Christian Shares Six Growth-restricting Obstacles Caused by Chinese Church
By CCD contributor: Linda , March 13, 2018 07:03 AM
Since I became a Christian over one decade ago, I have been most directly tied to and most affected by the church. I have been to different churches ranging from small to large and located in metropolises and small cities.
Before talking about what obstacles in the Chinese church caused its congregations not to grow, let me share my story first.
I believed in the Lord when I was a graduate student in Beijing. At that time I suffered from severe insomnia and depression due to a bad relationship and frustration in my study. The Christian faith renewed my negative cognition, rebuilt my value system, and gave me hope of living. I joined Beijing Shouwang Church that was then considered the highest level church in China. The majority of its congregation were elites, higher intellectuals, and students from renowned universities and institutes. After contacting the well-educated and high-level group, I walked out of my dilemma. My campus fellowship was vigorous and prosperous among Beijing universities. It held various kinds of activities for its large congregation. We shared and prayed together in a lively and warm atmosphere. A devout sister guided me to learn faith and truth, caring for me. I had a simple life, not encountering any difficulty. The faith took my mind off my depression. Shortly after my conversion, I got rid of the disease and instead, felt excitement and sweetness of first love every day.
I was naive to believe that I could depend on my faith even there came many burdens, trials, and hardships. It wasn't until graduation that I realized the overrating of myself, the church, and simple convictions.
I stayed in Beijing for another two or three years after graduation. Things like the inadaptation to working rather than studying, unpleasant work, huge pressure, a failed relationship, and unemployment gave rise to a recurrence of insomnia and depression. Criticism from my church said that my depression stemmed from my selfishness, sin, my distrust of God, and a bad relationship with Him. I tried to seek cures from "faith" approaches including all kinds of biblical counseling, healing programs, and repentance, but these never succeeded.
Many restless nights led to my poor health. So I had to use "worldly" methods --- seeing doctors of traditional Chinese medicine and western medicine, finding a stable job in my hometown, losing weight through exercise, obeying dietary laws and a bedtime routine, taking health products, and pursuing interests. Then I was in much better spirits and moods. In the worst times of my depression, chicken soup articles played a big role in providing me the spiritual power to face difficulties and anguish caused by the disease. If I hadn't been misled by unrealistic church teachings in my college life to the extent that I was not well prepared for my future work and life, I might not have met those difficulties or suffered a relapse of my illness.
Afterward, my father had an accident and fell ill. In the next five years, I did everything I could to help him recover but all the methods failed. I just saw him becoming weaker and more painful and leaving the world.
I notice that the current church in China mainly attracts two categories of laypeople:
The first type is people who can support themselves but have high spiritual needs that are unmet. They either have good jobs or family backgrounds, perhaps both. They are healthy and have middle-class and above incomes.
The other one is persons at the bottom of society who have eccentric problems and are reluctant or unable to change their circumstances. Most of them are ill-educated, ignorant, and poor.
Beyond that, there is also another kind of Christian who is a new convert and enjoys a honeymoon period with God.
The first two categories have one thing in common --- low expectations for personal growth and changes in real life. This is consistent with the philosophy the Chinese church promotes --- surpassing human nature and real life solely through the power of faith.
There are six main manifestations of the idea:
1. Glamorize hardships.
Hardships refer to sufferings affecting people's lives over a period of time. A popular saying goes in the church that "afflictions are often God's blessings sent in disguise". The book Streams in the Desert is a representative of such chicken soup claims. They hold that tribulation breaks down humans' pride so that we can realize our insignificance and ponder over the ultimate meaning of life.Through sufferings, God refines and shapes us to be His vessels. During the process, we are comforted by God for the comfort of other people who run into the same distress.
However, sufferings are sufferings and blessings are blessings. Was it a blessing that my condition became worse? Was the loss of my father also a blessing? Everything has two sides. Misery does benefit us, but as for me, it's self-hypnosis to regard it as blessings just because of its advantages.
A sister who had cancer was happy, considering the disease as a blessing from God; a brother said depression was his good friend. Parathymia is a mental illness where patients laugh at tragic news and cry for good things. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, "'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (Jeremiah 29:11) I think that sufferings don't come from God who never specifically blesses people through trials and tribulations. Nonetheless, a large percentage of churches glamorize hardships, and what's more, fail to teach their congregations how to deal with and get rid of them wisely.
2. Ignore basic human needs.
Humans have physical and psychological needs designed by God. The principle to satisfy these needs is to fill what you lack rather than out of Platonic intimacy with God alone.
We need food, emotional links, and relationships, especially close ties. Therefore, God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone. "Man does not live on bread alone" is not "man does not live on bread".
Some slogans are often noted in the church like "We only see Jesus, not men", "we only worship God" and "we focus on God instead of people". Then why do you go to church? Is it more convenient and time-saving for you to worship at home? Additionally, important attention was given to "not giving up meeting together" and "the commitment to the church". Are the statements contradictory? "Giving is more blessed than receiving" is based on the premise that you have something to give. When people who have limited bodies and souls only give without receiving, they eventually burn out.
3. Wait negatively and do nothing.
Scripture offers plenty of verses concerning "waiting on God". They show seeking God from the heart. One can only understand His guidance when he quiets down and waits on Him, not doing nothing. But I think that the church one-sidedly stresses too much waiting on God and escape teaching what to do during waiting. As a result, believers wait negatively and their situations remain the same year after year. Again told to learn endurance, they are forced to stand the status quo and continue to wait for God's strength.
The most typical phenomenon is that there are a great number of single female Christians above the median age of first marriage, or 3S ladies, while there are few male Christians. Lots of marriage preparation lectures and marriage and parenting counseling are held in the church, whereas few churches help single Christians find matches. The church keeps reminding that Christians can only marry Christians, but gives the universal answer of "believing in God" to the marriage problem. Most churches where I stayed exaggerated the tribulations of marriage and goodness of singleness that was a special gift from God. They persuaded single Christians, particularly sisters, to wait on God patiently.
The consequence was that devout sisters wasted their time in their "waiting on God" or got married to non-Christians. The latter was severely judged by the church.
4. Provide formulaic answers to all the problems.
This is a feature of churches with well-educated congregations. Living a comfortable life, the bulk of them find it difficult to understand real difficulties of other people and be considerate. Without knowing the exact circumstances of others in general, they sum up all the problems as "self-centered" sins.
This kind of churches attach importance to laws and obeying them. Claiming that not doing what should be done comes from corrupt and selfish sins, they often criticize and condemn people.
5. Pursue wonders and miraculous signs excessively.
This is obvious among another group of churches that seek gifts like tongues, healing, driving demons, prophecy, breaking curses, and the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Members sing songs with dances and crying, who are frantic to non-Christians. Seniors and people with lower education level account for the majority and there are many believers suffering from physical and mental illness. They're convinced that loud proclamation and praise are solutions to many problems, so a great many healing and deliverance meetings are conducted. They often say that someone is healed by God, but I never see a real case. I heard from them that the skin of a brother became snakeskin in a shower after he sinned. The skin was restored when he confessed his sin in a prayer. I asked him, but it turned out to be a made-up story.
6. Encourage congregations to serve.
Ministry is our response to God's love with free will. It helps people grow in the process of applying truth into practice. But now church ministry is definitely a bad approach to grow and ministry serve is a bad experience.
Almost all the churches encourage their members to serve. A pastor's wife once told me that I couldn't recover from my diseases and find my partner unless I joined a ministry. However, a church is an organization.
Many factors are crucial to the growth of its members, including administrators, organizational structure, institutional construction, professional skills, team development, and personnel training. Unfortunately, most churches are immature in these aspects. Different from general organizations, the church has a lower threshold for ministry workers, resulting in ministers with varied quality. When a conflict shows up, these people confess their sins and forgive one another to ease the tension rather than solve the problem. Due to the existence of the old model, new contradictions and conflicts arise soon. Consequently, many people quit ministries with wounds. A sister than some believers in a church where I had a brief stay even more badly behaved than non-Christians.
In conclusion, these obstacles are caused by one reason that the low-level Chinese church is unable to lead people toward growth with Christian faith. Most church staff in China live apart from society for a long time, not knowing how to connect faith with Chinese society. Except preaching hollow spiritual principles like obedience, endurance, dependence on God, focus on God, and denial of yourself, they can scarcely instruct operational steps. Jesus said that we should be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves, but the first time I heard the teaching that shrewdness came before innocency in a church in my past decade, it was from the mouth of a US company's boss.
The bulk of clergy in China are the socially excluded and unable to give constructive advice.
- Translated by Karen Luo
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