written on August 8, 2017
Dear Partners in Ministry,
It is my privilege today to write about Deb’s and my experience with the believers in the Chinese House Church Movement. By the Chinese House Church Movement (CHCM), I am referring to a phenomena in China where people are meeting in the name of Jesus, even though they are forbidden to do so by the law of the land. Deb and I have taken two trips to China, each of which were three weeks in length. We have attended CHCM services, met with pastors and leaders within the CHCM, and have studied some of what is written about the CHCM. We have also studied the Bible with members of the CHCM, both in person and online. We are not experts concerning the CHCM, but we are experienced at ministering with and to the CHCM. We love and admire our brothers and sisters within the CHCM. Let me describe them to you.
The word that comes to my mind when thinking about the CHCM is Gritty, which someone has defined as showing courage and resolve. Some synonyms for Gritty are brave, plucky, stouthearted, bold, spirited, tough, determined, resolute, purposeful, dogged, tenacious, and gutsy, among others. All of these help describe the brothers and sisters with whom we have become acquainted with in China. We also found our Christian Chinese family members to be loving, hospitable and dedicated, with a servant spirit. One thing they are not is shallow. Shallow wouldn’t do well in an assembly of believers who must withstand the pressure, not only of daily life in China, but also of an atheistic government hostile to the work of God.
The CHCM is a massive movement made up of Christian and non-Christian groups. The failure of the communistic government in China has resulted in a resurgent desire to understand the purpose and meaning of life. Many Chinese scholars have concluded that the Judeo-Christian ethic is what made the West prosper, and as a result, an effort has been made to emulate that ethic, whether or not Jesus is accepted as the Son of God, or as a personal Savior. As you can imagine, this has resulted in many groups meeting in the name of Christianity but without a knowledge of salvation. While estimates have been given indicating that the Christian church in China may eclipse the church in the USA, it is difficult to actually know how many of those gathering in the name of Christ are actually Christians. What can be said is that there is a huge thirst in China for the knowledge of the Truth. I think I can say this authoritatively… God is at work in the Chinese heart.
While attending a house church in Shanghai, one brother told me that there was a house church meeting on every floor of his high rise building. In Beijing, a pastor informed me that at least 7,000 house churches were in operation across that city.
Many of these churches are without pastors, and perhaps, very few have pastors with theological training. I can’t overstate this. Even now, in the USA, we are accustomed to pastors and laymen who are experienced with teaching the Word. Normally, we are confident that even if we are without a pastor, one of our members will have enough grounding in the Bible to teach the congregation. This is not to be taken for granted in the CHCM. Here in the USA, we have a heritage of good orthodox theology which has informed our churches through the centuries. We are the heirs of a rich theological heritage. The Chinese church is in its infant stage, feeling their way, sometimes blindly, as they go forward.
I have sat in Bible studies with members of the CHCM and listened to the leaders struggle with the text of Scripture. Some of the most basic biblical teaching is misunderstood. Theology will be debated in a way that reveals a deficiency in a basic understanding of the issues involved. It is frustrating and heartbreaking.
After one service, the leader of a pastorless church asked me to counsel with a couple who was having marital difficulty. It was a disaster. I didn’t understand the culture or the language, they refused to listen and began arguing in Mandarin. It caused me to despair. I thought to myself, this is one of the better house churches in China, they don’t have a pastor to help this couple, and this is repeated a million times across this country. Suddenly, I could see the myriads of Chinese people across the vast land of China struggling, searching, dying. As I was becoming more and more depressed, I looked across at my translator and said aloud, “There is no hope!” Thankfully, at that moment he was more attuned to God than me. He looked at me with a piercing gaze and said, “There is the gospel.”
Hope for China and for Us
We have much to learn from our beloved brothers and sisters in China. Their gritty, dogged determination to stand for Christ in an alien environment is something we need to emulate. We also have much to offer the CHCM. The theological knowledge which has been entrusted to us needs to be placed into the heart of the Chinese church, and we can do this—it should be our mission.
There could be a nexus of gospel-centered, dispensationally-minded individuals and organizations dedicated to the theological training of the Chinese house church leaders. In my small world, I think of Baptist Mid-Missions, Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary, perhaps Maranatha Baptist University, maybe Central Seminary in Minneapolis and there may be others who might desire and qualify to be involved. These kind of institutions could form a team to explore, develop and administrate a plan to engage the Chinese church leaders in theological training. I believe that believers in the USA would give to such a project. If we were to engage successfully in such a venture, we could be instrumental in giving theological direction to a movement of God in China. This is not out of our reach. We just need to obey our Savior who commanded us to think creatively and strategically in the making of global disciples.
Let’s do it.
This is Great Commission ministry,
Bill and Deb