Dear Praying Friends:
Are foreign Christians still needed in China (including Taiwan)?
More and more people are saying, “No! Chinese Christians now number more than 60 million, and are found in every stratum of society and every corner of the country. The church has emerged from the fires of persecution strong, pure, and determined to spread the gospel. Chinese pastors and evangelists can carry out the Great Commission on their own, without help from outside.”
This sounds plausible, especially when it comes from the mouth of Chinese Christian leaders themselves.
Reality Check #1
On the other hand…
Suppose we accept a “high” estimate of 100 million Christians in China. Suppose they all understand the basic tenets of the faith – as summarized, say, in the Apostles’ Creed – and can articulate this to others. And suppose that each of them has shared this gospel with five others.
That would mean that 500 million Chinese have thus been evangelized. Let us further suppose that pastors, evangelists, media, and other means have brought the biblical message of salvation from sins through faith in Jesus Christ to another 400 million or so Chinese. Add the original 100 million Christians, and that would give us the encouraging total of one billion Chinese who have heard the core truths of the Christian faith.
But wait – aren’t there at least 1.5 billion people in China? Yes! That means that 500 million have not yet been exposed to the only truth that can convey eternal life. Please re-read that sentence.
Reality Check #2
Now let us re-visit some of our earlier rather sanguine suppositions and compare them with the actual situation “on the ground.”
All observers agree that many Chinese Christians have not committed themselves to what is considered the orthodox Christian faith, but rather to a kind of “prosperity message with Chinese characteristics.” That is, most evangelistic messages basically say, “Believe in Jesus, and things will go well with you.” This differs little from popular Chinese religion.
So, many Chinese believers do not have in their mind what we would consider the fundamental elements of biblical Christianity. Even if they do, most are not able to communicate this to others. Even if they can, they seldom do.
Beginning in 1988, I have traveled to Taiwan almost annually, and to China about ten times. Though I have visited only a few cities in China, I have been to places where there are more churches and Christians. The same is true in Taiwan.
Everywhere I go, I ask people, “Do you know any Christians?” In Taiwan, the answer is sometimes, “Yes,” but in China much less often so. Then I inquire, “Have they told you why, or what, they believe?” 99% of the time, the response is, “No.”
If they say, “Yes,” then I ask them to tell me what they have heard. Without exception, they repeat some testimony of healing or financial help or other worldly benefit that comes to believers in Christ, not “Jesus Christ, and him crucified and risen for our sins.” Other observers confirm this impression.
Foreign Christians Are Still Needed
My conclusion: Foreign Christians are still needed in mainland China and Taiwan to help local believers in the immense task of conveying essential biblical truth to those who have not yet heard.
If that is the case, how can we be of most help? Not, surely, by going over and ignorantly sharing some “canned,” “one-size-fits-all” version of the gospel and calling for a “decision for Christ.” Nor, obviously, by preaching on street corners – not even in Taiwan, where it’s allowed.
Everyone agrees that foreigners must be prayerful, sensitive, patient, and as knowledgeable about Chinese culture as possible, and that building relationships must stand at the center of evangelism.
That means that the greatest need is for people who commit to learning the language and staying long enough in some sustainable role to be “salt and light” over a period of time.
Even English-only witness can be very effective, if one is properly trained. Many believe that teaching English or some other needed subject, or mercy ministry, are the most effective ways to communicate Christ among the Chinese.
Finally, short-term visits for business or academic lectures and conferences can yield rich fruit. For more, see Reaching Chinese Worldwide, chapters 3-6.
Yours in the Great Commission,