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 produces 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)

Related Posts:

A Book on Drums and Worship
A Conversation about Music in the Church

 

 

 

Protestantism and the Future of China

The article translated below is from a Chinese website called Urban Mission (jidutu123.com). In it the author ponders what role Protestantism can play in the future development of China. He begins by talking about the transitional nature of China’s current social and political systems and where China’s current reforms may or may not be headed. He then draws on the writings of German sociologist Max Weber to understand the current situation in China today, to the point of comparing contemporary Chinese society with the German Weimar Republic. Finally, he argues that the main contribution Protestantism can make to the development of China is constitutional government.

It’s important to note that many Christians writing about Christianity in China these days do so from an academic social science perspective. While it’s a perspective that many in the west are unfamiliar (and perhaps uncomfortable) with, it’s still important for us to listen in on this particular conversation.

haidianchurch

Protestantism and the Future of China

Tremendous political and social reforms are taking place in China. The current round of reforms is sometimes believed to be the continuation of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. In fact, according to the view of economist Zhang Jun of Fudan University, reform of the economic system had already been finalized after Deng Xiaoping’s inspection tour of the south in 1992. However, because of Deng’s “do not argue” stance, political reform was temporarily shelved.

The result is a “transitional” political system: one that is not yet a modernized system of government, and no longer a Soviet system or the system in place during the Cultural Revolution.

According to popular perception, this type of system is designed to benefit influential officials, or those in control (权贵体系). In other words, a small number of people rely on their power to obtain resources; they exploit the market to get rich. This highlights the incomplete nature of the Deng-era reforms. The current reforms of Zeng Qinghong (曾庆红) and Xi Jinping (习近平) are to a large extent a new set of reforms, as opposed to a continuation of Deng’s reforms.

‪The starting point for Deng’s reforms was the system in place during the Cultural Revolution. While it is true that there are still voices that harken back to the pre-Cultural Revolution era, they are few and lack influence. What is true is that those governing society, that is, those with vested interests, certainly do not want a return to the old system of central planning. That system benefits no one.

The power to block political reform lies in the hands of those people who benefit the most within the incomplete system of Deng’s political reforms. Zeng and Xi’s new overhauling reforms are presently being carried out with uncommon authority and political wisdom. Even though in the public domain it is very difficult to see these “being carried out,” however, to those in an academic or political “vocation,” the speed at which these are “being carried out” is not at all slow.

‪Furthermore, during this period of political modernization, the Chinese society and economy are rapidly integrating with the international systems. This should also facilitate modernization. The national slogan of the previous decade was “harmonious society and new countryside.” In this decade, the national slogan has been replaced with “the Chinese Dream and new urbanization.” The former, due to its having specific, practical indicators that could be manipulated, turned into a poisoned institution of bloated and embarrassing social burdens. Looking at the current “Chinese Dream” slogan, it can hopefully detoxify those specific indicators of social stability. In addition, this corresponds to market economics and the global trend of urbanization, echoing America’s second industrialization strategy, and is a tremendous action to pull Chinese society into the global system.

‪Furthermore, there is another matter related to the founding of the “Contemporary Weber Institute.” That is, the growth in the number of Chinese Christians is predicted to reach 150 million by 2020 and by 2030 will have grown to over 249 million people. And if the Communist Party were to abandon its official “atheist” position, the growth in the number of Christians as well as other religions could increase. Although currently maturing, Christianity in China is still not prepared to greet a fresh, new China; at the same time, society as a whole also has not formulated a necessary response to the rise of Christianity.

‪But there are problems. The first that we need to be aware of is that many are not yet prepared to understand the fundamental distinctive features of modern society or modern Chinese-speaking societies. In Weber’s Germany, people were faced with the rise of a post-war Weimar government and in the eyes of most Germans the Weimar government became known as a symbol of “defeat and humiliation.” In other words, a standard constitutional and independent political entity turned into a symbol of humiliation. Part of this lies in the fact that after the 1848 revolutions in Europe, when the Holy Roman Empire dissolved, German society experienced big changes that would surpass even the changes in China today. These transformations forced German society to give up its rosy ideals of “ancient society” and embrace “modernity.” Unfortunately, the German people were not able to adapt. This was embodied in their inability to “play” politics, their inability to concretely implement political life in the public sphere. Parliament’s endless debates stopped short of actually addressing the bitter lives of the nation’s people, causing Weber to start thinking deeply about German society’s “separation of ancient and modern.” He suggested that there needed to be reflection on what modern society should look like. In addition, there needed to be an examination of bureaucratic patterns of modern society. Since this new system was “untested,” implementation would need to be done incrementally, so as to ensure success.

‪Chinese society is very likely to follow in the footsteps of the Weimar government. One reason is that there are already large numbers of “political romantics” gathering on the edges of power, waiting to once again contend following a political vacuum. This time, however, they are depending on the tools of “natural rights” and “democracy.” When the power of society needs to be mobilized, “natural rights” is always a good call to arms. Yet, the current standards in Chinese-speaking society are most likely to suffer harm there. Weber naturally regarded “modern society” of his time in this way. He did not pass judgment on ancient and modern, rather in a pertinent and practical way he spoke out on the modes and rules of behavior operating in society. Adopting these modes and rules would prevent people from being used by the “scum of society” (troublemakers). The majority of Weber’s social analysis has applicable lessons to draw on for today. Because of its analysis of the advancement of “history” in Chinese society, it helps us to accurately find our individual place among various means of political mobilization from a rational standpoint.

‪The second problem we must be aware of is that we need to build the structures of a modern rational society, particularly civil society organizations such as the church. At present, Chinese-speaking Christians do not possess a notion of “modernized governance” because, according to Weber’s definition, Chinese-speaking Christians at best are believers ruled by charismatic leaders rather than looking towards God; in the absence of a bureaucratic polity, there is rule by charisma. Therefore it can be asserted that Chinese-speaking Christianity is situated within an organizational pattern similar to that of pre-16th century Europe. Such an assertion is not an exaggeration, because a rational and predictable Christian organization that runs in accordance with certain rules can become a tremendous force for social stability. If not, it will be “separated from heaven” and taken advantage of beforehand by people. However, rational organizations are not a panacea. How does one know the secrets of success to an “administrative organization?” This is what Chinese society needs to learn.

‪With this awareness of the problem, the study of Weber and Chinese society will carry real meaning. A number of years ago, people widely believed the growth of Christianity to be God’s “eclectic talent,” a “blessing” for the growth of Chinese civilian society. The expansion of civil society and the middle class is the real pillar needed to transform a great power. Yet, as Xi and Li launch their new policies, the strength of Christianity is far from being evident. Instead of promoting political reform, it has created conflicts, such as the   PX event,* which allowed for the denunciation of intellectuals. This confrontation between two parties (the urban middle class and the state) within a one-party system was a pivotal moment sociologically and politically.

‪Weber’s importance for post-transformational Germany is just as important as the study of Christianity and society for China today. The goal of China’s modernization is to thrust China into the modern world. Under this reasoning, various “isms” have taken hold in civil society. However, civil society remains just a politically created double-edged tool. The power of the tool may still be weak, but it cannot be ignored. Chinese-speaking societies have long enjoyed making political proposals for future social development. What Christianity can deliver at the present time is a covenant constitutional government. These “-isms” are already granted around the world, but in today’s Chinese-speaking society they repeatedly suffer at the hands of people using them as “tools,” which is just like post-war Germany. With such a challenging problem as this, Weber helps us view it all. However, If we really understand Weber we would have expected to see Weber teach us to first understand this society, including the true internal nature of politics. In this way, aside from “teaching people to be bad (教人学坏),” people could experience the study of and teachability of virtues.

Original article: 新教与中国的未来 (translated and posted with permission)

*This refers to a protest against the relocation of a chemical plant in Dalian, China, an event which was significant because the protesters were urban middle class residents.

Churches Respond to the Earthquake in Yunnan

On August 3, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck a remote region of Yunnan Province, in China’s southwest, killing more than 600 people. The Chinese government quickly launched rescue operations and continues to provide relief for those affected.  But what about the churches in the area? A reporter from the mainland site Christian Times talked with a local pastor in the area about how the churches in the area are responding. The article is translated below.Yunnan Earthquake August 2014

Local Churches Work Together to Help Those Affected by the Earthquake: A Pastor Comments on How to View Natural Disasters‪

On August 3, Ludian County, Zhaotang City,* Yunnan Province experienced a 6.5 magnitude earthquake. The death toll has risen to 390 people.* According to reports, this is the biggest earthquake the region has experienced in 16 years. The next day, the earthquake was the lead story on all major news media outlets. With regard to how to respond to natural disasters, Pastor Huang Yatong, from a church in Zhaotong City, encouraged Christians to pray for the victims in the area and to actively lend a helping hand in order to manifest the love of Christ.

‪On August 4 when Christian Times staff telephoned Pastor Huang Yatong to learn more about the situation, the earthquake death toll had risen to 390 people. Pastor Huang said the disaster is quite serious, since it already had resulted in more than 180 missing people, more than 1,300 injured, more than 12,000 collapsed houses, and damaged more than 30,000 rooms.

‪After the earthquake, they were also faced with persistent rains. When the churches in the area learned of the disaster, one after another they have given their respects and commissioned Pastor Huang and the church to aid the victims. Currently, church workers are buying relief supplies. Pastor Huang said there is an urgent need in the quake zone for instant noodles, water, colored strips of cloth, blankets, tents and other such supplies. They hope to deliver these to the hardest hit area as soon as possible.

‪Pastor Huang said Ludian is about 20km (40 li) away from Zhaotong city. There are no churches in the area, so not many Christian brothers and sisters are affected by the disaster. As for the question of how Christians should respond to natural disasters, Pastor Huang shared that the most important response was to pray for victims of the disaster, that God will have mercy on them. In addition, when caring for the survivors, it is important for them to feel the love of God.

‪For the victims who perished, Pastor Huang said that from the perspective of faith, we can only pray for them and ask God to have mercy on their souls, because natural disasters can happen at any time. As citizens, we ought to play our part to the greatest extent to help see them through the difficulties. If one person has difficulty, eight people can provide support. For many years, the Zhaotong church has been involved in some aspect of disaster relief work.

‪”Right now the entire community is carrying out relief operations; whether it is corporate or individual leaders, everyone is actively doing relief work. The disaster rallied everyone together even more. Their disaster is our disaster. We have a responsibility to help them, but Christians also have an obligation to pass on the love of Christ so that more people feel the love of God,” Pastor Huang candidly shared.

‪Indeed, when news came out about the Ludian disaster, secular society and the church began working hard to bring relief to the affected areas. Early morning on the 4th, a Beijing church minister sent out an urgent intercessory prayer request and invited local churches to pray together for the earthquake victims.

‪In addition, Pastor Huang also said that following an earthquake the year before in Yiliang County, local churches had offered continuous help and had established a link with his church. In the same way, after the Ludian earthquake, churches in Beijing, Shanghai, Wenzhou and other places have been quick to respond to the earthquake, sending supplies to the area.

*in Chinese administration, a city is a higher level administrative unit than a county; in other words, a county is a district within a city, usually some distance from the urban center.

**the death toll has now exceeded 600.

Original article: 各地教会联手支援鲁甸地震灾区当地牧者谈如何看待天灾 (translated and posted by permission)

Image Source: Straits Times 

 

 

Keep Praying for MH

On July 17, a Malaysian Airlines flight travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot out of the skies over eastern Ukraine. 298 souls perished. In the days following, many Christians took to Weibo to express their condolences. We have translated a few of those posts below.

mh17-wreck

Source: Channel News Asia

On July 17, Yao Chen (姚晨), a well-know Chinese Christian actress, reposted a news article about the crash and wrote, “How horrible”( 太可怕了).

On July 18, Yao Chen reposted several photos of the crash victims each with a short bio and wrote, “Heartfelt condolences!” (深切哀悼!)

On July 21, Chen Weiquan (陳威全), a Christian Taiwanese Singer/Artist, posted “About the MH17 event: many Malaysians are feeling very sad, and also paying tribute to the families of the victims. This time I feel that we really need to cheer on Malaysian Airlines. No matter how everyone feels toward them this year*, this still is the Malaysian Airlines that Malaysians have grown up with. When they were young it was the airline they flew on trips with their families, it was the airline they flew on trips home from university, they even flew it out to perform social work. Today I am flying to Taipei and I am flying Malaysian Airlines. Cheer on Malaysian Airlines together! Keep praying for MH.

On July 18, Chen Weiquan wrote, “Pray for MH…”(In English)

On July 18, 上帝爱小科 wrote, “{Pray for Malaysian Airlines flight MH17} Lord, grievous news has come and the hearts of your sons and daughters are profoundly shaken to their depths. With trembling hands, we gasp at the loss of life that in a flash fell and perished. We earnestly give thanks for the peace that we have today. We ask you Lord to comfort the families of those who lost their lives, erase their pain and open the eyes of the hearts, make them see the briefness and frailty of life, to see the darkness of this last age, to see that the Lord is the only path. Only you have the answer to our lives!”

On July 19, CCDM基督教数字传媒 posted the identities of some of the victims and wrote, “{Lives Shot Down – Reflection on the Lives of a Portion of Victims from Malaysian Airlines flight MH17} Let’s all pray together for the families who lost loved ones, let those who mourn receive comfort, let the facts of what happened come to light soon, let people value the ultimate meaning of life.”

On July 18, G.E.M. aka Deng Ziqi(鄧紫棋), well-known Hong Kong pop star, wrote, “When the world is so ridiculous, life is so fickle, other than sighing with anger, maybe we should more actively share love. When you feel powerless in this world, just first start with the small things. Try hard to love each person you meet. Believe in the power of love. R.I.P.

On July 19 福满多yyym posted, “Pray for MH370 and MH17, May the departed rest in peace” (#马来西亚客机坠毁# pray for MH370 and MH17、愿逝者安息、)

Also referenced:

Christian Times Article (“Yao Chen, Wang Li Hong(Lee Hom) and Other Christian Artists One After Another Pray for Crash Victims of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17”)

*After the disappearance of MH370 in March, with many Chinese passengers on board, many people in China have expressed their anger at Malaysian Airlines.

Image Source: Channel News Asia

A Book on Drums and Worship

As the Church in China continues to grow and mature, one of the issues that is coming to the fore is that of music. Until recently, much of the music played and sung in Chinese churches has been on the traditional side – translated western hymns or indigenous folk-style music (popular in rural churches). Only in the past few years have we seen the emergence of what might be described as “Christian Contemporary Music,” popular, as one might expect, among the younger generation, particularly in the cities. The main drivers of this move towards contemporary worship music have been music ministries outside of China, such as Streams of Praise and Hillsong. Now, however, Christians in China are beginning to find their voice. This article from the Christian Times is about the publication of a book called Drums and Worship, written by a percussion teacher at a Christian music school.

 www.christiantimes.cn-鼓手敬拜封面-2

Joyful River School of Music Percussion Teacher releases a book “Drums and Worship”

In recent years, with the growth of the church in China, more people are recognizing the importance of worship; heavenly worship can bring down heavenly power and blessing. In response to the call of God the Joyful River Music School has published a book called Drums and Worship. This will be the first book by a professional Christian drummer about how to worship God with drums.

Joyful River Music School is a praise and worship ministry calling the church to produce good music and to use its best to worship God. Many younger brothers and sisters are willing to devote themselves to this and are receiving training.

They recently published a book Drums and Worship written by the school’s professional drumming instructor, Brother Li Cixian. This is his first book.

Li Cixian was born into a Christian family and so from a young age attended Sunday School, youth groups, and served in the church with his parents. At age 18, he enrolled in the music department of a Korean seminary to begin a systematic study of praise and worship, and of drumming.

After graduation, he became the leader and drummer for the Ebenezer Worship Band, and was invited to be a lecturer in percussion at his alma mater. At age 22, he was admitted to the Beijing Midi School of Music. Upon graduation, he entered the ATA Band as a drummer. Since then he has also worked as a percussion instructor at Joyful River Music School.

He has cooperated and played with Huangguolun, Xianghai, Xunchi, Huangqishan, Dongfangbili, Caiqianqian, Hillsong, and many other Christian artists on songs such as “Testimony of the Times,” “Harmonious Love,” and “From Eternity to Eternity.” He has also participated in numerous large-scale concerts as a drummer and musical director.

Why write Drums and Worship? According to Brother Li, there are numerous references to drumming in the Bible, beginning with Genesis, and each time the drums are shown to be a be an important feature of worship.

“Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.” (Psalm 150)

“And it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud.” (2 Chronicles 5:13)[1]

We also read in 1 Chronicles 16:5 that “Asaph the chief, and second to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom and Jeiel, with musical instruments, harps, lyres; also Asaph played loud-sounding cymbals.” In this we see the close relationship between Asaph and God. He is not just a songwriter and worshiper leader; he has another identity which is often not noticed – that of a percussionist.

In the foreword of the book, Brother Li describes how God called him to be a drummer. At first, he was surprised, but over time he realized that God was teaching him to understand different perspectives in worship. This book is a product of that growth in understanding.

This book, which took Brother Li three years to write, can be described as “good news” for Chinese worshipers. Brother Li wrote this book because there has never been a book written in China on the Christian teaching of drums, something that was a concern to many brothers and sisters.

The book is written from the perspective of a worshiper. It analyzes the forms of the church. These include rhythm, basic skills, speed, and other specific technical exercises and explanations. Looking at these from a philosophical perspective helps us to understand more clearly the need for excellence in drumming training. The book also has collected 14 different pieces of music from a variety of sources (Hillsong, New Life, Streams of Praise, etc.) as demonstration tracks. This will help brothers and sisters to learn more quickly how to use drums in worship.

Now that the book has been published and is available online, Brother Li hopes that it will “bless many people and bring them joy.”

According to Brother Li, the Joyful River School of Music will also publish books on guitar and piano in worship.

To purchase Drums and Worship online, go here.

[1] In the Chinese translation of the Bible, this passage includes the character 鼓, which means drum.

[2] The English translation uses the word “cymbal,” while the Chinese word used is broader.

Original article (and photo): 中国教会首本鼓手教材出炉:乐河音乐学校推出新书《鼓手&敬拜》(Christian Times — translated and posted with permission)