The Spiritual Legacy of the House Church – An American Response

Sa Zhong Zi (meaning “sow seeds”) is the pseudonym for an American living in China assisting with the support and strengthening of the Chinese house church.

“The Spiritual Legacy of the House Church” is an article we had translated from Chinese to English and is part of a larger document titled Our House Church Manifesto, which contains the written contributions of several different house church pastors. As I reflect on my almost thirty years of ministry with Chinese in both the United States and China, I am more convinced than ever that our role as non-Chinese Christians who desire to serve the church in China is a role of coaching and facilitation as opposed to direct leadership. I have observed that the Chinese house church has grown both in size and maturity over the last thirty years and expats who have heart to serve need to be aware of where the church is and what the church needs. Despite its growth, it is still in need of help and I believe there is still very much a role for the foreign worker, but that role has greatly changed. I would like to write a very brief response to Wednesday’s article in the spirit of one who currently serves in such a facilitative role, at times more of a coach and at times more of a coworker. 

About five years ago I met the author of this article, “The Spiritual Legacy of the House Church” (TSLHC), but only recently did I read this piece of his. I found myself internally crying out with a hearty “amen” at the words, thoughts, and concepts he expressed. I rejoice that we can have a role in letting the non-Chinese speaking world catch a glimpse of one small, but significant, voice out of many within the house church movement in China. I feel strongly that many Christians who desire to pray for China and support her church are only able to hear the voices of those who interpret the situation in China and not those who are actually inside the church themselves. Sometimes this is due to language barriers; sometime it is due to security issues. As I sit here and write this I am keenly aware that I am in danger of doing the very same thing. This is exactly why I want my words to be in response to the author’s words.

As I interact and partner with different house church pastors, I have come to realize two things. They want to learn, but they also want to contribute to the larger discussion concerning what is going on in the church in China and even in the world.  They have something to contribute to that discussion. I am thankful for my age, experience, and education in ministry because it gives me a place at the table. They look to me for help because I have a level of experience that they find helpful. On the other hand, I often defer to them when it comes to questions of how to implement our theology in the Chinese context. Most of the leaders I work with share in the same Reformed theological tradition in their convictions, but often they know much better than I how that works itself out in Chinese culture. 

When it comes to the issue of the house church versus the Three-Self church, I share a similar conviction with the author of TSLHC. We all realize that there are genuine believers in the Three-Self church, but we also agree that the ecclesiology is fundamentally flawed. Can a church where Christ’s headship is not ultimately recognized and honored really be called a church? This is admittedly a complicated issue and there are many variables and historical factors that make it such, but my bottom line as a non-Chinese is to trust the judgment of those who I believe know and understand the society, history, and culture better than and I. That trust is not built overnight. It takes years to build, but they are well invested years.

The author of TSLHC is balanced in his approach to the house church, which I deeply appreciate. He celebrates its legacy and those who suffered because of what they believed about the house church, but he also recognizes the weaknesses of those who have gone before the current generation of leaders. Issues such as theology, church governance, and engaging culture were not part of the agenda of the previous generation of house church leaders; but many leaders in the current generation of house church pastors are finding these matters to be of great importance. Indeed they are crucial for the development of the church.

Consider the issue of church governance and how most house churches begin with twenty to thirty people gathered in someone’s apartment for a Bible study. After a period of time they begin a Sunday worship service. Everyone knows each other, and matters like governance are unimportant. The church grows to seventy five and everyone is happy but they also notice that the dynamics are changing. About the time the church breaks one hundred the leaders start to feel they need some help. I have met with many leaders who are craving a semblance of order because they have experienced exactly the scenario I am describing above. There has been nobody to help them through these issues because the previous generation did not, for reasons both good and not-so-good, address these issues or addressed them in ways that lacked sufficient biblical reflection (some of the larger house church networks seemed to have taken their governance model more from the Chinese Central Government than from the scriptures).

In conclusion, we need to realize that the church in China has an increasing number of leaders who are theologically, spiritually, and intellectually gifted and they are capable of things the previous generation was not capable of. The churches possess resources, finances, and the sheer ability to organize and operate in ways the previous generation could not. How we approach the church in China and how we minister to her must address where she is, provide help she is asking for, and be sensitive to how we might be, perhaps unintentionally, treating her as an infant rather than a young adult.


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Further Reading

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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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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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