WCC Strengthens Ties With Chinese Religious Leaders to Promote Unity and Contextualized Faith

Rev. Prof. Dr. Jerry Pillay, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC),  addressed the congregation to express gratitude for the shared experience of worship and unity in Christ during a worship service at St Paul’s Church in Nanjing, Jiangsu, on 26 May, 2024.
Rev. Prof. Dr. Jerry Pillay, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), addressed the congregation to express gratitude for the shared experience of worship and unity in Christ during a worship service at St Paul’s Church in Nanjing, Jiangsu, on 26 May, 2024. (photo: World Council of Churches)
By World Council of ChurchesMay 30th, 2024

As the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary, Rev. Prof. Dr. Jerry Pillay, continued his visit to China, discussions have focused on the contextualization of faith and the strengthening of collaboration with Christians and inter-religious partners. The visit included meetings with the Amity Foundation and various religious and governmental leaders.

Nanjing Union Theological Seminary 

The WCC general secretary paid a visit to Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, the only national Protestant seminary in China, founded in 1952, where he met with Rev. Dr Gao Feng, president of the seminary, and vice president Rev. Chen Bin. The seminary offers degree programs at three levels, Bachelor of Theology, Master of Theology, and doctoral programs (Doctor of Theology and Doctor of Ministry). Rev. Gao recalled the seminary’s friendly exchanges with the WCC, expressing his gratitude for the WCC's support in the theological education in China, particularly through the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey. 

The general secretary stressed the significance of theological research in the ministries of the WCC and encouraged the seminary faculty to be involved in the 1700th anniversary of the first Ecumenical Council (325) in 2025. He also suggested that seminary faculty contribute their research to the WCC journals to facilitate better understanding of Chinese theology.

Pillay is joined by Prof. Dr Vasile-Octavian Mihoc, WCC programme executive for Ecumenical Relations and Faith and Order, on this significant visit. 

Amity Foundation partnership 

During his visit to the Amity Foundation and Amity Printing Company, Pillay was warmly welcomed by Qiu Zhoughui, chair of the Board of the Amity Foundation, and Ling Chunxiang, general secretary of the Amity Foundation. Ling highlighted that a milestone in Amity’s history represented the step to become an ecumenical specialized ministry of the WCC in 2021. Discussions focused on opportunities for strengthening collaboration in areas such as diaconal work, peacebuilding, climate justice, sustainable development, public health, education, advocacy, and human rights.

Pillay invited Amity to participate in the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the First Council of Nicaea in 2025, proposing that Amity print a special edition of the Bible for the occasion. This initiative, eagerly accepted by Amity, will represent a strong sign of unity among Christians. Pillay emphasized the importance of the correlation between Bible printing and service, quoting Amity’s motto: “The Bible brings unity, and service brings us harmony.”

Liu Lei, general manager of the Amity Printing Company, noted that out of the more than 260 million Bibles printed by Amity, 90 million are in Mandarin and other ethnic languages for Christians in China, making Amity the largest Bible printer worldwide. He also highlighted that digitalization has not diminished interest in printed Bibles; rather, both paper and digital formats are growing together.

Worship service at St Paul’s Church

On 26 May, Pillay attended a worship service at St Paul’s Church in Nanjing, where he addressed the congregation, expressing gratitude for the shared experience of worship and unity in Christ. Reflecting on the recent Pentecost celebration, he expressed his joy of how the Holy Spirit brings all Christians together across the world even with all our diversities and differences.  He underscored the WCC’s commitment to justice and unity among churches, acknowledging the longstanding relationship with the China Christian Council (CCC). He offered prayers and blessings for the continued witness of the church in China, encouraging the community to be the salt and light of the world.

Meeting with State Administration for Religious Affairs

The following day, the WCC delegation met with Chen Ruifeng, director general of the State Administration for Religious Affairs. Chen highlighted the WCC’s presence in China over the years and acknowledged the CCC's contributions to the WCC. He emphasized the government’s support for religious freedom and the importance of collaboration and mutual respect between different faiths in China. China is home to five major religions: Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism, all living in harmony. The government guarantees freedom of religion. The Amity Printing Company, which prints the highest number of high-quality Bibles in the world, is an example. The government supports the further contextualization of Christianity and the development of church personnel, ensuring Christianity is passed on to future generations.

Pillay was pleased to see how a governmental institution in China cares for both domestic and international religious affairs. This commitment to religion is highly commendable. The WCC respects the Three-Self Principles, which emerged from the missionary movement to affirm that non-Western churches need to claim their independence. Early missionary conferences encouraged these churches to contextualize the gospel in their situations. The WCC has always upheld these principles, believing in the contextualization, indigenization, and localization of Christianity. Our faith must be a real experience wherever we are, and it is encouraging to see this happening in China. We are impressed by the steps China has taken towards the contextualization of Christianity.

Chinese churches have much to teach global Christianity through their unique experiences, theology, and cultural contributions.

Speaking about the One China policy, Pillay pointed out that the WCC recognized the challenges in engaging with another member church on the same matter and is committed to working for justice, peace, and unity for all people and the planet, not from a political perspective but rather from ecclesial understanding and collaborations. The WCC executive committee will meet in China next year, and we look forward to further collaboration and strengthening our ties. 

The WCC speaks of a Pilgrimage of Justice, Reconciliation, and Unity. We see our global connections with churches as a pilgrimage where we share, exchange ideas, learn from each other, and work together for a better world and creation. 

Further discussions revolved around the topic of house churches in China and their relationship with government. Pillay noted this is a matter of interest to some Christians outside of China. 

Engagement with the China Islamic Association

On 27 May, the WCC delegation was received by Yang Faming, president of the China Islamic Association and the National Islamic Academy, who demonstrated his knowledge of WCC’s work. Yang shared the history of Islam in China, which dates to the 8th century and includes approximately 23 million Muslims today. He also discussed the China Islamic Association, celebrating its 71st anniversary this year, and the National Islamic Academy, which has 300 undergraduate and postgraduate students. The academy trains future imams. China has ten regional Islamic academies. Additional topics included translations of the Quran and Hadith into Chinese, the publication of sample sermons for various Chinese contexts on different themes, and international exchanges. The state assists in organizing pilgrimages to Mecca and contextualizing Islamic thought in China.

The WCC general secretary affirmed the importance of contextualizing Islam in China, paralleling the contextualization of Christianity. Contextualization of faith is crucial when religions originate from other parts of the world. The government’s equal facilitation of religious activities fosters collaboration rather than competition between religions. Mutuality, accountability, and assistance contribute to the success of various religious activities. Pillay highlighted the WCC’s strong interest in inter-religious issues, collaborating with world leaders to create a better world for all people and for creation. The WCC has a long tradition of training future leaders from different religions to champion peace in their contexts and shape the world as God intends. The WCC aims to strengthen ties with religious stakeholders in China.

Yang responded that religious people carry significant responsibility in society. Both Chinese Christianity and Islam share the principles of inclusiveness and human values. He noted that effective work in China could contribute globally.

Meeting with Bishop Shen Bin

On 28 May, the general secretary met with Bishop Shen Bin, president of the Bishops‘ Conference of the Catholic Church in China. Bishop Shen discussed the situation of the Catholic Church in China, which comprises 98 dioceses with 55 bishops. The church has six major seminaries with around 100 seminarians, facing a major challenge of a lack of priest vocations. The church’s social participation is in the charitable field, with eight Catholic hospitals, 99 clinics, and eight charitable associations. A team of Catholic sisters also works with people with leprosy.

Pillay expressed appreciation for the charitable work and noted that the church has always faced challenges and continued to be a light and salt in the world. The longstanding ministries of the Catholics have made them strong. He thanked the Catholics for their faithful witness. The visit to Bishop Shen Bin is significant because the WCC works closely with the Roman Catholic Church, not only through the Joint Working Group but also in most WCC commissions and on interreligious issues. The general secretary has visited Pope Francis a few times since taking office, highlighting the close relationship between the WCC and the Vatican. This high-level collaboration aims to foster and strengthen cooperation at all levels. Churches need to respond together to global challenges, partnering deeply because they belong to the same God and must proclaim Christ to the world. The WCC stands for the good of all people and the planet. Expanding on Pope Francis’ visit to Geneva’s motto – “walking, working, and praying together” – Pillay proposed walking hand-in-hand as followers of Christ. Drawing from the relationship with the Roman Catholic Church on an international level, Pillay affirmed that it would be wonderful to see churches holding hands at the grassroots level, with their testimony becoming a living witness. He expressed his joy in knowing that the Protestant Church and Catholic Church in China are collaborating and with other religions. The general secretary requested both churches to work together on the Nicaea2025 celebration and use that as an opportunity to express Christian unity both in China and to the world. 

Throughout his visit, Pillay reiterated the WCC’s dedication to the contextualization, indigenization, and localization of Christianity, emphasizing that faith must resonate with people’s real experiences. He praised the steps China has taken in contextualizing Christianity and other faiths, expressing a desire to bring these experiences to a global context through the WCC’s platform.

The WCC executive committee is set to meet in China next year, further strengthening the ties between the WCC and Chinese religious communities. This visit marks a significant step in the ongoing collaboration between the WCC and Chinese religious organizations, highlighting mutual efforts to promote justice, peace, and unity worldwide.

Originally from Webpage "The WCC"

CCD edited and reprinted with permission

related articles