Interview: Re-denomination of Church in China More Beneficial than Harmful

A church besides the sea
A church besides the sea (photo:
By Li ShiguangNovember 7th, 2023

In recent years, the issue of re-denomination within the church of China has become increasingly prominent. It is a significant new issue that has sparked much controversy.

Recently, Wang Zhenhai (pseudonym), a retired church leader in northern China, told the Christian Times, a Chinese online Christian newspaper, that whether for a local church or the Chinese churches as a whole, joining a denomination was better than not. For some reasons, Chinese house churches were generally smaller in scale, and without denominations, they were susceptible to diverse problems because they were informal. And in more serious cases, they could be easily influenced by heresies or even be “swallowed up”. From this perspective, the re-denomination of the church could serve as a good form of regulation, enabling the church to stand firm in the truth and resist being led astray by heresies, he continued.

Wang believed that the re-denomination of the church in China was a positive development. Moreover, the Christian faith itself was diverse. On the basis of a shared core truth, different churches could find common ground while respecting each other. Looking at Chinese history, the Spring and Autumn (Chunqiu) Period (770–476 BCE) and the Warring States (Zhanguo) Period (475–221 BCE) were times, when many people recognized that thought and culture, were at their most brilliant. This era saw the emergence of a variety of schools of thought and intense intellectual debate, occupying a crucial place in the history of Chinese philosophical development.

Regarding the diversity of Protestant denominations in Chinese Christianity, the majority of scholars believe that Protestant denominations are distinct and mutually exclusive. No single church can fully manifest the fullness of the body of Christ, just as no single part of the body can perfectly express the image of God.

Therefore, Wang welcomed the possibility of the re-denomination of the church in China. However, he did not believe that all churches needed to immediately establish their denominational positions.

Wang stated that their church does not currently belong to any denomination, be it a charismatic, reformed, or evangelical church. He said their church is determined to follow a somewhat unique path. Recently, he provided their church workers with ten lessons on their theological stance. In terms of spirituality, their focus is primarily on being well-versed in the Bible and applying the truth in practical life. This is the core emphasis of their church. Hence, they place great importance on Bible study and require all pastors, workers, and believers to be familiar with the Bible and effectively apply it in real life.

Their church is not currently associated with any denomination, and they have no plans to join any denomination for the time being. Wang claimed that their church's history had an impact on this decision.

Wang himself has received theological training for many years and has conducted some research on different Protestant denominations. He understands the pros and cons of each mainstream denomination. Not averse to any of the orthodox denominations, he believed that they could engage with others and learn from others’ strengths to compensate for their own church's shortcomings. However, they currently do not have the idea of joining a specific denomination.

But Wang believed that smaller churches should embrace and join denominations because this could provide protection and make them less vulnerable to heretical influences. However, for slightly larger churches, the situation was more complex. Joining a denomination undoubtedly brought many conveniences, but "honestly, it can also box you in and make you lose some autonomy," he added.

Wang declared that if they continued along their current path, they would be destined to face many challenges and needed to put in an effort and exploration. During a meeting with their fellow church workers, Wang also mentioned that if they were to join a denomination, many resources and guidance would be readily available. They wouldn't need to do plenty of trial and error or deep thinking; they could simply follow the established path, which would make their journey easier. However, the drawback was that it would lead to a more closed environment and some loss of autonomy. Therefore, they are currently not very inclined to follow the denominational path, so they might have a difficult and possibly uncertain future ahead of them.

- Translated by Abigail Wu

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