Recently a pastor in East China stressed that if Christians desired to integrate faith into their lives, they ought to pay more attention to culture and sports, and to enhance the training of willpower and character.
With many years of pastoral experience, Pastor A serves in the cultural field, devoting himself to explore how the Christian faith is integrated into daily life. His vision lies in that through his service more Christians would not only be confined to church and religious life, but also walk into the culture, society and live out their faith in their normal life.
In a Sunday service, the house church pastor shared the relationship between Christ and culture, according to Romans 5:19-21.
"Cultural missionaries give people the opportunity to explore culture, let their beliefs enter their lives and bring about changes," he highlighted.
He said that this passage, being a classic comparison between Adam and Christ, described Adam as the ancestor of mankind, because his disobedience alone constituted a rebellious lifestyle, and the whole history of human civilization showed that Adam’s descendants had found their own lifestyle. Because of Christ, people became Christians, but as they resisted this rebellious world they refused to integrate their faith into their lives instead.
Quoting H. Richard Niebuhr’s book Christ and Culture, Pastor A talked about exploring five relationships between Christ and culture. One of them was to reject culture and hold the idea of secular dichotomy, and fundamentalists were unwilling to have a relationship with the world that had been defiled by sin. Those type of Christians thought that when they entered the world they would be affected by sin so they were satisfied to just live in the church. For instance, he said that foreign missionaries in the last century held the Hudson Taylor's fundamentalism route and the Timothy Richard's liberalism route: Hudson Taylor insisted on preaching the gospel directly to save souls, paying attention to the relationship between men and God but not talking about the world, while Timothy Richard advocated not only preaching the gospel to others but also going into the world as light and salt. Pastor A thought it was ironic that the fundamentalists who today highly admired the universities and hospitals established by missionaries in the early days were not aware that these heritages were promoted by liberal missionaries headed by Timothy Richard.
Pastor A said that liberalism had not left much spiritual heritage in the Christian community in China and what could really lodge in people’s minds was still fundamentalism. The faith foundation was the basis for us to stand. However, fundamentalism with strong vitality was difficult to last because it was very defensive and inextensible. Extreme fundamentalism strongly defended pure faith, rejected things that caused Christians to make mistakes, and easily formed opposition with the world.
“The law was added so that the trespass might increase.” Pastor A quoted the passage as saying that the law was a means to prevent people from committing crimes - so many provisions had been set for people.
"As sinners, we are bound to break these laws. This shows that there are problems in our lives so we need Christ to renew us. Yet, we need a process to check what is right and wrong so that we can have the possibility of change. Otherwise the Bible verses would become empty for us."
“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more... We will make many mistakes in the process of practicing our faith, but this true statement will make our faith a living faith because we will see that grace is more obvious. We will know that it is true to live with God and to be forgiven by God," he added.
According to the pastor, cultural missionaries gave many people the opportunity to have culture so that their beliefs can be brought into their lives and they were bound to change as a result. Eugene Bidson, the famous “pastor of pastors”, once said that faith was never a result but a process, and there would be chaos and mistakes in the process. Therefore, faith meant that we could continue to move forward in a chaotic and imperfect state.
To deal with Christians’ weakness, culture and practical methods were also necessary in addition to emphasizing spiritual practice. It was not necessarily "godly".
Referring to the word “weakness”, the pastor said that he found that there was a phenomenon in the Chinese church: many Christians felt weak but most churches only thought about weakness on the spiritual level, and did not really solve this problem in real life.
He further explained that the fundamentalist method was to express people’s real situation with some basic truths, which was not wrong, but these real situations that needed some practical operations to solve. For instance, the weakness of Christians was a fact, but our most basic and simplest operation were merely pointing out that this person needed more prayers and needed to establish a better relationship with God. These were only some basic expressions but no practical examples were given in practical operations.
“And culture, for example some practical education and guidance, is precisely the way to help Christians get out of such state in life.” He explained the meaning and function of culture in this way. He went on to emphasize that “so in this sense, I don’t think culture and practice are not spiritual.”
Besides culture, Pastor A also talked about willpower, character, labor, sports and so on. For example, he said that in the past, apart from high-intensity spiritual exercises, Catholic monks were indispensable for a large number of laboring activities.
“I think that sometimes the weakness of Christians is not a spiritual problem, but a problem of willpower and character.” Therefore, he also devoted himself to promoting Christians to participate in sports, cultivating perseverance and endurance in sports, and feeling that he was really alive.
He recommended people to read the book Eric Liddell: Pure Gold. He believed many Christians had heard of the story of the great Christian athlete Eric Liddell whose Chinese name was Airui Li. For insisting on attending Sunday worship, Liddell gave up taking part in the 100m and 200m competitions that he was good at on Sunday morning of the eighth Olympic Games in Paris. However, this “flying scotsman” won the 400m competition and won the gold medal, which attracted worldwide attention and admiration. After becoming the Olympic champion, Liddell inherited his father’s wish as a missionary. He resolutely gave up his bright future and came to China for missionary work. Unfortunately, in 1942, he and many western expatriates were taken by the Japanese army to the Western Migrants Concentration Camp in Shandong. Due to the extremely poor living environment, he died of illness at the age of 43.
In the camp, Liddell did not feel sorry for himself. Instead, he taught the children in the camp to take lessons with optimism and took them to sports activities.
“I think his persistence in the concentration camp was braver than his winning the 400-meter race.”
He concluded, “To some extent, we are all giving up the life we want, and only by persisting can we experience life. God is special and all we have to do is respond to Him. A new culture should be tried by brave people and live according to the style of life. Just as Jesus ate and drunk with his disciples, people with the image of God should have lived in the style of life, and they will find that it is not so terrible to live like this.”
- Translated by Charlie Li