by Richard R. Cook
An exploration of some of the partnerships that already exist between churches inside and outside China, and an examination of how partnership between China and the West can be further intensified.
The electricity of concerted prayer for mainland China charges the campus at least three times a week. Chinese and non-Chinese students and faculty kneel in unity in the chapel at Tao Sheng Theological Seminary in Taiwan to pray for the church in China. The most earnest, the most heart-wrenching, the most heart-warming prayers are those offered in tears by the Chinese students and faculty who long for their compatriots (“tungbao”) on the mainland.
Although a Westerner, as a faculty member at Tao Sheng Theological Seminary I had the opportunity to join these Chinese Christians. The lavish blessing of uniting with Chinese co-workers to reach mainland China is a blessing I must share with others. Partnership, however, is not just a blessing. It is mandatory. This article will explore some of the partnerships that already exist between churches inside and outside China, and it will examine how partnership between China and the West can be further intensified.
Missions to China must appraise two windows of opportunity. The first window is opening, while the second is closing. The “golden age” of missions to China, as phrased by Chinese church historian Jonathan Chao, may well be the critical five- to 10-year period while both windows are partially open. The church and missions must be prepared to make a limber vault through these two windows while they are both, fleetingly, open. The first window, which is opening wider, is the window of external opportunities; that is, opportunities of access to China as she liberalizes both economically and politically.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as indicated by changes in personnel instituted by Deng Xiaoping at the 14th Party Congress in October, 1992, and the Eighth National People’s Congress in March, 1993, is preoccupied with three aspects of the future of China and the Communist Party: unity, stability, and prosperity. Deng has performed a delicate balancing act, compromising to various factions in the CCP, to guarantee Party unity over the next five years. Deng sees Party unity as essential to stability, and stability as vital to continued prosperity. Thus, parity has been attempted between the liberal forces of political openness and radical reform, and the conservative forces resisting democratic reforms.1 Opportunities for Westerners to enter China will expand as China, in an attempt to modernize, cooperates with the Western world.2
However, as the Chinese econ-omy surges, a number of factors that contributed to phenomenal church growth in the last 20-30 years will evaporate. The second window, the “internal” window of opportunity which is the unprecedented openness of the Chinese heart to the gospel, seems to be closing. Those with access to China, such as the Chinese co-workers with China Ministries International, indicate that television and other modern “wonders” are enveloping China (and the Chinese church) in Western-style materialism.
Further evidence of the danger of material prosperity on the Chinese church is provided by Taiwan. A period of revival and church growth coincided with the turmoil of the Chinese Revolution in the 1940s, but along with the economic “miracle” of the l970s and 1980s, the church stagnated.3 In mainland China the “internal” window of opportunity evidently is closing in correlation with material prosperity and the opening of the “external” window, leaving only a five- to 10-year period of maximum missionary effectiveness in China. Missions to China must now grasp the limited opportunities to enter China and spread the gospel during this “golden age” when hearts are still open.
MAXIMIZING THE OPPORTUNITY: PARTNERSHIP
The church in China is established and thriving. It is vibrant with growth and blessed with an abundance of gifted leaders. Now is not the time for Western missionaries to bolt into China with no cultural or linguistic training, bound to repeat the errors of the past. AsWilliamTaylor noted, “The history of missions records too many solo operators, micro-kingdom builders whowent out to do a work for God.”4 Now is the time for Western missionaries, with a keen sense of urgency, to judiciously prepare for partnership with the existing Chinese church for maximum effectiveness.
OVERSEAS CHINESE IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE CHINESE CHURCH
Overseas Chinese are now on the cutting edge of missionary strategy to mainland China. Chinese missions organizations, such as China Ministries International (CMI), can establish informal and confidential affiliations with China’s flourishing house churches. For example, CMI endeavors to learn from and work with the grassroots theological education programs being developed by the house churches in China. One of the strongest networks of churches is in Henan Province, and the several thousand churches that work in cooperation are known simply as the “Henan System.”
In response to the vast leadership needs caused by revival and extraordinary church growth, Henan has developed an ingenious structure for theological education, based on the grassroots training of lay workers and new church workers. New workers are given basic training in their “Seminaries of the Field” lasting three months, and they are then sent out for pioneer church planting. These graduates gather prospective converts and enroll them in a three-day evangelistic retreat, called a “Life Meeting (Shengming Hui).”5 Seminaries developed by CMI (Chinese Mission Seminary in Hong Kong and Tao Sheng Theological Seminary in Taipei) were devised to work with Henan’s system.
In March, 1993, Jonathan Chao, founder and president of CMI, speaking at a CMI strategic planning conference in Taiwan, presented an update on the prevailing situation of theological education developed in Henan. He indicated that many of the Chinese workers, after receiving the three month “basic” training, had also completed two years of field work, which usually means they have planted several churches and established a “Seminary of the Field” offering basic training in their area. Many students had also completed six months of “intermediate” training, after which they returned to supervise their field or train more workers.
After two more years, a number of these key leaders now desire a more intensive “advanced” training, which will prepare them to teach the “intermediate” level. The faculty for the proposed “advanced” training will largely be drawn from CMI senior staff and teachers associated with CMI. The training will include such basic seminary courses as Bible Survey and Introduction, Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Church History, and Chinese Church History—each course offered intensively, consisting of 50-60 class hours.6
Several weeks after Chao’s presentation, Peter Chow, academic dean at Tao Sheng Theological Seminary, offered an insightful summary of Chao’s contribution. In a talk to Tao Sheng students intended to clarify the goals and distinctives of theological education at Tao Sheng, Chow also proposed how Tao Sheng could further work with China’s grassroots theological education. He underscored that Tao Sheng’s first year of training (which emphasizes spiritual formation, basic Bible content, and practical field experience, including weekend participation in church planting teams, a three-week evangelistic expedition in rural Taiwan, and a three-week journey visiting the house churches in mainland China) is in harmony with the training in China; that is, it is broadly similar to China’s “basic” training.
Chow likened “basic” training (or Tao Sheng’s first year) to learning to play the piano. He observed that piano can be learned either formally or informally; formal training requires extensive time commitments to build a sparse repertoire, while informal training in the fundamentals and regular stroking of the keys along with a good ear may allow gifted people to performextemporaneouslyin a short time. Training in China follows the second model, thoroughly teaching the gospel to the students and requiring them to preach that gospel message many times before they return to classand learn formal systematic theology or church history. After two years of church-planting experience, students are exhausted and eager to continue theological training in the “intermediate” level.
“Intermediate” training, Chow asserted, is roughly equivalent to Tao Sheng’s second year of training, leading to Tao Sheng’s Master of Missions degree. Further training in China, the “advanced” levels, would be equivalent to Tao Sheng’s third and fourth years leading to the Master of Divinity degree. He emphasized that in a church exploding with growth, traditional methods of theological education are too sluggish. The church in China demands brisk, vigorous, and pragmatic training methods for emerging church leaders.7
Maximum missions effectiveness is the goal of Chinese church leaders outside of China. These Chinese leaders have access to the house churches in China, and they are developing creative cooperative strategies to build mutual respect between the churches inside and outside China, integrating the strengths of both churches.
WESTERN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE CHINESE CHURCHES
China’s situation is urgent. A massive missions enterprise must be launched during this critical time. Links of cooperation must be developed between the mature Chinese ministries already serving in China and Western missions.
Unfortunately, some current literature on missions perpetuates Western paternalism and impedes the formation of true partnership. Perhaps a better word might be globalization. “Globalization,” according to R. Paul Stevens, academic dean at Regent College, “is the partnership of churches in the developed world with those in the developing world, involving mutual learning and interdependence whereby the rich cultural and spiritual contribution of each can be appropriated by the other. Paul’s vision of the interdependence of Jewish and Gentile believers is a useful paradigm” (2 Cor. 8:13-15; Rom. 15:25-29).8
In China ministry, where Western missions have been largely excluded during 40 years of unprecedented growth, the need for Westerners to learn from the mature and experienced Chinese leadership is acute. One of the gravest dangers facing the Chinese church is the likelihood that China will open to the West and be inundated by zealous but ill-equipped Western missionaries. Oblivious to Chinese culture, language, and Chinese church history, these Western missionaries will be inclined to seek their own glory by carving out spheres of missions and church influence, rather than partnering with the existing, maturing church. A strategy must be developed and implemented to prepare the Western church for partnership with the Chinese church.
CHINESE STUDY PROGRAM
China Ministries International is developing such a strategy. CMI, as a uniquely indigenous interdenominational evangelical missions agency, was founded in 1978 as the Chinese Church Research Center in Hong Kong under Jonathan Chao. CMI has developed a multifaceted international organization, focused on evangelizing China and building the Chinese church, involved in research, publishing, radio ministry, theological education, and direct China ministry. Students involved in the Chinese studies program will have access to the many resources of CMI’s expanding ministry.
CMI realizes that, as Paul Hiebert of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School said, “The future of missions is based in the formation of international networks rather than multinational organizations. Networks build up people, not programs; they stress partnership and servanthood, not hierarchy.”9
The centerpiece is the faculty of prominent, creative Chinese church leaders and scholars. The program will also offer a distinctive, innovative curriculum, and thetraining is allat a new and thriving theological seminary in Taipei, Taiwan.
Partnership is already being established between the Chinese churches inside and outside of China. The Chinese studies program will draw on the expertise of these seasoned Chinese scholars and church leaders.
The faculty will include Jonathan Chao, founder and director of CMI, who holds a Ph.D. in Oriental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania; Steven Chen, who holds a Th.M. and a D.Miss. from Fuller Theological Seminary and is president of Tao Sheng Theological Seminary; Peter Kung-ho Chow, academic dean at Tao Sheng, who holds a Th.M. from Westminster and a Ph.D. from Temple University; Beng-Kuan Mak, who holds a Th.M. from Regent College, Vancouver, in addition to an M.A. in Chinese Literature from Chinese University of Hong Kong; and Ronald Yu, who is currently vice-president of Chinese Mission Seminary.
In addition to the faculty mentioned, the program will draw on the combined faculties of Tao Sheng and Chinese Mission Seminary, which boasts over a dozen predominantly Chinese faculty members. The program also expects to attract a wide variety of Western and Chinese church and missions leaders from various organizations and academic institutions, such as the annual lecture series already sponsored by Tao Sheng and CMS on spiritual theology presented by Regent College professors James Houston and Edwin Hui.
William Taylor, director of the Missions Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship, points out that for integrated missionary training a trainee must in some fashion cover personal spiritual disciplines, local church ministries, biblical and theological studies (formal and nonformal), cross-cultural studies (formal and nonformal), pre-field training by the mission agency, and on-field career training.10
Of these six critical areas, the Chinese studies program strives to offer intensive grounding within the Chinese context in three: personal disciplines, cross-cultural studies, and on-field equipping.11 The program also seeks to offer a comprehensive approach, maintaining a balance among the three modes of formal, non-formal and informal training.l2
Formal training. Formal classroom training will take place Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during three 11-week quarters. The M.A. degree will require two years to complete. Students will be required to enter the program with two years of Mandarin training in college (or students can take about one year of intensive training in Taiwan or China and reach the equivalent level). The Chinese study program will then offer two years of Mandarin training—intermediate and advanced—including such topics as Christian Writings, Newspaper Chinese, Readings in Modern Chinese Literature, and Readings in Classical Literature.
Because of the demanding schedule maintained by the faculty of the program, content courses will all be offered in two-week modules. Each quarter will contain about three two-week modules, with History and Culture Courses, such as History of Chinese Culture I (Ancient Period), II (Medieval Period), III (Modern Period), History of Christianity in China I (635-1911), II (1912-1919), III (1949-1990s), and courses on contemporary China such as Political Movements and Institutions, Social and Economic Developments, Chinese Traditional Religions, and Chinese Folk Religions. Missions and Spirituality courses will include Cross-cultural Anthropology, Cross-cultural Missions in the Chinese Context, Seminar on Missions Among the Chinese in the 21st Century, Prayer and Meditation, Discipleship, History of Spirituality, and Seminar on Spirituality in the Chinese Context.
Nonformal training. However, the strength of the Chinese studies program probably does not reside in the course work. A central facet is field education. In an attempt to avoid churchless missions and missionless churches, the program will assign eachstudent to achurch-planting team, working in cooperation with Tao Sheng students. Serving each weekend with their teams, students may be involved in evangelism, visitation, discipleship training, leading evangelistic Bible studies, or teaching evangelistic English classes. Missions efforts will not be isolated from the local churches.
Field education will also include at least two short-term projects. Thefirst is a missions trip, as part of an evangelistic team, again in cooperation with Tao Sheng, to rural Taiwan. The second is a “vision trip” to mainland China. With help from the Chinese staff of China Ministries International, students will meet house church leaders and visit Three Self registered churches.13
Informal training. Informal training will focus at two points. The first will be at Tao Sheng Theological Seminary, where students will be required to participate in regular campus activities, such as daily morning prayer meetings, weekly all-campus prayer meetings, monthly CMI prayer meetings for mainland China, weekly chapel, and weekly campus cleanup. All these settings will give students ample access to Tao Sheng students, where informal language and cultural training will transpire.
In-depth interaction with the culture will also take place where the students live. Single students will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Chinese culture and language, as they will live with Chinese families in the area. Married students will live in Tao Sheng family housing, or in area apartments.14 Cultural informers and teachers at Tao Sheng and at home are integral aspects of the informal training.
The program will be offered in Taipei, Taiwan. Tao Sheng Theological Seminary is located in Peitou, a northern suburb of Taipei. Prevalent throughout the city is the traditional religious culture, with thousands of temples, large and small.
Although the cultural offerings alone would make Taiwan an ideal location for the Chinese studies program, the irresistible attraction is its unique linguistic and cultural ties with China, and its tantalizing proximity to mainland China. These factors make Taiwan possibly the ideal training field for China ministries, as well as a strategic launching zone for ministries into China.15 The program will endeavor to take full advantage of Taiwan’s cultural abundance, and it will encourage students to travel to neighboring China.
TAO SHENG THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Tao Sheng Theological Seminary is an evangelical missions training center and graduate level theological seminary. Launched in 1987, Tao Sheng, now under the leadership of Steven Chen, already has over 40 full-time students and over 10 full-time faculty members. Tao Sheng offers a one-year Certificate in Missions, a two-year Master in Missions, and a four-year program leading to a Master of Divinity. The seminary maintains various distinctives (such as preparation in prayer and spiritual development, instruction in Chinese culture and Chinese church history, and practical experience in church planting in Taiwan and mission trips to the house churches in mainland China), all centering on the vision to train native Chinese speakers to prepare for ministry in mainland China.
Students will participate with Tao Sheng students and faculty on church-planting teams in the Taipei area, rural evangelistic teams, and will hear first-hand testimonies and house church reports from Tao Sheng students and faculty returning from mainland China. Advanced Mandarin students in the program will be encouraged to test their language competence in Tao Sheng classes; they will be encouraged particularly to join in the spiritual formation classes and the Chinese culture and history classes.16 Students will reap generous returns through the setting in Taiwan and contact with Tao Sheng students.
The political situation in China is always evolving, and the church is vast andcomplex.Westerners must work in partnership with the mature Chinese missions to take advantage of the ripe harvest field and to maximize missions effectiveness. The opportunity available for the gospel to enter and vastly influence China today is unique in 5,000 years of Chinese history. We must prepare to act now, before the window of opportunity, the “Golden Age” of Chinese missions history, slams shut.
1. “Leadership Changes and Trends at the 14th Party Congress and Eighth NPC,” ChinaNews and Church Report, May 21, 1993.
2. Many Christians have already entered China as professionals, Chinese language students, English teachers, etc. For more creative missions ideas see V. David Garrison, The Nonresidential Missionary (Monrovia, Calif.: MARC, 1990).
3. See Patrick Johnstone, Operation World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), pp. 170-172.
4. William David Taylor, “The Challenge of Interdependent Cooperation: Building Bridges and Developing Networks,” Internationalizing Missionary Training (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), p. 267.
5. See Joshua Hao, “China’s Revival Meetings and Tears: An Analysis of ‘Shengming Hui,’” China Prayer Letter: No. 125, March, 1993, pp. l-3 .
6. This material has yet to be published. This type of up-to-the-minute intelligence is only accessible to the active Chinese workers who are involved on the field in China.
7. Again, the material is not yet published; I possess only a hand-scribbled (in Chinese) photocopy of Dr. Chow’s original lecture notes.
8. R. Paul Stevens, “Marketing the Faith—A Reflection on the Importing and Exporting of Western Theological Education,” Crux, Vol. 28, No. 2., June 1992, p. 7.
9. Paul Hiebert, quoted in Haggai News, March-April, 1983. Cited by Larry E. Keyes, Partners in the Gospel (Wheaton, Ill.: Billy Graham Center, 1991), p. xii.
10. William David Taylor, “Introduction: Setting the Stage,” Internationalizing Missionary Training (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), p. 3.
11. Students will be required to submit a recommendation from a local church to be admitted to the program. Students will need to receive theological training either at home or in a seminary in Hong Kong or Taiwan. Students with highly advanced Mandarin may consider theological studies at Chinese Mission Seminary in Hong Kong or Tao Sheng Theological Seminary in Taiwan.
12. For a discussion of these three types of training, see William David Taylor, “Introduction: Setting the Stage,” Internationalizing Missionary Training (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), pp.6-9.
l3. Ethnic Chinese are encouraged to join the program. They are likely to make separate trips into China, allowing them to see the underground house churches.
14. As housing is expensive, as many students as possible will be placed with Chinese families. CSP-arranged housing cannot be guaranteed, and will be offered only as available. However, housing arrangements in the area can always be made.
15. Since the 1950s, most China ministries have located in Hong Kong, but because Cantonese is the primary language and the political future (after 1997) is uncertain, a number of ministries are appraising the situation in Taiwan. Taiwan is continually opening communication with the mainland, leading many experts to predict there will soon be direct air links between Taiwan and China.
l6. Last year I had the opportunity to audit the course “The History of Christianity in China: 1949-Present,” taught by Jonathan Chao. I had the rare fortune to labor with a class of Chinese students poring over a number of the critical documents that established Chinese Communist Party political and religious policy. For instance, one day Dr. Chao put on the overhead projector a ragged photocopy of the June 6, 1966, People’s Daily article indicating the start of the Cultural Revolution; the next day we scrutinized the infamous 1982 Document 19, which lays out the still prevailing CCP policy toward religion. (Of course, all in simplified Chinese script.)
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