Discipleship from the View of the Church, Part 3: Discipleship that Guards the True Church

Editor’s note: This series comes from a sermon given at a conference on discipleship for Chinese house church leaders. It was shared by a house church pastor who leads an urban church of young professionals and university students.

This sermon has been translated and edited from its original version. 

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.

 

Discipleship and the Administration of the Sacraments


Would You Pray With Us Today?

Sign up to receive our weekly prayer emails with requests for the house church in China

Acts 2 teaches that the sacraments are for those who are baptized into the church, because they believe in the gospel and repent of their sins. Baptism signifies a beginning: believers’ union with Christ and the beginning of their relationship with God, as well as the beginning of their relationship with the church. Communion, on the other hand, reflects an in-depth relationship with Christ and the church. Christians are baptized once, but receive communion again and again. Baptism proclaims a beginning, but communion affirms the continual development of this relationship.

Baptism as the Gateway Into the Church

Baptism is like the gate of the church as she opens her doors to welcome those who believe in the gospel and want to commit to the life of the church. Baptism signals a believer’s membership in a local church. Are you baptized? If so, then you are a Christian. If you aren’t baptized, then you are not a Christian, and cannot be a member of a church yet.[1]

However, we have to take into account another crucial issue. The members of a local church are usually comprised of some who get baptized in the church, and others who transfer their membership from other churches. Sometimes a person who transferred into my church may insist that they have the right to receive communion because they were already baptized. Once I was administering communion and there was an individual I did not recognize. He stood up to receive communion and I said, “I am sorry, I cannot allow you to partake today. If you plan to worship at our church, you may partake next time. First let’s talk, and then I will invite you to communion.” He got very upset. He said, “I was baptized, so why won’t you allow me to take communion?” I replied, “How could I know what type of baptism you have received? Was yours a baptism from Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Eastern Lightning? You are telling me you have been baptized, but how can I know what type of baptism it was?” This person became very irritated.

When a person wants to join your church, even if he or she was baptized, you must still check whether that person really understands and believes in the gospel, and has been regenerated by the power of the gospel. If that person has, he or she is welcome into your church as a member. Consequently, baptism indicates a believer’s membership in a local church. Nowadays, most local churches have implemented a membership process to make sure that people who join the church do in fact believe in and have been renewed by the gospel.

Some churches, though, carelessly offer baptism. You might see a pastor announce that it is the day of baptism, and anyone who is willing can be baptized. A visitor might be at church for the first time, and is then urged by his friend to be baptized. He is confused, but is hastily pushed to the front, where the pastor says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now you are a Christian!” If your church practices this type of baptism, I seriously doubt your church walks in the truth. By careless baptism, your church disregards the gospel. The Bible tells us to baptize those who believe the gospel and repent of their sins. Beware! If your church wishes to increase the number of attendees or show off a fervent atmosphere, and then irresponsibly baptizes people without assessing belief, this jeopardizes the gospel. The unconverted “Christians” may cause trouble if they join the church in this way.

Communion and Membership: Discipleship That Guards the True Church

Only spiritual people can discern spiritual truths. Only true Christians can genuinely commune with other true Christians. If someone joins the church, but they are not born again and do not understand the gospel, they are actually in a hostile relationship with the church and with other brothers and sisters. These false Christians may cause discord and friction within the church. If your church is always bickering and falling out over trifling matters, you have to examine whether the church is administering the sacraments according to the Bible.

But when communion is administered according to scripture, it will enhance the relationship between church members. For example, if a member commits sin and does not repent, we should withhold communion and suspend their relationship with Christ and the church. The church should not carelessly withhold communion, because this indicates that the person’s relationship with Christ and the church has been cut off. Some pastors enjoy withholding communion; if a believer is disobedient, their communion privileges might be withheld for two months. This is wrong, because communion declares that the person’s relationship with Christ and the church has been severed. Strictly speaking, once a person has been denied communion for a period of time and yet still does not repent, they should be excommunicated. An unrepentant person does not have a relationship with the Christ and the church.

Communion demonstrates our communion with Christ and the church. The Lord’s Table has bread and wine, which are foods. In Chinese culture, if you and I are in a good relationship, we will go out to eat together at a restaurant. Why do Chinese people love eating out? Because eating together strengthens our relationship. These issues indicate the significance of the sacraments. Apostle Paul warned the church in Corinth that they did not administer communion properly. The Corinthian church had a meal before the Lord’s Supper. Because of factions among church members, some ended up hungry, while others got drunk. Instead of eating and enjoying the meal together, they divided into different groups.

Is your church’s communion like that of the Corinthian church? If so, then you cannot administer communion in remembrance of the Lord. This type of behavior indicates a breakdown of relationship. It discriminates and dismisses some among you. That is not of the gospel. Jesus Christ has already accepted the poor, the rich, the weak, and the strong into him. By his grace in salvation, all of us have been received into him and all relationships have been restored. If we humiliate other Christians, if we sin and do not repent, we are guilty of profaning the Lord’s body and damaging to the church.

If a local church does not implement a membership process, it is like a city without walls. The boundaries of that church are unclear, and the Christians living in it are not safe. Moreover, if that church intends to do one-on-one discipleship, this may lead to some crises. Without membership as a screening mechanism, everyone is viewed by default as a church member. A true believer may establish a discipling relationship with a false one.

Local churches must confirm the eligibility of each member according to the gospel. This is to ensure authentic fellowship and proper discipleship. If a local church does not set up a membership process, false believers will certainly blend into the church. This would result in a lack of genuine fellowship and mutual understanding. The church would be like the secular world, full of strife and contention. Thus, church membership is closely related to the sacraments administered by the church. We also see that effective discipleship must be done under sacramental discipline, which can prevent a member from training an unrepentant person.

There are many heretical groups actively working in our city. Some come from South Korea; some are Jehovah’s Witnesses. They like to visit Three-Self Patriotic churches and seek opportunities to get potential disciples for their own groups. If someone shows interest in the gospel, or is a new believer, these heretical groups invite them to their homes and urge them to study a book or to study the Bible. In this way, these groups seduce many new believers or seekers. If a relatively large church does not have membership eligibility, this type of church will become a target for these cults. Many church members have been carried off by heretics, yet their church leaders are not even aware of this crisis.

These heretics know more about discipleship than the church. Those types of church leaders do not oversee the members, nor develop a proper, scriptural understanding of discipleship and the church. If your church does not uphold the sacraments or enforce church membership, the practice of discipleship is a potential danger to your church, which may have terrible consequences.

Translation provided by Jane and the China Partnership team.

[1] In a Chinese context, baptism indicates a bold affiliation with Christ. Western Christians are often hesitant to say that all who have been baptized are genuine believers, because many may be baptized for familial or cultural reasons. But in China, low levels of cultural Christianity and the public nature of baptism means baptism is perceived as strongly identified with genuine faith in Christ.

FOR REFLECTION

How might the presence of false believers among a group of Christians impact discipleship?

How can the church safeguard herself against false believers in her midst?

Share This Story

Further Reading

hangjia-xu-3ZdSvOSlm4c-unsplash
The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
Read More
billow926-ND4-6joi3t8-unsplash
Qingdao: How to Pray
Read More
cajeo-zhang--Qkr9oCfcZo-unsplash
Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
Read More

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

Videos

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.

Videos

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.

Videos

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.

Videos

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.

Videos

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.

Videos

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.

Videos

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.

Videos

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.

Videos

Stories from Kunming

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.

Videos

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. 

Videos

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.

Videos

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.

Videos

Stories from Shanghai

give

A short message about partnering with us.