Church China Roundtable: Five Questions for Churches Today Based on the Spirit of the Reformation

CP Editor’s note: Church China is one of the most widely read Christian publications in mainland China and is an excellent glimpse into the life and discussions of the urban Chinese house church. Its bi-monthly magazine focuses on different topics concerning the church and theology and is widely read among house church pastors and lay leaders. This article has been translated and republished with permission. If you read Mandarin, you can access the original article here.

Church China Editor: How should we understand the Reformation in our life of faith today? How to understand the spirit of reformation through the Reformers and their works, and furthermore, how to apply these in the preaching and pastoring of churches today? We invited five pastors who have taken an interest in Reformation theology to freely discuss these questions. They first shared their own story of “encountering” the Reformation – that is, in what areas the Reformation has influenced their faith and ministry. Next, they shared what they have observed and felt through real life ministry and theological studies – the issues that need to be addressed when the church today “encounters” the Reformation.

This article is divided into two parts. The first part is titled “The Reformation and Me” and raises five topics of discussion together with the sharing of personal stories. The second part is titled “Five Questions for Churches Today Based on the Spirit of the Reformation.” It forms a preliminary discussion and response to the five issues raised.

Five Questions for Churches Today Based on the Spirit of the Reformation

Question 1: Should we attempt to devalue the Reformation today and lean toward a unity with the Roman Catholic church? What are the hidden dangers involved?

Church China Editor: I have heard that contemporary churches tend to detract from the Reformation. For example, some want to bypass the Reformation and return to the time of the church fathers. They think that only in this way can we really solve the problem of our relationship with the Catholic church.

Yanduo: I saw a document once. In an international event organized by the Catholic church for both young Protestant pastors as well Catholic priests, people were praying for the unity of the church. A Protestant pastor stood up and said, “What is the main conflict between the Catholic church and us? What is the reason that we have to separate?” There were many pastors present who were well trained in theology, but everybody was silent, no one could give a clear answer. Then another young Protestant pastor said, “It seems that this is our reality, we all know that we are separated, but we do not know why we must be separated.” I believe the conclusion would be essentially the same if a similar gathering were held in China and during that gathering some gracious, well-learned godly Catholic priests asked, “Why do we have to be separated?” People feel the reality of our separation from the Catholic church, but we do not know why. But is there really no reason for the separation? Or have we now lost the reason for which the Reformers decided it was necessary to separate? What we do not have is the very essence of the Reformation. If we have lost it, then we have lost the essence of the Reformation.

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I think that the opinions of those who want to return to the church fathers before the Reformation is not so much based on objective thinking and judgment, as it is based on a personally felt experience and the tendency toward some values – isn’t the greatest conflict in church unity the very separation between Protestantism and Catholicism? If you continued to discuss the key doctrines that caused the conflict, it would include the Catholic church, Armenians, Wesleyans, and even [divisions] within the Reformed church itself. Thus, the idea is that if the church were really to unite, we must return to the time before Reformation, to a unity based on the traditions of the holy universal church before the corruption of the Roman Catholic church and the separation of Protestants. But this is essentially the Catholic position.

John: The Three-Self Church has the same position.

Church China Editor: Because the Three-Self Church affirms and participates in the ecumenical movement.

John: In fact, there are many reasons behind the ecumenical movement, one of which I think is a threat for the very survival of Protestantism. As Christianity is being increasingly marginalized, many people with political astuteness will surely try to unite Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox, and combine forces to do something or to resist some things. Anyone who is an enemy to my enemy is a friend! This is a natural tendency for people, but it also shows that the church may be more and more influenced by pragmatism.

Church China Editor: This reminds me of Jehoshaphat joining with Ahaz to build ships to travel to Tarshish (2 Chronicles 20:35-37), and with Ahab to join forces against enemies (2 Chronicles 18:1-19:3).

Waqi: I think the two external features of the Reformation mentioned by Timothy – disagreement and separation – need to be defined. Otherwise, merely seeing the outward impact of disagreement and separation can cause a lot of misunderstanding.

Yanduo: This is not the concept here. Of course, there have always been disagreements, and we generally do not like it. But the key is that, on the whole, we [society] increasingly think that disagreement itself is wrong. This is the general consensus. It therefore leads to a value greater than the reasons for disagreement and separation – which is to not disagree and separate. This is indeed the present atmosphere, and it was not like this in the time of the Reformation. This resulted from a change of values.

Timothy: Why do we devalue the Reformation today? I think I can find reasons based on two ideas. The first is a logical perspective of history; that is, finding causes for the changing thought processes in the history of Christian doctrines. The second is a reason of the flesh – the resistance between the gospel and our flesh and the resistance between the righteousness of God and the righteousness of man. Could it be because we no longer uphold the righteousness of God and attempt to uphold the righteousness of man that we devalue the Reformation and the arguments it brought? The hidden danger may be that the gospel will be buried once again. When we try to return to the Reformation, we are looking at the past, but at the same time we need to be more conscious of the fact that we are closer to the second coming of the Lord. A return to the Reformation also shows how we understand the church and the gospel according to the context of the end times.

Question 2: What is the core spirit of the Reformation? Will the church today still be concerned about the core issues that the original Reformers were concerned about? 

Church China Editor: According to Carl Truman, the core spirit of the Reformation was “to place God who revealed himself in Christ at the center of church life and thought.” This was reflected first, in the church’s emphasis on Jesus Christ and him crucified; second, in the emphasis on the Bible as the basis and standard that we rely upon in the preaching of Christ; and third, the emphasis that a genuine conversion should be the normal experience for all Christians. Do we all agree with this definition?

John: I was wondering whether Catholic believers back then would think of themselves as not having Christ as the center of their lives and thoughts?

Yanduo: And my question is if the Catholic church before the Reformation would ask the question, “Are we centered on Christ?” Or would they ask, “Do we obey the teachings of the Catholic church?”

John: To have Christ as the center may be a post-Reformation idea.

Waqi: So the key to this question is “How is the center of church life and thought expressed?” This relates to the principles and the essence of the Reformation.

John: I think the core spirit of the Reformation is the five solas, the most foundational of which is “scripture alone.” I think the common characteristics of the Reformers are to interpret the Bible and then to derive conclusions and answers from it. This was notably different from what the Catholic scholars did at the time.

Yanduo: I think before talking about the spirit of the Reformation and the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, we need to consider a presupposition. What was the issue that both the Catholic church and Reformers were concerned with? Disagreements over such vital matters led to separation. From my understanding, the Reformation involved three issues.

First is the question of salvation. This is a question for which they fought intensely and for which they were willing to die. This question determined the eternal destiny of a person, i.e. their salvation. Concern over this issue made them feel that the theological issues involved were extremely serious and important.

The second is that they believed the teaching of the church to be an authority in the life of the Christian. Thus, differences in teaching are of great significance.

The third is that the church system and the Christian life should be consistent with their faith, i.e. that which was sufficient to save them. Thus, a reformation of their beliefs about salvation would change the theological system and the life of faith that affected everything.

Regarding the presupposition of the common concern of both the Reformers and the Catholic church back then – the church already largely disregards this today. For example, is concern over salvation still the core concern of Christians today? Is the teaching of the church really so important? Is church life and its governing system more related to the faith that is sufficient to save us, or more to the functional usefulness of the church? I think in these three areas, we are very different from the time of the Reformation. Therefore, even if we try to find the difference between the Reformers and the Catholic church, the meaning to us will be different than the meaning to them back then. Thus, we should first examine the accuracy of our presuppositions and not blindly follow the presuppositions of our culture today.

I have noticed that traditionally there are two explanations for the spirit of the Reformation. One is the principle of scripture alone. The other is the principle of justification by faith. These two principles in my view are the common ground of all the Reformations, including Martin Luther, Calvin, and also Zwingli and other Reformers. At the time the Swiss Reformers may have accepted the doctrine of justification by faith without much debate, and so their concern over this issue was also not as strong. Their concern instead was how to build a church system and Christian living upon the teaching of the scripture. This was also Calvin’s concern.

Church China Editor: The time of the Reformation was a time filled with a consciousness of religion. What many people were concerned with was how, as a sinner, can I not be condemned before the righteous judgment of God? And how can my deceased loved ones escape Purgatory and enter heaven? Today we live in a secular age. People are no longer concerned about the soul, or eternal life, and have excluded God from their worries. Thus, they also lack the worry caused by the final judgment of God. People today are more concerned about their well-being in the world – how their spirit can be comforted, how to solve their problems. One Charismatic branch arose to cater to these concerns – prosperity theology. It subtly replaced concerns over the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with a concern over how we can live a more prosperous life on earth.

Waqi: In the proclamation of the gospel, the original issue was about salvation; today it has become an issue of being healed. The original issue was about repentance; today it has become an issue of counseling and comfort.

John: So as we discuss the Reformation in this context, I have a very uncomfortable feeling. There needs to be a transition somewhere. Are there any similarities between the time of the Reformation and our time today? On this point I think that Carl Truman’s point is quite good – that is “the God who manifested Himself in Jesus Christ.” God is a self-revealing God, and people did not ask for God to reveal himself. I am trying to think what glory to God alone among the five solas would correspond to. Is it possible that what was expressed by the life and hermeneutics of the medieval church started with people and their needs? Just now Timothy spoke of the “righteousness of God” and the “righteousness of man.” Could it be that medieval theology and the practice of the faith of the church went astray through the “righteousness of man?”

Waqi: I also feel similarly. We can take the antitheses of the spirit of the Reformation as an entry point for today’s discussion. For example, the antithesis between “God’s righteousness” and “man’s righteousness,” perhaps the way that it was manifested in the Roman Catholic church back then and us today is different, but the essence is the same.

John: In this line of thought, the many fruits of reform from the Reformation are in fact what our generation urgently needs.

Church China Editor: I think the matters of concern during the time of the Reformation, as well as the answers to these concerns that the Reformers concluded from scripture have a profound meaning for the church today. In this generation of secularism and postmodernism, these can bring us back to issues that the Reformers discovered and that scripture wants us to be concerned about. What is the issue? It is that before God we are condemned sinners, and so will inherit death, and enter the eternal punishment of hell. We are sinners who live under the wrath of God, and so the problem we urgently need to solve is not the energy crisis, not the climate, not genetic modification, nor any other problem, but the problem of sin and death. It is the problem of how we can not be condemned before God, but stand justified and saved into eternal life, instead of perishing in eternal hell. To return to the concern over this problem – the truth that our sins are forgiven and that we are justified, not perishing but receiving eternal life on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ through his fructification and resurrection – the truth that the Reformers treasured and risked their lives to defend is the same sweet and powerful promise that we have today, and we can experience the same promise. In short, we must return to the questions the Bible wants us to have, and to answer these questions based on the answers provided by the Bible.

Question 3: Why in the beginning of the Reformation was the impact of the gospel so great, and yet the same inherited doctrine in today’s church does not seem to not have the same powerful impact?

Waqi: On the whole I think that current respected theological methodologies and trends have led us to depart from the areas that the Reformation emphasized and paid close attention to. For example, nowadays people are more concerned about exegesis through Biblical theology, and in comparison, they do not emphasize much about exegesis from doctrine. Seminaries advocate expository preaching instead of topical preaching. Looking back at the Reformers’ sermons, the level of strength in bringing out and applying doctrine was different than the current time.

Yanduo: I think it is not appropriate to apply the difference between doctrinal theology and Biblical theology to preaching. The Reformation is the discovery of the Bible, so its approach to theology cast off previous attempts to create a theological framework based on philosophical constructions. In its time, the Reformation can even to be said to be the attempt to leave behind philosophical, systematic doctrine in order to reestablish a movement of Biblical hermeneutics.

The Reformation was a reformation of hermeneutics. Then, if today’s hermeneutics are problematic, what we need is a reformation of Biblical interpretation; not a turn from the theology of interpretation to something else. The Reformation and its successors in fact had formed the principles of hermeneutics. This is first of all a historical-literary exegesis. This was to affirm the things pertaining to Christ through scripture itself. Thus, if some self-proclaimed scientific hermeneutics do not lead to Jesus Christ then it is then against the scriptures and hence would not be accepted by the Reformers. I think these problems today are not so much brought about by interpretation, but more so caused by the tremendous difference between the principles of interpretation in the time the Reformation in comparison to the current time.

Church China Editor: Indeed, the preaching of the Reformers was expository preaching. Both Martin Luther and Calvin first spent effort on Biblical interpretation, then through it expounded on the doctrines of Christ, finally relating them to the present. The hermeneutics of the Catholic church at the time was typically an allegorical interpretation of the Bible. The Catholic church left the Bible’s special revelation to instead build a scholastic theological framework based on philosophical constructs. The Reformers acknowledged the clarity of the Bible and returned to the Bible to discover the gospel, to discover the power of the word itself. In forming a historical and grammatical interpretation, they created a paradigm shift in the history of hermeneutics which is a return to the style of the Antiochene church tradition. Today our emphasis on historical, grammatical interpretation of the Bible, or expository preaching, is related to the heritage of the Reformation.

But I can somewhat understand Waqi’s viewpoint. Today our emphasis on expository preaching and hermeneutics based on Biblical theology have actually lost some of the Biblically based concern for theological focus and the whole of theological doctrine. As a result, our interpretation has become fragmented, disconnected, and unable to highlight the focus. Martin Luther found “justification by faith” through interpretation of scripture, and then he looked at the whole of scripture through “justification by faith.” This commanded and emphasized that the whole Bible was a revelation of Christ. Martin Luther found the theology of the cross and he used it as a thread in all his sermons. Calvin was the same. He wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion based on his study of scripture. Then the theological framework of the Institutes of the Christian Religion in turn helped him to understand every passage, so he even thought that the Institutes of the Christian Religion was written to help seminary students to understand the Bible. We lack this today. Therefore, our interpretation has missed the focus of the Bible and the unity of the truth that is revealed by scripture and the core of the gospel, thus bringing about problems in interpretation.

Waqi: The concern for doctrine and present-day hermeneutics can be said to be out of touch. This is one of the reasons why the impact of doctrine is weakened in today’s church. And the emphasis on expository preaching as well as Biblical theology – I cannot say this for all Biblical theology, because Biblical theology today is diversified with many directions and foci, which may be a manifestation of the influence of postmodern pluralism – has become out of touch with the concern of Biblical theology. This phenomenon makes our concern for the use of interpretation inconsistent with the concern of Christian doctrine.

Church China Editor: In other words, when we emphasize doctrine today, sometimes it is only a kind of emphasis on the outward expression of doctrine, but we have lost the life-giving power of the holy words of God behind doctrine. At the same time our concern for scripture is out of joint with the unity of the doctrinal foundation that is revealed by scripture. Thus, we fall into a hopeless position, resulting in various problems.

Waqi: It also reminds me that although Martin Luther and Calvin were in fact tired of and hated the rationalist theological approach represented by Aquinas in the Middle Ages, they reestablished Christian doctrines through Biblical exegesis. But later Lutheranism or Reformed theology both have reemphasized the scholastic methods to establish a system of doctrine. This made the exposition of doctrine more abstract and no longer lively. Thus, pietism arose from Lutheranism to respond to the tendency of Scholasticism, while Reformed theology of the Puritans had a better balance. It both had the rational characters of Scholasticism and as well as an application of Biblical interpretation. The development of Biblical theology today, though influenced by many currents of thought, in fact provides a rich and powerful way for us to return to the real focus of Christian doctrine. The question is how we should use the method it provides and vibrantly enter the applications that were originally intended by doctrine. This may be a way for us to return to the Reformation.

Question 4:  How should we view the work of the Holy Spirit in the contemporary church based on his work in the Reformers’ lives?

John: In many aspects of the thought and life experience of contemporary society, “God and his actions” are being cut out. The charismatic movement is in fact consciously or unconsciously a direct response to the so-called “absence of God” – at least it is able to make people feel the “presence of God.” In addition, it is also able to make people feel better about those things most needed in life, such as prosperity, health, emotional balance and so on. In this world today, people’s lives are actually quite difficult and increasingly less human. Thus, if one can provide a different kind of life, a large number of people will follow. When I am personally faced with the challenges of pastoral ministry, I also naturally think about these things. To be facetious, I sometimes even wonder if there is “Reformed + charismatic” theology.

Zhangen: I also have had similar concerns and ideas. I once followed Calvinistic Methodism, which emphasized the combination of doctrine and experience. The core question of the third volume of the Institutes of the Christian Religion is about the nature of faith. It begins with the Holy Spirit. The second chapter talks at length about what is genuine faith, but before that the first chapter speaks of the Holy Spirit combined with mysticism. I have tried to ask why not place the second chapter in front. This is why earlier I mentioned that Martin Luther and Calvin had a “mystic” tendency. Mystic union with Christ is Calvin’s argument.

Yanduo: Soteriology in Reformed theology is essentially pneumatology. Reformed theology contains the experiential work of the Holy Spirit and its detailed description. I once said to a charismatic pastor, “The biggest problem of charismatics is that you do not value the Holy Spirit.” He was very angry. So I had to explain to him, “Why do I say that you don’t value the Holy Spirit? Because you do not distinguish nor attempt to distinguish between the experience of spirituality from the experience of the Holy Spirit. If one valued the Holy Spirit, one would not tolerate such a mix up.” This is because they lack a clear and serious Biblically based pneumatology.

Church China Editor: As John mentioned, the current generation has produced a reaction against the rationalism and mechanization of modernism, which is a search for a supernatural spiritual experience. The charismatic movement served this need, whether it is speaking in tongues, the prophetic prophesies, or the experience of signs and wonders. It promises that you can have a spiritual experience. But the emphasis of the charismatics is very different from the emphasis on the forgiveness of sins and eternal life and death in Reformed theology. It is clear that the charismatic movement is a wrong departure from the Reformation in both the questions it asks, as well as the answers supplied. Why then do we need “Reformed + charismatic” theology?

Waqi: The emergence of the phrase “Reformed + charismatic” theology in fact reflects a common phenomenon. Indeed, the soteriology of the Reformation is essentially pneumatology because the Holy Spirit joins us to Christ, but the problem is that we know the soteriology of the Reformation but lack a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit. We do not experience how the Holy Spirit dynamically realizes salvation in our lives. It then appears that the soteriology of the Reformation is disjointed from the work of the Holy Spirit. Because we lack an experiential knowledge of the truth based on doctrine that was witnessed in the Reformation tradition, people turn to embrace charismatic theology out of a yearning for the outward experiences that they have. And we have this kind of yearning, because as mentioned before, in our preaching we do not know how salvation and doctrine can be applied in practical experience, to the point that we do not even appear to be aware of the work of the Holy Spirit. If we knew how doctrine is vibrantly applied to our daily lives, if we could feel the power of the gospel and our lives being transformed as a result, then our experience of the Holy Spirit would be very strong.

Timothy: Looking at it from a broader perspective, I think we should know that the Reformation was looking at the higher heights. I think we should know that the Reformation was launched by the Holy Spirit because that is why the Holy Spirit has come, to bear witness for Christ. The Reformation rediscovered Christ, and this in essence was the result the Holy Spirit’s work. Therefore, if we want to better continue the Reformation heritage in the current generation, the essence of such efforts is still the work of the Holy Spirit in this age.

Church China Editor: From this perspective, as we become reformers who rely on the Holy Spirit, our characteristics should be holding on to the doctrines of the Reformation regarding our total depravity, as well as the substitutionary atonement that is in Christ alone and which alone can forgive our sins and allow us to inherit eternal life. At the same time, we need to earnestly pray during this process, and implore that the Holy Spirit – who can convict people of self-accusation in terms of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, and who can make people understand the gospel –  manifest the most fundamental problem of humanity in our hearts, and also manifest the gospel in our hearts in order to make us know that the gospel is the only way of salvation for humanity. This the ministry and life that a reformation relying on the Holy Spirit ought to have.

Question 5: What should the Chinese house churches inherit from the traditions of the Reformation? What is the significance of the Reformation for the development of the Chinese house church?

Timothy: Reflecting on what we just discussed, we have slowly come to a consensus that to return to the Reformation, not only do we need to return to the conclusions of the Reformation, but also to the issues that the Reformation faced and were concerned with. I would like to read the words of Bruce L. Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language, “The four questions that Protestantism answered in a new way are: (1) How is a person saved? (2) Where does religious authority lie? (3) What is the church? And (4) what is the essence of Christian living?” I very much agree that these four questions were the questions that the Reformation was concerned with. A correct reply to these four questions should be the meaning of the Reformation for the building of China’s house churches today.

Church China Editor: These four questions were not only the concerns of the Reformation, but also of the Bible itself, and also the concerns of the early apostles. So if we are no longer concerned with these questions, then in fact, we have not only deviated from the Reformation, but to a great extent we have deviated from the concerns that scripture and God want us to have.

Waqi: I have been reflecting on the question: what is the tradition of the house churches? Not all that has been passed down from church history can be called tradition. Instead traditions are those truths revealed from the Bible that were dynamically expressed in the life of the church. This should be what we seek. From a relatively closed and persecuted environment, the traditions that the house churches have discovered and developed are traditions of simplicity that emphasize experience, prayer, endurance, being set apart from the world, and bearing the cross. However, the Chinese house church tradition generally lacks the deep understanding and experience of doctrine that was the heritage of the Reformation. This is why today there has emerged a “fever for Reformed theology” in the Chinese churches. It reflects the feeling that the previous road leads to a dead end, and breakthroughs are being sought from Reformed traditions. There have already been some from among the older church leaders of the traditional Chinese churches that I have gotten to know who have started to accept Reformed theology. They said that when they first became acquainted with Reformed theology, they found that Reformed theology’s explanation of grace helped them a lot. In addition, they also found Reformed theology’s teachings on doctrine and church organizational structure to be very valuable for the development of house churches. Of course, some traditional house churches are still rejecting Reformed theology as a result of previous traditions.

Yanduo: I think today’s “Reformed fever” is foundationally unrelated to the essence of the Reformation. Chinese churches are accepting Reformed theology due to the touch point of “rationality and the power of experience,” instead of being motivated by the Reformation’s astonishing and unworldly understanding of the gospel. For the intellectuals in Chinese churches, the Reformation means an attitude based on human effort that seeks rules, results, and a balance between reason and experience.

I think that tradition is a life bought by the gospel that expresses itself in particular situations in terms of certain kinds of understanding, certain ways of doing things, and certain values. It has two continuities in meaning: one is the continuity of practical sense, the other is the continuity of theological reasoning. It is a continuity of time and theological reasoning that is shared by a community at a certain point in time. It expresses certain forms, theological understanding, and values. I think the traditions of the Chinese house churches were established before 1949. Its characteristic is mainly a special state that was formed as a result of the church being marginalized by mainstream society. It thus stresses salvation of the soul, personal repentance and rebirth, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the way of the cross that is distinct from the world. On the whole, it had a tendency toward a strong and direct eschatology. But relatively speaking, it did not stress clear and systematic distinctions in doctrine, and in fact was anti-institutional.

However, I think that the traditions of the Chinese house churches that were formed in a state of weak theological self-awareness have some valuable aspects that are in many ways in agreement with the spirit of the Reformation. (I think these are also formed through the grace of the Holy Spirit.) However, characteristics that were formed unconsciously can easily change once the environment that formed them starts to change. I think the history of the Chinese house church can be divided into three stages: the first stage is from 1949 to 1980, the second stage is from 1980 to 1990, the third stage is after 1990 until the present.

Before 1980, the house church was a complete underground church. After 1980, a relatively open environment caused some house churches to have an immature organizational structure and their own theological consciousness. However, this departed from the heritage and self-identity of the holy universal church for the purpose of establishing a temporary church organizational system out of necessity. After 1990, a large number of intellectuals came in [to the church] and the house church began to consciously confirm its identity. There are two directions in this confirmation: one is the connection with the tradition of the holy universal church, and the other is its social identity. These two directions are not the same. One is the identity of a people redeemed by Christ. This redemption did not begin after 1980 in China, but started all the way back, beginning with Adam, continuing with the church established at the Pentecost, and descending through the Reformation. The other is a consciousness of identity based on a specific situation. From this direction comes what we refer to as the traditions from the holy universal church, and it can be understood from the perspective of community. It is a long and strongly communal history. Thus, after 1990 the gradual emergence of the new urban churches came about, or, an independent, open, and newly rising Chinese house church movement. I think it is against the traditions of the Chinese house churches, and it is unwilling to identify its source as from Chinese house church traditions. Then in what sense can it claim to be continuing the traditions of the Reformation?

Timothy: So it thus simultaneously deviated from both of the traditions.

Waqi: I feel that some may even use the tradition of the Reformation to deny the traditions of the house churches.

Yanduo: In this case, I think that the value of the Reformation for the Chinese house church lies in this – a conscious identity with the true meaning of the traditions of the holy universal church in theology, ministry, governing systems, etc., brought about by the rediscovery of the gospel. Apart from anti-institutionalism, I think the traditions of the Chinese house church are much in agreement with the spirit of the Reformation, but it lacks a self-identity. This self-identity can come either from an intellectually-led social identity or from the rediscovery of the gospel.

Church China Editor: In other words, you think that the tradition of the Chinese house church is strongly consistent with the spirit of the Reformation in many respects. However, the fact that these areas of consistency have been unconsciously formed leads to two problems. First, how can it pass on its heritage? Second, can it still continue in face of the changing environment? So today if the Chinese house church could join the Reformation tradition, especially in the rediscovery of the gospel, it would help the Chinese house church establish a theological identity, pastoral identity, and organizational identity that is based on the spirit of the Reformation. A gospel-centered confession of faith and theological belief can be passed on even in spite of changes in the various surrounding environment. In the area pastoral care, the Reformation tradition can supply us with pastoral experience and resources that teach us how to apply these theological beliefs in the lives of our brothers and sisters. The establishment of an organizational structure will ensure the continuation of such pastoral ministry. This could be the Reformation’s great help to the building up of Chinese house churches.

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Further Reading

Nanjing: Loving People Through Prayer
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Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.


  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church



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Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.


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Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.


Stories from Guangzhou

About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.


Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.


Stories from Shenzhen

About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 


Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.


Stories from Beijing

About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.


Stories from Shanghai


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