Editor’s note: This fall, Hannah Nation wrote for byFaith magazine on how interacting with Chinese has encouraged and awakened American believers. She spoke with several PCA pastors about how reading the writings of Chinese house church believers has encouraged, challenged, and blessed them in their lives and work — and helped them stand firm to persevere in their own challenging times. This month, we are re-publishing that article in several parts (you can check out the first and second parts here).
In the face of a regime that wants to keep them separated and nationalistic, house churches seek a connection to the historic and global.
Occasionally, I come across critiques of the modern urban house church for a lack of contextualized theology. As historically Western theological frameworks (in particular, Reformed theology) find traction, I sometimes hear frustration that house churches are losing their “Chinese-ness.” There are lengthy debates to be had on this topic, but one key, often overlooked issue, is that part of the power of Reformed theology is how it empowers house churches to push back against the nationalistic requirements of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Much CCP control over modern Chinese life focuses on establishing a nationalistic identity. This flies in the face of the worldwide identity inherent to Christians. In 2010, when Wang Yi and hundreds of other house church representatives were forcibly stopped from attending the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, he wrote, “Religious matters never belong to ‘my country, China,’ nor do they belong to the United States, nor South Africa.” Chinese house churches are indeed beginning to write their own contextual theology. But because they are forcibly kept from physical communion with the historic, worldwide church, they relish the taste of the faith through the ages they get when interacting with the creeds, historic prayers, and systematic theologies they encounter from non-Chinese churches.
Part of the power of Reformed theology is how it empowers house churches to push back against the nationalistic requirements of the Chinese Communist Party.
Chinese house churches feel they grow in their global identity by engaging historic Western Reformed theology. So too, many in the PCA feel they are being awakened to a renewed global understanding of the church by engaging China’s take on modern Reformed theology.
Kelly Kapic sums this up best. He believes Chinese house church theology can enlarge his students’ ideas of Christian faithfulness — especially as many American evangelicals deconstruct. Wang Yi’s “Faithful Disobedience” gives his students a picture of God outside the narrow confines of America. “This work is an example of cultivating faithful imagination,” he says.
Kapic compares global theology with historic theology. “As C.S. Lewis said, [it] introduces waves of different perspectives. You’re not really tempted by their flaws, because they seem so weird and old, but they help you see your blind spots. It’s the same [way] reading Wang Yi. … [He] helps point out blind spots. One of those big blind spots is, ‘What is the good life?’”
Because of his vision of Jesus and the church, Wang Yi is willing to go to jail. Kapic says this resonated with students in his Christology course this past spring. “A lot of them were seniors, about to graduate from college, and they were trying to imagine what the successful life looks like. … They’re focused on trying to get married, get this job, make $100,000. All of these things; it’s not that they are unimportant, but [reading Wang Yi] does expose what we think the good life is.”
He goes on, “Our theology is impoverished without learning from our sisters and brothers around the world. … Our imagination of what God is like, and what He is doing, and who He is, and how we worship Him is impoverished without these writings.”
Our theology is impoverished without learning from our sisters and brothers around the world. … Our imagination of what God is like, and what He is doing, and who He is, and how we worship Him is impoverished without these writings.
Though they have never met, Kapic and Wang Yi wholeheartedly agree. Before his arrest, Wang Yi encouraged his congregation to lift their eyes beyond their local circumstances. He wanted people in his church to imagine their lives as part of the big, global identity of God’s kingdom. Despite their own persecution, he wanted them to remain concerned about what happened across the world.
He wrote in a congregational letter:
Would You Pray With Us Today?
“If the God you believe in is only the God of Chengdu, then He is a tribal god. As for Lhasa or Cape of Good Hope — places you will never visit — they exist outside the meaning of your life. … However, the church does not worship tribal or industry gods, but rather ‘the fullness of him who fills all in all.’ ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.’ If your master is master of the whole universe, then the whole universe is related to your life’s meaning. The whole universe is your sphere of operation. Although you live, move, and exist in only one corner of the universe, unless every part is meaningful, your corner can never be meaningful.”
Today, Wang Yi remains in jail. Though he suffers for the sake of the gospel, he knows his corner of this world has meaning, because his imagination is filled with the vastness of the Lord God. And in this, he calls us to join him.
Hannah Nation serves as managing director of the Center for House Church Theology and as content director for China Partnership. She is an editor of Faith in the Wilderness: Words of Exhortation from the Chinese Church (Kirkdale Press, 2022) and Wang Yi’s Faithful Disobedience: Writings on Church and State from a Chinese House Church Movement (IVP Academic, 2022).
Pray that interacting with the Chinese church will help Western believers to understand what the good life is and how their lives fit into God’s conception of that.