Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors thinking and 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.
This reflection comes from an elder in a Chinese house church that participates in the Grace to City church planting network and has been translated by a CP communications team.
This was my first time to attend a Grace to City conference. I came because my church shares and participates in the vision of Grace to City. I personally haven’t been especially involved in the movement before this and didn’t know much about its true meaning. My hope was that through this conference I would learn more about the Grace to City movement. I also hoped to gain a deeper understanding of the five original doctrines of the Reformation: scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and glory given to God alone.
One thing I realized through the messages is that when people seek to understand God’s justice and mercy, or when they try to understand God’s gracious nature, they often fall into a form of legalism. They don’t treat others with grace. They may approach God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. They tend to stand on the high ground of moralism, measuring and judging others through the law, instead of accepting others and forgiving their mistakes. Grace alone allows us to partake of eternal life. It is grace alone that allows us to build healthy relationships in community, and carry one another along on this earthly pilgrimage.
As I reflected on the church, I realized that she is our mother, and a healthy church must be balanced. The preaching of the word, the practice of sacraments, and the enforcement of church discipline: all three have to be there. Some say that faith is a personal matter, and that salvation has nothing to do with being part of a church. However, it is only through being part of a church community that people can examine whether they actually have genuine love. Only the church has the authority to carry out discipline measures, to warn us against our sinful natures, and hold us accountable for sinful acts.
Five hundred years ago, the church was straying. The Reformation corrected this drift through returning to scripture and establishing the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In some ways, this was a “second deliverance” for believers: people were able to understand that assurance of salvation comes from grace, and is based on faith. The Reformation brought a whole new understanding to the relationship between sin, the law, and grace. However, today’s remembrance of the Reformation isn’t just about explaining the doctrines of “Christ alone,” “faith alone,” and “grace alone”— it is to warn us against abusing God’s grace, desecrating his grace, and disregarding God’s glory.
We are reminded of Scripture’s power in Hebrews 4:12, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Likewise we see the importance of true humility in Isaiah 66:2, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
John Piper’s message addressed the heart and the mind, and unpacked the relationship between the mission of the gospel and the mission of our culture. This made me think a lot. Not only was his message rigorously exegetical, but in addition, the application of the message inspired me to broaden my horizons. We serve people, but we must not fix our eyes on the people we serve. Instead of forming idols in our hearts, we must look to God. The mission of the gospel and the mission of culture are not total opposites: both teach us to pursue happiness, but Christian happiness is found in glorifying God by enjoying him. If we study God’s word, understand his teaching, and obey it accordingly, we will complete the cultural mission.
I was really impacted and blessed by the musical worship during the conference. One of the first reasons I believed in Christianity was how musical worship humbled me through its power to purify and revive the spirit. God delights for us to praise him — as the psalmist wrote, we are to praise him in his mighty heavens; praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! In praise, God moves human hearts; hardened hearts soften, and rebellion begins to turn into obedience. It is as if a ray of light shines through to closed hearts and drives away the darkness. The worship team at the conference led the hearts of the congregation to soar. More than three thousand people were set free and joined together in tears of repentance and rivers of joy. This whole experience led me to reflect on the forms of musical worship used at church. Must we only sing the few sanctioned hymns, or even only the Psalms?
Before the conference, I had really high expectations for the messages on the five solas of the Reformation. After all, the conference had invited first-rate pastors in China and from overseas, men who are servants of the Lord and are much used by God. I was surprised to find the messages were less topic-driven and were instead based more on personal reflection.
I’m thankful for all the speakers. There were sixteen messages, some of which were filled with passion, some of which caused deep reflection, and others that pricked the heart. I’m thankful to the organizers and volunteers. Their sacrificial work and joyful service assured that the conference proceeded in an orderly fashion. Thanks be to God for his almighty hand that carried us through. Feeding and lodging more than three thousand people — as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit — are impossible things for humans, but with God, all things are possible!