The Chinese Church Under Pressure – Part 7, the Church is the Final Humanity

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What is the Church?, Part 2: The Complete and Final Humanity

Chinese culture is undergoing a major transition. As the gospel crosses into this culture, our cross-shaped message and expressions of faith must target the aspects of Chinese culture with the greatest need to be redeemed. This will create a new and original gospel message based on the death and resurrection of Christ. This gospel message speaks to the culture with the specificity of the incarnate Christ.

The core questions of China’s cultural and governing structure transition are, “Who’s the boss?” or, “Who do you love?” The core question the church faces is, “What is the church of Christ?” First-generation Christians are concerned with such questions as, “What is the gospel? What is regeneration?” As second-generation Christians, the greatest question we now face is one about the church of Christ. As the gospel crosses into Chinese culture, and as we face many crises, we must understand what the eternal church is, and what the kingdom of the gospel is in order to confront this millennia-old empire and culture.

I know many pastors who struggle with this existential crisis along with the practical questions of whether to split [into small groups] or to go overseas [in the face of pressure]. The primary question they ask themselves is: “As we return to the Bible, to the gospel, what is the church of Christ?” This is first and foremost a theological question, but how does one live this out in life? This is not merely a pragmatic or existential question but a theological question stemming from the Bible. By reflecting on this question, we arrive at a theological model that will not merely guide our present situation, but contribute to the kingdom of God and the gospel.

The bigger picture shows us something interesting: we face tension between the institutional church and contemporary Chinese culture, especially regarding the legitimacy of governing structures. The church is viewed as a challenge to the legitimacy of the government. Traditionally, China has been governed by rulers who claim to carry a “heavenly mandate.” But today, it feels threatened by such a challenge.

In traditional Chinese culture, common citizens had to show absolute loyalty to the emperor. There has never been free enterprise or a civil organization that possessed the uniqueness of the church. The church’s central and highest allegiance is not to the emperor, but to the everlasting, heavenly Christ who died and rose again. This is something our culture has never before encountered.

More than any other self-governing structure or civil organization, it is precisely this community that gives some foundation of legitimacy to rulers. Why? Christians believe everybody must submit to the governing authorities, who do not bear the sword in vain. This is the sword God has given to reward good and punish evil, and this stems from the will of God. The irony is that it is precisely this community that gives governing legitimacy to rulers, but at the same time declares that their absolute loyalty and love are reserved only for Christ and God.

Chinese Society Needs the Church

These two concepts exist simultaneously and are actually the greatest resource for a transitioning China. We can no longer return to the past. What does Chinese society need most right now? Harmony and forgiveness. Only a community and church formed by the gospel of Christ can provide this true source of forgiveness and harmony. Granting partial authority and governing legitimacy is based on the absolute allegiance of the church to God. It is based on love for Christ. These two concepts must exist simultaneously, with the latter forming a basis for the former.

We need to live with great patience when we are misunderstood by the culture and the government, while unabashedly proclaiming the gospel, just as the early church was faithful to the gospel of Christ. At the same time, we submit to the authorities sanctioned by God. All this must be articulated by the church today. How we express this depends on our understanding of the Bible. We need a deep ecclesiology in order to establish our principles, strategies, and attitudes.

From here, we focus on reflections and constructions of ecclesiology. After the New Regulations were announced, everybody realized the challenge we now face is ecclesiastical in nature, so they shifted their consideration to this.We must ask a basic question: what is the church?


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When we study ecclesiology, we have to talk about the attributes of the church. The church is one, catholic, holy, and apostolic in its foundation. We also recognize the three marks of the church that we inherit from the Reformation, which are the preaching of the word, the administration of sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline. But when Chinese pastors look at the church, they not only consider the attributes of the church, but the very nature of the church. 

What is the church? Edmund Clowney, in a book called The Church, writes that the nature of the church is established on the foundation of the triune God. What can you observe about the church from the triune God? First, the church is the people of God. Second, the church is the bride of Christ. Third, the church is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. From these three we can also mention other expressions: the church is the body of Christ or the temple of the Spirit.

Chinese pastors have built on Clowney’s foundation to go one step further from a biblical theological perspective: the church is heavenly, and its nature is heavenly (belonging to God and to Christ), but at the same time it is the humanity God wanted to create, according to his will. The church is the complete and final humanity. This humanity (the church) is an eschatological, perfect image of God. When God decided to create mankind, every person in the church had his or her name recorded in heaven. It is a heavenly kingdom and the holy city Jerusalem – the final stronghold of humanity. At the end of history, the final humanity is the saints in the holy city of Jerusalem. This group of people is the church.


Read the whole series below:

A Historical Review

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.’”

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].

What is the Church?

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.

Translation provided by Moses, Jane, Ryan, and the China Partnership translation team.

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Further Reading

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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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