hurt men have caused them, to the extent that they have no way of putting together a healthy family. At the same time due to their choice to love themselves and avoid self-reflection they will project their problems onto their boyfriends, missing the healing opportunity to acknowledge that “I want to get better.”

‪Therefore, it is not surprising that the question “who on earth is worthy of Chinese women?” would suddenly appear in online discussions. Someone also quipped, “Chinese women say they will not marry without a house, so Chinese men buy property at the world’s highest prices. Chinese women also want cars, so Chinese men have made China into the world’s largest automobile consumer. Chinese women also says that they want Louis Vuitton, Dior, etc., so Chinese men have opened their wallets to make China the world’s biggest consumer of luxury goods!”

‪Think about if a male author wrote an article called “Chinese Women Are Not Good Enough for Chinese Men” and also chastised women for a variety of things such as how they are prideful, vain, disobedient, do not understand love, and various other displeasing things in his eyes. After all, if people have an unblemished expectation of humanity in their minds then without a doubt men and women will be living within the helplessness of a dream. In God’s view, we all lack the glory and honor with which we originally lived. The fact of the matter is that men and women hurling eggs and insults at each other demonstrates our brokenness.

Are Chinese men really unacceptable?

‪There was a period when the sophistication of Chinese men was very admirable.* In the “Book of Songs” we read about how stylish and sincere our ancestors were. ‪In the poem 《抑》in the “Major Court Hymns” section of the “Book of Songs,” it says,

A humble and respectful man,
His behaviors are rooted in virtues.
When giving good advice, he yields to them and practices morality.

A gentleman is first a humble person with a refined moral character, and acts in accordance with virtue.

In the poem 《小戎》of the “Odes of Qin” we read,

When I think of my husband, he is gentle like the understated brightness of precious jade.

This means that the sophisticated demeanor of the husband is not flashy, but gentle like jade.

In the poem 《叔于田》of the “Odes of Zheng” we read about “who is truly admirable and kind,” “who is truly admirable and good,” and “who is truly admirable and martial.” The image of a resolute man is someone who is kind, virtuous, and brave; these are the highest standards of this early man.

‪In those days, Chinese men needed to strive very hard to cultivate their own character.

The poem 《淇奥》in the “Odes of Chen” praises the cultivation of character by a gentleman:

[He keeps learning and improving] As made from knife and the file;
As made from the chisel and the polisher!

And

To be like gold and tin, to be like a scepter of jade.

He continues to sharpen himself and make progress.

At that time, Chinese men did not parade their wealth.

As the poem 《衡门》 from the “Odes of Chen” says,

Beneath my door made of cross pieces of wood,
I can rest at my leisure;

This means that even if a house were damaged to the point that wooden sticks are used to make the door frame, he can still live peacefully. What powerful inner dignity! They simply do not need money and status to uphold the strength of a man.

‪In those days, Chinese men valued fidelity. The poem 《出其东门》 in the “Odes of Zheng” speaks of a man persistent in love.

I went out at the east gate,
Where there were beautifully dressed women, as many as the clouds.
Although there were many,
none were in my thoughts.
The one who wears plain and inexpensive clothes is in my heart.
She is my joy!

The man saw women outside the east gate of the city who were as beautiful and numerous as the clouds, but his heart was not aroused, because the only thing on his mind was the girl wearing plain and inexpensive clothing.

For life or for death, however separated,
To our wives we pledged our word. We held their hands;
We were to grow old together with them.

From the poem 《击鼓》in “Ode to Bei,” in which the strong emotion surges over a millennium, ‪ a sophisticated man has faith and knows reverence. “As I fear God, I dare not offend righteousness.” (see the “Speech of Tang” in the “Book of History”).

The 《大明》 in the “Greater Odes of the Kingdom,” says,

This king Wen,
Watchfully and reverently,
With entire intelligence served God.

The men of that time believed God was transcendent, not sovereign over one country or one person. He was a god who monitored everything and knew the hardships of the country folk. All people were God’s children. The common people were all children of heaven whom the king cared for; for this reason he was called the primary son.

‪Although the “god” in which they believed in the ancient past and the God of the Bible have similarities and differences, yet this image is still not enough to dispel the concept of a heavenly law of morality. Prior to the Qin Dynasty, divine constraints on monarchial power became merely figurative practices. “Intercession between Heaven and Earth (绝地天通),” the communication between God and man, was broken off. The Will of Heaven was unpredictable, so there was a decline into fatalism. Only the emperor could be called the Son of Heaven and he replaced God as the recipient of the people’s worship. “Rule by divine virtue” became reduced to the superficial show of “rule by virtue.” Rule according to the beliefs of the leader’s heart became the method of governance and tactic of the legalists who play a wicked game of “driving out good money with bad.” The number of survivors who have had their backs broken by this movement far exceeds those of men with strong character.

‪After all, what is “decency?”

‪Since before the Qin Dynasty, the acceleration of autocracy and man-centered worship were two sides of the same process. The healthy image of Chinese men was increasingly being destroyed by sin, nearly damaging the original image of God so that nothing was left. Previously men were still relatively simple and honest. There was a saying that “a circle drawn on the ground could act as a prison (划地.牢),” and that it was better to keep one’s word than “to die holding a column (抱柱而死).” This is a far cry from today where cheap counterfeit products are everywhere and integrity is completely lacking. Confucius wanted to restore “benevolence,” and Mencius advocated “justice;” both were related to types of concepts that people still held at that time. If it was not in a person’s heart, then it would not be heard from his mouth.

‪When people criticize Chinese men as not being “decent,” the implied premise is that we first have a “model” for decency. What is that model actually like? This model is certainly not from men, but from God. The Book of Genesis clearly states that God made humans “according to his own image and likeness.” A person’s “likeness,” including the body and soul, both come from God.

‪God put “honor and glory” into the image of man and people therefore became honorable and glorious living creatures. This “likeness” of God belongs to all people, regardless of nationality, race, wealth, gender, health, disability, or age. Even old, decrepit sick people should not be sorrowful because “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” [2 Cor. 4:16]. Similarly, we have majesty and hope.

‪When people are indecent on the inside, they become indecent on the outside. When people’s spiritual conscience is blinded by lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes, they have a false understanding of the meaning of “likeness.” They take “likeness” to mean the outer appearance of something and therefore culture leads them down a mistaken path — to build up their own appearances according to the so-called advanced worldly standards.

‪”Likeness” is not like this. The prophecy about our Lord Jesus Christ from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah says, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” On the contrary, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief….” But his life was completely like that of God, as “the image of the invisible God.”

‪As the book “The Silence of Adam” points out, men of this generation are searching after masculinity much more than they are seeking after God. They emphasize self-discovery and self-realization more than they emphasize obedience to God. But they have overlooked a simple truth: the way to have masculinity (to be manly) is to first want godliness (to be godly). Jesus, “the image of God,” is before our very eyes. Men who “imitate Christ,” not who are enamored with themselves, will become the true men of our times.

‪In the Old Testament God said, “Be holy, because I the Lord your God am holy.” In the New Testament Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The Book of Ephesians proclaims the new humanity, that people should cast off the old self and be “made new,” “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

‪”True righteousness and holiness” carries to us wonderful implications and assurance! A person with this “likeness” is better than all the vigorous, valiant, tough Chinese men from the “Book of Songs” because the image of God in him has been restored! This is not only a portrait for men, rather, regardless of gender, race, and nationality, humanity all shares in this common glorious image.

‪This world tells men that only those who are strong, tough, smart, and in control can survive, succeed, and “deserve” a beautiful woman. This is similar to one sick patient using his own twisted behavior to cater to the morbid psychological needs of another sick patient. Jesus Christ, through His life and teachings, tells us that mankind’s greatest weakness is actually his greatest strength. The love between these sick people seems promising, but actually it is because we learn how to depend on Him as our healer that we no longer depend on our own wisdom.

‪Men and women are like this. Only when we face and acknowledge that our own image is destroyed by sin, that our own righteousness cannot possibly save us, and only within our own brokenness can there then emerge a desire for redemption. Start to search for and find the light of life. Brokenness is the path we must take to return to a healthy and glorious likeness.

* The author quotes from a number of Chinese poems found in the Classic of Poetry, part of the Five Classics traditionally said to have been compiled by Confucius.

Original article: 中国男人和中国女人,到底谁配不上谁?(© Territory — translated and posted with permission)

Photo by Chris, via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The Wenzhou Church Reborn from the Ashes

‪This year’s attacks on church buildings in Wenzhou have been the subject of much analysis, the majority focusing on the relationship between church and government in Wenzhou. The following blog post, written by a Christian in China, and published in the mainland Christian Times, takes a closer look at the impact on the Wenzhou church itself.

While not dismissing the seriousness of the attacks, the writer nonetheless suggests that the unfortunate events of this year may actually prove to be a significant turning point in the development of the Wenzhou church. Key to his argument is a return to the true nature and purpose of the church – one of the enduring lessons of the church in China during the past 65 years but a lesson that had perhaps been forgotten during the prosperous decades of reform. Today, as Wenzhou churches are under attack, church leaders again need to examine their priorities. Outward success measures such as the size of church buildings and congregations are giving way to a renewed focus on personal spiritual growth. In place of an almost exclusive focus on the well being of Wenzhou church members comes a healthy concern for the society and a fresh understanding of the interconnectedness of all believers in China.

The sense of urgency that has characterized the church scene in Zhejiang Province in recent months is hastening this awakening. Rebirth is emerging out of the ashes of despair. The painful but necessary pruning that is now taking place will, in God’s timing, bring forth greater fruit in years to come.

Chashan Church

 The Wenzhou Church Reborn from the Ashes

‪The church in Wenzhou has always attracted much attention and has seemingly become the weather vane of the church in China. Today, however, the attention received is no longer because of its ubiquitous eye-catching crosses, but because of the fiercest trial it has faced since the Cultural Revolution. To date we have no way of knowing exactly how many churches and crosses have been demolished during the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign. “Church” signs on the buildings have been changed to “Elderly Activity Center.” Formerly neon-lit crosses have been, one by one, wrapped in burlap and the churches demolished. The demolition of crosses has become an ache in the soul of many Christians and has left many observers dumbfounded. But after experiencing this raging inferno, we see that in this baptism of fire a new kind of Wenzhou church is being reborn in the ashes. Two years ago I wrote an essay titled “The Decline of the Wenzhou Church.” Now, as a result of this terrible campaign, the Wenzhou church is on the verge of experiencing a fiery rebirth.

1. From competition over physical structures to spiritual construction.

‪In recent years, the economic conditions for the Wenzhou church have been quite favorable. Competition to build churches had almost become the order of the day. As soon as a new church was built, it was torn down and rebuilt again! Before the new building was even filled with people, they begin to build an even bigger and more luxurious one. There are many domestic intellectuals who have raised critical objections to this point, arguing that it’s normal for every church leader to want his church to be the most visible and most beautiful. Quantifiable things have become their own performance evaluation standards, but they have had little overall success. “Large churches, few believers” has become the common characteristic of many Wenzhou village churches. At the same time, however, the style of the church building has become increasingly more important. Many believers mistakenly think that tithing to support building a church building (建堂) is the same as building a congregation (建教会). Since they believe this pleases God, they happily tithe to build a church building. Congregations often use church building projects as a means of uniting believers. This recent church demolition campaign, however, surprised people at first, then caused many congregations to sober up. They have learned that a church building is not the same as a congregation of believers and that a congregation without a building is still a church. So now, instead of competing to see who can build the best building, the focus has shifted to the spiritual construction of believers. Training programs have increased, the number of people studying theology (but not necessarily in full-time ministry) has increased, and spiritual formation is once again being valued. I believe that the experiences of the Wenzhou church during the “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign will bring about maturity.

2. From Three-Self / house church division to substantive unity.

‪Prior to the church demolitions, Three-Self churches and house churches in Wenzhou had little or no contact with one another. This was also true of native Wenzhou and non-native Wenzhou communities. The result was that they were actually in competition with one another. However, the “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign suddenly made all these groups (registered and unregistered churches; local Wenzhou churches and non-native churches) realize the common danger they were facing. They were reminded that we are all members of one body and if one part suffers we all suffer. We must help each other in harsh circumstances in order to survive. This deep insight has caused the Wenzhou church go from “no contact with each other” towards “mutual understanding and acceptance,” from “personal politics” towards “substantial unity.” This unity also includes cooperation between native Wenzhou and non-native Wenzhou churches.

3. From chaotic religious investment to purity of ministry service.

‪Because in the past the Wenzhou church provided a platform for fame and profit, many church leaders, to put it bluntly, were “speculators” of this fame and profit. Greedy for fame and fortune, ignorant and incompetent, given to sensationalism, they did things that they themselves were not good at in order to improve their reputation and increase their popularity. The church demolition events that were triggered by the tightening policies on religion will mean that these church “speculators” will have no choice but to weigh the cost of such speculation. If this campaign continues, the church will eliminate a number of religious “speculators,” a group of vulgar leaders and preachers. Of course, the true believers will be more resolute, helping to make clear the distinction between true believers and religious speculators. In fact, this group of speculators is now waiting to see which way the wind will blow, keeping silent during the campaign. On various occasions they expressed dissimilar voices, waiting for a time of opportunistic change. But if the church becomes more ardent as this type of event plays out and as this continues to ferment, church leaders will be forced to articulate their positions. (The last two botched sessions of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress [两会] really do not match the political stance of a production team leader from the 1960s.)1 This will result in the cleaning out of a number of religious fame and fortune speculators and the church will therefore be more pure. This will provide an opportunity for the Wenzhou church to be sanctified, bringing once again a big revival.

4. From trending towards prosperity theology to returning to the salvation theology of the cross.

‪Over the years, along with the success of the charismatic movement, the so-called “prosperity gospel” has exploded in mainland churches. Awareness of the prosperity gospel recently began to emerge in some Wenzhou churches. So in one sense, the start of the so-called “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign came just in time and in the right place to convincingly give the recently intruding prosperity gospel a whack on the head. As a result, the Wenzhou church has begun to reverse this prosperity gospel trend and is beginning to return to the salvation theology of the cross. It is moving from the “optimism hermeneutic” of showy displays of happiness and prosperity back towards the hermeneutic of revelation. In this sense, the “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” event has undoubtedly led to a regenerative movement to maintain the purity of the church in Wenzhou. In communication with students in Wenzhou, we have noticed a decrease in fantastical visions for “heaven on earth,” and somewhat of an increase in profound distress; a decrease in designs for material construction, and somewhat of an increase in sharing about spiritual experiences; less of a sense of superiority, and more a sense of crisis. Most obvious is the moving away from notions to build tall and impressive church buildings and back to the theology of suffering, the historical mission of Christians, social responsibility, and spiritual reflection over salvation theology. I think that this is an important step towards maturity on the part of not only the Wenzhou church, but of the Chinese church.

5. From gradual secularization of indifference towards an enthusiastic sense of crisis.

‪Before the Sanjiang Church Incident, the church in Wenzhou had a universal optimistic mood of blind superiority. Such sentiments gradually caused the Wenzhou church to be inclined toward secularism, (in fact, valuing the magnificence of the outside of the church over the humility and formation of the lives of those inside the church is precisely one form of secularism). Secularization caused the Wenzhou church to lose the zeal of the generation of believers after the Cultural Revolution. As a result, the new generation in the Wenzhou church became indifferent, even apathetic. However, after the Sanjiang Church Incident, we noticed some changes. In the past, when we read about Jesus Christ warning the church of the hardship and persecution it would face in the last days, we had thought this was in the distant past or the future. But now, we are very clearly aware that perhaps we are that generation. We will eventually face the apocalyptic warnings Jesus spoke of during Passion Week. But this sense of crisis has made the church become more sober and full of enthusiasm. Our church has begun thinking about our social responsibility, our call to missions, the purpose of our existence, as well as the form of development our church really needs. This is a peripheral incident that prompted the Wenzhou church to reassess and awaken.

6. More than ever the church values theology and church education.

‪The Sanjiang Church Incident forced the Wenzhou church to shift its development objectives from church construction to life training and the building of a church culture. Before and after this event, more and more church figures realized they needed a foundation of theology. They needed to clarify the church’s tradition, and promote the establishment of church education and the tradition of family faith. Even if it is just an act, this can be seen by the number of Wenzhou preachers, even preachers of the older generation, who are beginning to focus instead on the impact of the Internet. After the Sanjiang Church Incident, the awareness of this was pushed to a new climax by the “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign. For the foreseeable future, when the course and energy of church development are forced to turn from constructing church buildings, inevitably it will push the church to devote its efforts to the development of theology and church education – those spiritual foundations of construction. I believe that, with Wenzhou at the epicenter, this particular “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” event will have the result of upgrading the quality of theological education in large areas of the domestic church. In the near future, the domestic church will produce theological scholars in all different areas of higher education. Many ordinary church pastors in our ranks will have a Doctor of Theology. The resulting large number of domestic and overseas scholars produced from this will also be uniquely qualified for the ministry of theological education in Mainland China.

7. From personal politics to gradually producing contemporary pioneer-style spiritual leaders.

‪Except for several highly respected contemporary church leaders, the domestic church so far has not since produced any church leaders of a similar mold. Although there is no shortage of people doing all they can to become this generation’s church leader, none have been successful. This does not mean that the church does not need these church leaders, nor does it mean the era of church heroes has passed; however, without the right opportunity, a generation of “heroes” cannot be created! The “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign has provided a “right opportunity” for creating the “church hero.” Personal charm, charisma, leadership in times of crisis, church approval, theologically trained, a nimble political mind as well as the ability to promote character are characteristics required for contemporary church leaders. These characteristics all seem to be present. The essential catalyst is the right opportunity for a crisis in the current situation, and the “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign is precisely that. If the “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign continues to evolve, it will help Wenzhou, and it will help the nationwide church go so far as to produce a contemporary pioneer-style spiritual leader, and thereby establish a special team. A contemporary leader of this type may appear in the house church, or within the institutional church. Maybe he’ll have to pay a certain political price, but the higher this price, the higher his prestige, increasing the opportunities for the church to create more great spiritual leaders. Even with superior political acumen he would not need to pay a political price, but would only need to find a balance in the tension between a person and his abilities, perhaps producing similar contemporary church leaders.

8. From the big talking “theological craftsmen” towards young preachers with a contemporary spirit and theological foundation.

‪Before the events of the Sanjiang Church Incident, many of our young generation of preachers had never even completely read John Calvin’s Institutes; however, this has not stopped them uninhibitedly rattling on about Calvinism. They may have obtained a little theological training, but they still lack basic theological maturity and cultivation. Since they are fond of criticizing others over nit-picky theological details, I have come to call them “theological craftsmen.” Questions raised by these theological craftsmen are difficult theological propositions to wrestle with and to think through in their spiritual, contextual, and historical backgrounds. Those desiring to be regarded as theologians especially enjoy arrogantly droning on about theology. What the theological craftsmen produce actually has little to do with what is being produced within the church. But the crisis of the “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign gives the church no choice to play armchair theology. We need to think about our own mission, values ​​and a way out from the current plight we find ourselves in, and also, rooted in theological contemplation, discover logical explanations and the church’s developmental path for our current circumstances. Theologians are not trained in laboratories, but are forged in current reality. Therefore, it is possible to transform these theological craftsmen into true preachers who are molded by the spirit of the era and with a theological foundation. The campaign gives us an opportunity for this kind of transformation.

9. From native Wenzhou pride towards honoring the catholicity and apostolic succession of the church.

‪For a time the Wenzhou church was extremely xenophobic. It was very difficult for outsiders to be accepted in Wenzhou church circles. In the past, second and third generation native Wenzhou preachers often had a superiority complex. If you paid attention to the way they talked you would often hear, “My Wenzhou is like this or like that” carelessly come up in conversation with co-laborers in Wenzhou. They habitually reference their own experiences and particular Wenzhou church culture to measure the differences with the situations of other churches. But the “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign has forced the Wenzhou church to start considering their own position from theological tradition and questions about the nature of the church and they have begun to accept non-Wenzhou churches. This thought process and communication with non-Wenzhou churches will force the Wenzhou church to consider historic theology as well as the catholic and ecumenical nature of the church in light of their own plight and mission. This will help elevate their values and the church culture. The Sanjiang Church Incident is an opportunity for a Second Great Awakening in the Wenzhou church following the Cultural Revolution.

10. Self-centeredness towards accepting non-Wenzhou communities.

‪Somewhat similar to the point above, along with the outflow of the native populace and the inflow of non-Wenzhou communities into the Wenzhou church, contact and acceptance between churches is on the rise. In the past, the Wenzhou church focused much more on its own church growth. It was very easy to use it’s own customs as a basis for what was proper. Now, however, the church is looking at what lessons can be learned from the outside. They are more accepting of non-Wenzhou groups and are promoting modernized and internationalized church reform.

11. From employing church doctrine to the importance of building church culture.

‪Wenzhou culture has a practical and pragmatic, or, you could say, utilitarian cultural tradition. This is very different from the inland farming culture or nomadic cultures of northwest China. Wenzhou culture is more similar to a maritime culture. This culture is characterized by valuing practicality, performance, risk-taking, economics and trade, and pragmatics over philosophical guidelines. Maritime culture is more conducive to the spread of Christianity. From the earliest days of Chinese history, Wenzhou was engaged in maritime trade, something that has been manifested in both migration and smuggling across distant lands. Perhaps influenced by the local maritime culture of Wenzhou, the Wenzhou church places a high value on visible, quantifiable church assets. This is a characteristic of Wenzhou church culture. However, due to the current campaign, the era of focusing on building church structures has come to an end; going forward, churches in Wenzhou will no longer be able to compete with one another for the best “hardware.” The Wenzhou church has no choice but to begin focusing on building a church culture that is characterized by a Christian lifestyle, education, training, and other methods that will increase the maturity and cohesion of the church. This new culture will help the Wenzhou church have a substantial impact on Wenzhou society. This may also become a pioneering model for the domestic church.

12. From an optimistic sense of peacefulness towards a sense of crisis.

‪The past attitude of superiority on the part of the Wenzhou church was very similar to pre-WWI liberalism in the West, which held that the world would inevitably continue to turn towards a peaceful path of progress. The Wenzhou church was extremely optimistic about the future, believing that religious policies would open up more, the number of believers would continue to grow, and the more churches built the bigger they would be. It believed that revival in the church would continue to increase, the status of believers would continue to grow, and Christians would increasingly become synonymous with being fashionable. They believed that a Christian kingdom would come, and that Jesus would return within the foreseeable future. They believed that life would get better and better, everything would be peaceful, the earth would become a wonderful heaven. Indeed, we have built our hopes upon the earth, not expecting Jesus to come quickly. However, after the Sanjiang Church Incident, the church has begun to feel a sense of crisis. From theology and eschatology, the church has begun to reflect on the current circumstances. I believe that this sense of crisis will promote awakening and reassessment within the church. The “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign will bring awareness to the Wenzhou church. In terms of the development of the church, this campaign may very well prove to be a turning point for the Wenzhou church, allowing it to focus on mature growth and strength, and thus avoiding the denigration that happened with the Roman Church. In this sense, the “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign will promote the healthy development of Wenzhou church.

‪At this point, I am reminded of Jesus’ words when he said, “every branch that does not bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful!” Prune from our body the branches that do not bear fruit and let the real fruit grow more abundantly. This process is painful, but it will have a good result. Behind this heartbreaking series of events, it is clear that Jesus Christ is still truly in charge. If we trust in the prophecy of Jesus, we will easily endure hardship. I believe it is all grace. Indeed, as the Psalmist says, “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as King forever.” Seen in this way, it is just as Joseph acknowledged: “But God meant it for good!”

‪I believe that this crisis will inevitably provide the Wenzhou church an opportunity to be reborn from the ashes!

*Editor’s note: In the 1960s the Chinese countryside was organized into production brigades (formerly called villages). It was the most grassroots form of governance and decision-making. In this sentence the author seems to be expressing his dissatisfaction with the work of China’s highest level legislative bodies by making an unfavorable comparison to the 1960s work brigades.

Article: 张远来:浴火重生的温州教会 in the Christian Times. Translated and posted with permission.

Photo Credit: CC image “Chashan Church” by Ken Larmon, via Flickr.

House Churches and Anti-Cult Campaigns (2)

On September 3, we posted a translated article about the trouble that anti-cult campaigns often cause for house churches because government officials, scholars, and ordinary people often don’t know the difference between a cult and a house church.

The article, from the Christian Times, looked at the writings of prominent scholars who suggest that house churches and cults are essentially the same thing, with some calling for the outright banning of house churches. It also solicited comments from various house church members and leaders from different parts of the country. 

This post is a translation of Part 2 of the Christian Times article. The focus on this piece is the issue of secretiveness vs. openness as a way for the house churches to avoid being mistaken for cults. The consensus on the part of the people interviewed and/or cited in the article is that secrecy remains a problem and that the more visible and open house churches become, the more it will become apparent that they are not cults.

The science bulldozer uproots superstition with scientific truth.

Will Combating Cults Make the House Church More Secretive or Open and Transparent?

‪In addition to agreeing on spreading an even purer gospel message, training pastors, and other factors driving church growth, house church pastors and scholars also invariably agree on one point: using forceful measures to combat cults and attack house churches won’t make them more secretive; rather, it will make house churches even more open and transparent.

‪Scholar L said: “The reason for the rise in cults lies in their being “underground.” Measures to eliminate them must also be “underground.” House churches must go from being “underground” to being “above ground” and public.” ‪Seminary teacher “Wang” also believes that “openness and transparency” are very important weapons in resisting heretical cults, and can actually prevent their development. “If a church is open from the beginning, it will be more difficult for them to develop into a heretical cult.” Cults are, by nature, very controlling. They use psychological, financial, and social means to maintain strict control over believers. These methods require a high degree of confinement; disconnecting a person from society and other people is necessary to maintain control. Therefore, it is essential for churches to be open and public and to maintain contact with other churches.” Wang said, “So I think that openness is an essential factor. Transparency allows the church to be open and invite others to come, as well as allow for exchanges between churches. “

‪”The more orthodox religions are prevented from development, the more these heretical cults are likely to develop.” When talking about this issue, Pastor L. still maintains his outspoken personality. He said he could not agree with the suggested measures put forth in the article “The North-South Differences of Rural Underground Christianity,” such as stopping the construction of all new churches, dismantling illegal places of worship, and gradually incorporating house churches into the “Three-Self” church to regulate their activity. In addition, he could not encourage rural construction of ancestral and Buddhist temples and the worship of Buddha. He pointed out that this suggestion does not take into account the history behind the Three-Self churches and house churches, nor does it understand the principles upheld by the house churches. The house churches adhere to the principle of the separation of church and state and, in practice, they are completely in accordance with the three principles of “self-propagation, self-governance, and self-support.”

‪”They are called house churches precisely for the fact that they do not have church buildings. First the article suggests making people worship inside a church building. Then it says that new churches shouldn’t be built. That seems like simply a way of trying to limit the number of believers. In fact, the reason new churches are being built is because the number of believers has increased and there are not enough places for them to worship. Furthermore, the growth of believers does not depend on whether there are more or fewer churches, or whether they are big or small. Many American churches are empty. The most fundamental reason for growth is need. The reason religion is growing is because people’s hearts are empty. It has nothing to do with differences between North and South or with traditional ancestor worship. Traditional Chinese culture is just that – a culture – not a faith. Using culture to replace religious faith does not bring fulfillment.”

‪”It’s like a city that needs a place for people to dance. If you do not provide a place to dance, there will be an underground place to dance. Publicize these needs, legalize them, and properly acknowledge them. Let them come out from underground and walk in the sun. This will leave no hiding place for cults because cults die in the light. Permitting house churches to be out in the open is an effective tool in combatting cults. The more the house church is attacked, the more living space is given to cults; the more wolves mix with sheep and others cannot distinguish between the two,” said Pastor L.

Faced with the problem of house churches, which is the better attitude: confusion and hatred or tolerance and openness?

‪One possible reason for why those on social media and some scholars still confuse house churches and cults is because they lack understanding of the house churches and only look at the surface of the problem, says Mr. W. who works in media. “They see various things such as superstitions, miracles, and even missionary techniques like multi-level marketing in the rural churches, which produced some negative views.”

‪If they only look at one side of the exterior, then the two [house churches and cults] “indeed are similar.” Some areas are difficult even for the government to distinguish. This is an important piece in understanding the development of the house churches,” Mr. W. added. ‪Moreover with the opening up of society, any topic of discussion related to society will inevitably produce completely opposite views. People in the media are still influenced by their fundamental values. These values influence what they know and how they approach various problems. Their values influence their worldview. Even though Mr. W. is neither a Christian nor a follower of any other religion, he thinks that as a social media writer he should maintain a tolerant and open mind to know and understand the house church. “For the media, work is like drawing a sketch: for a realistic sketch, what you see is what you sketch. Of course, one can’t avoid including one’s own values. Regarding the question of house churches, I think that an inclusive and open-minded attitude would be better.”

‪Scholar L. said, “The views which confuse the house churches and cults are specious and I can see no objective reason behind them. This deliberately causes people to develop a hostile attitude toward Christianity, to not truly respect religious freedom or have a disposition to protect the right of religious belief.”

‪”Why are they so hostile to Christianity? If it is because their friends have experienced intrusion and harassment by heretical cults, we first express our sincere apologies and explain that those people are not truly Christian. “Pastor L said, “Also, it doesn’t matter if some are good or bad, they are all hostile enemies. Why? We should look to see if it isn’t because we are haunted by the thought of cultural conservatism.”

‪Pastor L said that after he studied these confused views of house churches and cults he felt that “these stories make people hostile to Christianity,” which made him resentful and regretful. At the same time, “reading the stuff written by these people, I can only say that they do not understand religion. The measures they propose are complete foolishness.”

The Viewpoints of Two Sociologists

‪When it comes to religion and the house church, Pastor L. said two modern local sociologists have a better understanding of the house church, and that their points of view are fairly impressive and worth learning from. One is Professor Liu Peng, Director of the Pu Shi Institute for Social Science, and the other is Professor Yu Jianrong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

‪Professor Liu Peng believes that the greatest characteristic of the “Almighty God” cult and similar types of groups is blind worship: ““Blind worship” is a vivid word that carries with it the meaning of “paying servile obedience to someone.” An important special characteristic of cults is pursuing blind worship (“paying servile obedience to someone”) of an individual who has proclaimed the establishment of a new “religion” with absolute deference. Many secretive cults emerge within closed societies. They often possess antisocial tendencies, cutting themselves off from society.”

‪To successfully suppress such groups, Professor Liu believes the government must first strengthen the rule of law and protect human rights. Being able to punish certain acts according to the law will help it combat the harm done to society by cults. In the long term, solving the problem of the existence of cults requires first solving the problem of insufficient supply and demand in the area of religious belief. “If the supply of faith is insufficient, then endless numbers of various religious groups that do not conform to religious standards will appear. Therefore, if there are always people in society who, in the name of religion or faith, form various cult groups, then to eliminate these types of groups, we must fully guarantee freedom of religion, as well as protect the dissemination and services of regular religions to meet the needs of numerous religious believers.” He concludes that “full religious freedom, religious competition, and improved rule of law for religion” is the most fundamental way to eliminate the danger of such groups.

‪In July 2010, Yu Jianrong appeared on an episode of Phoenix TV’s program “Social Visibility.” This was a rare instance of reporting and investigation on house churches in the Chinese media. He said he felt that following the last two years of government policy easing, his own research showed that the house church was moving from being “underground” to being able to appear in the light of day. He and his team had spent more than a year researching in more than ten provinces in China. According to their investigation, the house church already existed in 1954. The attacks that started later continued up to the Cultural Revolution. Such attacks as the “Three-anti’s” and “Five-anti’s” campaigns,* but particularly the Cultural Revolution, were especially severe. When they conducted their investigation in Wenzhou, however, they discovered that “the more it was attacked, the faster it grew.” Instead of attacking the house church, they chose instead to spare them and show restraint. ‪After the reform and opening up [which began in 1978], the government relaxed its religious policies, and house churches began to rapidly grow. Especially as intellectuals poured into the church, urban house churches also began to develop. Professor Yu Jianrong said that currently the activities of the house churches “are basically open. I have seen these churches and they are no longer hiding.”

‪The program also focused on “Three Grades of Servants,” “Eastern Lightning” and other cults and their differences with the house church. The reporter asked, “Many people are concerned that China’s house churches may eventually evolve into a cult, as in the case of ‘Three Grades of Servants.'” Professor Yu believes that “a core problem with “Three Grades of Servants” is that when they preach, all the windows are covered up. Imagine you were able to openly conduct religious activities. Then, along comes a preacher who says, “we must cover the windows” because he fears government suppression. A person in a cult could easily take advantage of this situation. My point is that secrecy is a perfect cover for cults. The way to combat cults is through transparency and legalization.”

Professor Yu believes that “a core problem with “Three Grades of Servants” is secrecy — when they preach, all the windows are covered up. Imagine that you were able to openly conduct religious activities. Then, along comes a preacher who says, “We must close the windows” because he fears government suppression. A person in a cult could take advantage of this situation. My point is that secrecy provides a cover for cults.” Therefore he believes that openness and legalization are required in order to successfully battle cults.

In October of that same year, he re-published a transcript from a December 11, 2008 lecture at Peking University titled, “Desensitizing the House Church.” The points he makes are the same as those he expressed on the “Social Visibility” program. In the lecture, he also clearly and concisely expresses his approach towards the house church, as well as the attitude all sectors of society should take towards the house church. He believes that its better to have an objective attitude rather than one of disregard, fear, avoidance, and hatred. “Currently, the house church is a sensitive topic, and as a result nobody dares talk openly about it. This forces the church to become even more covert and mysterious to society. Therefore, in order to better guide the development of the church, the movements of the church should be undisguised. “Along with the development of the house church, Yu Jianrong said that what he is most worried about are the issues of legalization and registration. He said we need to “recognize the legitimate existence of the house church, and not pretend they are invisible.”

‪June 10, 2014, one week after Global Times published the article, “Hit Cults Without Delay,” Yu Jianrong published the article “Expose All Cults to the Maximize Degree.” He does not talk about this topic from the perspective of underground churches and cults; rather he points out that secretiveness is the most noticeable characteristic of a cult. “I have repeatedly appealed for the model of religious management to be re-examined under the concept of modern state governance. The government should face and take seriously the question of how to allow for faith to be practiced among the people and for the people to legally and openly conduct religious activities. To turn a blind eye to the problem or to handle it with brutal crackdowns is destructive to normal religious life and even to social order. As far as possible, cults should be marginalized and exposed. Placing them within the midst of public observation and supervision and within the strict supervision of the rule of law will thus minimize the dangers of cults. This is the just method of governance that a modern nation should adopt.

Following the Zhaoyuan murder case, the TV program “Legal Weekend” interviewed sociologist Sociologist Zhang Chunli, a professor of contemporary religion and director of the Research Center of China Social Security at the People’s Public Security University regarding her ideas for combatting cults. She proposed that carrying out precision strikes against cults, against exact locations, would strike a severe blow against cults that seriously endanger society. “The advantage of precision strikes lies in both the ability to clearly distinguish between religion and cults, but also in the ability to concentrate the power of attacks against cults. At the same time, it also safeguards people’s freedom of religious belief.”

Conclusion: Let the Light Come In

‪Whether it is the house church or cults, these are not simple topics. Within China’s developing society there is gradually more understanding of these topics. Such attitudes as avoidance, disregard, misunderstanding and antagonism will occur in this process.

‪When all is said and done, how should one avoid cults? How should one be more objective in understanding the house churches? How should general knowledge about orthodox religions be popularized? These are all topics worth consideration and investigation for Christians, religious groups, and people from all walks of life in the community. The future progress of these issues is also worth sustained attention.

‪Following the Zhaoyuan Incident, Christian Times invited Pastor R. to discuss the issue of dealing with cults. I remember that he used an interesting analogy.

He said, “In the darkness crows and pigeons feel the same, it is very difficult to tell them apart. But if the light comes in, you can clearly differentiate between what is black and what is white.”

‪Perhaps letting the light in is the most critical thing that can be done to solve the problem of cults. The Christian believes that the truth of the Bible is light. When the light comes in it signifies that the true gospel spreads out to judge the darkness of heresy and cults. But for society, to let the light come through can mean a kind of openness and transparency, and this is precisely the best way to eliminate secret and blind worship.

*The “Three-Anti’s” and “Five-Anti’s” campaigns were launched by the Communist Party in 1951 and 1952 respectively in order to root out corruption and “enemies of the state.” They were used by Chairman Mao to further consolidate his power.

Original article:【特稿】请勿将家庭教会与邪教混为一谈(上)(Christian Times. Translated and posted with permission)

Image source: China Hope Live 

Interview with a Reformed Church Pastor (3)

In August, the Christian Times published a two-part interview with a pastor from a Reformed church in China. We have translated and divided that interview into three sections. The first two sections can be found here and here.

In this section (our Part 3) “Pastor Daniel” discusses the importance of attitude in preaching Reformed doctrine, specific lessons learned, and  how it has impacted renewal in many urban churches in China.

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Continued from: “Interview with a Reformed Church Pastor: Development of the Reformed Faith in China, the Impact and Controversy” (Part 1) (Part 2).

Christian Times: You mentioned that this kind of attitude might cause people to misunderstand the Reformed faith. In fact, if we look at the world now, in places such as Europe and the United States the Reformed tradition is actually softer. Why is the Reformed faith in China different in this regard?

‪Pastor Daniel: I think there are several reasons. I already mentioned the first reason, that Christianity itself is exclusive. We believe that the Reformed teaching is the most biblical. When talking about faith, both John Calvin and Martin Luther expressed it in these terms. In fact this is the most original and normal expression. Today our expression is actually a little diluted. We seem to have forgotten the most original expression and it seems that softer is now normal.

‪Second, the earliest form of Reformed teaching that the Chinese house church came into contact with was a more conservative form, such as the translated works of some North American Reformed theological writers. However, although their thinking is more conservative, their manner of expression is still very gentle. But why did it become more extreme when it arrived on Chinese soil?

‪This is how I look at this issue: Many of these Reformed theologians are indeed more conservative. For instance, some even sing Psalms a cappella, completely without instruments, which in the current Chinese context is very difficult to understand. However, although they are very conservative, when they express their conservative ideas they use a very gentle tone and attitude to express a firm position. The resulting attitude is: “although I will not join your church and will not accept your teaching, this will not cause me to dislike you. I still have an accepting attitude towards you.” This is very good. However when we  encountered the first wave of Reformed preachers, we felt that their language and tone came off as arrogant. So, the people listening to the man not only rejected his thinking, but rejected the man.

‪But thankfully, this was a relatively short period. And most fundamentally, the writings of these Reformed theologians began to circulate, so that more people became aware of the Reformed faith. After that, we also slowly came into contact with more modern mainstream Reformed theologians and churches, such D.A. Carson, Pastor Tim Keller, and others. We also increasingly found that the original Reformed tradition was not like the one we initially thought we understood, and that the world’s major Reformed traditions are not like that either. Indeed we are all interpreting Calvin, but the focus and expression of our interpretation is not the same.

Christian Times: So, as you look back on the ten years of events and effects of Reformed teaching in China, what is the state of affairs in terms of the general phase and the development of the church? Can you give a rough summary?

‪Pastor Daniel: It can roughly be divided into two phases. ‪The first stage was primarily the sermons and lectures of Pastor Stephen Tong, the works of Reformed theology translated by Pastor Zhao Zhonghui, as well as some domestic preaching from Reformed teachers with whom we initially came into contact, in three totally different ways.

‪Even though some traditional churches do not like Pastor Stephen Tong because of his criticism of charismatics and Little Flock, the impact of his sermons and lectures has basically been positive. Pastor Zhao Zhonghui’s translation of Puritan books also has had a profound impact. Of course, these are all more indirect ways to access and learn about the Reformed faith.

‪The second stage began when Chinese church pastors began to be influenced by some of the modern western Reformed teachers. For example, pastors from some Chinese churches went to Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York on a study tour, and listened to his “Grace and the Gospel” sermon series.

Christian Times: Since coming into contact with representatives of western Reformed teaching, what specific lessons have Chinese church pastors learned? What kinds of renewal and changes have taken place?

‪Pastor Daniel: I would say that the main change is that some pastors of the Reformed faith have become softer and more gospel-centered. ‪Why has there been such a change? When the Reformed churches in China initially encountered and began to study Reformed teaching, they were primarily interested in learning systematic theology. There was interest in the emphasis on logic and reason, which would help develop the thinking skills of the people. But that led to a problem: we stressed systematic theology and developing rationality and logic, but neglected emotional sensitivity.

Another problem facing the Reformed churches in China is legalism. The traditional church is antinomian (emphasizing emotions) and anti-intellectual. One problem caused by antinomianism in the traditional church is the inundation of teaching an “Ideology of Grace” (恩典主义); that is, teaching only grace and love. For instance, previously the church simply taught that believing in Jesus would cure illnesses, and that believing in Jesus would bring peace to all areas of life. Reformed teaching raises the issue of the law, stressing that teaching about grace is good, but that grace without law is overindulgence. The function of the law is to make one aware of sin. Without an awareness of sin, one will treat grace very casually, and view it as an inevitable right. But that is not really grace. Elevating the positive role of the law has been an important contribution of the Reformed faith. Only people who recognize their sin under the law can truly understand grace.

‪Why does legalism remain a serious problem for the church in China? In fact, previously the Chinese church talked little of the law; they focused on piety. In reality, piety is legalism. Why do I say that? Because on the one hand they minimize the commands of God set forth in the Bible, saying they do not want the law. But then they set up their own law, just like the Pharisees. For example, they don’t allow smoking and drinking. In fact, most of what they teach is morality. These do not bring you to Christ, but to morality. Actually this is no different than Confucianism because Confucius also taught morality.

‪Why would legalism appear in the traditional Chinese church? Because their theology did not leave room for believers to be convinced of their salvation. “Until the Lord comes you cannot truly know whether or not you are saved. Who knows right now if you can be saved? So, you have to work hard!” This is relying on yourself for salvation; it is simply morality.

‪The ideal of Chinese culture is ethical thinking. Daoism and Confucianism both emphasize ethics, blending morality and faith. So, you will find that whether it is the Reformed church or the traditional church, because of this environment in China, both very easily live under the law.

‪Since logic is very strong and emotional sensitivity is weak, legalism is a problem and limitation many Reformed churches and church workers face. Recently, however, our contact with mainstream Reformed theologians, such as D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, John Piper, and others, has brought us far-reaching and profound renewal and change.

‪Let me give you the example of Pastor Tim Keller. What great renewal has his preaching and theology brought to us? One very good point is his emphasis on grace. What does he say the gospel is? The gospel is to live with Jesus Christ at the center of life. Actually, this is not new. We also like to talk about Jesus Christ as the center, but what does Tim Keller stress that the gospel is? The gospel is self-denial, living in grace; the more you live in grace, the more you deny yourself. The law is not an artificial standard, but if there is no law of grace, we bring harm to ourselves. So, law and grace are inseparable. This gospel makes you realize that whatever you do is with Christ at the center and that by nature you are an enemy of Christ. So the first reaction to an understanding of the true gospel is the desire to repent. When you truly understand Reformed teaching, you first realize that you want to learn about all the Christian denominations. This kind of study is not to say that I do not have my own position, but that I firmly stand on my Reformed position to look at other people. And the more I see the greatness of Christ, the more I see my own corruption and weakness, so I must continuously return to Christ.

‪Therefore the great impact of this on us is to make us gentler. Different theological backgrounds have great respect for each other. Even though, as Reformed believers, we hold a firm position, we also want to express ourselves gently. Why is this? Because we are repentant people. It’s not that others need to repent; the first to repent is myself, and the second to repent is still myself. I must focus on my own need for repentance, not on the need of my brothers or sisters or others in the church that need to repent.

‪This type of theology will influence imagination, vitality, and action, and is related to our high regard for biblical theology. Before our main emphasis was on systematic theology because of its ability to develop the power of logic. But now more and more attention is given to Biblical theology, which looks at historical figures, historical events, and the overall context of events in the Bible. When looking at the characters and the history we see their emotion and plight. For example, the parable of the prodigal son in Luke really moves people. In this way, with regards to the aspect of vitality, we inject affections and warmth into the indifference and ideals cultivated by the study of systematic theology alone. Moreover, vitality needs to manifest itself through how we live our daily lives; this is faith action.

‪We also have come to see that the first one you serve is your home, not your church, workplace, or church members; otherwise these will become idols. Many of us have created an idol in our hearts; but these idols are not the Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin Bodhisattva) or money, but rather our ministries. We minister and preach and do good things. We pay attention to our morality, and live sacrificially in terms of pay and being a role model. So maybe our idol is working 12 hours a day or preaching throughout the country. We wonder why we need to repent. We need to repent, not just of our filthy thoughts and behavior, but also for those things we believe we did well. We repent for the wrong things we have done, but also repent for the right things. We find our ”filthiest rags” are those right things that we have done well. This understanding marked the beginning of a new era.

‪The mainstream Reformed churches worldwide influenced our renewal by helping us understand that the gospel is not “ABC” but “from A to Z.” All aspects must be renewed.We must pay attention to our families and to the little things. If my ministry keeps me from serving my wife and children, then it is an idol. Of course, it is not just the Reformed churches that have benefited from this teaching; many traditional evangelical churches have also benefited. Many pastors have experienced renewal and change and have repented.

‪The Chinese church began to be influenced by Reformed theology in 2000. Today they have started to move from an era of harsh expression to gentleness, from a focus on systematic theology to a focus on renewal of life.

‪I thank God for bringing us to this new stage. I think the Reformed church is a weak limb among the numerous denominational branches. If Reformed theology has brought revival to the church in China, it must certainly be God’s own work; it is God dealing graciously with China.

Original article: 专访一改革宗教会牧者:改革宗在中国的发展、影响与争议(下) (Gospel Times. Translated and posted with permission)

Image source: Hugenotten Museum

Previous posts:

Interview with a Reformed Church Pastor (Part 1)

Interview with a Reformed Church Pastor (Part 2)

 

Interview with a Reformed Church Pastor (2)

This is the second part of an interview with a Reformed church pastor that was originally published in the Christian Times. In Part 1, Pastor Daniel shared about the background of the development of Reformed theology in China, the current condition, and his thoughts on what’s next. In this part, he discusses some of the challenges that churches face in adopting Reformed theology, and shares some of the lessons he learned as he led his church through a transition. He acknowledges the criticisms of Reformed churches, and urges pastors and churches to adopt the right attitude.

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Christian Times: Churches that have adopted the Reformed faith are mostly urban churches, especially those with intellectuals involved. But at the same time, there are still many traditional church pastors who have not made the change. They stress that what we should look primarily at is not the writings of the Reformers, but the Bible. What is your response to this?

Pastor Daniel: The Bible is certainly the fundamental authority. But the question is how do we interpret the Bible? According to the Bible, what is confession of faith? In this way, many people do not understand the Reformed faith and do not understand that “Scripture alone” is one of the five “Solas” of Reformed theology.

‪When a person wants to read the Bible carefully, and is still in need of help to do so, he needs an interpretive book, such as a commentary. He needs to understand different types of classic interpretation. One certainly must select, and will come into contact with, different denominations. In this process, Reformed books on Biblical exegesis can be very helpful. One of the greatest exegetical writers in the United States is D.A. Carson (Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago), who is Reformed. You only need to go looking for this century’s best books on exegesis and naturally you will find Carson and be influenced by him.

Christian Times: In China, one of the controversies surrounding the Reformed faith is that there are pastors and church workers who feel that Reformed churches and pastors excessively stress that they themselves are correct and that they express a kind of tougher critical attitude toward those who are different from them. Therefore, there are pastors and church workers who are rather put off by this kind of attitude and reject the Reformed faith. What are your thoughts on this matter?

Pastor Daniel: First of all, we must remember that Christianity itself is exclusive. It has its own clear-cut position. Whether it is engaging in dialogue with society or culture, it still has its own distinct understanding. It is not like other religions that say “all roads lead to Rome” or “no matter what you believe you can go to heaven.” The Reformed faith maintains its own identity; it will not hold two contradictory views at the same time. Of course, for some non-doctrinal issues there will be tolerance, but in regards to questions of doctrine there is a very clear position.

‪But I think that the Reformed tradition gives people an impression of intolerance, not because its theology is intolerant, but because of attitude. For example, Pastor Stephen Tong’s theology is very profound, very principled, and treats many questions as clear-cut, which is very good. But for people who do not know him, or do not entirely follow the content of his talks, they sometimes feel that his manner of expression is rather strong, making a person feel uncomfortable. I believe that some people might think he is not very forgiving, not because the theological beliefs he expresses are not forgiving, but because they feel his manner of expression appears to be unforgiving.

‪In fact, the Reformed faith is very forgiving, and the manner of expression of many representatives of the Reformed tradition is also very gentle. For example, Pastor Tim Keller is very similar to Pastor Stephen Tong in that they both very clearly state that homosexuality is sin. However, because the two deal with different social environments as well as different points of contact with culture, their manners of expression are different. American, overseas Chinese, and mainland traditional Chinese cultures are all very different. We are not able to completely copy another person’s manner of expression in China. We can not require China’s Reformed churches to all be like Pastor Stephen Tong or to all be like Pastor Tim Keller.

‪China’s Reformed churches are in a process of transformation and learning. We have to admit that we are still immature in many areas. Perhaps when studying another person’s theological positions, we have also absorbed their manner of expression, causing people to have a misunderstanding of the Reformed faith and feeling that the Reformed faith is not very forgiving and mature.

‪I think many people’s misunderstanding of the Reformed faith today is a result more of the manner of expression as opposed to misunderstandings of theological ideas. And, indeed some Reformed voices are relatively narrow minded in regard to comprehension of the Reformed faith at the start of their studies. So, these are all reasons the Reformed faith is criticized by some people today.

‪To reiterate one point, China is in a period when the urban church is emerging. These have been growing since 2000. However, an important problem is that many of these Reformed urban churches do not have an overlapping older spiritual generation from which to inherit. On top of that, there are many intellectuals in these churches, so they are susceptible to the trap of rationality and reason. Reformed thought itself is very rational and logical. So it’s not surprising that, because of its developed thought and the lack of overlap with living spiritual predecessors, combined with an innate deficiency, people feel as if the people of the Reformed church are very rational, enjoy debating and critiquing people, and that all conversation is logical, coherent, and about the law. This is a common phenomenon.

‪I myself am in the process of learning and understanding that the Reformed faith is very forgiving. But if the method is wrong, it is easy for people to misunderstand. I pay attention to the method of expression, so the process of transformation in our church is relatively smooth and we have had relatively little conflict.

Christian Times: Can you talk specifically about how your church deals with the process of transition? What were your experiences and lessons learned?

Pastor Daniel: I have seen some previous examples of churches that used relatively rigid methods and processes during the time of transition that led to many conflicts. In the end they ended up with nothing definite or they failed. So one thing I learned was to proceed cautiously.

‪I came into contact with Reformed teaching in 2000. In 2001, our church workers began to study individually, but it wasn’t until 2006 that our church officially began the transition. So the first five years were just a time of continuous study without any steps towards formal transition. In 2006 we formally confirmed our Reformed doctrine and adopted the Presbyterian form of church governance.

‪From 2001 to 2006, I mainly researched and studied Reformed theology on my own. Previously, most of what had I read talked about the inner life. The church in China likes to read books such as Streams in the Desert and Broken Spirit, but books on exegesis and theology are rare. At that time I basically watched all of Pastor Stephen Tong’s video lectures on exegesis and I downloaded and listened to his sermons. So, he enlightened me. ‪Later I read Calvin’s book Institutes of the Christian Religion and many Puritan books, such as those written by Spurgeon, Bavinck and other translated books. At this stage I was reading a lot of books.

‪As my own Reformed thinking began to take shape, I started looking for co-workers to share and discuss these things with. Many of them were also struggling with and pondering these things. At the start there was a lot of tension and people could not accept it. But I used a gentle way, saying, “If you do not accept it, then we can suspend it.” At the time, there were many people who could not accept things like infant baptism, or eternal security. But over time, with study and learning, they came to accept these teachings. So, I think the key point here is the pastor’s way of preaching. You need to wait for the congregation with a shepherd’s heart. This is the same as a parent waiting patiently for a child, who is small and doesn’t understand things, to grow up. It means waiting for the Holy Spirit to open a person’s heart and allow him to grow slowly. This is the process.

‪However, I found out during this process that the early adopters of the Reformed faith only preached doctrine; they did not pastor their congregations. They lined up to speak everywhere, but did not shepherd their churches. So, what the people from the congregation would say would be different than what the pastor was saying. Because the backgrounds of the two were different, the style, method, and the tone were different. For example, Moses was very tough, but after 40 years of shepherding in the wilderness he was completely different. So from my experience I would say be sure to be careful and slow, but also be soft and wait. At the same time, remember that there will inevitably be people who do not accept the transition. So, we also must respect them and respect that they can not accept it.

‪As I mentioned before, our church workers began to study Reformed theology in 2001, but we didn’t begin the process of change until 2006. We waited until everyone was in unanimous agreement before beginning the process of change.

‪I have shared my experiences with transforming churches around the country, reminding them that they must be cautious and take it slowly. Transforming churches must know this. Why is it especially important to remember this? Because when you contrast the doctrines of the Reformed church and the teachings of the traditional church you will see a big discrepancy and you will feel a moment of sudden clarity. You will go from previously opposing theology to valuing theology, from no rationality to rationality, from a patriarchal system to a democratic system. For those well-educated and learned people who see this, I hope that you will make the change in the right away, that it will arouse a passion in you to transform immediately. Yet, contrary to expectations, it will produce negative effects, it will produce harm, and the biggest problem is that it will produce division. In fact, many divisions are not caused by Reformed teachings, but because the extreme approaches cause division.

‪So, why do people in traditional churches criticize the Reformed churches? Certainly there are teachings that are hard to accept, such as total depravity, or the doctrine of the millennium. But these are not fundamental issues. Another example is infant baptism. I know one very representative Reformed church in which they do not require church members to perform infant baptism, but if you want your children to receive baptism the church will do it. I think this is a very broad-minded [forgiving] attitude. So again, infant baptism is not the biggest problem.

‪The main problem is attitude, not theological differences. A wrong attitude makes people feel that we are “puffed up with arrogance.” “You all are not the true church; we are the true church. You all are not Reformed; we are the most Reformed. You are not really spiritual; we are really spiritual.” These kinds of expressions disgust people. So I think an attitude of respect is very important.

Original article: 专访一改革宗教会牧者:改革宗在中国的发展、影响与争议(上) (Gospel Times. Translated and posted with permission)

Image source: Hugenotten Museum

Note: In Part 3, Pastor Daniel will discuss the differences in Reformed practices in China and the west, and once again emphasize the importance of attitude.