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.

Interview with a Reformed Church Pastor (1)

One of the interesting developments in the church in China over the past decade is growing popularity and influence of Reformed theology, particularly within urban house churches. This has come about as the Christians in China have had increasing opportunities to interact with the church outside of China, either directly, or via the Internet. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion has been translated into Chinese, as have the writings of prominent voices in the “New Calvinism” movement in the United States, such as Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, and John Piper. Probably the most influential figure, however, is Rev. Stephen Tong, head of the Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia. In order to better understand the rise of Reformed theology and its impact on churches in China, the Christian Times conducted an interview with a Reformed pastor. Because the interview is extremely long, we are breaking it into parts.

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Interview with a Reformed Church Pastor: The Impact and Controversy of the Reformed Church in China

‪‪”改革宗” (Gaige Zong) is translated from the English word “reformed,” referring to the Reformed tradition of the Christian church. It is one of the most significant of the major schools of thought that arose following the Protestant Reformation. The Reformed theological system is primarily Calvinist; that is, the theology of the Protestant Reformation’s important representative individual, John Calvin. Chinese theologian Pastor Stephen Tong translates the term as “归正宗,” (Guizheng Zong); therefore in the Chinese community, “Reformed” is also translated as “归正宗.”

‪For the past ten years, with an increase in communication between the Chinese church and churches overseas, Reformed theology and church doctrine have gradually entered China and have had a profound impact on the Chinese church.

‪What are the different periods of development for the Reformed faith in China? What kind of impact has it brought to the church in China? How should some characteristics of this phenomenon be evaluated?

Recently, Christian Times invited a Reformed church pastor, Pastor Daniel (at the request of the interviewee, a pseudonym is used) to answer these questions by sharing his personal experiences and thoughts. Pastor Daniel’s church is located in the city center of a second-tier city in eastern China and would be considered an emerging urban church. In terms of its conception of the church, pastorally, and organizationally, it is a representative sample of an indigenous Reformed church.

‪Pastor Daniel told us that the church where he serves began in the early 1990s as a church that was more typical of a traditional house church.* Around the year 2000, they began to face many challenges and restrictions. However, nearly ten years ago, by adopting the Reformed faith, the church successfully transformed itself into an emerging urban church.

‪During this process, he studied, and eventually embraced the Reformed faith, as well as reflected on and encapsulated his experiences and lessons learned. Through his sharing, he hopes to help churches and individuals who are going through a similar journey. At the same time, he has developed personal responses, according to his own thoughts and experiences, to some of the common criticisms of the Reformed faith, such as being overbearing or judgmental towards dissimilar perspectives. He hopes to promote a more objective way of becoming acquainted with the Reformed faith.

Christian Times: Against what kind of background has the Reformed faith begun to spread and influence the church in China? How did your church start to come into contact with Reformed theology?

Pastor Daniel: Reformed teaching began to influence the church in China primarily around the year 2000. The background is the rise of the emerging urban church and the challenge of transformation facing the traditional churches.

‪The emerging church began to pay more attention to such aspects as theological doctrine, establishment of church governance, cultural influences, and how to interact with society. In fact, this is more in line with the gospel because from the point of view of the Bible, one of the effects produced by the gospel is in fact a need to engage the culture. From a historical perspective, Christian culture has been a leading world culture and has had a profound impact on world culture. So, we can say that the train of thought of new urban churches is more in line with the gospel. Therefore this type of church also affected the traditional church which was formed 20 years ago, creating tension; not being able to integrate is an inevitable consequence.

‪Our church was originally a traditional church, but in 2000 it began to be affected by such a background. There was more of an emphasis on miracles and wonders in the past, emphasizing suffering, and personal piety. Most of the elderly believers in the church had grown up reading Watchman Nee’s books. It was a typical traditional church, established after [China's] reform and opening up to the world [in the 1980's] and after the spiritual revival. Although it was within the city, yet it was still a more traditional church.

‪Gradually, the church began to grow. New believers began to attend, and the demographics of the congregation began to change. There were more young people and intellectuals. At this time, we discovered that their areas of concern and our areas of concern were different. With the growth of media and the Internet, we discovered the sermons of Pastor Stephen Tong, who taught that Christianity should engage with the culture. This had a profound impact on our thinking, and we began to make changes.

‪At the beginning of the year 2000, I (and the church) first came in contact with the Reformed faith. We listened to the sermons of Pastor Stephen Tong, studied his theological lectures, and slowly began to transform. And this is not just true of our church; most of China’s transforming churches have been, to some extent, influenced by him.

‪Since then, the Chinese church began to transform. One factor has been the impact of the emerging churches. Another factor is that traditional churches have been forced by the problems brought on by their own growth process and have no choice but to reassess and transform. For example, it is easy for Eastern Lightning to ransack a traditional church, or even to destroy an entire church. Because the traditional church is only concerned about suffering and does not value theology, it values emotions and not reason. It emphasizes mystical interpretation rather than Biblical exegesis of the original text, and personal worship rather than valuing church government. So when faced with heresy they can be easily pillaged. In short, most churches in China today are in a period of transition, because they understand that if they don’t transform, they will be relegated to the margins of society.

Christian Times: How far, then has the church come since 2000? What stage is it at currently?

Pastor Daniel: Most churches in China began to make changes beginning in 2000. Theological changes happened first, followed by institutional changes.

‪In terms of theology, I think that the Reformed tradition has certainly been influential. Of course, the number of churches that have actually become “Reformed” in terms of their theology or in establishing a Presbyterian form of governance is still small. However, I have observed that many churches have begun to at least recognize the importance of the Reformed faith, and have begun to explore it.

‪The traditional church is beset by its own problems. These include having no systematic theology and no organizational structure. Therefore, in order to grow, some have begun to  look at the Reformed faith. Even churches in newly developing work places, and those with many young people (and where Arminianism is rather prominent) have begun to focus on the Reformed faith.

Christian Times: Allow me to insert a question here. In fact, some of the traditional churches are also working hard to transform and integrate into the city. Some knowledgeable and experienced traditional church leaders are also starting to create their own theological system and church governance based on local circumstances, and it can be said that they have not caught the reformed “bug.” Do you still feel the Reformed faith will impact them?

Pastor Daniel: If the traditional church would begin to value theology and trace it back to its origin they will certainly encounter the Reformed faith. In researching the history of Protestant doctrine, ultimately you cannot avoid its origin in the Reformed faith. No matter what Protestant denomination you are a part of, a focus on theology will ultimately lead to  Reformed theology. The three most important figures of the Reformation are Martin Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. Martin Luther was a pioneer, and Zwingli later supplemented his work. However, Calvin was the one who had the biggest impact on later generations. He was responsible for shaping a theory that was to have a huge impact on later generations. And later, Arminianism was produced in reaction to dissatisfaction with reformed theology. So, if you are looking, you will find the Reformed faith: you cannot get around it.

Christian Times: So, looking ahead, in the future what do you believe will be the next focal points of the Reformed faith that will impact the Chinese church?

Pastor Daniel: What is the future trend? I believe that the focus will be on church governance.

‪So far, Reformed theology has had an impact on the Chinese church, but the impact of [church] governance/polity is still relatively slight. One thing is for sure: the Reformed faith has led many churches to start thinking about church governance, prompting the development of church government. This is very good. For example, although Baptists use a congregational form of government instead of a Presbyterian form, it is still a form of governance. Furthermore, in the modern context, it certainly is better than the patriarchal system. In regards to church governance, there should be a church structure, a constitution, and one’s own liturgy, but most churches in China do not have any of these. The most common structure is patriarchal, where there is no order to follow – only that which is based on the authority of the individual leaders. Things are done as the leader dictates. Therefore, the demands of the institutional church will become a focal point of future investigation.

‪As I said before, there have been two main transformations of the church; one is theology, one is church governance. Theology became the focus starting in the year 2000, but this has now begun to settle down, and tensions have reduced. The church has gone from thinking little about theology, culture, and society to starting to value theology, culture, and society. Church government will be the next focal point.

*”Traditional house church” here refers to type of house churches that grew up in the countryside during the era when churches went underground due to persecution. As people from the countryside migrated to the cities, these churches moved as well, bringing with them their forms of worship and governance.

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

House Churches and Anti-cult Campaigns

Last week five members of the Almighty God cult (formerly known as “Eastern Lightning” went on trial for brutally murdering a woman in a MacDonald’s restaurant in Zhaoyuan, Shandong Province. The murder shocked the nation and prompted the government to launch a nationwide crackdown on illegal cults, or xie jiao (lit. evil religion).

Crackdowns on evil cults are common in China, and often bring with them unwanted attention and scrutiny of Christian house churches because government officials, scholars, and ordinary people often cannot distinguish between cults and house churches.

On July 17, 2014, the mainland site Christian Times published part one of a special report highlighting this problem of confusing house churches and cults. In it the author first looks 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. Second, the author solicits comments from various house church members and leaders from different parts of the country.

This article is a very interesting glimpse of a unique challenge that house churches face in China, especially during an anti-cult campaign.

Trial of cult members who murdered a woman at a McDonald's restaurant in Zhaoyuan

On Confusing House Churches and Cults

The Third Redemption by Christ cult(三救基督, aka Apostle’s Congregation, aka Mentuhui) led a Hubei couple down the road to suicide. Members of the Almighty God cult (全能神) committed a tragic murder in broad daylight. These real cases in the first half of this year raised awareness on the part of our fellow countrymen regarding the savage nature of cults. Subsequently, the government published the names of 14 cult organizations and pledged to crack down on cults that are endangering society.

‪An independent Christian scholar recently stated that this is a significant move for the future healthy development of Christianity in China because it will be of great benefit to help purify Christianity in the face of a confusing religious environment. Many house church preachers who have been harassed by cults also support this initiative. But at the same time, they worry about social media and public figures who do not understand religion and who, in practice, confuse house churches with cults.

 Current Existing Confusion

‪At 3:00 p.m. on July 9, 2014, I did a search for “house church cult” on Baidu.* The first page to pop up was not an objective introduction to the differences between the two. Rather, it was a post from Baidu’s online Q&A forum Baidu Knows that posed the question, “are house churches cults?” In the post, the first answer accepted by users was “they basically are considered to be.” What followed were over 100 unintelligible words with very confused punctuation. The first answer was still the most complete answer among the bunch.

‪This seems to indicate that although house church leaders and pastors can clearly distinguish between house churches and cults, in the most visible and accessible public information spaces there is no good explanation or information. This is something that churches need to think about. At present, there is a genuine interest in the matter on the part of the public, but little understanding.

‪If the multitude of people at the grassroots level who use news discussion platforms do not understand “the difference between house churches and cults,” then the fact that more professional, respectable experts of social media and academics deliberately or unintentionally confuse the two is an even greater cause for concern.

June 3, 2014. The Global Times published an article entitled “Attack Cults Immediately” by  Lu Dewen, Associate Professor of Central China University of Science and Technology, China Rural Governance Research Center. The article discussed the characteristics of cults and how the three-point recommendation linked together cults and the underground church (a variant of “house churches” — because the traditional gathering place for house churches is underground, they are also known as the “underground church”). The author states,

In recent years of field research and investigation, the author’s team discovered that underground churches and cults have spread extremely fast, especially in the northern and central regions. The situation is extremely grim. The reason why this has happened has to do with both the distinctive traits of cult propagation and with disposing of biases against cults.

The following main points reflect the distinctive traits of cult propagation: First, the spread of underground churches and cults primarily relies on blood and family relations; therefore they are quite stable. Second, underground churches and cults pay close attention to their propagation strategies. Third, underground churches and cults are committed to building a network of grassroots organizations.

The government should guide and govern faith, resolutely crack down on cults, effectively direct folk religions, resolutely crack down on the leaders, and strengthen education for ordinary believers. There should be an increase in rural culture construction, especially to strengthen the grassroots governance capacity, which in turn will shrink the space available for underground churches and cults.

June 23, 2014. After the magazine Global People published the cover story “Exclusive Coverage: The Truth About An Evil Cult Leader,” in which field interviews in Shandong and Hebei revealed the grassroots spread and danger of the Almighty God cult (全能神) and its leader, they interviewed Li Anping, President of the China Anti-Cult Association for his analysis of how to distinguish between proper religions and cults in everyday life. Li Anping believes there are five criteria: in his first point he says, “protected by the Chinese Constitution, citizens can freely believe in the five big religions – Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and that they can equally carry out activities within regulated religious spaces. However, cults frequently adopt the evangelism practices of underground house churches. “

July 5, 2014. The Observer (观察者) published an online article titled, “Yang Hua: The North-South Differences of Rural Underground Christianity,” (Author: Yang Hua, Associate Professor of Central China University of Science and Technology, China Rural Governance Research Center). The first paragraph of the article reads,

China’s rural underground Christian churches include house churches and cult organizations. House churches are those that are outside the Three-Self church. (Three-Self church refers to the Chinese Christian church that is “self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating,” complying with the political leadership of the Chinese government and its ruling party, receiving no supervision and interference from foreign churches). House churches have not been integrated into the Chinese government’s official system of administration for Christian organizations. Though they are still “underground,” house churches already operate openly and have a complicated and ambiguous relationship with the Three-Self church. While there are both homegrown and imported Christian cults, most are homegrown. Cults are extremist organizations that have broken away from house churches, but sometimes still have close connections to house churches. The house church is the mother of cults. As long as house churches exist, cults will continue to develop and grow. Furthermore cults will become more and more extreme and thus lead to serious political and social consequences.

In that paragraph, the scholar puts house churches and cults side by side and considers them to be two components of rural underground Christianity. Moreover, he directly says “The house church is the mother cults.”

‪Later, when talking about how to govern underground Christianity, the author says,

Third, the rapid development of the northern rural house church movement has produced many cults, thus driving the cults to further extremes. Southern peasants cannot distinguish between Christianity and cults; this provides the necessary conditions for the development of cult organizations in the rural south. The discrepancy between northern and southern cults is manifested in the fact that northern rural cults are more active and use more extreme propagation methods.

This paragraph indicates that the house churches are the “manufacturer” of cults in the north. But at the end he also states “southern peasants cannot distinguish between Christianity and cults.” Through such discourse we can see that the article does not clearly distinguish between Christianity, house churches, and cults.

‪After the article explores the characteristics and differences between rural north-south religious beliefs, it says, “targeted measures can be adopted to control and contain the spread of underground Christianity.” The measures he proposes include: halting all construction of new churches in the rural south, encouraging farmers to build ancestral temples, and not prohibiting the burning of incense and worshiping of Buddha. In the rural north, he advocates an end to the building of new Christian churches, demolishing illegal places of worship, gradually integrating the house churches into regulated management under the Three-Self church. This means that house churches must accept the Three-Self patronage and clergy and those who do not accept its supervision should be banned.

‪To summarize, the views of the media and scholars cited above are generally this:

  1. The root cause of cults in large part can be traced back to the house churches.
  2. On the exterior, in terms of their form of worship, propagation, and organization, house churches and cults are very similar or even identical.
  3. Therefore, as the difference between the two is not very great, to attack cults requires attacking the house churches.

Clarifications from the House Church

‪Faced with this type of perception of the house churches, Christian Times invited a number of house church figures from different locations, including church leaders, pastors, seminary teachers and scholars, and people from social media researching the house churches to answer the question: “Is the root cause of cults the fact that they are “underground” or because they are “the church?”

‪Teacher L, a Christian scholar who has spent over 10 years researching house churches in the south acknowledged that the problem of heretical cults developing in house churches due to a lack of theological training is real. It is necessary to admit this problem; however we most go deeper and examine the reason behind the problem.

“How and why do these cults develop,” he asks. The key issue is the nature of being “underground.” Things that are underground easily mutate. On the surface it appears to be a question of religion, but in reality it is a question of management.”

‪Mr. W. holds a position in a well-known social media magazine and for several years has paid close attention to religious topics. Most notably, after the events at Zhaoyuan, he traveled to Henan, Hebei and other locations to specifically observe and study the damage to family relationships caused by the Almighty God cult. In the process he came into contact with different types of heretical cults. When addressing the causes of cults, his view is similar to that of Teacher L. He says, “It is not so much that the underground church is the mother of cults, rather, under the restrictions of the religious policies, the secretiveness of the church is the soil which enables cults to spread.

‪He went on to add that, “If the underground church is the mother, it cannot explain the background of Taoist and Buddhist cults.”

‪Pastor L. is an important house church leader. Since becoming a believer during the great house church revival 30 years ago, he has served as a pastor, and has a broad understanding of house churches in many regions of the country. He believes that singling out house churches as a root cause of the growth of cults is a simplistic understanding and analysis. For example, “Falun Gong is also considered to be a cult, yet it is not even marginally related to Christianity. One cannot blame Christianity since cults can evolve from a variety of religions. For example, Japan’s most notorious cult Aum Shinrikyo is a derivative of Buddhism and yoga.”

‪He also dismisses the idea that cults are only a problem within the house churches.”One cannot say that the Three-Self is a utopian paradise. In fact, many Three-Self churches and believers in these churches have been pulled away by heretical cults. There are perhaps as many people from Three-Self churches who are involved in cults as there are from house churches. So we cannot say that the house church is the mother of cults. The house church is respectable and the number of mature fellowships that have been misled by heretical cults is still very small. And even in Three-Self churches, if the pastoring is insufficient and there is no spiritual growth, in the end believers will be duped into joining cults.”

“Individual believers who are spiritually immature and lack knowledge of the Bible are easily confused and therefore susceptible to cult teachings.” As a shepherd, Pastor L. speaks more from a pastoral view about why one could be confused by heresy. “When a child is young, he or she can easily be abducted. But when he or she grows and matures it is not easy for them to be abducted. In the same way, a believer’s spiritual life is also like this.

Can Worship Locations that Resemble Each Other Become a Similar Standard for the House Church and Cults?

‪Pastor L. is frustrated by the way people confuse the house churches and cults because they both meet secretly. “Saying that because cults and house churches both meet in people’s homes, therefore they are all pretty much the same is like saying that since good and bad people wear glasses, all who wear glasses are bad people. That logic doesn’t hold up. Those who are mentally ill and those who are normal eat food. Does this mean that all who eat food are mentally ill?”

In addition to looking at exterior elements such as worship locations and outer appearances, Pastor L. uses one simple sentence to reveal the difference between the two: “Cult members worship people, Christians in the house churches worship God. The natures of the two are completely different.”

Scholar-Teacher L. also reiterated that the orthodox house church is an important part of Christianity: “the orthodox house church is part of nearly 2,000 years of Catholic Christian tradition.”

‪So how do we distinguish between orthodox Christianity and heretical cults? Teacher W., from a Beijing house church seminary, gives a more detailed explanation. He says, “The thing to remember is that any orthodox church will recognize two authorities: Scripture and Catholic tradition. Among these, the tradition of the Catholic Church includes for example the confessions of the church and the structure of the church that were passed down from the apostles and the prophets. Protestantism views the Bible as more important than church tradition, while in Catholicism the two run parallel. Some say that it pays more attention to tradition. In any case, orthodox churches recognize these two authorities. These two also protect the purity of the faith and orthodox churches will not stray from them. But what is pertinent to Christianity is that any heretical cults that derive from Christianity all have more or less broken with these two authorities. For example, some exegesis does not comply with the general principles of interpretation and the organizational form of the church has become very strange.”

In the Resistance to Heretical Cults, Are House Churches Contributors or Spoilers?

‪There is actually an additional blind spot in confusing house churches with cults. The work of the house church in resisting heresy has actually been practical and effective. Scholar-Teacher L notes,

Beginning in the 1990’s, for a full 10 years, Chinese churches around the world were all closely following the growth of heresies in China and noting the harm they were doing. Many pamphlets on how to identify and resist heretical teachings were produced and distributed. These were very effective.

‪In particular, China’s house churches have put a great deal of time and effort in identifying heresies and teaching their congregations about them. This has been done despite the restrictions under which they operate. They are doing a lot of work that the social sector simply is not aware of. The house church movement, since it’s beginning, has taken the job of resisting cults very seriously. Over the years, the house church has made a great contribution in this regard, thereby reducing the impact of heretical cults. If not for this, the situation today would be even worse. For example, the cults Three Grades of Servants and Almighty God used to have a great deal of influence. However, it has now become very difficult for them to influence Christianity in urban and mainstream regions; they are only able to dupe people in rural and remote mountainous areas. Much of this is the result of the efforts by the house churches.

‪A longtime pastor in Wenzhou named Brother Zheng shared that because Almighty God cult has been active in the area near his church for 20 years, the impact it has on his church today has diminished. However, the church does continue to regularly preach messages from the pulpit about identifying cults and heresies to help believers understand more clearly. Believers are also reminded that if they discover people entering the church impersonating believers, they must report this to the church pastor and even the police, so that these people do not have the chance to exploit anyone. These practical measures are already creating a natural protective barrier for church members against much confusion and attacks from heretical cults.

‪After the Zhaoyuan murder, many house church pastors expressed complete shock and spent a lot of time reflecting on the incident. They especially felt an even more direct and greater sense of urgency to spread the true gospel message. Pastor R., from an emerging urban church in Beijing said: “China has so many Christians who have heard the true gospel. If we were engaged in more evangelism, then maybe this incident would not have happened. This is a little harsh to say, but ultimately it is because, in terms of evangelism and preaching, the orthodox denominations have been slower and less zealous than the heretical cults. So in some way, we Christians have an indirect responsibility.”

‪Teacher Wang from the seminary suggests that in order to resist cults and heresies the church must train good preachers: “This is the most fundamental thing we can do. When such preachers are trained and then preach correct messages, this helps our brothers and sisters fight against heretical cults.”

*Baidu is the most popular Chinese search engine

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 Daily

Reflections on Worship

The piece translated below is from a post on the Weixin (WeChat) page of the Beijing Gospel Church, one of the city’s more prominent house churches. The writer is sharing his thoughts on the nature of worship in the church.

As the church in China continues to grow and develop, an issue that it increasingly has to deal with is that of music and worship. In other words, the “worship wars” which are so prevalent in the West, particularly in the United States, are coming to China.

The writer argues that the heart of the issue is the purpose and motivation of worship, rather than whether the music is modern or traditional. He clearly favors a more orderly style (as opposed to a style based on emotionalism) and tries to show how this is the Biblical style of worship.

Chinese Church WorshipReflections on Worship

Worship and Culture

Our worship is continually influenced by the culture around us. However, we need to be mindful of the fact that culture is not neutral since behind every culture lies a particular worldview. This is something we need to keep in mind when we worship God. In addition, there should be some discretion in one’s own method of worship.

What Is Worship?

Is worship simply a certain type of ceremony? Certainly worship has a ceremonial element to it; however it is not ceremony. I believe that many people mistakenly misunderstand the fundamental lesson of the book of Leviticus. Worship is “God’s predestined means of communing with God.” This means we are really communing with God and worship is a means of journeying together with God. We are all sinners, so if we want to journey together with our pure and holy God, we need to learn how to be pure and holy. We also need to learn how to commune with God in the manner he instructed; this is the nature of true worship!

The Primary Principles of Worship

The most important point to keep in mind when discussing worship is that it is “by God’s methods, not by one’s own methods.” We need to examine our hearts and motivations.

Let’s look at David and Solomon in the Old Testament. Their worship was solemn and orderly, from the call to worship to the confession of sin, then praise, and finally offering prayer to God. Contrast that with Jeroboam, who used his own methods to create his own altar of worship, an act that God regarded as wicked. Up until the time of Ezra, worship became more and more formalized. How could God, who was monitoring the hearts of the people, tolerate this? Ezekiel also said the people offered deformed and crippled sacrifices to God, which was sinning against God.

So, how do we worship today? Already we are seeing a change in the understanding of the purpose of worship. Some look upon worship as a means of attracting those who are not yet believers, using music and songs to express their emotions. This diverts the worshiper’s attention from God to his own feelings, with the result being that they may think that what is good and spiritual is merely expressing their inner thoughts and feelings. For example, some people are opposed to preparing the congregational prayer ahead of time. They believe that expressing one’s own heart according to the situation is more spiritual. In fact, this denies the penchant of our original sin because the Bible clearly tells us that we are already completely contaminated by sin. What the depths of our hearts enjoy the most, what our hearts truly bring out is not at all what pleases God. I believe we really need to repent of this shift in direction of worship.

This shows how important order (God’s way) and a spirit of honesty (motivation) are to worship (communing with God). We need to reflect on whom we are focusing. Too often we will focus on our own experience, on what emotionally moves us. But in this case then, whom are we really worshiping? To put it bluntly, worship is about God, and therefore we should focus more on God’s experience. We should care more about how God receives our deficiency to glorify Him, rather than whether worship is “traditional” or “modern.”

What Should Be the Center of Attention for Those Who Lead Worship?

There are many church workers who focus their attention on the part of the process that allows for actual worship to take place. This includes how to specifically differentiate between different types of worship forms; how the worship leader should prepare; how to communicate with the pianist; what should the middle intercessory prayer be like; and how to prepare segues that lead into the song.

The point I would like to make is that it is too early to be asking these questions. That’s because we haven’t yet addressed the issue of motivation, which has already begun the shift towards becoming utilitarian and outcome-oriented. So there are still fundamental issues with our worship at the present time which are the source of the lack of unity and chaos. Our worship is a reflection of our faith. We need to look first at the foundation of our faith, and that is where the reform must take place. It’s hard to acknowledge this. We would rather carry on, thinking that what we lack is skill, when what we really lack is a heart for God. We think that all we need is to study and improve our skills and everything will be fine. The question I have is this: if we are for God, why do we continue to ignore the order that God cares about? Why do we ignore the true meaning of worship? Why do we complain that the songs are not emotionally moving enough? If, after reading this paragraph, you still want to ask, “Well, then how exactly does it work?” then please read on to the next paragraph.

This is not only a matter of worship; I believe that in many aspects of service there are problems related to worship. Many co-workers simply want to focus on being effective, as if saying, “We don’t want to hear about some starting point; we all know that. Just tell us how to do it.” But that is the heart of the matter. It is precisely because we are not wholly devoted to God that we do not know how to do it!

I think many workers have a lot of experience preaching, leading small groups, or leading worship. If they pay more attention to the response from the congregation or group members, then what kind of worship atmosphere will there be? Or what kind of atmosphere will there be during discussion time? I think people who act like this must have experienced what nervousness is, what lack of confidence is, what a weary spirit is, or what it is like to worry about the future. Yet, when we turn to God then we can see that He desires us to concentrate together on each word that He has spoken. God desires that each one of us stand up and worship Him, including the workers themselves! In that way, if the workers do not worship with all their hearts and do not thirst for the Word of God, how can they lead everyone to worship and to reflect on God’s Word?

So this is my point! When a co-worker himself can concentrate on worshiping according to the methods that God revealed, when under the Holy Spirit he can lead our dedicated selfless worship of God, then he can lead his companions — the congregation — together to praise God with their hearts and souls. Because he is for God, he understands the God-ordained order to worship. He can then prepare songs under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and write segues for songs for one purpose only — to praise Jehovah God. During worship, he and his companions — the congregation — worship God together. In that way, during worship he will naturally be mindful of different things or particulars that could hinder the worship of God. Moreover, he will study how to improve these things (e.g. active communication with the pianist), handling and revising the various factors influencing worship with full confidence and determination, and continuing to praise our God!

Conclusion

When leading worship on Sundays, worship leaders are fulfilling their calling, only with a few more companions (the congregation).

We must believe that God has made every preparation in our own worship of Him and believe that it is God himself (and not the worship leader) who is leading us into worship. Come! Let’s return to Jehovah!

Original article: 事工分享:《敬拜反思》敬拜讲座培训的心得 (Bejing Gospel Church Wexin post, July 23, 2014)

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