Xiao Ma, now a member of a Reformed church in S City, is a second-generation Christian. His grandmother took him to Sunday school when he was seven years old, but he did not think faith was important. It was not until he came into contact with a fellowship in college that he began to be curious about the Christian faith. After graduation from university, he went to study theology in a training class recommended by his mother church and got involved in theology for the first time. Ma changed his past attitude towards faith. After two and half years, he had some preliminary understanding of reformed theology.
After graduating from the training class, Ma went straight back to his mother church, where he served with awe as if everything was new. However, after being on duty for two years, reading all day and night, the only ministry he was involved in included sharing with senior fellowship members, and acoustically tuning the church hall; he even thought he was either too useless and lazy or not obedient and humble enough to serve the church.
Before Ma left the church, the pastor of the church said, "Brother Ma, you should increase your participation in church activities; I believe God will use you in the near future ". After that, with the decent suggestion of "go and practice more in the community", he invited Ma out of the pastoral group and back to the rank of lay believers.
Having graduated from university more than 4 years ago without any work experience, Ma is now 25 years old and is not a fresh graduate. Many companies hardly accept such a resume. So, "nothing" Ma could only start from scratch. However, he could not adapt to most part-time jobs. It was not a work problem, but the call to serve the church had been in his heart for a long time. Knowing that there was no separation between the holy and the secular and his secular work was also in service to God, he was still always unable to cope with it, hoping to return to the church.
Ma had complained and felt frustrated, but thanks to God's grace, he got reinvigorated and began to determine his position, charting a way forward. Through praying, seeking the advice of his spiritual elders, and integrating his own calling, he came to a final conclusion that he should adequately prepare himself. Even in such a situation, he would not be discouraged and must not let himself drift away.
He began self-equipping himself with theology - through books and free lectures online.
Opening a broader perspective than that of the Reformed theology, Ma found that faith was not what he had been taught, and the Reformed theology, while broad and profound, could still be improved.
Ma wished that the fellowship would be more interactive, rather than preacher-led and indoctrinating. The members should have their own thinking, instead of adding some half-understood cold concepts. However, the pastoral group responded, "Your suggestion is very good, we also hope to achieve this. But we are a big church, its feet are heavy, and the implementation takes time". So the proposal failed.
He also expected to post some of his understanding and reading experience in his WeChat moments, while the pastoral group suggested: "These books are lessons of heresy, posting them may harm the development of the church. It is good to humbly study the Reformed books and avoid falling into the snares of heresies."
Ma suggested that the fellowship group should develop and conduct training. Some warm-hearted brothers and sisters with theological foundations could be appointed to lead the group so that the preacher could have more time to do in-depth visits. The person in charge said that was a big project, and preacher's teaching should still be the main focus. But Ma wondered, was it not the job of a pastor or teacher “to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12), and not just to plunge themselves solely into ministry?
There were many other things that often bothered Ma. For instance, he had long been in contact with the fellowship of the surrounding churches (which was based on orthodox truth and in accordance with the Bible), and had a good relationship with them. The church which he is at communicated the idea of being committed to the mother church, which upset him, and always wondered if he was not committed enough to the church, or not having enough church life.
When Ma saw that there was no real interaction between the members of the church, he concluded that they were just maintaining superficial relationships. The pastoral group scolded him and said, "How can you tell they are just portraying superficial congeniality; they are also on good terms behind the scenes, and everyone is very loving. You don't understand because you don't have a church life, so you have to repent. Don’t just be a bookworm. Young people and their elders can have no generational gap. We are all brothers and sisters, so you should try to fit in, love the elders and make friends with them. If you can't do that, then you still lack church life and should come more often to the gatherings, prayer meetings, and retreats. Greet more elders after the gatherings and leave the members with a good impression."
Another example, if a sister of the church becomes pregnant, she would be instructed to be fruitful and multiply. If a sister was abused at home, she would be told to be "patient." Ma stepped forward and said: "Isn't it good to have one child? What's the meaning of having ten with no decent upbringing? Since the sister was abused, why did the church tell her not to get a divorce?"
Ma most often heard the church preaching about loving the Lord and other people, being patient and humble; but were these things to be tolerated without principle? To these questions, the pastoral team responded, "Brother Ma, you really need to be humble. Liberal theology is killing people. You'd better be humble and study Reformed religion. Reformed theology is your permanent way out.”
Ma was lost in thought.
It’s hoped that these are all personal problems of Brother Ma, and not what needs to be improved in the church. Hope the church will become more and more upright.
Here is some food for thought: There are things that are theologically correct, but not necessarily said in the right way; Love always means to practically love each and every person.
- Translated by Sophia Chen