Chinese Church Issues: Sub-cultural

“All churches in China…”

I didn’t used to hear those words. Because we didn’t really have church people in our church. Often in a brand new church, you’ve just got new believers and unbelievers. Lots of people that have never even been to another church before.

But believers like Bible teaching, worship, and fellowship – and that leads them to all kinds of discoveries. They get online. They go to the bookstore. They attend some other services in town. Fast forward a few years, and you’ve got a church with people who know something about ‘how church is done’ in their own culture.

Sometimes this is good. I’m very thankful for some great Chinese preachers who have made lots of content available online, and for some great authors and translators who have put tons of information in the hands of Chinese believers – they’ve helped members of our church grow immensely.

But what is the missionary to do when you find that the teaching being imported into the church is contradictory to that of Scripture? On the surface, this seems like an obvious question, right? Why, do the same thing you do any place else, of course! Strive to correct the false teaching with truth.

However, there’s an additional variable that makes this simple question a real burden for any missionary sensitive to his environment: culture. Some of the apparent discrepancies between the Word and Chinese churches are so widespread, they appear to be culturally grounded. When the missionary, who has worked so hard to adapt to his surroundings, hears a national believer explain to him that “Chinese churches do such-and-such because of our culture,” the correcting words often catch in his throat.

The next couple of posts will discuss some of those discrepancies that we’ve dealt with over the past few years. Fortunately, the answer really is that simple, isn’t it? Correct false teaching, increase right teaching. But besides just teaching about the issue itself, there is a greater underlying need to teach believers about the preeminent authority of Scripture. Work with them through the vital Scriptures that show believers how to critique their cultural context.

In addition, I have found it helpful to remind myself that Chinese church culture often has very little to do with Chinese culture in general! For example, Chinese cuisine is famous for its seemingly limitless scope. But a large number of Chinese Christians have some dietary sensitivities (more on that in the following posts). Meaning, this apparent cultural situation is really nothing of the kind: it’s not a reflection of Chinese people at large, nor is it in reaction to a cultural idol. Rather, it is based on a handful of misinterpreted Scriptures!

Which is the thought I want to leave you with. One of the consequences of a failure to address these ‘cultural norms’ of Chinese churches is that the faulty methods of interpreting Scripture used to arrive at these teachings are passively endorsed. And that’s often far more serious than the ‘cultural issue’ itself. None of these errors (that I’ve encountered anyway) are formulated without the help of Scripture. Which means that when someone that I’m teaching heard teaching X, he invariably also heard A, B, and C Scriptures given to support it. By leaving X uncontested, I reinforce that interpretation of A, B, and C, which will eventually lead to deeper problems in their understanding and teaching of the Word.

Of course, we should teach proper hermeneutics before they hear A, B, and C taught by someone else. But teach all you will, people will still come to you with X.

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