Even though it describes events that mostly happened long ago, this powerful book holds lessons for us today. Here are a few thoughts that come to my mind:
Foreign missionaries’ association with the opium trade and with Western imperialism saddled Chinese Christians with a burden they still have to bear. President Xi Jinping has told his people to beware of Christianity and its foreign connections, urging them either to return to traditional Chinese religions or to fashion a “sinicized” Christianity that fully supports his agenda.
Nevertheless, more and more Chinese realize that missionaries brought many benefits to China, including Western medicine, modern education, science, ideas about democracy and freedom, and the elevation of the status of women.
Not only so, but Chinese Christians acknowledge the plain fact that missionaries introduced a gospel of salvation that brings forgiveness and a close relationship with God as Father, the power to love and even to forgive, and a hope of eternal life that speaks to the deepest desires of the human soul.
The parallel lives of an Anglican clergyman and Watchman Nee, who founded an independent movement, illustrate two fundamental divides in Chinese Protestantism: between “mainline” denominations and independent churches, and between liberal theology and evangelical convictions. Then, as now, the vast majority of Chinese Christians have identified themselves with the traditional message of the Bible.
The schools and colleges that “mainline” missionaries established succeeded in inculcating modern ideas in their students, but largely failed to win genuine converts or to train up church leaders and preachers.
Chinese Christians often struggle to balance their Confucian heritage and the Christian gospel. All too often, the former trumps the latter, if not explicitly, then in the way that they focus on ethics rather than on God’s grace, and on worldly benefits rather than on the hope of eternal life.
The Chinese church we know today has issued from the fires of affliction. Though most younger believers do not know their history, their elders remember, and will help them to face the growing storm of government pressure, restrictions, and perhaps even persecution.
As Lin Pu-chi wrote, we must do all we can to recover and record the history of Chinese Christians, to provide encouragement and guidance for the younger generation, and to glorify God for what he has done in and through faithful followers of Christ. I applaud the immense effort that Jennifer Lin has expended on giving us her family’s story, and urge others to follow her example.
This need for an accurate telling of the history of Chinese Christianity, including the role of the missionaries, motivates those who contribute to the online Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity (www.bdcconline.net). We must not only counter false propaganda that missionaries were merely tools of Western imperialists, and their converts were traitors to the nation, but also lay a foundation for a true understanding of God’s amazing work among the Chinese.
Christians outside of China need to pray for their brothers and sisters there, that they, too might remain faithful in the months and years to come. Perhaps we should also prepare ourselves for a similar challenge.
Shanghai Faithful reminds us of the depths of depravity, hatred, and cruelty of which unredeemed people are capable, and of the power of God to preserve his saints through fire and water.
Finally, as I said in my review, this book deserves careful and repeated reading.
G. Wright Doyle