Recent Visit to China…
During some years of academic research on the house church and new ways of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ church in the 21st century, I obviously had to take a careful look at the house church movement in China (The Far East is certainly the epicentre of Christianity today, with China leading the way. Some claim 20,000 conversions per day. By contrast, in the West, thousands of churches close each year). As you know the growth of the underground house church in China has astounded Christians world-wide, growing from some 3 million in the 1970’s under Maoist persecution to estimates of 80 million and even 100 million today. Some of the key reasons for this massive expansion included a forced moving, because of persecution, from typical denominational (‘clergy’ versus ‘laity’) church structures to minimal organic structures (much like in the Book of Acts); ‘ordinary Christians’ taking responsibility for church life and evangelism; the wind of God’s Spirit; commitment induced by opposition; etc.
When an opportunity came my way to visit China, far too briefly, and observe the Church for myself, I jumped at the opportunity. We were able to observe the underground Church engaging in agricultural projects, care of orphans and the mentally challenged children, printing of literature, evangelism, mission, etc.
Some of the strengths observed during this very brief exposure:
- The versatility of the Church, despite continued persecution. Some would say that the latter has decreased… What about the recent refusal, at the last minute, of some 220 delegates who had already received visas to attend the Lausanne Conference in Cape Town, South Africa? What about recent confiscation of Christian literature? What about constant surveillance of Christians and Christian leaders?
- A desire, on the part of different house church groups and even some ‘official’ groups, to move to greater unity in the interests of credibility.
- A flexible Church that is effective in rural areas as well as mega-cities.
- A Church that refuses, at least in some quarters, to let go of the ‘Back to Jerusalem’ vision, viz. to take the Gospel back to its origins via the ancient ‘silk road.’ Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu countries lie en route.
- Western Christians who in tentmaker capacities ‘incarnate Christ’ and use teaching, the arts, intercessory gifts, etc. to come alongside the indigenous church in support and encouragement.
- Being at the ‘coal-face’ of witness, the confirmation of the Gospel by many signs, miracles and wonders.
Some of the challenges observed:
- A Church still struggling, in some parts, to cross cultural borders: e.g. a Han Chinese Church that is often resistant to seriously engaging with minority cultures, such as the Hui Muslims of Central China, etc.
- A Church, in some house church forms, which does not always see the importance of an holistic Gospel expressing itself in social concern – e.g. caring for disadvantaged children is not quite as important as evangelising the lost.This is not helpful.
- The challenges of ‘postmodernism.’ Particularly at University level, students, having made a profession of Christ, are sucked into postmodern ways of thinking, e.g. I make a decision on the basis of ‘feel-good’ intuition rather than biblical teaching, as one young house church couple put it. We can understand this when we grasp the abundance of new converts versus the crying need for experienced Bible teachers, pastors, leaders, etc. Some are pastoring churches, having been converted only for a few years. A ten-year old Christian is something of a rarity in many places.
- Where there is a lack of teachers and teaching in the Church, heresies will always threaten.
the evangelization of the world is dependent on the health of the Church in China!