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The Future of the Church in China: Why China’s House Churches will Prevail

The House Churches

Perhaps the clearest indicator that the TSPM churches and the house churches reflect significantly different theological orientations is their approach to evangelism and missions. The house churches live and breathe missions.

In 2010 a Chinese house church leader, Brother Zhang, spoke in the chapel of an “underground” Bible school affiliated with the house church movement. After an inspiring service, he met personally with Sister Ma, a Christian from a Muslim family and people group. Sister Ma explained that she felt called to take the gospel to her people. I still remember Brother Zhang’s words of exhortation. He said there are “three fears” that you must overcome if you want to share the gospel with your people. First, don’t be afraid of “poor living conditions.” Second, don’t be afraid of “difficult work” (that is, ministering among unresponsive people). Finally, don’t be afraid of “going to prison.” If you overcome these fears, the Lord will use you in a powerful way. Sister Ma was encouraged by these sobering words.

This attitude of total abandonment to the purposes of God and His mission is also reflected in the songs that flow from and permeate the worship of the house church movement.

This attitude of total abandonment to the purposes of God and His mission is also reflected in the songs that flow from and permeate the worship of the house church movement. I have included below my English translations of two songs found in Lu Xiaomin’s collection entitled, Sounds of the Heart. Lu Xiaomin and her songs are known and loved by house church groups throughout China. I asked one Chinese friend how many believers knew about these songs. He exclaimed, “All the house churches sing them!” Sounds of the Heart is an updated and expanded version of Songs of Canaan, Lu Xiaomin’s previous and hugely popular songbook. Sounds of the Heart contains 900 songs and is the closest thing to an “official” songbook that exists in the house churches in China today. In view of their popularity and impact, the songs penned by Lu Xiaomin are an important insight into Chinese Christianity. I have found them to be quite different from most Christian songs in the West, but powerful and full of inspiration. They are also intensely missional. I believe the following songs capture well the ethos of the house church movement.

 

We Do Not Fear Strong Wind and Rain

We do not fear strong wind and rain

For the one with us is Jehovah

We do not fear strong wind and rain

For the one with us is greater than ten thousand

We will not cast our nets in the narrow, shallow stream

Nor will we cast our nets in the tranquil lake

Small trees survive violent winds and savage rain

They grow into tall trees that reach to heaven.[6]

 

We are an Invisible Army

We are an invisible army

We are evangelists without names

If God helps us, who can stand against us?

‘Charge forward’ is our battle cry

The blood of martyrs spilled over thousands of years,

Cries out to those of us who follow

The throng of saints over thousands of years,

In ragged clothes, drifting, yet not discouraged

On the battlefield these soldiers were tested

In strong winds and waves these helmsmen were tried

In these last days we will face even greater trials

So we constantly ask the Lord for His guidance.[7]

By way of contrast, I have yet to see TSPM leaders at a high level openly talk about missions; that is, taking the gospel to other people in other cultural groups or nations. I have heard, however, many stories of how TSPM pastors who are too active or aggressive in reaching out to other communities are reprimanded and punished. Can a church that does not view missions (proclaiming the gospel to those who are not Christians, especially those who have not heard) as a central part of its purpose really be considered the church? Does it have a future?

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2017

About the Author: Robert P. Menzies, PhD (University of Aberdeen, Scotland), has lived and served in China for over twenty years. Robert is currently the Director of Synergy, a rural service organization located in Kunming, China. He is editor at the Asian Center for Pentecostal Theology and the author of Speaking in Tongues: Jesus and the Apostolic Church as Models for the Church Today (CPT Press, 2016), Pentecost: This Story is Our Story (Gospel Publishing House, 2013), Making Pentecost Your Story: 50 Days of Reflection and Prayer (Xanesti Creative Solutions, 2015), Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience (Zondervan, 2011), The Language of the Spirit: Interpreting and Translating Charismatic Terms (CPT Press, 2010), Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (Sheffield, 1995), and co-editor of Pentecostalism in Context: Essays in Honor of William W. Menzies (Wipf & Stock, 2008), and The Spirit and Spirituality: Essays in Honor of Russell P. Spittler (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2004).

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