Theologian: Further Transformation Path of Chinese Church Based on the Latest Developing Trend of Global Churches

A picture of a church in south China
A picture of a church in south China
By Ruth WangJune 2nd, 2023

This article reviews the great and profound changes brought by a series of church renewal movements of international churches such as those of Britain and the United States in the 1960s, especially the merger of missional churches after 2000. Some people call the church reform the “Copernican revolution of the church.” It is a transformation from church-centeredness to society-centeredness, from clergy-centeredness to ordinary believers-centeredness, and from church-centered religious gatherings to daily life-centeredness.

Dr. Wu Dongri who holds Ph.D. from Yonsei University, South Korea, states that the reason why he began to pay attention to the new church movement and missional churches in Britain and the United States in recent years is that it can provide a good idea for the development of the current church in China, and at the same time, it provides a good opportunity to reflect on the essence of the Christian faith.

He sees that the urban churches in China are still facing severe challenges. On the one hand, most churches in China are still gathering-centered, but on the other hand, there have been many great changes in society, the times, and the environment. How the church itself can firmly grasp the essence of the Christian faith and keep up with the times is at the core of the matter.

However, the biggest difference between the new church movement in international churches such as Britain and the United States and the development of many Chinese urban churches is that it does not focus on the church as an organizational system but restores more of its vitality through campaigns. Professor Wu clarifies that the institutionalization of the church (the church as an organizational system) and the movement of the church are not opposing concepts, but the question is which should be regarded as more important, and that depends on the judgment of the church on its own situation.

In his view, Chinese churches are more or less introverted, enclosed, and marginalized because of their history and theological level. One dimension of the transformation of Chinese churches is the transformation of Chinese society, which needs two steps: the transformation of churches’ faith practice and the transformation of theological theories.

1. Church transformation:

The key to this is how the church can become a benign presence in Chinese society. The international New Church movement is actively seeking to integrate into local culture and society. These exploration experiences will provide opportunities for Chinese churches to reflect on their social and cultural problems and help eliminate the tension caused by Christianity in China’s social culture.

2. Theological transformation:

One dimension of the transformation of the church in China is the transformation of Chinese society, which will inevitably lead to reflection on the correlation between the church and society, culture, and system, and will naturally lead to a theological reflection. The transformation movement of the church naturally brings out theological considerations.

Dr. Wu Dongri recalls that he mentioned three transformations of the church in China about 15 years ago according to the challenges and conditions at that time, which was exactly his personal thinking at the time:

Transforming from a gathering-oriented church to a pastoral-oriented church;

Transforming from the position of a marginal culture to the mainstream culture;

Transforming from a converted church to a converted church

Now, 15 years after the development and transformation of churches in China, especially in urban areas, Dr. Wu thinks that with the globalization of new or mission-oriented or community-oriented church movements in Britain and the United States, their model and significance deserve the attention and discussion of churches in China. In his view, the “mission-oriented” church is more suitable for the post-modern development model of churches in China in the future.

Therefore, he urges the three transformations of 15 years ago and continues to explore the further transformation of the church in China today:

From the construction of church system (pastors-centered) to the establishment of Christian daily life;

From entering the mainstream culture to the implementation of gospel plus, that is, the connection between gospel, and culture and society;

From the church that sends specific clergy to the mission-oriented or community-oriented church where everyone is sent as a missionary.

In his view, the ultimate goal of these transformations is to train and establish more mission- and community-oriented churches.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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