Turning to Ecclesiology, Part 4: The Holy Spirit Is Working Through Us to Re-Create Mankind
Editor’s note: Yang Mingdao is the pseudonym used by Chinese staff within China Partnership. This important eleven-part series is from a recent lecture given by China Partnership’s President. It has been edited from the original transcriptions.
The first five posts of the series focus on Chinese history in order to grant a greater understanding of contemporary issues facing the church. As the gospel penetrates Chinese culture, deeply rooted historical and cultural idiosyncrasies impact Christianity’s contextualization. The pressures the church now weathers are greatly influenced by these historical realities. To understand the current challenges, one must be familiar with traditional Chinese governance and the trajectory taken since China first encountered Christianity.
Read the whole series below:
Synopsis: The current round of religious persecution in China is fundamentally an issue of ultimate allegiances. “The government used to be laissez-faire, but now they need to hear everyone say: ‘I love you.’”
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Synopsis: Modern day China is the result of a clash between cultures. Before its engagement with the West, China viewed the world according to two categories – its kingdom and the barbarians outside.
Synopsis: A discussion of the authority structures that exist in China due to the long legacy of Confucianism. Authority belongs to the emperor as given by heaven and total loyalty to superiors is necessary for the Chinese system to function.
Synopsis: A two-millennia old system of governance does not easily change overnight. “Yuan realized the universal and interconnected Chinese system could not be transformed into a republican or parliamentary system simply by changing it on paper. In a public discussion in America, he said: “If we do not even have citizens, how can we have a republican system?”
Synopsis: In the past, while China was busy getting rich, the government had confidence in its full legitimacy to rule and there were fewer questions of loyalty. But now, in this time of reconstruction, they ask: “Do you love me? If you do, you must raise the national flag. If you love me, you will register [your churches].
In this second half of the series, we now turn to the ecclesiology (theology of church) developed and deepened by Chinese believers as they face trying times of transition in mainland China. The Chinese church’s understanding and experience of union with Christ, their theology of suffering, and their articulation of the mission of the church are an encouragement and fierce challenge to their Western brothers and sisters.
Synopsis: When a culture desperately needs the message of the cross (not the prosperity gospel, but the central message of Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection) and it is given, the gospel not only crosses and transcends cultural boundaries, it produces long-lasting fruit.
Synopsis: Chinese pastors are asking the question, “What is the church?” The answer is crucial for determining their response to the government. As they try to define their theology of the church, these pastors are going beyond considering its attributes, to trying to understand the very nature of the church.
Synopsis: In the light of Genesis 3, the most important question to ask is not, “How can we be saved,” but rather, “How can the creative will and plan of God to make a perfect humanity be fulfilled?” The answer is the one-and-many humanity God is calling to himself to make up the church.
Synopsis: Today’s church is the construction site for the new creation God is building and which will be revealed in the final day.
Synopsis: The persecution and challenges the Chinese house church currently faces are no different from those faced by the early church in Acts. The authorities of this world always challenge the church with the same question: “Who do you love?” The extent to which the church’s response to this question is informed by its union with Christ will determine its faithfulness to the Lord in the face of persecution.
Synopsis: Moving forward, we must ask: are we protecting ourselves, or are we doing it for the gospel? A lived-out ecclesiology will inevitably encounter suffering.
At the end of history, the church God has built in particular places will be clearly manifest. Right now, these churches are like scaffolds, which when removed will reveal the glorious, holy city. Within the visible church lies the invisible, heavenly church. This invisible, heavenly church is the one-and-many humanity whom God will re-create according to his will, and which at the end of history will be fulfilled through the re-creation and regeneration of the church as a whole.
Not only this, but the doctrines of creation and salvation will be united at the end of history. The purpose of redemption is new creation and re-creation, fulfilling the one-and-many humanity according to God’s will in Genesis 1:26. After Adam and Eve fell, the redemptive and re-creative work of Christ, the Second Adam, fulfilled the ultimate purpose of God’s will to create a one-and-many humanity. The church today is the people of God, the one-and-many humanity created according to God’s will. The church is the body and Bride of Christ, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the temple of the Spirit.
All this describes God’s image-bearers. God’s name is carved on their foreheads, and their names are recorded in the Book of Life. The dimensions of the holy city form a cube: it is the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s temple. This is a holy temple-city; the city of the most holy place, a place of complete union with God and Christ, of intimate communion with God. God’s glory is perfectly manifested there, and there is no need for the sun or moon, because God is their light. The Lamb is their temple, and they need no other. The city is the collective one-and-many humanity, redeemed and re-created. It is also the ultimate church. Today’s church is the construction site in which the Holy Spirit is building a new creation.
You and I – pastors, preachers, each and every Christian – are builders of this holy city, and also builders of the ultimate humanity. The Holy Spirit is working through us to re-create mankind. Is there any job in the world better than this? Not only will the names of the twelve apostles or the twelve tribes be carved on the holy city, but our names, too, because those who are in the Book of Life will have their names carved in the city. “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). God will count all our afflictions.
The church today is the historical, concrete re-creation of the people of God according to his will in Genesis 1:26.We can also look at the church retrospectively from an eschatological, final point of view. The church today is the final holy city that will be built, but which remains temporal in history. It is like the Lord’s Supper, with a manifestation in this world right now. When Christ says, “This is my body,” and breaks the bread, he is fulfilling his promise every time through the Holy Spirit. He places the bread among us, and through the Spirit, leads us to his throne. Just as Christ is sacramentally present among us (Ephesians 2 describes the church as his body), so also the church (the ultimate holy city of mankind) is sacramentally present in this historical and temporal space.
Today, the church is being continually built and created according to God’s will. According to God’s will and with the preservation of the Spirit, the church reveals that their souls belong to the Lord, the eternal Christ that reigns in heaven forever. At the same time, the church is salt and light on this earth, calling out to a kingdom in darkness. The people in darkness will then see the true gospel of God and come into the house of God to complete the process of redemption and re-creation. Our loyalty and love belong to God; but God has predestined us to live outside the city of Jerusalem – a dark but temporal place. This reveals our heavenly identity; and is itself a revelation of the gospel and a blessing to the world.
Under this ecclesiology, how do Chinese pastors view today’s situation? How do they view the holy city? Even Jesus Christ, when he was in this world, did not manifest as we expected, with twelve legions of angels to rescue himself from the hands of the Romans and the Jews. When Peter pulled out his sword and chopped off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Jesus ordered him to sheathe his sword. The kingdom of God and Jesus Christ himself manifest the theology of the cross; it is seen most clearly as Jesus hung on the cross.
Do we want to know Christ? Look at the cross. The theology of the cross is the best argument against all the prosperity gospels of this world. Some prosperity gospels are direct: if you believe in the Lord, you will have benefits. Some are indirect: your family relationships will be better if you believe. This is all important, but it is not the focus of the gospel.
In this world, the clearest manifestation of the eternal king, Christ, is the likeness of the cross. The church is in the world for all to see, and the church follows the way of the cross. This tension teaches us to understand the church more.
Translation provided by Moses, Jane, Ryan, and the China Partnership translation team.