Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors thinking about writing about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.
Over the next couple of months, we will be posting reflections on our Reformation 500 conference in Hong Kong by several attendees. Our second reflection comes from a Chinese pastor who is part of the Grace to City church planting network. He was a keynote speaker at the 2017 Reformation 500 conference.
This post was originally written in Chinese and has been translated by a CP communications team.
I began to participate in the Grace to City church planting movement in 2014. At that time, I had just graduated from seminary in South Korea, and I came back to China to serve. Even though I learned a lot in seminary, it wasn’t much help as I began real pastoral work—I did not know how to be a pastor.
My church was also inexperienced in ministry, and no one taught me how to pastor, how to build up a church. Thanks be to God that He brought me to the 2014 Grace to City conference! During that conference I was convicted by the gospel messages that were preached: the gospel is where we find the foundation of the church. A church’s success is not measured by the number of ministries, the size of the congregation, or the amount of money the church has; instead, the church’s success is measured by whether it is preaching and applying the ancient gospel.
Since 2014, I participated in the Grace to City church planting incubator (a program to train and develop church planters), while simultaneously continuing to pastor. This has been a great blessing and source of motivation for me. It sustained me through some difficult times in pastoral ministry, and gave me a deeper understanding of gospel theology. It allowed me to personally experience gospel renewal, and also to begin building up the body of Christ through the gospel; my church and my own spiritual life grew.
When I heard about the 2017 Grace to City conference I knew that not only did I have to attend, I needed to encourage brothers and sisters in my church to attend. More than 30 people from my church—about one-fourth of the congregation—used their vacation time in order to be a part of the conference. The conference had a tremendous impact on their faith and has sparked their spiritual fervor. I hope that the revival brought by this gospel will penetrate the rest of our church through the lives of these brothers and sisters, setting our whole church on fire with the gospel.
This year’s conference theme was the Reformation and the gospel. I think this is very meaningful to the churches in China. It re-focused our attention on the spirit of church reform, and made us reflect on our own historical era and the church’s current state.
I learned so much about God at this conference! First, Pastor John Piper helped me to see that glorifying God is not in conflict with enjoying God. When we are satisfied in God in all circumstances, God is glorified. This breakthrough in truth has been very significant for me. Second, Piper clearly explained how our minds and hearts work together in new birth and spiritual growth. When the gospel enters our mind, the Holy Spirit renews our heart to receive and understand it. The truth becomes a fuel within us, impassioning our hearts to love God and to desire his glory. Piper’s prophetic voice astounded me and resolved a long-standing internal conflict.
Next, Pastor Richard Pratt shared that God is our Father and King. When the Bible refers to God as our father, it has the connotation of a king. Our Father in heaven has absolute sovereignty over us. Further, I saw that the love that God has for us humans is not based on our worthiness. God does not love us because we are worthy—that would be based on merit, not grace. God loves us because of and to his own glory.
As I thought about the church, I realized that even though the Reformation is ancient history, the Reformation spirit must be passed on. Church reform is always met with resistance—human nature naturally opposes reform. In this sense, what we are doing today, starting from all the places that the church needs to reform, is starting a reformation. I agree with the conference conclusion that the Chinese church is flooded by pragmatism, legalism, and individualism. Chinese churches need to return to the spirit of the Reformation: Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and the glory of God alone. The Chinese church is neither open-minded nor deep, and it is only when we re-focus on the historic gospel that real revival can happen.
Through the conference, God turned me once again back to the gospel. I realized that my sinful nature is opposed to the gospel. Even though I often experience being renewed by the gospel, I often unconsciously stray from the gospel. My heart was pierced by the conference’s message. I realized that, as Tripp said, I am often angry; I often say mean words to my wife. I am often stuck in laziness, unwilling to love God. The conference said it well: sinners are addicted to self-righteousness. I realized that inside myself, I often do things for my own glory and righteousness. I was shown again how hard my heart is. During the prayer meeting on the second day, I cried out before God, and turned to him in repentance. I told God that I could not live out the gospel. Then God responded to me: I should not try to live up to the gospel, but to embrace the gospel.
The conference also helped me realize how important it is to build up genuine gospel communities for the renewal of the pastor’s own spiritual life. This is an important path in our experience of gospel renewal, and one that is much lacking.
Over the course of the conference, I was most touched by Piper. His passion for the glory of God especially impassioned me. I saw my own ignorance and negligence of God’s glory. Piper’s exposition on the glory of God, the renewal of the mind, the transformation of the heart, and the stirring of emotions has been inspiring and illuminating to me. The other point that touched me was the emphasis of the spirit of Scripture alone. These are the two take-home points that I have learned.
During our time in Hong Kong, I saw God raising up a new generation of young Chinese pastors. Even though many pastors in China still lag behind the U.S. pastors in terms of theological education and preaching, I saw God raising up a group of Chinese pastors who have experienced gospel renewal and are rooted in the gospel and the spirit of the Reformation. As it is said, “For China, this is the most corrupt time and yet at the same time, the greatest time.” I saw God’s hand of revival working in Chinese churches, building works of gold and silver and precious stones. I was so encouraged when, during the prayer meeting on the second day, more than one hundred young men and women responded to the call for full-time ministry. I believe this is not the work of human beings, but is God’s stirring and calling. I also saw that the group of Chinese pastors who spoke at the conference had grown a lot in their own spiritual lives and message over the past three years. I believe that this conference will be a turning point from which gospel-based revival will once again enter Chinese churches.