Issue No 1: July 2003

Dear Friends

Peace and greetings from Geneva !

I just wanted to ‘catch up’ with you all since a lot has been happening in my professional life and in the life of the World Council of Churches since the publication of the Letter on Evangelism last year.

In December last year, due in part to financial restraints, there was an internal re-organization in the WCC and this led to the Teams on Education and Ecumenical Formation and Mission and Evangelism forming one Team, which is now called The Mission and Ecumenical Formation Team. I was appointed as the Team Co-Ordinator of the new MEF Team – a challenge that I am enjoying. However, I will continue with my responsibilities as Program Executive for Evangelism.

These are busy times in Geneva:, the WCC Central Committee will meet in August and decide on the election of a New General Secretary. We have started preparations for the next World Mission Conference to be held in Athens, Greece in 2005.

I hope that this Letter finds all of you in good health and please remember that any contributions you may have for future Letters, are always welcome. I also hope that you find helpful this article on evangelism in China.

In Christ,

Carlos Emilio Ham (Rev. Dr.)
Co-Ordinator Mission and Ecumenical Formation Team
Programme executive for Evangelism.

Issue No. 1 - July 2003

Sharing the Good News ecumenically: Evangelism in China
Reflections on a WCC’s Staff Team Visit to China, 19 – 30 March, 2003

The Visit
Since the China Christian Council (CCC) became a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) at the 7th Assembly in 1991, there have been several visits to China and meetings organized involving the CCC. Most of these were focussed on questions of religious freedom, human rights and political issues in North-East Asia, e.g. the issue of Taiwan.

In addition to the General Secretary’s visit in 1994, a visit of a delegation of the CCC to the WCC in 1995, there was also an ecumenical team visit organized by the International Affairs office of the WCC in May 1996. In 2000 – 2001 three meetings on peace and security in North East Asia took place under the auspices of the International Affairs office, in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hong Kong.

Recently a WCC staff team visited China with the idea of concentrating on issues where new program cooperation with the CCC could be explored, as well as ways of strengthening CCC’s participation in the life and work of the WCC. Another reason was for the WCC to become acquainted with the new leadership of the CCC, which were elected at the 7th China Christian Conference on 22-27 May 2001.

Following further discussions with Matthews George, from the WCC’s Asia desk and Rev. Gao Ying, the CCC member of Central Committee, our colleague Hubert van Beek, from the WCC’s office of Church and Ecumenical Relations, contacted the Teams on Faith & Ordet and Mission and Ecumenical Formation, which responded positively to the proposal of such a visit. The overall objective was formulated as follows:

To strengthen the relationships and cooperation between the WCC and the China Christian Council, so that the WCC may learn from the CCC and be able to better respond to its needs and expectations, and the CCC may participate more fully in the life and work of the WCC.

Specific objectives were:

To focus on issues of ecclesiology and worship (in a post-denominational church), mission and evangelism (including proselytism), ecumenical relations, ecumenical formation and theological education.

The leadership of the CCC welcomed the proposed visit and suggested that it should take place before the planned visit of their delegation to the WCC at the end of April 2003. Eventually the dates of 19 – 30 March 2003 were agreed upon and the CCC proposed an itinerary and program. The members of the team were: Simon Oxley (Education and Ecumenical Formation Program); Kersten Storch, Faith and Order; Hubert van Beek, Church and Ecumenical Relations and Carlos Ham (Mission and Evangelism Program).

The team was accompanied by Rev. Bao Jiayuan, Associate General Secretary of the CCC and Director of the Nanjing Office who was a guide, an interpreter and an inexhaustible resource person and, above all - a friend from the very first day.

The program included visits to churches (both in cities and rural areas), seminaries, printing presses, homes for the elderly, the headquarters of Amity Foundation and cultural and historical places in five locations, namely: Shanghai, Hanzhou, Wuxi, Nanjing and Beijing1.

Since the team was invited both by the CCC and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM)2, it was received warmly in their offices on March 20th. Present were Rev. Cao Sheng-jie, President of the CCC and Presbyter Ji Jianhong, Chairperson of the TSPM, the vice-presidents and several executives of the two organizations, and representatives of the Shanghai Christian Council and TSPM. The team explained the particular nature and purpose of its visit, which was new for some of the hosts but clearly welcomed. A very rich discussion followed on the witness of the Christian minority in the Chinese socialist society, on seeking the common ground for a post-denominational church with the aim of becoming truly united and truly Chinese, the concept of “theological reconstruction”3 and contextualization.
Evangelism and Post-denominational Church

The highlight of the whole visit, was a two-and-a-half hour conversation with Bishop K.H. Ting who received the team at his home in Nanjing. At 89, Bishop Ting is still the president of Nanjing Seminary and one of the vice-chairpersons of the National Political Consultative Conference. He is also unquestionably the spiritual mentor of the churches in the CCC. He explained that, at the center of his concern for theological reconstruction, is a re-assessment of the place of the doctrine of “justification by faith” in the thinking of the churches in China. The missionaries preached a message of salvation for the believers and perdition for all others. This is deeply rooted in the psyche of the Chinese Christian, especially in the rural areas where the majority of the churches are. It divides the people into two categories, the ‘saved’ and the ‘lost’. China needs unity, not division.

“Justification by faith” is not the whole Christian doctrine. There are other dimensions of the biblical teaching that need to be lifted up in the Chinese context, e.g. God’s love which is extended to all people. Bishop Ting linked this reflection to Christian anthropology. The human being is subject to God’s on-going creation. Theology should not condemn the human being as utterly bad. China has many leaders with exemplary moral behavior. Christianity should introduce the Chinese people to a God of love and provide room for reason and thinking, in dialogue with Chinese culture. Theological education should help pastors to acquire a more enlightened theology.

In this connection Bishop Ting spoke of the “cultural Christians”, Chinese intellectuals who are interested in Christianity and come together informally in groups for discussion and Bible study. Some of them join the church but many do not. Chinese theologians and pastors should be able to be in conversation with people in these circles. This relationship with the Chinese intellectuals Bishop Ting calls “unorganized evangelism”. He said: “intellectuals in China want to learn new things, like Christianity. In former times they were hostile towards Christianity, but now they have a great willingness to hear what Christians have to say. They are curious and some enjoy the music in our churches and they raise many serious questions to us. This is a fluid experience. Even when many of them are not interested in the church, this is a significant expression and result of evangelism”.

With regard to the concept of the post-denominational church4, Bishop Ting gave a very helpful historical perspective. At the time of the liberation (1949) and the Korean war the unity of the Chinese people became an imperative. That situation obliged the churches to look at the disunity of their denominations and institutions. One step they took was to form Nanjing Union Seminary. Gradually the Chinese Christians began to understand unity theologically. Today many churches no longer want to be denominational – but they are not yet fully united. “Post-denominational” union is the best description for the present stage4. The CCC could be called a uniting church - not yet a united church. There are several groups which are still not comfortable with the concept and have only a partial relationship with the CCC, e.g. the Little Flock, the True Jesus Church and the Seventh-Day Adventists. All three are on good terms with TSPM which has no ecclesiological claims. Bible distribution is one channel through which the CCC relates to these groups.

The team was impressed by the fact that, since the evangelistic task is carried out in this "post-denominational" setting, it is pursued ecumenically. Evangelism in the CCC is therefore not conceived in terms of proselytism. To evangelize in this context does not mean to make more Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Anglicans, or Orthodox. It aims at spreading the Good News in a rapidly changing socialist society, a society that needs the freshness of the Gospel, regardless of limited confessional boundaries.

The Chinese churches and people feel the pressure from churches abroad to (re) establish their denominations and to do mission and evangelism with a particular denominational agenda. One of the rich resources of the Chinese church to meet successfully this challenge is the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which has already been referred to in this report. The three pillars of this Movement (self-government, self-support and self-propagation) “have clearly been a great benefit to the Church, in expressing the truth of the Gospel, in asserting our national independence, and in ensuring the stability of the social order. It has clearly embodied the teachings of the Bible with regard to glorifying God and benefiting humankind (c.f. I Cor. 9:20-21; Mat. 6:16)”5.

Responding to new challenges: Evangelism in a rapidly changing society

The team noted that the churches in China are facing two major challenges which call for creative and innovative answers. The first is the growth in numbers, the second is the search for unity. To this could be added a third challenge of becoming a Chinese church in a society that is socialist, has an extraordinary cultural heritage and is in a process of rapid modernization and economic growth. Any consideration coming from outside, any effort to accompany the churches in China should take into account these realities and acknowledge the ways in which the church is seeking to respond.

The fact that the Christian faith is experiencing a tremendous revival in China, primarily as a result of the more open policy of the State towards religion in general, has had a great impact on the mission and evangelism endeavor of the church. The Catechism of the CCC6 defines the “commission of the church on earth” as:

  • Shepherding Christians, enabling everyone to ‘attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (c.f. Ephes. 4:11-13).
  • Witnessing to Christ, preaching the Gospel, and leading people to the Lord (c.f. Mk. 16:15).
  • Acting as a ‘golden lampstand’, enabling the light of God’s truth to illumine the world through the Church, giving expression of what is right, promoting righteousness, reprimanding error, and dispelling darkness (c.f. Mat. 5:14-16; Rev. 1:12-13).
  • Serving people and serving the community, as Jesus did (cf. Mk. 19:45; I Pet. 4:10-11)”7
  • .

    The following extract from the March 1999 edition of Tian Feng, the magazine of the Chinese church: “…refers to a symposium on self-propagation which was held in Shanghai in November 1998 with several participants from all areas of China and all levels within the church, which came to give their opinions on how the Chinese church needs to approach the task of evangelism today.

    Symposium participants all agreed that the basic purpose of any church is to spread the Gospel and bring people to a knowledge of God. Tong Yiqiang from Ningxia Province says that self-propagation is precisely the aspect of "Three Self" which sets the church apart from other organizations within society. Every work unit and organization in society seeks to govern itself well and support itself financially, but it is only the church which also seeks to spread a message of Good News. Similarly, Gao Siquan from Sichuan Province believes that if self-propagation work is done well, the other two areas of self-administration and self-support will fall into place. If believers receive good, solid teaching about faith then they will be more enthusiastic in their support for a church which gives them what they need. Therefore, self-propagation is the key to the rest of the church's life and work.

    As Jin Xuezhe from Liaoning Province points out, the church has focused on different aspects of "Three Self" throughout its recent history. In the 1950's, when the church had just broken links with overseas mission boards, the areas of self- administration and self-support were seen as those needing most attention, as the church sought to establish its independence. In the 1980's, after a period of much hardship and struggle, the church's doors were opened again and evangelism was emphasized.

    Now, however, with the tremendous rise in church membership, administration and self-support are once again demanding most of church workers' time and energy, as they seek to provide for the immediate needs of growing congregations. Rev. Cao Shengjie from Shanghai comments that efforts within the church are currently concentrated on church building, setting up management committees, training groups etc. Similarly, any talk of "evangelism" concentrates on the purely practical - how to write and deliver a sermon, which tone of voice to use in the pulpit, how to present the message, and so on. All these things are necessary and useful but, as Rev. Cao emphasizes, there is a danger that reflection on the actual content of the church's message is being neglected amidst all these practical considerations.

    The basic message of the Gospel never changes and is timeless. However, the way this Gospel message is presented and interpreted depends on the time and place and situation in which this takes place. Rev. Cao writes that Chinese evangelists should not rely only on books written long ago or by overseas theologians, as the focus of these books may not be suitable to the current Chinese context. If evangelists rely on such texts as models then their message may be misunderstood, misinterpreted or simply rejected because it simply doesn't "fit" the reality of today's China and simply doesn't speak to those who hear such a message.

    In a similar vein, Rev. Wang Weifan from Jiangsu Province argues that it is essential for Chinese believers to have their own experiences of the truths of the Gospel within their own lives, and then to spread the Good News based on their own experiences. Rev. Wang believes that a testimony from a Chinese believer about how the Gospel message has made an actual difference to his or her life can reach far more people in China than a message extracted from some Western theological text.

    Finally, Lin Zhihua from Fujian Province reminds evangelists that they must seek to build some kind of link for their listeners between today s modern world and the world of the Bible. In order to do this, evangelists must find out as much as they can about what is going on in the world around them and in the lives of those who come to hear them preach. They must then seek a way to apply Biblical and eternal truths to the situations in which their listeners currently find themselves. Lin quotes the 19th Century preacher Charles Spurgeon who, when asked how he prepared a sermon, replied, In one hand, I take up my Bible; and in the other hand I take the newspaper. In a similar manner, preaching sermons which were suitable several decades ago will not succeed in reaching out to a Chinese population facing the concerns of the 1990s. Lin says that people come to listen to evangelists because they want to hear something of direct relevance to themselves and their lives today. If evangelists can only throw a lot of Bible quotes at people but have no way of showing how Scripture can apply to real-life situations in the world then people will turn away and reject the Gospel message as outdated and irrelevant8.”

    One of the very important vehicles which the Chinese churches have used to propagate the Gospel is through printing millions of bibles. Even though a large number of the population is still illiterate, many pastors and lay people shared with the team that evangelism is based in the biblical stories of Jesus.

    In this regard, in the visit to the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, the team was told that in its teaching the Seminary seeks to:

  • respect the central message of the Bible;

  • to relate the biblical text with the local context; and
  • focus on the Great Commission: the sharing of the Good News of salvation for everyone.
  • A clear expression of the role of the Bible, as a valuable tool for mission and evangelism, appears as an answer to the question “Why should we read the Bible?” in the catechism of the CCC. It says, “Reading the Bible enables us:

  • To receive life through believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (c.f. Jn. 5:39, 20:31).

  • To gain knowledge of salvation.

  • To understand doctrine, and receive reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.

  • To be complete and equipped for every good work (c.f. Mat. 7:7-8, 11:25)”9
  • .

    The universal priesthood of all believers

    The “generation gap” in the leadership and clergy caused by the cultural revolution (1965 – 1979) and the preceding years, which was a major concern in the ‘80s and ‘90s, is beginning to be reabsorbed. Gradually younger people – many of whom are women – are taking over, in the local churches, the seminaries and the governing bodies of the CCC and TSPM. Opportunities for this new generation to have ecumenical experience and exposure will be crucial for the future.

    There has been a proportional increase in pastoral vocations among young people in relation to the growth of the church, but even so, there are still not enough pastors and here is precisely where the lay movement becomes so vital for the mission and evangelism of the churches.

    In one of the conversations a pastor shared with the team that the Protestant Reformation principle of the "Universal Priesthood of all Believers" is very relevant, because “every Chinese Christian is a pastor and therefore also an evangelist, “following Jesus’ person-to person style”, he said. Bishop Ting told the team “a lot of evangelism is happening because people are bringing their friends to the churches, in an unorganized way”.

    Many Christians see their task of sharing the Good News by the example of their deeds - by their silent witness in society. A pastor with whom the team met, a member of the CCC leadership, defined evangelism as “Christian presence among the people”, and illustrated this referring to the passage in the Bible that speaks of the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus. He said that when this happened, Lazarus stood there, in the middle of the crowd, without saying one word, but his silence was bearing witness to the Lord's liberating, saving and resurrecting power (John 11: 42-44).

    The development of China’s “market economy” can also be used to evangelize creatively like the case of Chen Zhongli, whose story is told in another article of the ANS. The following is an extract:

    “…..Slowly, Chen and her husband expanded their business. Their Northern Jiangsu specialties such as "soup dumplings" (tang bao) were popular, and after setting up a larger restaurant and taking over a second one, they were owners of two big eateries in prime settings of Nanjing. In January of 2003, just before Chinese New Year, they finally opened a third branch of their Golden Eagle restaurant - a huge building, elaborately decorated and home to 100 waitresses, cooks and other staff.

    Perhaps the most unusual feature of Chen's latest enterprise is its Christian flavor, not only in the decoration, but also the way the restaurant is run. Visitors to the fourth floor dining rooms, for example, are greeted by a row of Christian images, including the Virgin and Child and Jesus Christ on the Great Wall. "We helped her select the images," reveals a close friend of Chen's, who has witnessed the progress of her latest restaurant project in her prayer group. "My church group has been very supportive," affirms Chen, "whenever I encountered a problem, they would encourage me, and remember me in their prayers."
    Chen, who is 57, has been a Christian for six years. Unlike many Chinese believers who initially come into contact with the Christian faith in times of personal problems or frustration, Chen felt attracted by Christianity although her life at the time was mostly smooth sailing. "A young lady introduced Christianity to me, and later took me along to the Christmas service. It was wonderful, I felt so elated and free of all worries when I heard the music."

    The restaurant's employees call Chen "Auntie", not "General Manager." Yet watching the modest manager interact with her staff, itbecomes clear that her concerned and warm management style only enhances their respect for the boss. Chen also makes a point of giving a Bible to new employees, instructing them to familiarize themselves with Christian thinking.

    "When we were discussing the option of opening up a third restaurant, I only had one condition," Chen recalls. "I wanted this to be a Christian place, and I told my husband and children that I would not have any of the traditional Gods of Wealth - in fact, idols - placed in this building."

    Chen clearly sees this enterprise as a place to reach out to people who under normal circumstances would never step into a church building. "Cadres will probably not go to church services, but they do frequent posh restaurants," Chen observes. With this aim in mind, she sees her work as a calling: "If you really believe, you will appreciate the meaning of every day at work."

    Chen's social involvement does not stop at work, though. Through the Amity Foundation, she also supports a child that was on the point of dropping out of school for lack of money. And in the midst of numerous work related duties, she still finds time to visit this little girl. "I plan to go and see her again in spring," she smiles10”.

    But of course, as a result of further development of the church and its increasing influence in society, lay people also preach explicitly, by words, the Good News and for this they need preparation. So the Chinese churches devote a great amount of resources and energy to train the lay people in order to fulfil their vocation. “Therefore, training has been provided to many volunteers to improve the preaching workforce”11. In fact, many churches have among their staff not only pastors, but also "evangelists", brothers and sisters, who receive a special preparation to perform their duties in this area of the church.

    “In China, the term ‘evangelist’ would be roughly equivalent to 'assistant pastor’. Evangelists are full-time church workers who have received formal theological training but have not yet been ordained. In China, seminary and Bible school graduates are normally not eligible for ordination until they have worked in the church for some years, and it is not unusual for church staff members to work as evangelists for much or even all of their careers12.” They work primarily in “meeting points”13, but also in churches.
    In the rural areas, where 80% of the Chinese Christians live, many persons begin to attend churches after having a healing experience. In fact, some people believe that 80% of new converts to Christianity come to faith through a supernatural experience of healing. Several pastors and church leaders with whom the team met confirmed this reality. This is of course more evident by the fact that there is less medical care in these parts of the country. It was interesting that in the discussion with Bishop Ting about this matter, he agreed that healing experiences may draw people to the churches in the rural areas, “but this is not necessarily evangelism”, he said. Nevertheless, it is hoped to create a space which can provide for the CCC to contribute to the process towards the 2005 World Mission Conference, especially on the themes of healing and reconciliation.

    In spite of the tremendous growth of Christianity in China, it is still a very small minority in the country, so there is a lot to do! And this is not only in quantitative terms but also from the qualitative point of view. In the 1910s and the 1920s there was also a strong revival and growth in China as part of a modernization process in that time, but it died out. The same could happen again. The mission of the church in every society, and especially in a society in transformation – like in the current Chinese situation – is empowered by God to provide the instruments for “practical and critical discernment” from the perspective of the Gospel.

    Referring to mission and evangelism, one of the church leaders in one of the meetings said the following, which is quoted here in summary:

  • We are a growing church (50 000 new Christians per year) - evangelism is done by the ordinary Christians who have the burden to pass on the Good News - this has great impact.

  • The Christian way of living is a witness in the family and the workplace - the changes in the life of the Christians attract other people.

  • The religious freedom policy --the freedom to build new churches and the freedom to worship-- give confidence to non-Christians.

  • The church giving witness in society - serving the people - reaching out to the poor - helping the needy - doing social welfare
  • .

    Above all this: the main reason for the growth of the church is that God is at work among his people in China! Let us continue to pray for the continuing sharing of the good news of the gospel in this part of the world!

    We invite you to
    pray for the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism
    in Athens, Greece, 12 – 19 May 2005
    on the theme
    Called in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities.

    1. There is a full report of the visit to China, available upon request, in the WCC’s offices.
    2. At all levels in China: national, provincial, city and county, exist committees of the CCC and the TSPM representing two parallel structures which relate closely to each other and function on the basis of a commonly understood division of tasks. TSPM was set up in 1950, the CCC in 1980. The Three-Selves are Self-governing, Self-administrating and Self-propagating.
    3. “Theological reconstruction” is a concept launched by Bishop K.H. Ting. The aim is to overcome the simplistic and dualistic thinking of “saved” and “lost” inherited from the missionary period and develop a theology that can be in dialogue with Chinese culture and rapid modernization.
    4. The policy of “post-denominational” is pragmatic: churches of different denominational backgrounds are encouraged to unite in worship but also to respect differences when that unity is not – yet – possible.
    5. 100 Questions, p. 59.
    6. “100 Questions and Answers on the Christian Faith”, China Christian Council, 1983
    7. 100 Questions, p. 63-65.
    8. Ms. Theresa Carino, coordinator of the Amity’s Foundation Hong Kong office, shared with us this article, “Does the Church Have Anything to Say to Modern China”?, which was published by Amity News Service (ANS), 98.4.1.
    9. 100 Questions, p. 11-13.

    10. ANS, article “Dishing Out Baozi and Bibles: a Christian Entrepreneur in China”, 2003.3/4.8.
    11. LWF Studies. An Overview of Contemporary Chinese Churches. China Study Series Vol. 1, Jan. 1997, Lee Chee-Kong, p. 26.
    12. ANS, article “Reformed Roots, Post-Denominational Shoots”, 2003.3/4.7.
    13. Meeting points are groups of believers who have a regular meeting place for worship and a preacher (not ordained). They come under the supervision of an ordained pastor or voluntary church worker of a neighboring church. Meeting points can become churches as they grow in number and spiritually and acquire a church building for worship