[Interview] Former Chinese Church Leader Shares Two Challenges: Constructing Chinese Theology and Having Chinese Christian Orientation

On May 29, 2015, Elder Ji Jianhong gave a speech titled "Construction of Chinese Church" in Zhong Nan Theological Seminary. (Hubeichurch.com)

At the end of last November, a former registered church leader Elder Ji Jianhong in an interview with Gospel Times, a Chinese Christian daily news website, talked about the challenges facing the Chinese church.

The former chairman of the national seventh TSPM and executive vice president of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, Elder Ji started working for the Chinese church in 1950 and was engaged in church ministries while focusing on theological education.

Ji stated that the Chinese church was in a radically changing process as China was transforming and growing, different than it used to be. A group of co-workers had a burden to making Christianity into "real Christianity" in the Chinese context.

The key was to have a self-contained Chinese theology.

At the root of it, Christianity in China in the past was "western Christianity in the country", whose theology, management, and administration were from the West and had many denominational and national backgrounds. Although the Three-Self Patriotic Movement was launched in 1954, "Christianity is still western-styled" owing to its association with denominations.

He said that the task of the tenth national Chinese Christian conference of the China Christian Council (CCC) & Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) held in late Nov. 2018 was to establish a Chinese theology. Despite the content not being clearly concrete, he believed that was a new beginning.

The actual challenges confronted by the church in China could not be measured by foreign standards. Apart from Buddhism, there was no theoretical foundation for the previous Chinese religion, Ji explained. Meanwhile, the Buddhist theory was only mastered by afew people. Similarly, the faith life of average Buddhists included burning incense, worshiping Buddha, and praying for peace. It was the same for Protestants and Catholics.

He concluded that pastors and preachers should do the work. In general, most shepherds didn't need to study theology because their congregations were simple without theological foundation."In order to intellectually build a competent Chinese Christianity, it's necessary to form a self-sustaining Chinese theology. Then go back and build Chinese Christianity with this system. This is the problem faced by Chinese Christianity."

However, it has remained an issue since the "Jinan Conference" convened in 1998 in which the construction of a theological ideology was put forward.

It was comforting that the expression of the "sinicizing of religion" had changed to the "the orientation of sinicizing China's religions".

In regards to the adaptation of religions to the socialist society, the political, religious, and academic circles followed the trendy topic of "the sinicization of Christianity" with interest. There were many approaches mentioned including the combination of Christianity with Confucianism and Taoism.

Asked what he though of this topic, Ji said that various approaches brought up were not odd and that some things would be removed or some established in a long process. He clarified the difference between "the sicinization of Christianity" and "the sinicizational direction of Christianity". The "sicinization" was a political term that generally was equated with Marxization, Leninization, and socialization. The "sinicizing orientation" (Christianity must be Chinese in orientation) included both Marxism, Leninism, and other ideologies and would progress as would the social development. It was a comfort to him that many preferred the second wording.

Other challenges

Elder Ji also mentioned other challenges. For example, a grassroots believer told him that the gathering place where he attended was closed because non-Christian locals said that they were out of step with society. After research, the local congregation argued that they couldn't get along with non-Christians because "the latter were reckoned as children of the devil'.

Another case concerned social and economic engagement with society. Some Christians only made prayers and waited for the work of the Lord without any other participation, believing that any involvement in worldly things would make them lose their love for God and be enticed by the devil.

Thus, Ji expected the younger generation to relate their faith to their careers and to enable faith to be the driving force of the involvement in social engagement. "This is also what we call 'testimonies of life'. Life is not only theoretical, but also about real action. The construction of the Chinese church requires pastors and preachers to improve their levels and help believers change their concepts and behaviors in order to be fully engage life."

Other challenges included the gap between Chinese seminaries and non-Christian universities, cultural challenges and pastoral issues, and the appeal of western things to young people.

Courtesy of China Christian Daily