Having read my book review of ‘Knowing our Times’, an individual picked up on the comment, ‘John contrasts this with the phenomenal growth of the gospel around the world in places such as China’. What follows is part II of a guest post by an individual based in that country. You can read part I here.
Being a Confucian culture with a humble outward mindset, most people would agree that they are not perfect; they think everyone makes mistakes. However, they also believe that mistakes should simply be overlooked and forgiven. They tend to believe actions should be seen in the round and set against the good things they have done. It’s typically about saving ‘face’ and believing, deep down, people are really good – as the ancient book The Three Character Classic states, ‘Men at their birth are naturally good’. Set against the Reformed doctrine of total depravity, this is a massive barrier for people to overcome (Although, through a work of the Holy Spirit, some obviously do).
The other aspect of the Confucian heritage is that people are extremely focused on self-improvement. As such, there is a stereotype of the Chinese being a very studious people with a thirst for knowledge which rings entirely true. Nonetheless, we must remember that wanting to know more about the gospel does not equate to belief in it.
If you ask the average man on the street here what they think about faith, they will say having a faith is good. They think that it gives you a reference point for how to live your life and curbs man’s worst excesses. However, when you dig a little deeper it becomes apparent that this faith could literally be anything. The object of that faith is less important to them than the fact that it ‘teaches you to do good’ and ‘helps uphold traditional morals’. Therefore, over the past 30 years, not just Christianity, but all religions which encourage people to follow a moral path have grown rapidly.
The Evangelical Church environment in China is really set against this backdrop. Given this, it should come as little surprise that people with such attitudes find their way into churches. It goes some of the way to explaining why churches generally – especially state-registered churches – are bursting at the seams. Most have 3 or 4 services on a Sunday each of which is full, with many people even standing at the back.
In my final two posts, I will share some vignettes of people I have encountered. Each would call themselves believers yet ended up in different places. Some may be saved, some may not meet the biblical criterion for being born again. As I was growing up, I read books of testimonies detailing how people came to faith in China that were greatly encouraging. The stories I will share are rather more like anti-testimonies, reminding us how hard gospel work is even when you have a supposedly receptive audience. Further, I hope they will act as a call to realism and might cause us to recommit ourselves to prayer, which I believe is the main way God will raise up people to change our current situation.
I hope it will help to inform you on how best to engage Chinese people you may meet. If you meet people from the country, I would encourage you to dig beneath the surface so that you might pray for them more intelligently. When I think about these stories, I don’t feel depressed, but I do feel very sad, that people who seemed so close to belief seem to have careered into the final hurdle and sprawled out flat on the ground, never having really made it across the line.