Chinese Churches in Crisis

Dear Praying Friends:

The education of a missionary

Over the past four years, I have traveled much more than I did before. Teaching short seminary courses, preaching in Chinese churches, visiting friends; attending conferences and special briefings, I have spent time in a dozen major cities in North America; Cambridge, Oxford, and London, England; Hong Kong, Beijing, and several centers in Taiwan. Listening to dozens of Chinese believers - both those who stand in the pulpit and those who sit in the pews – and non-Chinese who seek to minister among them, I have gained a little bit of perspective on the state of Christianity. People with far more experience and knowledge than I possess have shared their insights, which have been supplemented by my own reading.

The good news

The emerging picture has many bright spots. Especially among intellectuals, the Gospel continues to make rapid progress. Many highly-qualified Chinese are offering themselves for full-time ministry in the church; many more seek greater understanding of the Bible in order to serve more effectively in the church and in the world. Foreign Christians employ a huge array of methods both in China and in their own countries to reach out to Chinese, and have seen some fruit.

The bad news

On the other hand, dark clouds are appearing on the horizon, causing great concern. Crisis of faith Millions of Chinese who profess faith in Christ hardly know the essential elements of the Gospel. All too often, they have been presented with a message that says, “Believe in Jesus and you will gain benefits,” not the pure truth of salvation by faith. So-called “prosperity theology” long ago captured the stage in churches outside of Mainland China; now it has been widely proclaimed there as well. As a result, one article claimed that “Millions of Chinese are only one unanswered prayer away from deserting the faith.” Instead of Christ and him crucified, preachers focus on signs and wonders, healing and deliverance, and the material advantages that might come from joining the church. People look for emotional “highs” and know little or nothing of the way of the cross, steady discipleship, or solid Bible study. Even in evangelical churches and seminaries, preachers and teachers distract their hearers with interesting information about Bible backgrounds, psychology, cute stories – anything but the core of the Gospel itself. Even worse, all too many have drunk deeply from the wells of modern critical scholarship, and assert that the Bible contains mistakes, or that the Reformers were wrong about the atonement. Crisis of practice Both because of poor teaching, and because Chinese church leaders tend to emphasize quantity over quality, Christians often do not practice what they profess. Deep devotional life is rare. Leaders are exhausted, and their health and families suffer from neglect. The same goes for common believers. Marriages are in disarray; children follow the idols of success and pleasure, and the name of Christ is dishonored among the Gentiles. In other words – they are beginning to look like us! Crisis of effectiveness Although we can thank God that the hard work and prayers of many thousands of non-Chinese serving among Chinese, including those in China, have led to some real conversions and true growth in Christ, it is a sad fact that there has been far too much waste. We have heard stories of really ineffective work, resulting from massive cultural ignorance, lack of Chinese language ability, a rush for “decisions for Christ,” organizational obtuseness, and personal immaturity.

Our response

In the pulpit and the classroom, I focus on the core message of the Cross. To enhance learning, I require more practical assignments, and give students time to discuss in class what they have learned that day. Feedback has been most encouraging. My writings seek to convey the old, old story, and to defend the Gospel against modern errors. (That is one reason the reader’s guide to Carl Henry’s God, Revelation, & Authority is such an urgent priority for this fall.) Realizing that going deeper with a few is more effective than cursory contact with many, I have cancelled several trips for the fall. In 2008, I shall teach for the new Chinese program Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., which will enable me to focus repeatedly on a small number of men. In the future, I intend to travel less and to stay closer to home, so that I can study and write; follow up those to whom I have ministered in previous years; attend to the growth of a several Chinese men here; and do my best to support our far-flung team. (Randall and Connie Chan, C.I. Partners in England, made this switch to a greater concentration upon a few people several years ago, and are seeing solid results.) To help non-Chinese become more effective in their witness, I continue to write articles and book reviews, speak at conferences, and work with Dori to mentor those who really want to serve well. Always, we stress the necessity of prayer, patient study, persistent effort, and personal relationships.

Your vital part

We can’t do anything apart from Christ, and he is pleased to work through your prayers. Please ask our gracious Father for: - Wisdom and discipline in study and writing; completing the syllabus for my seminary course in 2008 (due at the end of this month); preparation for a talk at a conference in October. - Effective mentoring of a couple from China here in Charlottesville and of the leaders of Chinese Christian Fellowship. - Lasting results from the seminary course I taught in Taiwan last month and the presentation I gave at a conference in London September 1. - Wide readership of my books and articles, including our Web sites; good progress for four translators in Taiwan; more translators to help render my work into Chinese. How can we thank you enough for your continued partnership with us? May God himself reward you richly out of his immense treasures of grace in Christ Jesus. In His munificent mercy, Wright