Denominations – What Every Pastor, Church, and Congregant Needs

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.

As I type these words one of our presbyteries in China is being investigated by the local authorities. In the process of this investigation, I received word that nearly four thousand Christian books, which were being stored in the church facilities, were confiscated. As this event has unfolded, the pastor of the local church reached out to the churches and pastors of our network within China by using an online chat group we formed. Since then we have been joined together in prayer awaiting the outcome of this formal investigation.

This network is a young, fledgling denomination and spans six regions. It includes thousands of believers and somewhere between twenty to thirty churches. While this is a small portion of the overall church in China, it is significant because it has a connectional element that is centered around reformed theology and principles, rather than a centrally located governing authority (many of the older networks in China have developed through a centrally located authority structure).

The idea of a denomination comes with a lot of baggage and some of it is deserved. The divisive elements that have been part of the history of many denominations are certainly a reason to rethink whether we want to keep them. On the one hand as we look at denominations we could conclude that we do not need the divisive baggage that they bring. Why would we want to burden the Chinese church with this baggage? This view is a very commonly held opinion among most foreign workers in China. At the same time, it has been my observation that most of the foreign workers I have encountered have never been part of a Chinese church plant in either China or elsewhere.

There are two problems with the view that says China does not need denominations. The first is that it fails to recognize that China already has its own version of denominations in the form of the five large house church networks that grew out of the countryside revivals of the 1970s and 1980s. These networks effectively function as denominations.

The second is that it ignores many of the positive aspects that denominational affiliation can bring. Over the last twenty years I have been involved in church plants in the Chinese community both in North America and China. I remember my first experience with being part of Chinese church plant in 1995 left a deep impression on me. The kinds of basic questions about church governance, doctrine, leadership, and legal documents that came up overwhelmed my Chinese brothers who were tasked with figuring it all out. After months of planning, hours of research, and what seemed like endless meetings, one of my Chinese brothers turned to me and said, “Now I understand why churches join denominations.”

Besides the obvious practical aspects mentioned above, there is an even more fundamental need every church has to connect with a historical body of doctrine and practice to help guide the church. Connecting to history helps the church learn from past mistakes and allows the church to see that when problems arise within and without, chances are the historical church has already faced the same problems. If done with wisdom and the grace of God, connecting with a denomination can be done while avoiding past mistakes. Chief among them is what John Frame calls “denominational chauvinism,” the idea that our tribe is inherently better than those who are from another tribe.

The house church in China, especially the urban house church, has been harassed by the government to the point that brothers and sisters from different churches do not trust one another. Many Christians in urban centers feel they cannot trust other believers outside the boundaries of their small house church. A denominational network creates a connected body that offers support and stability and can actually promote greater unity. These are things that the Chinese house church desperately needs.

In the period of time it has taken me to write this short piece, I have been monitoring the chatter on our network (denomination) chat group. The pastor of the church under investigation has never before experienced this level of harassment, but other pastors in the chat group have extensive experience with being harassed and even arrested. The outpouring of concern has been very encouraging. Pastors offering support to other pastors, in the form of advice, prayer, encouragement, and admonishment – these are all things that every church, every pastor and every congregant needs.


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Further Reading

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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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Qingdao: Good Soil for the Gospel
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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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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

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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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