Grace Changes Everything, But You Must Have It As the Foundation

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Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series in which a pastor involved with CP explains why he became involved and why he believes the Chinese church matters for the global church today. This pastor serves a large church in New England and assists the work of both Redeemer City to City and The Gospel Coalition.

CP: How does your personal background and experience influence your perspective on the Chinese church?

As an Asian-American of Korean descent, one of my concerns is for the Chinese church not to emerge like the Korean church. God has done amazing work through the Korean church and I am a beneficiary of the great blessing God brought to the Korean church. But the Korean church is in major decline. About five or six years ago, the last census indicated 18% of the Korean population is Christian, which is a pretty big percentage; but people always assume the number is closer to 30% because they see all the big buildings and large churches. And yet here is the statistic that I find most troubling – among twenty-somethings in Seoul, less than 1.7% are churched. I think that is less than Manhattan! We tend to think, ‘Oh man, Manhattan is so secular and pagan, but Seoul is Christian.’ No!

The church can die in a couple of generations. The main reason is pastors who do not know how to communicate to skeptics and are still working with Christian categories. They don’t know how to speak to skeptics besides just yelling at non-Christians and saying, ‘What’s wrong with you? Be more like your parents. Be faithful and give and come to the church.’ Forget it! This generation in Korea does not have the sense of shame that the older generation has. They say, ‘Who are you? I’m not going to listen to you like my parents did.’ This new generation has been secularized so they think very differently. They have less of a communal or corporate understanding of their place in the culture. This generation has become more like Western culture – it has become individualized. 

It’s a pretty short history – about one hundred years – of Christianity in Korea, and the Korean church and pastors missed out when they were being trained. Even though the missionaries had good intentions when they came and they emphasized systematic theology and doctrine, they failed to train people in Biblical theology. If you only learn systematic theology apart from Biblical theology, it will lend itself to moralism. And that is exactly what we struggle with in the Korean church. Moralism and legalism. When you mix that together with the Confucian work ethic, it is a lethal combination that works against the gospel. It becomes all about the law.

I believe that if the Chinese church does not get proper training, the same thing could happen there. When I do trainings at different conferences and venues in China, people often want a quick solution to the problems of their churches. ‘Show me how this works and how I can do this.’ They often don’t want to understand the process or want to marinate their thinking in the theological sauce behind the vision. They say, ‘Show me how to do it and how it looks like for my church.’ And I say, ‘We will get there, but if you don’t marinate long enough, if you don’t appreciate the process, if it’s not rooted and anchored in a solid theological vision and foundation, you’re going to end up in legalism.’


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CP: How can the Chinese church avoid the moralism and legalism you describe?

People ask, ‘How can we build our church? How can we grow the numbers? What is trending?’ But the gospel has to drive our vision, not practice. Practice is the result of gospel vision. It can’t happen in reverse. When you think about the East Asian cultures with a strong Confucian work ethic — Japanese, Korean, and Chinese primarily — their thought patterns are ‘Let’s be efficient, let’s get things done and do it in a speedy manner and be diligent and hardworking.’ But if you build a building too quickly without a strong foundation it will collapse. Chinese pastors want to get to things done right away: ‘Show me!’ But if you get to matters of practice too quickly, you will just be a pragmatic pastor, not be a theologically-driven pastor.

We believe the gospel is very practical; don’t mishear me! It is very practical. It affects everything. Grace changes everything. But you must have it as the foundation.

You have to be careful, especially in Asian churches, with the leveraging of power. If the gospel is not in the hearts of leadership, then it is not shaping them and how they leverage their authority. Without the gospel there will be a lot of Confucian hierarchy, such as making sure you maintain filial piety and loyalty. Not that loyalty is not a Biblical principal! But if the Chinese church is not careful, they can have an overly hierarchical, authoritarian view of church leadership. The gospel has to be at the heart of authority to address this issue.

I want the pastors I train to be well-equipped. And in the process, I am not only giving them a tool or curriculum, but God the Holy Spirit is at work to bring it to their hearts. You cannot receive gospel theology and know how to preach Christ-centered sermons unless that gospel starts doing work in your own heart. We need the gospel to weed out our heart idols and all of our moralistic tendencies so that we might rely on grace more than the law’s motivation.

 


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Gospel renewal is central to our work

Read more about why Gospel Renewal is at the core of China Partnership’s work, and join us in praying and supporting the house church in China.

 

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Further Reading

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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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Nanjing: A Welcoming City of Newcomers
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Nanjing: A Relational Gospel
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

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.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  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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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

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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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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