Fast-changing conditions in China and elsewhere will require fresh strategies for reaching Chinese around the world.
In this letter, we shall briefly glance at some of these new realities. God willing, we shall address some of them in coming months.
1. Restrictions on Religious Activity
The tightening control over all of society by the Chinese government over the past four years has reached new levels.
The new law on the operation of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), both domestic and foreign, has placed many more barriers in front Christian organizations of all types, including mission agencies.
The new religious law has formalized existing regulations and added new restrictions upon churches, especially unregistered congregations.
2. Growing Maturity of the Chinese Church
In some respects, the Chinese Church has “grown up” and does not need foreign help. More leaders have solid biblical and theological training; sophisticated structures have replaced less developed ways of doing things. The higher level of education among urban church pastors and members has brought new challenges.
3. Rising Anti-Foreign Sentiment
Government propaganda has fostered a new level of suspicion and even hostility towards the West, and especially Japan and the United States. Constant warnings against foreign “infiltration,” particularly in universities, are closing once-open doors.
4. The Exploding Chinese Student Population in the United States
Undergraduates, graduate students, and visiting scholars in the United States now number around 400,000. They represent an unprecedented opportunity for reaching Chinese with the gospel outside of China. At the same time, they face new pressures from their own government even while overseas and are less open to Christianity than previous generations of students and scholars were.
5. The Emergence of China as a Sending Country
After years of prayer and tentative starts, Chinese Christians are making solid preparations for a massive and sustained cross-cultural missionary movement in the near future. They are especially directing their attention towards Muslin nations.
6. Declining Interest in China Ministry among American Christians
For a variety of reasons, American Christians have greatly reduced their concern for, and commitment to, reaching Chinese with the gospel. China-related ministries are seeing fewer who are willing to serve as witnesses of Christ in Taiwan or China, less prayer involvement, and less financial support.
7. Theological and Moral Erosion in the Church
As in the West, confidence in the Scriptures as God’s inerrant and unique authority is being challenged by some Chinese theologians, the “Prosperity Gospel” is spreading, and Christians are increasingly succumbing to the pervasive moral decay in society. Preaching often does not convey the whole counsel of God and Christians are failing in their marriages, families, and conduct.
8. Confusion and Chaos in the Academy
Again as in the West, China’s intellectuals are adrift in a sea of relativism and nihilism. Those who study Christianity are not aware of the rich resources of evangelical and orthodox biblical and theological scholarship.
9. Shift in the Balance of Power & Worldwide Instability
China’s rising military power, along with financial, economic, political, and social crises in the West and Japan, have altered the balance of power in East Asia. At the same time, China is a very “fragile superpower,” with internal weaknesses that portend not only domestic but international instability.
These developments will greatly impact individual Christians, local churches, and Christian ministries to Chinese. At the very least, people could be distracted, and resources diverted from witness among Chinese.
On the one hand, we need to deepen our faith in God, who promises to provide for his people, and on the other, we must not lose focus on the abiding imperative to take the gospel to all creatures, including Chinese (Matthew 6:33; 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47-48; Acts 1:8).
Christians in China, and foreigners who wish to promote the spread of the gospel among Chinese, must adapt quickly to these new realities, for many of them are already upon us, and others are looming on the horizon.
I suggest two resources as we pray and ponder how to serve God effectively among the Chinese in this new situation.
The first are all the publications of ChinaSource, including their Quarterly, Chinese Church Voices, and ZGBriefs. See http://www.chinasource.org/.
The second is my book, Reaching Chinese Worldwide, which, by God’s grace, anticipated many of these changes and proposed a comprehensive strategy for fruitful ministry among Chinese wherever they are found. https://www.amazon.com/Reaching-Chinese-Worldwide-Wright-Doyle/dp/1611530679.
Your fellow servant of Christ,