The Church in the Modernization of China:
A Theological Interpretation
The Chinese Church has become involved in the modernization process in China, just as Christians in every country contribute to the independence and development of their own nations. Many Chinese Christians have put faith into practice through their deeds in this endeavor, some have made great sacrifices and some have given their lives. Their actions, values and contributions are a witness to Christ in China, manifesting the love of God and glorifying the name of Christ. This is the abundant grace of God, showing forth the vitality of Christianity, while at the same time adding substance and reality to theological thinking in the Chinese Church.
In order to understand and interpret theologically the involvement of the Church in the vast enterprise of Chinese modernization, and to comprehensively and profoundly strengthen theological reconstruction, this essay will attempt, by basing itself on theological evidence from the Bible, from dogmatics, from church history and tradition, from Christian ethics and from the history of Christian thought, to discuss the rightness, reasonableness and importance of Church involvement in modernization, to explore a theological interpretation and expound the inherent relationship between practice and basic doctrine for Chinese Christians, with related theological principles.
1 The Theological Basis for Church Participation in the Modernization of China
Christianity is a religion that stresses adaptability and social involvement; it advocates a theology of both this world and the next. According to the Bible, this life and the next are mutually linked realms; neither is stressed at the expense of the other. If believers wish to gain the blessings of the afterlife, they must treat this life according to the will of God; thus, Christianity values mortal life. Jesus says, "I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one" (Jn. 17: 15). This is not world-rejection. We are asked to avoid the evil of the world, not the world itself. In the Incarnation, Jesus came into the world, made manifest the great love of God and lived among us, in history. Justo Gonzales puts it well when he says that it is unimaginable that Christianity would be separate from the world.1 Obviously escaping or rejecting the world is unrealistic. If we distance ourselves from the world, from social reality and our true context, Christian faith has nothing to say; it becomes pie in the sky. In Jesus'deeds and teachings while on earth we can see his full humanity: he understood people's sufferings, felt for the poor, helped the weak.
Christianity asks us to observe the rules of morality. Six of the Ten Commandments regulate human ethical behavior. In the New Testament the Law is summed up as "Love your neighbor as yourself." And Jesus says: "...You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘ You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22: 37-39). Love is the center of Christianity, the basis of Christian ethics. The Bible says "Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good" (Rom.12: 9), to "overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12: 21), to have a sense of right and wrong, and of justice, "take thought for what is noble in the sight of all" (Rom. 12: 17). Those who do good will have their reward in heaven and the unrighteous will have their retribution. "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead" (James 2: 26). The fruit of the Holy Spirit is nine-fold, including love, joy, peace, generosity and faithfulness (Gal. 5: 22). Paul says, be all things to all people, as long as you do not go against the truth. "If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Rom. 12: 18). "Let us live honorably as in the day…" (Rom. 13: 13). Jesus loved his people and the nation of Israel and once wept over Jerusalem.
On the subject of Church and State, Paul says: "Let every person be subject to governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom. 13: 1). "For the Lord's sake, accept the authority of every human institution" (1 Pet. 2: 13). "Do not seek your own advantage, but that of others" (1 Cor. 10: 24). "...it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth" (1 Cor. 13: 6). And the Bible gives us the Sermon on the Mount and the Eight Blesseds: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt. 5: 3-10). We must be light and salt (Mt. 5: 13-14); "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve" (Mk. 10: 45). "For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love" (2 Pet. 1: 5-7). We should seek personal excellence such as altruism (Phil. 2: 4), contentment (Heb. 13: 5), generosity (Ps. 112: 5, 9); we should do our duty towards others, such as caring for the young and old (1 Tim. 5: 4); we also have worldly duties, such as paying taxes (Rom. 13: 6-7). "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3: 16-17). Thus, loving our country, upholding our just socialist system, taking part in the construction of Chinese modernization and serving society are all actions in accord with biblical teaching and with Christian faith.
Proofs from dogmatics
The main attribute of God is love; the Bible says "God is love" (1 Jn. 4: 8). The love of God is broad and deep and without end. "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 Jn. 4: 10). K.H. Ting also says that love is the highest attribute of God. The doctrine of the human nature of Christ and that of his divinity are equally important. If he is not truly human, his death upon the cross would be just an illusion, and so he must be human, in order to die on behalf of humankind. The view that stresses his divinity at the expense of his humanity or denies his humanity altogether is one-sided and wrong. He had a real physical body, but he did not inherit human sinfulness. Like any human being, he grew normally, and matured intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially. The fact that his social relationships also matured must not be overlooked.
The Church today is located in society and must deal with its relationship with that society. Maturing in this society is like Jesus maturing in relationship to his own society, we cannot distance ourselves from this environment or from our social relationships. Jesus brought love to the people, that they might receive grace. In ecclesiological terms, Christ is head of the Church and the Church is his body. The body symbolizes that "all members of the body, though many, are one body" (1 Cor. 12: 12). At the same time, the local church is involved in service, as in serving one another (Rom. 12: 7), providing for others (Rom. 12: 8), helping others (1 Cor. 12: 28). Today, as part of the worldwide Church, the Chinese Church takes part in modernization in China, takes up its social responsibility, serves the people and "work[s] for the good of all" (Gal. 6: 10). All this is in accord with dogmatics.
Many churches work for the unity of their own countries, serving society with all their might. This caring for society may take the form of running charities, hospitals, schools and so on. African American ministers used to open a school along with a church. In the 1950s, the social gospellers took part in the Civil Rights Movement; in the 1960s and 1970s, they struggled against poverty. In both cases, they made great contributions to society. The Church is part of society, connected to the material environment and the social context. It must deal with relationships among people, and therefore the Church is closely linked to society and nation. No church can cast off its social or national environments. The English Church is very English; the German Church, very German. The early Church had to adapt to its Greco-Roman cultural surroundings. Roman society required an emphasis on theory, so church fathers like Justin made use of Greek philosophy to explain and prove the faith, to enable Christianity to better exist and develop in that context. This was the first indigenization or contextualization of Christianity.
Today the Chinese Church is taking part in construction in its own country, it is in dialogue with Chinese culture, adapting to Chinese society; this is also a contextualization issue. These things have a long history and are not at odds with historical church traditions or development. In addition, social service is an inherent part of church activities.2 Paul views social ethics as in line with the spirit of the Gospel. He does not limit the Gospel to the narrow world of Judaism, but expands it to the larger society, to the Gentiles and to the whole world. His ecumenism is very important. Paul exhorted the Thessalonians: "admonish the idlers" (1 Thess. 5: 14). In the Today's Chinese version, this is translated as an admonition to do nothing that is not in obedience to God. Martin Luther also stressed the necessity of the nation; he held it in high esteem, and proposed that obedience to the state was the obligation of the Christian, as it was of all the people. In his view the church and state were not at odds, but were complementary. They were two entities established by God, and the state had its specific functions. He exhorted Christians to uphold the government and the government to uphold justice.
The modernization of China is a just endeavor. That Chinese Christians should support and participate in it goes without saying. Paul said to Titus, "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work" (Titus 3:1). The Church and the State should cooperate in doing their separate work. In the course of modernization, the Chinese Church has become aware that it should undertake theological renewal and adapt to Chinese society. It must play a prophetic role in Chinese society, have a servant role in Chinese construction, reflect on its context, know its faith and theology anew and strive to keep up with modernization, enabling Christian tradition to meet the needs of modern people and to develop with the times.
Christian values and social values, Christian morality and social morality are not at all in conflict. The two have commonalities and Christianity has a very large social function: in harmony and stability; in history and culture; in international exchanges; in morality. The Chinese Church has made its witness in Chinese society, but it has to be said that there is still a need to be confident and firm of purpose. The greater the contribution of the Church, the more successful will be its efforts to make itself known and the greater the glory to God. In addition to guidance from God, what has brought the church this far is the important role of its ethics and morality, which gives the faith its abundant vitality. This is an important reason for its endurance over two thousand years and more.
In The Protestant Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism, Weber stresses that whatever people do, it is for the greater glory of God. To glorify God, live for God: this is a significant Christian view. Luther put forward the idea of vocation or calling, which he believed came from the Bible. God gave human beings a mission, instructing them to work. Deuteronomy says: "Six days you shall labor and do all your work" (Deut. 5: 13). This means that anyone, no matter who, must work hard in his or her own job or profession, be devoted to his or her duty and in this way glorify God and aid neighbors. This has real significance for loving and doing a good job in one's work. It teaches people not to take too lightly or look down upon their own work and role in life, to see work as a calling from God. Calvinism absorbed this concept, and stressed hard work even more, no matter what work God had given you, must do it with all your might and energy.3 Calvinism proposes that a the end or goal of life is to work hard in production, to profit through business, to save and draw interest, to accumulate capital, to invest widely, to be careful of time and money and to be abstemious. It forbids all pleasures of the flesh such as prostitutes, liquor and gambling. It both supports economic development and promotes ethics and morality. Here we find that it is entirely possible for people to seek the treasures and benefits of this world and not offend against doctrine.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion by Calvin develop very well the reform aspect of Protestant thinking and proceed to bring together Protestant thinking and actual society, enabling its theology to be better able to adapt to new social needs. Calvin promotes keeping to one's post and being devoted to duty, enacting planned charitable work among the poor; he bans begging, promotes actively developing industry, commerce and trade; he opposes high interest loans, for goods should be sold at fair prices. He also established fines for selling at short weights, exaggerated measurements, and so on.4 His doctrine of predestination was a denunciation of the corrupt lives of the lords of the Church and feudal society; for the people it stressed active participation in social activities and encouraged getting rich. But he opposed the luxurious life of the Pope and many of his ideas were in opposition to those of the Pope. The Pope said that wealth leads people into sin and away from salvation; Calvin said: Wealth is a sign of success for those who have been blessed by God.5 Therefore Protestantism promotes an active, involved Christian life. We cannot make an arbitrary decision that wealth is evil. We must be objective.
The Jesus Family, founded in north China in 1921, called on its followers to abandon family, property and profession and enter into the group to live an ascetic life of "poor food and tattered clothes." In the villages of Shandong and Yunnan, their followers preached the end of the world, giving the specific date for Jesus'return and the destruction of the world. Church members quit working, and in isolated instances played out a tragedy of barricading themselves in and waiting, causing serious damage to human life and property. This is diametrically counter to true faith. Calvinists believe that the standard of true faith is "Christian behavior that adds to the glory of God." 6 Calvin praised music, art and true science, believing that these could aid humans in knowing God and could guide human life. For Chinese Christians to be involved in modernization, work hard at their jobs and professions, develop all truth, goodness and beauty, and support the construction of socialist spiritual civilization, is in accord with Protestant tradition, ethical thinking and doctrine. "During the ten-year reform of the economic system, a great quantity of facts has shown that religious believers and non-believers alike have worked hard for individual and social well being." 7 Through their hard work, their lives are materially fulfilled and they glorify God. Is there any reason to oppose this?
Modern theology takes a positive view of life in the world and of society. For example, Liberation theology, feminist theology, Black theology, contextual theology and so on all reflect the quest of Third World peoples for equality, freedom, liberation, national autonomy, ethnic identity and contextualization. Moved by liberation theology, many Latin American priests and nuns supported and even took direct part in democratic revolutions and some died in these wars.
Modernists advocate developing along with society and improving society. At one time they had a definite impact on Chinese Christian intellectuals. Influenced by progressive thinking, Y.T. Wu expressed his support for the people's democratic revolution: "The Christian mission for this age is to change the present society which treats persons as slaves and tools into a society which fully honors the value of persons." 8 In this way, the value and integrity of a person as a social subject, a person possessing soul and moral consciousness, gains recognition.
In 1950, Y.T. Wu initiated the Three-Self Movement, setting Chinese Christianity on the three-self path of love country, love church. Believers, like others, loved their country and helped build new China. In 1956, the Second Plenary of the TSPM Committee issued a resolution saying that the liberation and construction of China clearly demonstrated God's holy, good and loving will for the Chinese people, and made believers'participation in socialist construction, one of three Witnesses for the Age of the Chinese Church. Bishop Ting said that the Church must "become one with the Chinese people who were undertaking the socialist experiment," …"encouraging the people in the continuation of their valuable work …to link them to God's love as this is expressed in God's work of creation, salvation and sanctification. In this way, Christians will have a new and fuller understanding of work and the roots of this enterprise will go deeper and will be connected to the nature of the love of God. In such a situation, Christians will gain a kind of peace, a steadiness and confidence, and a calmness and undauntedness, for we sense that through Christ we can be united to the ultimate being that loves the cosmos." 9
This kind of spiritual Life or transcendence, in no way denies the good of this world, but supports human beings to enter into history, to raise the quality of secular endeavors. Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfill. These theological views affirm this life and clearly affirm the hard work of our people in the construction of socialism. Under the guidance of correct theological thinking, the masses of believers will cast off old consciousness, love life, care for reality and social progress. They will take part in all patriotic activities that actively contribute to construction of the nation and are beneficial to it. The whole of the history of Christian thought including modern theology and modernism are evidence of this.
2 Modes of Christian Participation in Modernization, Links to Doctrine and to Theological Interpretations and Principles
The Eleventh Plenum of the Third Party Congress in 1978 proposed as a general task for the new era the construction of China as a modern socialist nation. Today Chinese achievements in modernization are notable and have brought a vast transformation to Chinese society. As Party Chairman Jiang Zemin said, "Through the common efforts of the whole Party and of all ethnic groups in the whole country, we have succeeded in bringing about the first two steps in our three-step strategy for modernization; our people are now better-off. This is a great victory for the socialist system, and a new milestone in the historical development of the Chinese people." 10 Our country will basically have achieved modernization by mid-century, making it a prosperous and strong, democratic socialist nation with a high-level of civilization. In the first two decades of this century, China focused on achieving a more comfortable standard of living, making the economy flourish, society harmonious and the lives of people stable and prosperous. The Chinese Church, located in this socialist country in the process of strengthening modernization, takes an active part, along with all other groups, and witnesses in its own context, not only contributing to modernization, but transforming the image of the Chinese Church and raising its position in society.
Besides taking part in productive work, Chinese believers contribute to the construction of socialist modernization by running factories, hospitals, kindergartens, homes for senior citizens, shops, bookstores, and hotels; in tree planting, agricultural pursuits such as raising mushrooms, tree fungus and the like; animal husbandry such as raising pigs, shrimp, fish and ducks; making donations to run schools, undertake technical training, aid the poor and respond to disasters, road and bridge repairs, bringing free tea to travelers, taking part in volunteer efforts to clean up and keep their environs healthy, providing social services, uncover and study religious culture, protect religious relics, etc. The Church has also established the social service organization The Amity Foundation and the Amity Printing Company. Now the national CCC/TSPM has set up social service departments to enable the Church to better express the social value of church groups in this time of social transition, to take up its social responsibilities to care for society and to serve the people, to extend love and live out Christ in social life.
A retired doctor in Beijing has made outstanding achievements in health care for several hundred residents and was lauded in the media. She says that there are two sources of strength in her heart: one arises from the care, trust, encouragement and training she received from the Party and the people; the second is that she always puts her work into my prayers. She has only one desire, that God gives her a heart on fire with love for others.11 In this doctor, we can truly see that many Christians become involved in service and modernization efforts because of education by Party and government, and because of religious faith. This is a function of their dual identities as citizens and as believers. Religious consciousness and patriotic consciousness have an organic connection: the two impulses form a single energy uniting love for country and love for church. This has become a marked characteristic of patriotic consciousness among believers.
In Caohejing economic development zone in Shanghai, engineer Brother Du Zuyin of the Loving Heart and Health Engineering and Technology Company recently developed a twenty-first century health elixir that is anti-aging, anti-Alzheimer's disease, and has a purifying, detoxifying and strengthening effect. He has researched altering the structure of water for use in improving the health of the people, an answer to the needs of people with hereditary cardiovascular disease and something that will enrich all society. The Bible tells us to work for the good of others and to serve others. This is exactly what Brother Du does. He has given society the fruits of his scientific research, using them to serve the people and society, expressing a moral and social meaning and making a beautiful witness to Christ.
From this we can also see that Christianity functions to accelerate, not decelerate, the economy. Though the development of Christianity requires an economic base, it also strongly promotes the forces of production and technological development and has practical significance for economics and economic ethics. The Protestant ethic encourages industry, enterprise, commerce and trade, praises diligence that leads to wealth, and, at the same time, advocates morality and opposes waste and corruption. Today, in the course of perfecting the socialist economic system, the restraint of ethics and morality is needed in order to avoid certain negative impacts. The Protestant ethic which once played a positive role in capitalist economic development can be quite illuminating in terms of the Chinese market economy. "Christian ethics should become a beneficial complement to socialist ethics and morality," 12 acting as a referent. As Weber said, you can work for God and get rich, but you cannot get rich on the sins of the flesh. Christians with means must do good works, storing up wealth in heaven (Mt. 6:20).
It is glorious to take part in production. God blesses eager work: "In all toil there is profit" (Prov. 14: 23). God wants humans to work hard and admonishes laziness (Prov.6: 6-11). In order to live, we must earn our keep each day. The Bible says it well: "For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living" (2 Thess. 3: 10-12). Christians should both work and pray. May God "strengthen the work of our hands" (Ps. 90:17). Believer and non-believer alike must rely on their labor to eat. It is dishonorable to get without working. Taking part in modernization is a wonderful work, a diligent work, exactly what the Bible is talking about and God will bless it the same. In taking part in modernization, the Church expresses its social value and function, and this is another contribution to the construction of socialist material and spiritual civilization, as well as a contribution to world civilization and the creation of wealth for humanity. Such efforts will certainly be precious in the sight of God; the hard work is not in vain. This also illustrates the extension of Christian love, which will reach many places and fill the earth. At the same time, it illustrates that God's creation is ongoing and that he wants human beings to be co-workers, making this world better.
Christianity does not advocate placing believers and non-believers at odds, separating this life and the life to come; distancing faith from life; setting faith at odds with the world; the Church at odds with society and state; setting Christianity at odds with economic development. Christianity foregrounds the value and position of persons, believing that human success and work in this world glorify God, and are significant for gaining salvation in the world to come. In speaking of the theology of Teilhard de Chardin, K.H. Ting said: "Though we are semi-finished products, God wants to use us to further history, to further evolution and creation. This is the process by which semi- finished products become finished ones." This Christian spirit of not disparaging humanity is compatible with modern social development, and is an expression of progressive civilization, an act of abundance; it is joining together with all the people of the nation to transform lives and build a rich and strong nation.
Believers and non-believers are all working in a common struggle to build in China a modern socialist country. There is no reason for us to oppose this valuable and beneficial endeavor. Love of God is expressed in concrete actions that show love for others. If in this world we do not express our faith in actions, behavior and fruits, then our faith is empty, doctrine becomes empty and our love for God cannot find expression. Jesus is our model. He made the healing of illness the concrete action by which he made manifest the love of God. Believers have blended their faith and spiritual lives with their everyday lives and work. Their attitude to life is serious, conscientious and positive, and they are willing to contribute to modernization. This is the concrete expression of moral action in faith. This is the true value of humanity.
Those who despise reality, who do not take active part in production, who are essentially idlers, want only to use so-called faith as a cover for opposing work. The Bible tells us that the lazy will be poor and the diligent rich. Perhaps understanding of these verses has been corrupted by negative, corrupt and out-of-date theology. The relationship between faith and reality and work has not been comprehensively and correctly faced. Without correct theological guidance, interpretation may fall into error; this does not glorify God, and can actually do quite a lot of damage. Nothing that is true, good, or beautiful is outside the love of God. Origen said that God is the fount of all wisdom. There is much truth, goodness and beauty outside the Church, such as art, science, wealth, well-being, social virtue and so on, none of which we can deny. God is Lord of all creation, the source of all wealth: "The earth and its fullness are the Lord's" (1 Cor. 10: 26). Everything belongs to God, who gives riches to human beings (Deut. 8: 16-18). The grace of God is extremely abundant, we cannot place limits upon it.
Just as K.H. Ting advocates in his theology of the Cosmic Christ, God is the Lover of the Cosmos: "All God's creative and saving action is for all of humankind." Christ is a Cosmic Christ, the Christ of all humanity. He is transcendent and all things come from him (Col. 1: 16), "He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (v. 17), he is the beginning (v. 18), the source of all truth, goodness and beauty, "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (v. 19). As Wang Aiming has said in his article, "Understanding the Task of Theological Reconciliation in the Chinese Church,""there yet exists outside the church the truth, goodness and beauty of God's creation."
Thus we must not make a duality of belief and non- belief, and in particular we must not say that no matter what good non-believers do they are destined for hell. In addition to the effect of such talk on harmony and stability, this view does not correctly deal with belief and unbelief, with relationships within and outside the Church, nor with the relationship between faith and persons, society and the world.
The Church is one cell within society and cannot develop without society; it cannot leave the soil and atmosphere of a society. Nor can the Church leave its nation; its fate is tied to the fate of the nation. Luther stressed that the Church and the state have different functions, but they are not opposed, nor in contradiction. They are very close and it is entirely possible for them to cooperate. This cooperation is not a situation where one wants and the other does not, nor where one party swallows up the other, but two parties coexisting, without prejudice. Thus the Church is not something that must be eradicated in the course of modernization. In countries that have been modernized to a moderate degree, such as in England and the U.S., Christianity and other religions continue to exist and are able to deal well with relations between church and state. But for the church to exist and develop, it cannot turn its back on its own country, but must adapt to its nation's context and environment. The Bible tells us to honor those in authority (1 Pet. 2: 17), and to pray for them (1 Tim. 2: 1-3). Two thousand years of church history tell us that we must deal rightly with relations between Church and State.
Today the Chinese Church needs to reflect deeply on this question, understand and interpret it theologically and take very seriously the Sinification and contextualization of the construction of the Church. We have clearly seen that the Church we build in China cannot be western. It must be a Chinese Church, with Chinese characteristics, for it is in this nation of China that the Chinese Church is building itself. Were the Chinese Church to remove itself from China, it could not be the Chinese Church. Looking at Chinese Church history, it is only when the nation became independent that the church became truly independent. The construction and development of the Church is linked to the nation. To reject society, the state and modernization is an error.
As we comprehensively promote theological reconstruction, the Chinese Church should not, in seeking to bring Christianity together with Chinese culture and society in the course of strengthening theological contextualization, overlook the fact that besides uniting with what is best in traditional Chinese culture, it should particularly bring Christianity together with modern China's new culture and society. We should not underestimate the social context of Chinese modernization. Proceeding in this practical and concrete way to do theological reflection and exploration can accelerate the transformation of certain incompatibilities with modernization which still exist in the Church, reforming theology and bringing it in step with the times. As Bishop Ting writes: "The masses of the Chinese Christians love their country, support the people's government, actively engage themselves in working for modernization and do not support divisiveness. However, this does not imply that their first allegiance is not to Christ but rather to the state, or that they relinquish the principle of independence from the state in faith, life, work and administration." 13
In China, Church and State are separate and Church affairs are handled by the Church itself; the government does not interfere. It is incorrect and a distortion of the facts to call the Chinese Church an "official church." Chinese Christians uphold socialist new China, they participate in modernization and support the just endeavors of the people's government. Does that make it logical to call them an official church? Rather these things are an expression of faith. Again, we cannot use separation of Church and State to oppose Church-State cooperation or the contribution of the Church to the nation. We cannot make the government into an object of hostility, something unrelated to faith and the spiritual life, or even at odds with these. This goes against the theological and faith principles of love country, love church and glorify God and benefit the people.
Christian ethics, like other ethical systems, consist of mainly two large areas: providing an ultimate ideal of character and moral standards, establishing a universally recognized system of absolute values; and, concrete rules and regulations based on this system. From its beginnings, Christian morality showed itself to be progressive in thinking and principles about values, such as a sense of justice, the quest for equality, freedom, goodness and love, especially love which became its highest moral principle. But its morality did not depart from the Bible, or replace faith. Quite the opposite, faith is the basis of morality and morality or virtue is the fruit of faith: faith impels action; action shows forth faith. Faith requires that people seek holiness, goodness, peace and good works, and keep a distance from sin, being thus sanctified, in the pursuit of holiness and perfection. This beautiful virtue is closely linked to faith.
But the Gospel cannot reject morality. It cannot set saving grace and spirituality at odds with morality and service; even less can it deny the value and function of morality. Hegel said if morality is taken out of religion, religion becomes superstition. Christian ethics is an ethics of love.
K.H. Ting emphasizes a God is love theology, developing and expanding love, a love that loves to the end. These are of great significance for the building of ethical thinking in the Chinese Church, to service to society, and for participation in modernization. Christian ethics and Chinese ethics both show forth love. And through love, these two have renewed contact fused and merged in a relationship, that is renewing the modern mission of Christian ethics along with a renewal and rebuilding of Chinese ethics and world ethics. To paraphrase Einstein, all human value is the basis of morality. This observation means that we must never forget that reliance on knowledge and technology alone cannot bring good fortune and honor to human life. Humankind has every reason to place preachers with lofty moral standards and values above discoverers of objective truths.14 In the great process of Chinese modernization, to value and lift up the concept of Christian ethics and morality enables the Chinese Church, seeking its own development within a socialist society, to have its own place. The special characteristic of the social function of the Chinese Church is as a model of morality and a model of service. This is historical inevitability operating in the development of the Chinese Church; it is the light of the truth of Christ in China. Bishop Ting states: "It is my hope that after a fairly long period of time, a new form of Chinese Christianity will rise on the eastern horizon—one that speaks of ethics and makes clear the difference between truth and falsity and is mentally sharp, one that lifts high Christ and that lifts high morality. A Chinese Christianity with an important message for the world."
Many Christians imitate Christ, in willing and enthusiastic service, and many of them have received various commendations as advanced workers. They are well thought of by Chinese society and by government departments because they serve joyfully and without thought of repayment. One retired pastor, over eighty years old, has gone each morning for over ten years to volunteer at a shop selling soy milk. Such persons do not think of awards or of receiving any kind of benefit for themselves, but like blades of grass which cover the earth with green, do their small bit for society, expending some of their energy. For this elderly pastor, this is faith in action on the soil of China. At home, at work, in the area of social morals, the great amount of witness by Christian believers shows how active they are in society and that their Christian faith is inseparable from ethical and moral action. It also shows that faith is not in contradiction to the patriotism, collectivism and humanism promoted in China and furthermore that believers who serve Christian ideals of morality can also accept the moral principles of patriotism and socialism.
Socialist spiritual civilization is a broad concept. When the government attacks smuggling, punishes corruption and promotes good behavior, Christians are greatly encouraged. Genuinely faithful and moral Christians have high moral standards and yearn for a highly civilized society. They can entirely move with the moral standard of the Four Haves: "to have ideals; to have morals; to have culture; to have regulations." They respond positively to slogans such as Wujiang simei (The Five Stresses [stress on decorum, manners, hygiene, discipline and morals] and Four Beauties [beauty of mind, language, behavior and environment]) and contribute their energies and strengths to the construction of socialist spiritual civilization." 15 Chinese Christians have a high sense of social responsibility. They are filled with love for the people, are enthusiastic about life and filled with confidence and hope for the future. Their faith gives them tremendous strength and from this come good deeds that are a living out of faith and life, a witness to faith and to the Chinese Church. In our present consumer economy and in society, stress on behavior, morality and honesty is extremely important. If Christians do not stress morality and honesty, they are not good Christians.
The Chinese Church has been involved in constructing modernization for many years already and should do some summing up and analysis in terms of its work experience and theology, thereby refining and generalizing to draw out useful guidelines. It is not difficult to see that the church's involvement in modernization is proper, reasonable, important and necessary. The Christian duty, faith, witness and moral action, is an integral part of contextualization for the Chinese Church. Let me repeat that the quest for well being in life is proper, reasonable and in accord with the Bible and Protestant ethics. We should not think that the poorer one is the better. God is not biased. God helps the poor; God also watches over the wealthy. When the people's lives improve, when the nation is strong and flourishing: none of this is beyond the vast love of God. God wants to fill the world with love, to make people better and more perfect. God requires us to aid the poor and the weak, that they may be strengthened and their lives improve.
Process theology also emphasizes the love of God and this message is very important for the Chinese Church. Church involvement in modernization is an illustration of the love and care God has for people; it is involvement in creation and construction, in making the nation prosper and the people flourish. Though making love a reality is a vast undertaking, the superior Chinese socialist system can, as a social system, guarantee this. In the course of modernization, the lives of Chinese people are improving, so that today we want to construct a moderately well-off society. To do this is to strive to provide good soil and environment for the love of God.
Thus, speaking theologically, I feel that the following guiding theological principles are worth stressing: equal emphasis on this life and the next; faith cannot be separate from action; theology cannot be separate from reality; Protestant ethics are closely related to economics; spirituality and morality cannot be separate; the sacred and the secular are not at odds; saving grace and service are not at odds; church and society and state are not at odds; theology cannot be separate from its time and its context; love is the highest attribute of God and the heart of Christian ethics; theological theory should be joined to practice; Christianity should adapt to socialist society; love country, love church; glorify God and benefit people; honor Jesus'moral teachings; promote virtue and the spirit of service; encourage diligence leading to wealth and make good deeds widely done; uphold justice and peace; oppose avarice and correctly treat truth, goodness and beauty outside the church, affirm nature, humanity and culture; stress both salvation and creation; uphold the three-self principle, treat correctly the relationship between the individual and the collective; theology changes and develops, and pessimistic and negative thinking and thinking that is behind the times or cannot adapt should be adapted and reformed; promote theological reflection and a spirit of creativity in theology.
It is obvious here that in our real lives and work, the church's involvement in modernization is not at all in contradiction to or conflict with the Bible, faith, doctrine or theology, but rather entirely in accord with them. The problem is that we have not often looked at or tried to understand this theologically or rationally. There are so many points of commonality between what Christianity promotes and the strengthening of spiritual civilization promoted in the course of socialist modernization: carrying forward traditional Chinese culture, absorbing all that is good in the human spirit; upholding truth, goodness and beauty; aiding the poor and rescuing those in difficulties; strengthening social service; stressing love; public morals; morality in the workplace; dedication to work; a sense of responsibility, confidence, standing up for what is right; healthy trends, honesty, stability, unity, civilization, work, working to become moderately well off, pursuing well being, protecting the environment, seeking truth from facts, keeping up with the times, etc. The words may differ, but their spirit is the same or similar.
The Bible says truth is truth and falsehood is falsehood. Doesn't this mean that we should seek truth from facts, stress honesty and concreteness; that we should make it our joy to help others, love country, love the people, and serve society? Involvement in modernization is precisely the faith in practice of the Christian ideal to love others as ourselves, the extension of the belief that the highest attribute of the Christian God is love, the continuation of God's creation. From this we can give expression to the Christian doctrine of unity of faith and action, unity of love country, love church, unity of this world and the next, unity of the spiritual and the secular, unity of love for God and love for others, unity of salvation and service. We can demonstrate that all this is extremely sound theologically. It is a concrete expression of faith in practice for China, greatly enriching the spiritual experience and selfhood of the Chinese Church. There is much here for the renewal and improvement of the contextualized theology of the Chinese Church. Moreover, the theological understanding and interpretation it brings will be a strong impetus for theological reconstruction in the Chinese Church, setting it on a more comprehensive and profound path of development, ultimately establishing a solid foundation for the theological system of the Chinese Church.
3 The Significance of Church Involvement in the Modernization of China
The participation of the Chinese Church in modernization is important both historically and currently:
1 To fully express engagement by the Church with the world and its significant accomplishments in this regard.
The history of Christian thought demonstrates that Christianity continued to develop and show undiminished vitality because it is uniquely and strongly adaptable. No matter what dangers, difficulties, issues and challenges it may meet, it is able to face them, reflect on them and respond; it has a self-regulatory capacity. It does not avoid reality, but engages with the world, frequently speaks in a prophetic voice, is involved in everyday realities, can transform a bad situation, face the future and develop better. Church involvement in modernization has shown Christians their own worth and fully expressed Christian engagement with the world and Christian accomplishments in China. It has opened up a broader space for the Chinese Church, provided a stage for faith practice and witness, and moved Christianity closer to reality, closer to society and into real life. In China, the language of deeds—body language— is much more effective in communicating faith, morality and service than the language of preaching or mere lip service to these ideas. Actions are more persuasive and much more attractive. This is because the Chinese, who come from an intensely humanist culture, stress the practical and value action.
2 To promote production and moral construction, and, by adapting to socialist society, run the church well.
In China, the issue of Church participation in socialist modernization is unavoidable. Bishop Ting has said, "The socialist system is suitable for China. It helped our people out of extreme poverty and enabled more and more people to live more human lives. So in China we support this system as a matter of course. But socialism is concerned with raising the level of production and with reconstruction of the material and the moral." 16 Though Christianity and socialism have their differences, Bishop Ting explores the similarities in spirit between them, seeks the common ground and advocates their reaching the same goal by different routes. The involvement of the Church in economic construction is a promotion of the productive strength of the nation, enabling it to better develop. A great number of Christian experts, engineers, technological innovators, entrepreneurs, scholars, advanced workers, diligent workers and farmers, etc., have come on the scene. This is a tremendous contribution to the society and the nation. Some have received commendations and awards, some of their innovations have garnered international recognition. The work of Christians in these fields can play a very positive role in improving the lives of the people.
In Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, the TSPM gave over ten thousand yuan to set up Wenzhou University. A number of wealthy Christians also contributed generously to this institution which will greatly benefit society. There are many other examples to show enthusiastic good deeds, social service and aid for others on the part of Christians; these are all seen as giving glory to God. Such actions are both the starting point and the firm grounding for their promotion of work, pursuit of a good life and support of Christian morality. In this process of modernization, the church has done much by good actions to show moral behavior and this is an advancement of Chinese ethical construction, the social expression of church service, an expression of the strength of their faith, and a beautiful witness to faith. This also shows that Christianity can adapt to socialist society, move with the times, love country and love church and run the church well in the area of ethics and morality.
3 To promote modernization and indigenization in the Church and strengthen reflection and exploration in contextual theology.
Material modernization is first of all human modernization; and human modernization is mainly the modernization of ideas. In the course of modernization— in fields such as politics, economics, culture and technology—China has undergone an unprecedented transformation, especially marked in ideas and thinking. This is a challenge to the church, as well as an encouragement, and the church should not turn away, but rather reflect and respond. Its reflection and response should deal with how to reform theological thinking, keep up with the times, adapt to society and link up with modernization. Happily, theological reconstruction is already taking place in the Chinese Church and this has opened a new page of progress in the Church's history. It has been recognized in international theological circles: our theology is in the process of construction and growth. At the same time, we see that in taking part in modernization, the Church is also raising itself by striving to keep step with the modernization process. The modernization process also spurs the Church to be modernized and Sinified, to provide material and experience for theological reconstruction and better propel contextual theological reflection and exploration.
We can see the Chinese Church as an ellipse with two focal points, two C's: Christ and China. The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are complementary. We must protect the selfhood and particularity of the Chinese Church, both of which are in the process of formation. The selfhood of our Church cannot be sought apart from the Church universal, for Christ fills the universe with light, shining on its hills and valleys and across its plains. The ecumenical Church exists in the whole world and throughout the ages and bears witness in every social system.
4 To raise the status, quality and level of the Church; discover its position, role and selfhood, and realize its contribution to the ecumenical Church.
K.H. Ting reminds us: "Patriotism in China today affirms the achievements made through the self-sacrifice on the part of millions of our fellow Chinese, and pledges that we will continue to struggle against the evils that still linger in our society, for material and cultural elevation, and for greater justice and human dignity. This is a responsible love for nation. Christians need to care for the welfare of the people of the whole world in all their historical concreteness. It means for us caring for China, not exclusively but as our point of departure, the first stage in our love of mankind. This caring is not in opposition but extends itself naturally to internationalism." 17
Caring for the well being of the Chinese people and involvement in modernization will raise the position of the Church in Chinese society and will also enable the Church to broaden its own vision, opening up to society and the world beyond, identifying with the people so that faith is better applied and its value better expressed, enabling pastoral care and administration to take place at a higher level, enabling people to see the abundance and variety of the grace of God and the universality of love and thus raising the whole level of quality, theology and so forth, in the Church. At the same time, this enables the Church to define its own place in our socialist society, to discover the special social function of Christian morality, our special form of service and the place where Christianity can exist and develop in China, as well as its role in China—a role with a modern mission, rich in individuality. It is extremely important to establish the selfhood of the Chinese Church, for it has an indispensable role in the world Church, one which will be definitive for the understanding of the contextualization of theology in China, and will also be a contribution to the ecumenical Church.
Making the Chinese Church into China's own Church is an important condition for Christians in China in their relationships and exchanges with others. The preaching of the Gospel requires a suitable environment. The Church must identify with the people, must deeply love the people. To a very great extent, the Chinese Church has cast off its foreign image. In order to self-propagate, it cannot distance itself from its own environment and context. It must love the Church; it must love its nation. It must see this nation's difficult accomplishment in totally transforming itself into the nation it is today in the midst of constructing socialist modernization with a heart of love and it must become involved in this process.
As a Christian, one should have a heart filled with universal love, one should care for society, love and safeguard the nation and build the country up well. Theologically one should have a correct view of Church, society, morality, values, history and this present life. What we do not say is that if socialism fails, or modernization does not go smoothly or cannot be realized, the Gospel can be successfully preached, or the church run well. Quite the opposite, to give effective witness to Christ in China, to run the church well in China, we must identify to a very great extent with the Chinese people, adapt to socialist society, love the country and love the church. In fact, the context of the Church, the state and one's own people are intimately linked. In his "Witnessing to Christ in China," K.H. Ting writes "We are seriously undertaking the development of selfhood for the Chinese Church. The linkage between the local Church and the ecumenical Church are of course indispensable to the realization of the selfhood of a Church. But the idea of the local character of a Church is part of the New Testament ecclesiology; ecumenicity is realized through nationality. Ecumenicity can only exist as the collective total of countless concrete, particular Christians. Locality, nationality and particularity are the marks of the nature of the ecumenical Church; they are not dispensable."
If the Chinese Church does not first run itself well in its own context, does not build itself up, does not have plentiful fruits and selfhood, then it will have no way to make a contribution to the ecumenical Church. In fact, the richer the individuality or localness, the richer the commonality and ecumenicity. The Church's witness through its involvement in Chinese modernization, besides being under the care and leading of God, also reflects our Church in its own locality, in the midst of seeking a new path with Chinese characteristics suitable for the Chinese Church as it adapts to socialist society, a path that is in line with models of development and internal regulation in the Bible, doctrine and orthodox church theology. We can see that a Chinese Church, worthy of its nation, with a modern image, in step with the times and glorifying the name of Christ, which is in the process of developing and growing. This church will establish itself in the East and become a model in the eyes of the ecumenical Church.
Nanjing Theological Review 2(2003): 31-51.
Xiao Anping is Vice-President and Dean of Zhongnan Seminary.
1 Justo L. Gonzales, History of Christian Thought, translated by Chen Zemin et al (Nanjing: Nanjing Union Seminary, 2000),18.
2 Kan Baoping, "The Chinese Church and Modernization," Nanjing Theological Review 2(1998): 26.
3Religion in Society—a Religious Sociology (Chinese edition), translated by Yin Jinli (Sichuan People's Press, 1991), 203.
4 Jin Peilin, "Introduction to Calvin's Thought," Nanjing Theological Review 2 (1992): 48.
5 Ibid., 50.
6 Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, translated by Peng Qiang et al (Xian: Shaanxi Normal College Press, 2002), 96.
7 Xiao Zhitian, "Construction of Modernization and Freedom of Religious Belief," Religion 1 (1989): 26.
8Tian Feng 8(1946) .
9 K.H. Ting, "Witnessing to Christ in China," Nanjing Theological Review (inaugural issue of new series) 9(1984): 13.
10 Jiang Zemin, Comprehensively Construct a Better-Off Society; Open Up a New Situation in the Socialist Enterprise with Chinese Characteristics (Beijing: People's Press, 2002), 18.
11 Yu Jin, "Christian social involvement and its inherent links to faith," in Selected Articles on Religion (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, 1995), 183.
12 Dan Weixiang, "Stress ethics and morality; enable Chinese Christianity to move with the times," Tian Feng 11(2002): 49.
13 K.H. Ting, Love Never Ends (Nanjing: Yilin Press, 2000), 281.