Editor’s note: This is the first part of a series that provides a listening ear on an intimate conversation between China Partnership staff, the Chinese pastors they work with, and various American church partners. Many people sat around the table for the conversation, but to protect the identities of those present, we have chosen to use the following pseudonyms to represent the three perspectives involved. We hope you check back weekly throughout the month of October for the rest of the series!
杨明道 Yang Mingdao is the collective pseudonym for Chinese staff within China Partnership.
王建国 Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese pastors in the unregistered church participating in a grace-centered gospel movement.
春笋 Chunsun is the collective pseudonym for American individuals, churches, and foundations ministering to Chinese people.
Yang Mingdao: Let me say a brief prayer so we can start.
Father, thank you for tonight. We are here to celebrate, not CP switching gears, but to celebrate your gospel. We celebrate how you’ve used us to expound your gospel. May your Son be known in all our hearts so we can follow you. We thank you for our time together, to worship you through our fellowship. Bless us, Lord. In your name we pray, Amen.
I think I will just give time to you guys for any questions you want to ask or clarify, as this is just a friendly talk. These are very honest guys, they are not hiding anything. If you have any stories to share, just say anything.
Chunsun: I don’t mind starting.
I think the underlying theme of some of the questions I’ve been having about [the movement] is that it’s been a few years now and it seems like there is so much happening, so many great things happening, and I’d love to just get your thoughts and reflections on where the movement is headed, and what some of the things are that we, as resource partners, can be looking forward to in the next few years for the urban church in China.
Wang Jianguo: One of the significant differences between now and before in our harvest is understanding what a church is.
We were in a very strong Chinese tradition, or church culture, which was very individualistic. Personal piety was the goal. A Christian [was understood] by himself; there was no understanding of the church, there was no kind of community. It was very severe. There was a case where one person became a Christian, a believer, but his entire family was not affected by this. This is because [Chinese Christians] are always tending to make themselves only a moral role model for their family members.
Through [this church] movement, the goal is to transform the heart and to establish churches so that we can bless the city. One of the major goals is to help Christians have a healthy doctrine of the church, of how we can serve properly. This doctrine of the church and how to serve the Lord is based on the foundation of the gospel.
After several years of ministry, a lot of churches have committed to this philosophy. More and more churches where there is the traditional way of doing church [feel that] there is no solution, there is no way out. But we cannot isolate ourselves anymore. We have to watch out for what is going on, instead of being unaware of what God was doing. A lot of times we just want to fulfill our own hearts by using religion or the gospel. But we hope in the coming twenty years, more churches will commit to this movement, and that they would have this kingdom view instead of remaining tribal churches. Through lives transformed by the gospel, they can bless their families, their communities, and even the city.
After the Reformation of the 16th century, there was a great revival in the Protestant camp. And then, after awhile, we got into a kind of piety. The Chinese church was really influenced by this pietistic tradition of the Protestants. The two hundred years of church history in China was really influenced by this piety.
But in the past three years of [this movement], the church grew from several churches to more than several hundred. For almost all these churches there has been a great transition from the previous, more legalistic, type to gospel-centered, grace-focused churches. This great change shows there is a great need among a lot of Chinese churches in the future. Another trend is that house churches are changing from being previously more in-grown and self-focused, mystical kinds of churches to now being more outgoing and influencing the community.
But now, even though we are more outgoing and we are more focused on society or the community, we are not in fear of getting into another extreme [version of] social gospel. The reason we don’t fear swinging to the other extreme with the social gospel is because we are so firmly grasping the gospel, the gracious God’s gospel. Because of the life transformation of the churches, everything is changing – personal transformation, family transformation, influencing society.
Yang Mingdao: You know before the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, most of the churches were independent churches and they were very isolated. Because of the earthquake, the churches started to collaborate, to cooperate. But years after that, those partnerships no longer exist. My observation is that many church partnerships in China are only based on mission or personal relationship. But when the mission finishes, when the second generation comes out, those collaborations stop. But [our trainings] become a very solid foundation for the unity of the churches. [The core of the gospel] everlasting. Even in Shanghai I can see many churches, even though they are from different denominational views, come together on the big foundation of the gospel-centered church. That makes a real, true unity among the churches. In Shanghai we don’t have mega-churches that can do a lot, so this unity makes some ministries become possible. We are starting to plant churches together.