Building a Biblical Church: The Deepening Stage

Editor’s note: What is the church? How can a church be governed by the Bible? These are questions that Christians have struggled with for more than two millennia, and as the Chinese church continues to mature, Chinese believers are also facing these difficult and important questions. In the final part of this series, Pastor Wu Jing continues to lay out some of the practical things his church did as they institutionalized — for instance, they planted another church — and some of the deeper theological reasons behind these concrete steps.

This article was originally published on the Grace to City website in March, and has been edited for length and clarity.


Before 2010, Chinese house churches as a group did not face the issue of institutionalization, because they had not yet grown to a stage where they could think about these problems.

The rise of Chinese house churches happened largely through the lay movement. After 1949, missionaries left and denominations were broken. The ecumenical lineage was smashed, and most churches were planted by lay evangelists. Around the 1990s, missionaries came again to China. Most focused on evangelism and missions, not church building.

Lay leaders who planted churches did not have much experience with biblical church governance, and lacked experience living in a biblically-built church. They needed more than intellectual understanding; they needed practical experience. The church, as revealed in Scripture, is Christ’s body. It is a living organism. You can describe the body with words, but only by dwelling in a living church body can you understand why the church is alive. In the past, we in China have known the church on a rational level by reading church history and spiritual books – but most of us have not experienced a healthy, vital church.

Before 2010, Chinese house churches as a group did not face the issue of institutionalization, because they had not yet grown to a stage where they could think about these problems.

The doctrine of church has lacked theological development. In the last decade or two, Reformed theology has made an impact in China. Before that, the Chinese church was more influenced by fundamentalism and piety. There was a strong emphasis on salvation, and a weak understanding of church doctrine. We were young in theology and spiritual life, and lacked biblically-based theological reflection in many aspects of church governance.

Building the Body of Christ

Ekklesia, the Greek word for church, means “the assembly of the saints.” The church is a spiritual fellowship of born-again Christians, established by God through his Word. Church members gather regularly to worship God together, to edify one another, to build up Christ’s body, and to carry out the Great Commission. God wants to manifest his glory through the church.

  1. Church Planting Is Necessary to Build Up Christ’s Body

When our church began to plant a new church, about 30 members went out from us. Before this, our church had already begun to institutionalize. After we planted, the process deepened. Currently, our church has a confession of faith, a membership covenant, and a church constitution. We have selected deacons and elders, but have not yet ordained elders.

We planted a church for many reasons. The first was because it was a practical need. We used to have two services, but because of the pandemic, the original church space could no longer be used. We could not find a space large enough to combine the two services, so we needed to split into two. This practical need sped up our original planting plan.

Church planting was based on our vision. Some church members already lived in the area where the church was planted, and there was a great need for a church there.

Second, we planted a church because of our doctrine of church. Multiple congregations under one church conflict with our biblical understanding of the church. In Greek, ekklesia refers to one group of people gathered in the same place at the same time. We come together, express our confession of faith, practice the covenant of church membership, and testify to Christ. It is healthier to divide the two congregations into two churches through church planting.


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Third, church planting was based on our vision. Some church members already lived in the area where the church was planted, and there was a great need for a church there. Because of that, we decided to build a new church there.

  1. A Biblically-Based Deepening Stage

After we planted another church, the institutionalization process entered a deepening stage. We began to use our confession of faith for concrete church governance and pastoral care. A church should be centered on and built according to the Bible.

First, the church is set apart by God and belongs to his people. Through membership, we affirm that each member must have a clear understanding of the gospel, and can respond to it with repentance and faith. We conduct interviews with new members who apply to join, but also with existing church members, to avoid hasty endorsements that might cause these individuals to neglect their own experience of being born again.

Second, the church is Christ’s body and a witness to God’s glory. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The church itself is God’s method of evangelizing. We should build up a unified body of Christ through the membership covenant. In covenantal relationships, we rebuke, encourage, and exhort one another, both in the life of the church and in our personal lives. We are to live out God’s Word and love one another deeply, so God’s name may be glorified.

Third, we worship God according to biblical teachings. In worship, we recite God’s Word, preach God’s Word, pray God’s Word, sing God’s Word, and witness God’s Word through the sacraments. In all this, we teach our members to worship according to biblical principles, so they will genuinely come before Christ and worship in spirit and in truth.

In worship, we recite God’s Word, preach God’s Word, pray God’s Word, sing God’s Word, and witness God’s Word through the sacraments. In all this, we teach our members to worship according to biblical principles, so they will genuinely come before Christ and worship in spirit and in truth.

Fourth, the church’s mission is to make disciples of all nations. Jesus sent out his church, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Through discipleship, we practice the Great Commission. We encourage one-to-one discipleship relationships among members, helping them live by God’s Word and encourage one another to follow Jesus and make disciples.

Fifth, we care for the nations through planting churches, missions, and preparing for church planting in places where there is no worship. As we elect elders and deacons, we discover the workers God has raised among us. Through ministry, the church trains and prepares fit workers who can build churches through missions and church planting.

In this stage of deepening, we must constantly reflect on our confession of faith, so we may plant churches according to biblical teaching.

Called, Gathered, Built Up

We thank God for his grace, as he led us from being a student fellowship to our present form. Over the last ten-plus years, he called and gathered us in the gospel and built us up in his Word. We plead with God: help us persevere in and bear witness to your grace to the end.

Come quickly, Lord!


Wu Jing is a pseudonym for a post-80s generation pastor. Wu began to pastor after he graduated from seminary in 2014. 

 

Pray for Chinese house churches as their ecclesiology deepens and they face practical concerns of establishing healthy, vibrant church bodies.

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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 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

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About Shanghai

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