Living Out Theology to the Utmost, Part 1: A Chinese House Church Pastor Visits American Churches

This post begins a weeklong series relating the experiences and observations of a Chinese house church pastor visiting, evaluating, and learning from an American church. These posts were originally posted in Chinese on his personal blog with the aim of helping and encouraging his fellow pastors. Check back every day this week for new posts in the series.

This September, I was able to visit several American churches and got quite a bit out of [the trip]. When I came back, I was inundated with the nitty-gritty of life, but I also knew that if I didn’t write something down, I would never get started. So starting today, I hope that you urge me to record what I saw and experienced, both to help precipitate my own thoughts and to help the churches around me expand their outlook.

On three Sundays, I went to Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia; Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C.; and Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston. I wasn’t just there to attend their Sunday services, but also to communicate with their elders and pastors, converse with their members in private, and make many detailed observations, so this trip counted as an “in-depth tour.”

There is a big difference between going on an in-depth tour and going sightseeing; this time, I had an opportunity to learn about the theological thinking that went into [various] phenomena. In these past few years, China’s house churches have had the chance to leave the country and come in contact with all sorts of overseas churches; I myself attended an overseas worship service for the first time about seven years ago.

I have to admit, however, that it was not until this trip that I was able to somewhat escape the attitude that I was sightseeing, and not just go on what I would call a Wow Trip: when a Christian goes overseas and looks at a church building, they will exclaim, “Wow!” During the worship service, they will exclaim another “wow.” When they hear the music or when they see the Sunday school classrooms, there is another “wow.” And when getting the various publications, they will again say “wow!” as they put them away, hoping that someday their own church can print such beautiful worship programs, church introductions, and welcome cards.

But once the excitement passes, how much of that [experience] can be brought back to China so that the church’s pastoral [ministry] is more Biblical and faithful to what God has given to us? Very little, because once we come back, we realize that we do not have such a big congregation, or as much financial offerings, or such a large piece of land, or specialized staff, or such a permissive environment. We don’t have anything except an admiration, jealousy, and [even] hatred of overseas churches.

What I took away from many of my trips to overseas churches was the feeling, “We can’t do any of this; what a waste of a trip!” So in this recent trip, I kept asking myself two questions: “What theological orientation and what sort of contextualization formed the basis of these actions?” I also sought verification of my observations from the elders, pastors, staff, and members, listening to their stories and the thought that went behind these decisions.

[I did this] because I believe that what we see on the surface has been customized for a particular time and place, and therefore not suitable to mimic blindly. What we can and should learn from is their faithfulness to and faith in God’s word and the formation process of their theological vision. We can thoroughly consider all of the actions [one must take both] beforehand and afterward.

The three churches I went to had slightly different theological orientations and completely different circumstances and members, so [not only was] the administration [of each church] different, but there were a lot of minute differences as well. I believe that what these three churches have in common are most worth learning from:

  • They all confess the theological sufficiency of the Bible.
  • They are all deeply familiar with their circumstances.
  • They therefore have established a clear mission for ministry and vision for the church.

Finally, and what I think is the number one takeaway we [should] have, is that they put their theology into practice in every aspect of the church’s pastoring [process]!


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Forgive my bluntness, but China’s house churches have been lacking in comprehensive theological infrastructures for quite some time. Lacking in a clear theological confession, this limits the [church’s] ability to dialogue with and influence the circumstances around them. This, plus the influence of pragmatism, has turned many pastoral practices into neither fish nor fowl, causing many churches to hit developmental bottlenecks.

We Chinese Christians of this generation have the opportunity to get to know the inheritance based on [both] the last five hundred years of reform and the two thousand year [history of] the church all the more, as well as the opportunity to return to and connect with the universal church. We should earnestly ask ourselves, “How are we to know God and ourselves better while being in fellowship with Christians worldwide and better accomplish what God has entrusted to us at this time and place?”

 

Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors writing and thinking critically about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.

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Further Reading

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The Internal Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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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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Stories from Shenyang

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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Stories from Qingdao

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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Stories from Xiamen

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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Stories from Chongqing

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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Stories from Nanjing

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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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.

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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.

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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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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. 

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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.

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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.

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