Transformations needed now in Chinese Christianity

Journal Review: ChinaSource Journal, Fall 2011.

The latest issue of ChinaSource Journal featured several very important articles dealing with major changes that must take place in the Chinese church for it to bear effective witness to Jesus Christ. The lead article, by Huo Shui, speaks of “two transformations” that will affect “the future of Christianity in China. He first outlines the current situation: There has been a very rapid increase in numbers over the past few decades. Christians are widely distributed throughout China. In contrast to the former situation, believers are now “relatively young and highly-educated,” especially in urban congregations.

On the other hand, “the church-state relationship has not yet been rationalized,” for the Three-Self patriotic Movement is under government control, while the unregistered (“house”) churches are technically illegal and often at odds with the government authorities. In addition, though farmers, intellectuals, returnees from the West, and “non-manual workers of enterprises” are well-represented, relatively few Christians come from “industry and commerce, entrepreneurs, civil servants, state enterprise personnel, the self-employed and retired” people in the cities.

Other serious problems include the lack of qualified pastoral personnel. Even when sent abroad for seminary training, people may not be able to contextualize what they have learned. Administration is not standardized. The TSPM churches are sometimes too politicized, while the unregistered congregations feature a style of leadership that is highly autocratic.

Huo Shui also believes that the current restrictions on Christians entering the realm of charitable services seriously hinders its growth and witness in society. Christianity is also in a position of being culturally marginalized as a “foreign” religion in the minds of many, and often even suffering from discrimination.

Even deeper problems exist within the church, however. Internally, there must be an emphasis upon spiritual quality as well as upon a more democratic leadership. As Brent Fulton points out in his excellent editorial, Huo Shui seems to be saying something similar to James Hunter in To Change the World: Individual Christians must first be morally transformed before they can have an impact on society, and these transformed people must see their duty to permeate the entire culture with the “salt & light” of life and truth of Christ. A longer version of Huo Shui’s article may be found at

In “The Church, Its Impact on Society and Partnership with International Christian Community,” “Tiger Lily” notes that local Chinese Christians have begun to take initiative in areas hitherto occupied by foreigners: Non-Profits (NPOs)/Charities/Humanitarian Initiatives; BAM and Social Enterprise; and Media and Publishing. She notes both the challenges and the opportunities facing Chinese believers as they sail into new waters.

Most importantly, she calls upon foreign Christians to recognize the “abilities, maturity and initiative” of the local groups; create space for honest discussion; form peer relationships instead of paternalism; and prepare for intentional transfer from foreign initiatives to local ones with foreign partnering.

“Mentoring in a Chinese Context” highlights the immense importance of mentoring of younger or less experienced believers by those who are more mature and suggests ways in which foreigners can encourage their Chinese brothers and sisters. They sometimes have an advantage as “outsiders,” and can offer help, advice and good examples in setting priorities, consistent quiet time with God, “integrating faith and life,” reflection and anger management, as well as conflict resolution within the church.

The article includes a list of valuable resources for mentoring in a Chinese context and a summary of Jesus’ own mentoring methodology. The whole piece deserves very careful study.

Speaking of conflict resolution, “The Four Pillars of Peacemaking,” by Ken Sand, outlines fundamental principles for removing obstacles to full and free fellowship among believers. Briefly, these are: 1. “Glorify God,” even in the midst of conflict. 2. “Get the log out of your own eye” (Matthew 7:5), with “seven A’s of confession.” 3. Gently Restore. And 4. “Go and be reconciled.” We must actively pursue reconciliation, as God has done with us. In addition to forgiving as we have been forgiven (which we can only do by God’s grace) we may have to deal with substantive issues that separate us. Through it all, however, we should focus on what Christ has done for us, and continue to seek intimacy with him. Like from Sande’s book, The Peacemaker, this article bears close and repeated reading.

The issue ends with a long and helpful review by Brent Fulton of Lian Xi’s Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China. He notes how the author portrays the complex interplay between foreign and indigenous forces in the development of popular Christianity. For another review, see “How ‘Dangerous’ are Chinese House Churches?” at Global China Center.

As always, I consider this journal to be must reading for all who want to understand the church in China and serve effectively among Chinese. This brief summary is meant to direct you to the entire issue. Henceforth, the journal will be available only online. Get this last print issue and future online ones by writing

In conclusion, it strikes me that the entire issue deals, in one way or another, with the fundamental issue of quality. Quality of individual believers’ lives, quality of church life, and quality in relationships between foreign Christians and their Chinese counterparts.

In our rush for “quantifiable, measurable” outcomes, have we sometimes overlooked the priority of intangibles, such as faith, hope, and love – with love being the greatest. I was personally challenged by the call to mentoring and conflict resolution, especially in the context of a growing Chinese church that needs to see good examples of humility, honesty, and relentless pursuit of deep relationships in Christ.