Voice: 'Remove Camouflage Appearance' - A Consideration of Chinese Church’s Future From Its 200 Years of Ups and Downs

A cross on the roof of a rural church
A cross on the roof of a rural church
By Li DaonanJanuary 27th, 2022

Since Christianity entered China in the modern era, there have been two prosperous stages.

The first stage was in the late Qing Dynasty (1840 - 1912) and the Republic of China. At the end of the Qing Dynasty, because the foreign missionaries were backed by the imperial powers, so in front of the weak Qing government not only missionaries enjoyed various privileges but also the believers. It was the advantage of this privilege that brought a large number of believers to the Lord hence the prosperity of Christianity in that era.

Christianity was once again brilliant was after the reform and opening up of China with the strict policies from the past being altered. By that time, the number of Christians was already growing rapidly. After China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, with the rise of urbanization in China, Christianity began to move with migrant workers from rural areas to cities.

The tide of migrant workers under urbanization made the countryside rich, and at the same time, the economic situation of individual believers also changed one after another. Therefore, Christianity set out its glorious journey.

However, we can see that the glory of Christianity now is quite different from the glory made by missionaries relying on imperial backings 200 years ago and that of the second prosperity stage.

The first glory was the missionary’s cultural superiority to backward China and the introduction of science, technology, and culture into the country. Of course, this input took culture as a missionary tool.

In the second brilliance, Christian believers and pastors were not cultured at all, but they remained religious. After all previous movements, folk religion and culture were relatively poor, and people needed Christianity to provide salvation and entertainment.

Although there are many differences between the two glorious stages, for example, the educational level of pastors, they have something in common, that is, they are relatively vain. Especially this time, the performance of Christianity in the past 30 years was even more so.

The reason for describing them as vain is because they had a pleasing external appearance, but they had no substantial inner quality. In the development of Christianity in the past three decades, they have spent much money and energy contributing, not to the internal improvement, but to the massive eternal appearance.

The “massiveness” that the Christian church pays attention to includes “large” church buildings, “famous” ministers, “big influence” and “multitude” believers.

What is a “big” church? The “church” here generally refers to the meeting place. Obviously, this not only refers to the floor area and building area of the church but also includes whether the decoration of the church is luxurious and whether the height of the cross overshadows the surrounding buildings. It doesn’t necessarily matter how many people can be seated in such a big building.

The “fame” of “famous” ministers obviously refers to their great reputation. In the past 30 years, there have been many famous pastors, who often have had brilliant academic backgrounds, brilliant ministry resumes, and write many books. However, in order to become a “big” pastor, some people do not hesitate to falsify their resumes. For example, some people say that they are private pastors of a high-ranking official or mayor, and even some pastors specialize in baptizing professors or associate professors to then use as something to boast about.

Although in the past 30 years, Christianity has made great progress in the number of believers, the social influence of Christianity has not changed accordingly. Therefore, we can see that the “big” influence that the church often pursues now is obviously not social influence, but the influence in the church circle. The great influence in the church circle will not spill over into society.

The size of the church, the reputation of the minister and the influence of the church circle are the criteria to evaluate whether a church is a “big” church.

However, behind this “bigness”, there is no corresponding social influence or its own cultural foundation.

Yet, under the sudden strike of the pandemic, the appearance of “bigness” suddenly declined. Generally speaking, the economic downturn, the changes in the international environment, especially the spillover effects brought about by the American election. All these elements indirectly led to the church losing its economic foundation, and obviously, it did not have the ability to create its “greatness”.

The real development of the gospel is not superficial effort, but inner growth. Christianity in Europe, which has experienced two thousand years of ups and downs, is still the mainstream belief in Europe. Just because of their solid cultural and social foundation, the enlightenment that they experienced was just a religious rectification movement, which hit the vanity of religion and made the belief culture gain more room.

After the decline of Christianity’s vanity, is it possible that the future development of Christianity is still a flashy mode of pursuing “grandeur”? We can only hope for the rise of a new generation of believers.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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