I just watched a Frontline video report called Jesus in China, which was about the state of the Christian church in China. The report was about how the Chinese government relates to the modern Christian church in China. They address how the government has created a state sanctioned church and how the government is persecuting underground “house churches” and arresting their pastors. However, it was something else altogether that stirred me. In fact the thing that bothered me was never mentioned in the program. I was bothered by how western the Chinese church looked. If you ignored the obvious language difference, the state sanctioned church might have been any large traditional protestant church in the US, and the underground churches all looked very much like any of a number of more charismatic churches that I have been a part of.
I hesitate to write about this for fear that others will take this as a critisism of how a particular group of people “does church”, but that is truly not what’s on my mind. This not really about how to “do church”. I just expected the Chinese church to seem more… well… Chinese. I was excited by the title to think that I would get to see how the message of Jesus is being lived out by people from a different culture than mine. What I saw was my own culture being lived out in a different group. From the architecture of the church building to the clothing, the state church looked just like First Baptist of Smalltown America. From the the bouncy dancing while singing repititious choruses to the few young folks with microphones leading the singing in a line on the stage… it could have been any one of a thousand trendy new evangelical or charismatic churches. I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with “doing church” like that, I just wonder why church gatherings are not more expressive of the people who are gathered.
God created us as individuals with many varied talents, interests and experience, and I believe that everything we touch and create as Christians should naturally be a unique expression of who we are. “…Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms…” I Peter 4:10. It seems to me that using “whatever gift” would look differently for every believer. Individual church gatherings ought to look very different for people from very different cultures. For me, it just doesn’t add up.
Again, I feel compelled to go overboard in saying that this blog entry is not about the Chinese Church. I think it is wonderful that people who have been oppressed by their government are experiencing a newfound (or newly fought for) freedom to worship God. If anything, I want to see them free to worship God as Chinese, not as westerners. God is God and western society is western society and they aren’t the same thing.