When looking at Christianity's more than two thousand year history of global development, it is inseparable from the church's missionary history. China, an ancient nation, can be said to have more than a one thousand year history of being a mission field, with many having come to proclaim the Gospel, from the legendary Apostle Thomas as early as approximately 70 - 90 AD, the Nestorians in the 700s, the Arcoum in the 1300s, the Catholics in the early 1700s, and the Protestants in the late 1900s.
In the past decades, with the development and growth of Chinese Christianity, the churches in China have gradually become one of the increasingly important forces in global mission and Chinese Christians have started to preach the gospel overseas, participating the global missionary endeavor.
Recently, Pastor Y, who has decades of ministry experience, pointed out and reminded his audience that in global missions, Chinese Christians must not walk on the old path of the Western countries in order to avoid the mistakes of imperial chauvinism and a conquering attitude.
He has also emphasized that towards their compatriots, Christians should show respect for their own culture. "Chinese Christians should first acknowledge their own culture and roots."
Chinese churches should certainly participate in missions but avoid the old path of the West.
Pastor Y indicated that the era of the 19th and 20th centuries of Western missions in China should be viewed objectively.
"We cannot focus on one aspect only. On one hand, their involvement in China is truly the result of superpowers' chauvinism and colonialism. At that time, it was inevitable that some missionaries felt they were the representatives of the then highest culture a kind of unhealthy ethnocentrism. The then China was caught in the middle of Western colonialism, which was regarded as shameful. On the other hand, Christianity brought global progress.
"Therefore, given this historical dichotomy, from 1949 until now, Chinese Christians' attitude regarding the missionary history in China has been 'tangled'."
Yet, from the 1970s until now, "the Western churches have done much reflection in regards to some Western missionaries' imperial chauvinism and conquering attitude, especially around disrespecting local cultures and customs when sharing the gospel in Asia or South America."
Pastor Y mentioned that over the many years he had contacted many Western missionaries in China among which many were unadorned simply serving the Lord. However he had also "encountered ethnocentric thinking with some saying, 'I'm here to preach and you need only to believe Christianity, my kind of Christianity, so that you can get such and such a result'. It's got to be 'their kind of Christianity'".
"It was such attitude that caused offence among many Chinese who did not know Christianity. For example, the opinion regarding Christianity as a means of Western invasion of China existed in the Non-ground Movement in the 1920s and 1930s. It was a harking back to the kind of conquest Christianity. It was the masses, particularly the Chinese intellectuals, that expressed their antipathy to so called 'Christian ethnocentrism'".
"Today, we cannot walk on the same old path," emphasized Pastor Y. "Today's Chinese churches should certainly preach, but should avoid the mistakes of the West. We surely may claim what we believe is the only true God, but we need to testify to Him through love and our lives, not through convincing words and by force.'
Pastor Y stated that he had seen many churches and Chinese Christians copy too much the style and way of Europeans and Americans while participating in global missions. "We are repeating the old way, particularly the urban churches in mission possess Christian ethnocentrism and a conquering attitude. In crosscultural ministry, they would say to the locals that theirs is a false god, and that there are serious problems in their beliefs and culture. It is a deliberate and complete assimilation of the Western way. It should be clear even though now only the North American extreme fundamentalist and right wing churches practice it. Let's review Western history. I should remind everyone that the decision to share the Gospel is good but only if one can really humble himself and help others out of love. This is the real issue.
He gave examples of recent Chinese church returnees who claimed, "We rather not directly preach the Gospel in Muslim countries, but rather help them to improve their lives. This is to truly love them."
Chinese Christians are to be confident of their culture and acknowledge their roots.
Pastor Y continued by saying that Chinese churches and Christians are to be particularly confident of their culture and acknowledge it.
He said, "When facing Chinese culture, one should not depreciate it but rather be confident of it."
"Chinese culture is no lower than any other culture. Westerners actually admire much our culture. It is just that in this contemporary era, we have missed out on the industrial and technological revolution, being less updated scientifically. However, we are no lower in regards to human care and aesthetics. As Chinese Christians, we should be proud of our culture...China has a long history and thousands of years of being a civilization. Such a splendid culture should not be lacking in God's revelation...Chinese civilization provided much help to the development of Western societies. In my history courses during my studies at seminary, I clearly remember that the invention of paper and printing were viewed as significant for the reformation of Europe and religion. I am proud of these."
"Chinese churches and Christians are the minorities in China. We are not yet accepted by the masses and the well-educated." Pastor Y honestly talked about the current situation and felt that it needed more from Chinese churches and Christians--"having a peaceful and humble attitude" when communicating with non-Christians and the well-educated. "If we put our culture too low, it will very easily be offensive because culture is highly valued and taken pride in by the Chinese people."
He particularly reminded his audience that in regards to the Chinese culture, Christians should not be mislead by various false opinions. For instance, "a popular viewpoint among Christians is that if China does not repent, it will perish because Chinese culture is the dragon culture. The dragon is the devil who cannot be saved."
"Many foreign friends have asked for my opinion on this viewpoint and I said that it must be explained clearly. The Chinese dragon is different from that of the West. It is a translation mistake which reflects the narrow mindedness of the then missionaries. Dragon, in the Chinese culture, represents honour, power, and strength. The concept of the dragon in Chinese culture has no equivalent concept in the West. The Western dragon is leviathan or monster. So, it was first a translation mistake."
"On the other hand, the uplift brought by the Gospel is what is lacking in Chinese culture. The Gospel is a confession of salvation and speaks of the limitations of humanity. For generations, saints have been highlighted in Chinese culture, however the idea of a saint has been a vague concept. It is not clear how to become such a person. Instead, more material gains are valued in the process of becoming a saint and Confucius was not a perfect man. Jesus, however, lived out God's complete holy love. We say we believe in God and God's nature is love. Only when everyone has Jesus' love can humanity live peacefully.'
Love and humility are the true weapons when preaching the Gospel.
Finally, Pastor Y said that the only things on which we can rely to conquer the world are humility and love.
"We can only conquer by love." He said that when we preach to our neighbours we should be humble. "One of the important qualities in Christianity is humility. It is humility in one's being. For example, when you face the entire cosmos you have nothing to boast about. The frequent mistake we make is having understanding not humility."
- Translated by Charlie Li