In recent years, the registration of house churches with the Chinese authorities and their going public have become a topic of discussion that deeply concerns the churches in mainland and in the overseas Chinese Christian communities.
Last month, Minorities Development Research Institute, a branch of the China State Council's Research and Development Centre, and the Beijing Pacific Solutions Social Science Research Institute co-hosted the “Christianity and Harmonious Society Seminar – Chinese House Church Symposium” in Beijing, which stirred widespread attention since it is the first time that the Chinese government held a symposium on the Protestant house churches in China.
What kind of role does this meeting have on the process of the house churches going public? How will the house churches face and respond to the various problems of going public? Several days ago, Chengdu Qiuyu Church in mainland posted an article titled “Luke Lam: Briefly Speaking on the Perspectives of House Churches Going Public” on their blog.
Early this year in September, Qiuyu Church filed an indictment of administrative proceeding to the Shuangliu County court in China in protest of the local religious bureau’s unwarranted interruption and forceful investigation of their Bible-study and prayer event under the suspicion of conducting illegal proselytizing.
While this case is the first house church’s lawsuit against the religious bureau, it reveals the Qiuyu Church’s sincerity towards the rights of the house churches. In another words, Qiuyu Church can be considered as one of the forerunners of mainland house churches’ development.
Lam stated in his article his evaluation of the unprecedented symposium held last month.
He said that in reality this symposium did not produce that much effect in making a breakthrough in the aspect of rules and regulations of house churches going public, but this symposium did added growing influence of the house churches in the public square.
The author analyzed that from looking at the current size and growth of the house churches, in particular the new form of city churches, one can see the trend of house churches’ influence in public arenas. Even if this symposium did not have too much actual contents of progress, the effects towards the society and the Christians sphere of influence should not be underestimated. In addition, the government will have taken notice of its influence and effects.
Although this meting is only a small step in going public, said Lam, we need to more critically estimate the speed at which the house churches go public. We can’t be overly optimistic.
However, this small starting point is also the results of previous fermentations: Chinese Academy of Social Sciences published Professor Jian rong’s article titled “Development of Christianity and China’s Social Stability – and Dialogue with Two Protestant House Church Trainers” in April of 2008; Beijing University hosted the “Religion in China and Society’s Summit Forum and Fifth Religious Social Science International Seminar.”
Following these two events, the house church symposium reveals the progress of house churches’ going public is on the right track.
Furthermore, the author reminded in his article that for the house churches to go public is one of the generational trends; if we do not show our concern and is not alert then this opportunity will just pass by once it reaches the end of the wave. Therefore, we must think about the problems and response that will arise in the process of going public.
Addressing this concern, the author brought up three points: protect against powers of secularization and modern thoughts, perfection of church policies and framework, and preparation for the church to endure a revival.
First, the things that should be guarded against are the power of becoming secularized and various modern trends of thoughts.
The power of wealth and possession is more capable of destroying a church. If going public becoming a reality, then the churches will naturally face attacks by Satan in this aspect. Many historical examples illustrate this point as the degree of secularization of Christianity after it became Roman Empire’s national religion in early church history.
In addition, there are challenges posed by various scholastic trends of thoughts, such as the recent rapidly growing new Confucius school of thoughts, liberal theologies that incessantly harms the church in history, post-modern ideals, and so forth.
For many years, evangelicals have placed their emphasis on personal religious encounter, proclamation of the gospel, and church growth, but have ignored the development of theological critical-thinking, apologetics and criticisms and reconstruction of culture, and are lacking in understanding towards these trends of thought.
Addressing the response towards these trends of thoughts, Lam said that we cannot simply judge these schools of thoughts according to the effects produced by its theories and doctrines, but must judge according to their entire system. Therefore, the areas worthy of deep considerations for the churches and Christian scholars are how to stand firm, how to respond powerfully and effectively on the podium of this generation, how to avoid falling into the humanism expressed through religious jargons when pastoring, and how to effectively form a contextualized theology.
Moreover, rather than waiting to respond when after the discovery of a spiritual hole, the author emphasized on the importance of being active to initiate the response.
Second, the perfection of church policies and framework is required for the development of churches going public.
In their development history, mainland house churches undergone three major development stages: underground proselytizing, group house churches, churches in newly developed areas. In recent years, city churches that consisted mainly of white collars and intellectuals have become the forerunners of house churches’ development.
Analyzing the special traits of these new type of city churches, one can discover the emphasis of these churches on the establishment of theological foundation, where they will have written church contacts of faith or doctrine and a clear theological stance; in the aspect of structure, the church will have a written church bylaw that outlines the roles of pastors, elders, deacons, and members, and for the official members of the church there are written church rules and restrictions, which expresses the values of the church.
Lam said the reason that these new forms of city churches can be the leading forces for the churches to go public is related to their structure. Therefore, framework development becomes a challenge for many house churches that are used to gather in small groups, but only when the framework is perfected can the church endure greater blessings from God.
Third, churches must be prepared to receive a revival.
The positive results of churches to go public is church growth upon receiving religious freedom, but this requires the church to be able to withstand a revival. As a result, churches must be prepared in every aspects.
The author pointed out one point and that is the churches should prepare on missions, conquering the Canaan land that God has promised. The house church members are all very passionate when it comes to spreading the gospel, but they must learn a lot when it comes to the establishment of mission department in the church, church-planting, pasturing the church, and even on the knowledge of doing cross-cultural missions.
[Editor's note: reporter Ruth Wong contributed to this report.]