Editor’s note: Fellowship with brothers and sisters in the global church helps us to better understand ourselves and our times. Even more importantly, this fellowship with other believers enables us to more fully know and worship God. This November, a seminary president from the U.S. shares how a letter to recent Chinese college grads letter taught, encouraged, and challenged him and his students.
“Do you know God? Can you tell me about him?” These words came within the first five minutes of my first conversation with “Tucker.” It was September 2000, and I had been in China for only three weeks. As the year went on, I learned that Tucker was one of many Chinese college students at that time who was hungry to know God. The Spirit of God was at work. I thought to myself, “Who am I that I get to be a part of this?” What a gift! I wanted to stay until Christ’s return. Though I had to leave in 2010, the joy of those early years has never faded. Far from it! I tasted this deepening joy once again when I read Li Yingqiang’s recent letter to the graduating class of Western China Covenant College, entitled Night is Far Gone, Day is at Hand.
I want to make just two observations about how Li’s letter brought me joy.
Close Enough to Empathize; Far Enough to See Clearly
First, I was amazed at his sober reflection and critical analysis of our cultural moment. I say “our” because, in exposing the cultural idolatry in China, he exposed it here as well. Li is precisely right in saying that if Chinese authoritarianism is removed, the church there will likely face the more formidable foe of secular humanism. While opposition in China is now overt and painful, the “magic potion of individualism, materialist ecstasy, and the hypnotic drug of relativism” is perhaps more deadly. He expressed so clearly what I have been trying to say to Christians here. I immediately shared it with our seminary students to help them see what we are up against.
For decades, Christians in the West have been hard-pressed into the secular mold. At the root of the problem is the belief that we can save ourselves and our world from all its woes. But salvation always comes from the outside. The prophetic voice that bears fruit comes from one who is near enough to empathize, but with enough distance to see the matter clearly. This is how I received brother Li’s message. This is why the church in the West needs the church in the East, and vice versa. To that can be added the church in every part of the world and in every age of history. For the church to be faithful in any time and place, we must be open to dialogue with the church from every time and place. Only a brother can show us our blind spots, and we theirs.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Other Christians Help Us Know God
Secondly, I was reminded how we need each other not only to know ourselves, but to know God himself. The opening section of John’s first letter ends with a curious phrase: “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” Why does John say “our” instead of “your”? John personally saw, heard, and even touched Jesus, the source of all joy. How can he speak of a joy made complete only when others share in divine fellowship? This question has captured my imagination for many years. Reading Li’s message renewed my experience of what I believe John is saying.
In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis reflects on the nature of friendship.
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets…
In this, friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.
Simply put, we see and enjoy more of God together than alone. Other Christians bring to light aspects of God’s glory that we would not otherwise see. Their lives manifest the beauty of faithful obedience to Jesus in ways we could not otherwise behold. We need each other. This is true of any two Christians, even those from the same culture and family. But our enjoyment of God increases all the more when those who share come from very different vantage points. Everyone has a specific vantage point, limited by many personal and cultural factors. We ought not to think that with such a limited view, we can capture the whole of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. He is simply too magnificent, like a diamond the size of Mount Everest. I am grateful for the work of the China Partnership because Christians everywhere need the Christians in China and vice versa. We need one another, not only to show us our blind spots, but to show us God.
As I read Li’s reflections on faithfulness to Jesus Christ in a challenging context, I tasted more of the joy that awaits us all. For when the redeemed from every tongue, tribe, and nation gather before the throne, seeing and declaring to one another the excellencies of God – only then will our joy be finally made complete.
Hoffman Rhyne is president and academic dean of Christ Our Redeemer Seminary in Auburn, Ala.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for more opportunities for Chinese and Western Christians to help one another understand themselves and know God more intimately.