by Bao Jiayuan
Rev. Bao Jiayuan is Associate General Secretary of the China Christian Council and Director of the office located in Nanjing, China. He graduated from Nanjing Union Theological Seminary in 1966. Unable to work as a minister during the Cultural Revolution, he was sent to work in the countryside for many years. He was finally ordained in 1988.
This paper was presented at the Conference on World Mission and the Role of Korean Churches, held during November 1995 in Seoul, Korea.
China, as a whole, is now in a rapid transition towards the outside world. The Chinese church observes and adheres to the three-self principle, but this in no way implies self-isolation. A self-isolated church would lack vitality because a member separating itself from the body could not survive and grow alone. Only in the context of fellowship with the Church universal can selfhood be meaningful.
Dear Chairman, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ,
I feel privileged to be invited with the Rev. Wu Ai-en to attend this meeting. First of all I would like to apologize for my late arrival due to problems in obtaining a visa . I would particularly like to thank the chairman for giving me this time to speak.
I recently came back from the southwest part of China after a visit there with an FCC (Friends of Churches in China) delegation from the United Kingdom. That was a group of 13 among whom some were descendants of the former missionaries who arrived around the early 1900s and worked for decades in those areas. We visited towns and villages which were open to foreign visitors for the first time since the departure of the missionaries in the 1950s.
The intention of our visit was of course not to reopen a mission field but to trace and evaluate the history of missionary work. We visited one of the villages named Shi Men Kan (Stone Gate) which used to be the Methodist mission centre. The first missionary called the Rev. Paulard started his work by opening dozens of hospitals and schools. In a short time the church attracted and converted over 80,000 members from the nearby minority tribes. The Rev. Paulard helped to invent the Miao minority scripts which contributed to promoting the formation of Miao culture and to developing the modern civilization for the local people. He died and was buried there. Unfortunately his grave was broken down during the Cultural Revolution and the missionary houses were long left neglected.
Something had miraculously happened shortly before our revisit. The village had renovated the old missionary residence. Not far from it a new school building was set up for educational programmes. With help from the local government, the grave was restored with a monument erected in front of it as recognition of Rev. Paulard's merits and contribution to the village. There is no church in that village now. But we were told that there are some Christians who remain meeting in homes. On the way back I could not refrain myself from thinking: If I had been a country boy there, probably I could have heard lots of missionary stories from my parents who had witnessed the changes of history. And now all of a sudden the "foreign devils" come back again! The villagers, young and old, men and women, all came out to welcome the strangers and even widened the rough way for their van. I was very much puzzled and confused to see all the changes.
The story I have illustrated here tells you two things. One is that China, as a whole, is now in a rapid transition towards the outside world, experiencing great changes in every walk of life. The other is that along with the passage of history the good deeds done by missionaries could not be forgotten and will be appreciated by the people who benefited.
After the liberation in 1949, the Chinese Church cut off all ties with the missionaries from 121 foreign missionary societies which were of 70 or so different denominations, and launched the Three-Self movement (self-administration, self-support and self-propagation) in an attempt to live down the foreign image of the Chinese Church and to achieve a Chinese selfhood which proved practical for our church survival and growth in the following years. We believe that there's a time for missionary activity and there is a time when it is no longer appropriate. In the late 1950s the Chinese Church entered a unique period of post-denominationism which strengthened the fellowship of Christians from all over China so enabling us to go through the trial of fire during the Cultural Revolution
The Church has been reviving again since 1980. As of now there are over 9,000 churches and 20-30,000 simple religious venues or homes accessible to all Christian believers throughout the country. At present, every 2 days, two to three new churches are opened. The number of Christians, estimated at 8-10 million, is about 10 times more than that of believers before 1949. For quite a number of years our church has been growing in a situation without any help from missionaries abroad.
The China Christian Council, which was formed in 1980 as the organizational expression of the emphasis for the Church to govern itself well, support itself well, and do its work of Christian propagation well, has opened 13 seminaries for the training of ministers. About 800 graduates are entering mission fields each year to serve the grassroots churches. The Council publishes and distributes over 2.5 million Bibles every year to Christians, wherever they meet. Ten different commissions have been established under the national CCC to assist and serve the ministries of the Church.
The Church is an evangelizing church. We are working hard for Christ's sake to spread the good news of God's mission. To fulfll the Lord's mission worldwide, we must understand that we live in different social, political, historical and cultural contexts in and through which God acts and speaks to us, though we live on the same globe. Each church must carefully listen to and follow up on the truth of Eternity, and the Gospel should be expressed in a very flexible way for evangelism.
Our church, as you know, observes and adheres to the three-self principle, but this in no way implies self-isolation. We understand that a self-isolated church would lack vitality because a member separating itself from the body could not survive and grow alone. Only in the context of fellowship with the Church universal can selfhood be meaningful. The same way, only based on the assumption of the independence of each member can inter- dependence among churches be discussed.
Quite a number of churches have come to recognize and respect the essence of the three-self principle. We are grateful for their understanding and support and what is more, for a new type of working relationship---true partnership which has replaced the partnerlistic concept of missiology.
During the last ten years or more we have received kind offers from many churches. The love in each offer brings us immense joy, making us feel that we are immersed in an ocean of love. In the meantime, we have to remind ourselves constantly not to be drowned.
Unfortunately we have heard from our churches in the northeast provinces complaining that in the past couple of years many conservative south Korean Christian workers, often with a large amount of foreign currency, have been trying to apply their church-development methods to the churches in Manchuria. Those workers believe that in this way they can also enhance the growth of ethnic Chinese congregations. However, they forget that those Korean Christians in China are Chinese Koreans whose identity is not entirely the same as that of those Koreans in Korea. Their differences in identity have been shaped and re shaped by different social, political, historical and cultural contexts. Some Christian workers are even heretical or to help set up a base for working behind the scenes. But because they have very little information about the Chinese churches, those Korean Christians cannot understand the mission work of Chinese Christians within their own society. Various kinds of Christian denominations and sectarian groups are looking into China openly or secretly to seek to convert the Chinese to their particular Christian faith. As a result, the Church is threatened by the revival of denomination- alism, which not only adds to the confusion of many uneducated Christians but also causes division among educated Christians.
The Chinese Church is willing to be related to any overseas church or church organization which respects our three-self principle and treats us on an equal footing for the purpose of strengthening bonds between Chinese Christians and Christians abroad. The guiding principle for cooperation offered by foreign churches and Christian organizations is that projects should be open and above board and meet the needs of the target people. They should also fit our agenda. Thus, the partnership will benefit both of us spiritually, theologically and financially.
We are seeking a true partnership--a partnership for God's mission in Christ's image to proclaim the good news of love, justice and reconciliation; not the type of partnership from the outdated pattern of mission which plagued and blinded the Chinese Church for over a century.
When Dr. George Carry, the Archbishop of Canterbury, visited last year at Nanjing seminary, he remarked that evangelism in today's world should be responsible evangelism, which assumes an understanding of the culture in which it is set. But it does not mean to go everywhere just simply repeating what one has heard elsewhere. What might work in North America may not work here, and what is authentic to Britain may not be true to China. Responsible evangelism will observe and understand what is happening in a society with the eyes and mind of Christ.
Mission to the whole world is a difficult task, but let us not be too daunted by this. Mission success is our Lord's work, and we are called and required to be faithful to His leadership. Let us enhance our true partnership in God's mission and further promote mutual sharing with Korean Christians.