China has a huge Christian community and that is apparently so to all. However, the social influence generated by the community appears to be too far less than its size, to which we have to give a good reflection.
In the post-pandemic era, to China and even the world, the economic decline has made Christianity temporarily lose its vitality. However, we must be clear that it is Christianity as a church collective that has lost its vitality. It is due to the decline of economic support that they have been constrained in missionary work, media, and social activities. Consequently, they are unable to function and propagate. However, it is not so with lay believers.
Up to now, Christianity entering our field of vision is Christianity as a whole religion or church body, or a certain church group. We believe that it is their activities that function as a symbol of either the vitality or decline of Christianity.
The same is true of the whole Christian history. Christian history textbooks record theologians who founded theological frameworks, or apologists who fought off pagan attacks, and church leaders who established large churches. This gives us an impression that Christianity is theirs - the Christianity of theologians, apologists, missionaries, or church leaders. They brought the glory of Christianity and created today's Christianity.
However, if we cast aside this view for a while and search in the details of history deeply inside Christianity, we will find that those lay believers who created history have always been ignored.
In the church-based view of Christian history, the concept of lay believers has always been rejected. It stemmed from the collectivist concept under the Christian monotheistic system. This feature began with Judaism. Faced with the disintegration of their own country during the period of great exiles, Jews must have melted the danger of individualism with the idea of collectivism so as to prevent the nation from being assimilated by different cultures. Therefore, the emergence of collectivism was constructed in the background of a defensive environment and mentality.
So the same is true of Christian collectivism. Christianity has been excluded since its spontaneous birth, so it is understandable that they adopted collectivism to defend against the erosion of pagan cultures. However, after Christianity had been nationalized, it lost its enemies and collectivism still prevailed, forming a hierarchical structure in which the Pope was at the top of the pyramid. At this time, the maintenance power of collectivism did not come from the persecution faced by Christianity but from the maintenance of power by the monks. In order to eliminate the threat of individualism to the authority of papal monks, we must continue to maintain Christian collectivism in a high-pressure way. This collectivism, in order to maintain authority, has been running through the history of Christianity until today.
Today, a large number of lay believers are exerting their strengths in all walks of life, changing society and the world. However, because they are not engaged in Christian religious undertakings, they are not recognized by the church.
After being struck by the pandemic, the church, as the main body of Christian activities, has lost its previous passion due to lack of economic support. At this time, the blow to the church does not mean that Christians are hit likewise. As a matter of fact, as individual members of Christianity, the lay believers are much less hit than the church in this pandemic tide. Because believers are scattered as individuals and have their own material foundation whereas the church must rely on economic dedication, so when the economy goes down, the church will receive less income. For ordinary believers, the impact is really very small.
Then, when Christianity encounters setbacks and the activities of the church are limited, should we consider exerting the power of lay believers at this time? Obviously, it is imperative to release the strengths of lay believers, but there are several obstacles that need to be overcome.
The first obstacle is the internal church barrier. Ordinary believers are bound by church collectivism within its walls and their strengths cannot reach out of the walls. Their faith manifestation can mainly take the form of religious ceremonies within its walls.
Secondly, it is the barrier generated by the leaders. The minister is the actual controller of a church. The controlling is the main source of income for the minister to make a living, so it is very important to maintain his or her authority. Sometimes, they also express their desire to let lay believers participate in society, but this kind of participation still cannot go beyond the control of the minister, with the expected outcome of a better effect but of less influence. If the intended effect is not good, the minister will appear to be less authoritative, and if the social influence is great, the authority of the minister will be threatened.
The third obstacle is the utilitarian mentality within religion. There are many activities and ways for lay believers to participate in social contributions, but at present the mentality of lay believers who participate in society is utilitarian. That is, no matter what social activities you do, you must put on your Christian cross. If you do a good thing and do not leave a track of your Christian cross, it is equivalent to not doing it. This utilitarian thinking has seriously hindered the enthusiasm of ordinary Christians for social participation and limited their forms of social participation.
This requires lay believers to participate in society and break through the three barriers. First, believers should liberate themselves from the church and truly put themselves in the name of Jesus - knowing that they work for the glory of God, not for the glory of the church. Secondly, it is to form a fellowship of independent lay believers to avoid the control of the minister. The third point is to break the narrow concept of religion and participate in society in a sociable way.
- Translated by Charlie Li