In the light of pervasive globalization in which Greater China plays an increasingly important role, what implications can we see for Chinese Christianity?
First, we should note that Chinese Christianity is itself a global phenomenon.
Chinese followers of Christ live not only in China proper, but in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao. Greater China is populated with Christians! Not only so, but the very forces and people most prominent in the rapid processes characterizing Greater China’s integration into the world economy are intimately connected with Chinese Christianity.
The great world cities which feature so prominently in globalization, and in Greater China’s development, are the places in which the Chinese church has been growing the fastest. Furthermore, these new urban churches are filled with middle- and upper-middle class believers on the move. They are the professionals in the vanguard of modernization and globalization – engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists, scholars, even politicians. They traverse the global highways in the course of their work, bringing their faith wherever they go, and even intentionally spreading the Gospel along the way.
Within Greater China, Taipei, Hong Kong, Macao, Beijing, Shanghai, and Wenzhou, all have large churches with energetic, educated, and enterprising Christians with a sense of mission and hope. They know that God is doing a great work among the Chinese, and they plan to be key players in that historic development.
Beyond Greater China, in Southeast Asia’s cities Chinese merchants dominate the economies of the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, and even Indonesia, and all these countries have significant Christian communities actively involved in commerce, education, technology, and evangelism.
Just to take one example: The most recent gathering of the Chinese Congress on World Evangelization, held in Macao in 2006, brought together more than three thousand Christian leaders from all over the world – two hundred of whom came from Indonesia - to chart ways in which they could advance the kingdom of God. The next meeting will be held in Indonesia, where the movement to evangelize the world by Chinese will receive yet another impetus.
The first thing that those who would reach Chinese worldwide need to recognize is that God has been at this work already, and that he has his people among the millions of Chinese who live outside of Greater China.
Second, cooperation with Chinese churches and para-church organizations would seem to be an obvious priority, yet many Western Christians have not yet grasped the reality that they are not alone in this endeavor. Whereas God can use Western Christians to bring the gospel to Chinese both inside of mainland China and elsewhere, they must realize that their role, though invaluable, is limited. Without close partnership among both Chinese and foreign believers, the entire effort will continue to be fragmented and partial.
For example: Though English is the international language, and a great deal of effective work has been done using that language, unless Chinese “hear” the truth in their own mother tongue, the word of God will not take deep root in their lives. Happily, a variety of materials is ready at hand for English-speakers to employ, including thousands of books, Bible study aids, magazines, Web pages, and media broadcasts (TV, radio). By supplementing work done in English, these resources can greatly deepen and broaden the impact of foreigners among the Chinese.
On the other hand, Chinese churches and para-church organizations are often aware that they need assistance of various sorts, such as prayer, training, counseling, examples of godly family living, and spiritual support. As long as foreigners do not try to impose their agenda, and even encourage Chinese to develop their own approaches and resources, their partnership with be welcomed and valued.
With their longer Christian history, American Christians, for example, can give some guidance about family living, good counseling practices, and even theologically-sound evangelistic methods. One major weakness of the Chinese church worldwide is the reliance on “decisions for Christ,” which all too often turn out to be ephemeral expressions of some sort of interest in Christianity but do not represent true conversion. The Chinese learned this method from Americans, of course; now, perhaps, it is time for us not only to re-examine the biblical warrant for the practice, but also to help our Chinese friends to return to a more biblical focus on repentance and trust, signified by baptism rather than a one-time prayer or the raising of a hand at a meeting.
Another contribution which Americans and other westerners can offer stems from our relative willingness to admit sins and failures in public. Coming out of a “face” culture, Chinese Christians, especially leaders, find it extremely difficult to let people know that they, too, have difficulty living the Christian life. Close friendships between Chinese and foreign Christian leaders can lead to transparent relationships that can help Chinese break free from bondage to an image of being “victorious” Christians.
Likewise, efforts by Americans and other westerners can be greatly enhanced by full cooperation with Chinese believers, as they ask advice and counsel from the Chinese who, after all, know their own people much better than we ever can. Non-Chinese involved in ministry to Chinese should make an intentional, regular practice of seeking the input of their Chinese brothers and sisters.
Sustained friendships with Chinese Christians will doubtless challenge American believers to re-evaluate the level of their commitment to Christ and to his kingdom, as they see how zealously Chinese seek to spread the Gospel and build the church of Jesus.
Globalization also means that a one-sided emphasis upon Christian ministry within mainland China must be jettisoned in favor of a world-wide approach that recognizes the presence of Chinese in almost every nation. Particularly in light of the considerable obstacles to effective ministry by Americans within mainland China, we must open our eyes to the vast fields in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao; Southeast Asia; North America; Europe; Australia and New Zealand; Latin America; and Africa.
Finally, perhaps it is time to refocus our strategy, from sending full-time Christian workers to equipping the saints for the work of ministry. That is, from putting all our eggs into a “church” basket to investment in preparation of Western Christians with significant contacts with Chinese for more effective witness among them.
What if the Western church initiated a comprehensive, high priority effort to awaken our people to the possibilities of sharing the love of God by word and deed with all the Chinese people they meet, at work, in school, in the Chinese restaurant, and when traveling to the great cities of the world, including Greater China? Given more training in Chinese culture; basic principles for serving as salt and light in daily life; and a vision for reaching Chinese around the globe, millions of currently inert churchgoers could become a powerful force for reaching Chinese worldwide.
I once talked with a man who works for a multi-national corporation. He had been to China several times, but had never thought of going there as a Christian. I gave him a book to read and some names to look up, and challenged him to pray for God to use him. He returned with real excitement and is eager to go again, not just to represent his company, but also to serve as an ambassador for Christ. Other friends of ours went on a tour to China, armed with the intention of not only seeing the sights but also sharing the Light. They, too, came back with stories of God’s amazing work.
Our campuses are arenas of great opportunity as well. As thousands of Chinese students come to study in the universities of the West, does it not make sense for Christian churches and para-church organizations to make a priority of reaching out to them, making full use of Chinese-language resources? At the same time, should we not be encouraging our young people to make a serious study of Chinese language and culture, with the purpose of sharing God’s light and love with the Chinese whom they are sure to encounter in all parts of the world? Perhaps we should re-define “success” to include not only professional advancement in the global economy, but also effective ministry among citizens from Greater China.
Globalization has opened countless new doors into the lives of Chinese around the world. Let’s enter these with faith and love, expecting God to surprise us with his marvelous works!
Read more about globalization and Chinese Christianity in a review of Greater China in an Era of Globalization at Global China Center.
G. Wright Doyle