Widening Fields in China
(by a missionary)
Since I wrote my last article for New Horizons a year ago, a big change has occurred in my ministry: I have moved from one city (OC) to another city (AC) in China. For the next six months, I will be exploring exciting new opportunities for the Reformed faith there.
I will be working with Christians here who number over seven hundred souls, and who meet in eight different locations. They meet in their own rented facilities and have upwards of 150 people in attendance. In the past, our Mission has concentrated its efforts on working with churches in the region near our base in OC for a number of reasons. First, these churches in OC have typically been more evangelical and Reformed than other groups there. Second, there is a historical connection between the OPC and the local church: the mother of the pastor when our work began was baptized years ago by one of our former missionaries. owever, broadening freedoms have expanded opportunities for the gospel in China and opened a door for our Mission to pursue relationships with people and churches that we could not have imagined possible ten years ago. While the relationships we have built over the years in OC and the surrounding area remain precious to the Mission and to me personally, and will continue to play an important role in the overall strategy, it seems that the Lord is calling our Mission and me to explore and expand in new directions. And that has brought me to AC.
The Churches in AC
The churches with which I will be doing exploratory work have three full-time elders, a full-time deacon, and a number of lay leaders. They have a fundamentalist background, which continues in many ways to exert influence among their membership, but through the efforts of other Reformed ministers, the Lord has brought the ordained leadership of this church to a strong conviction of the Reformed faith. Two and a half years ago, one of the elders traveled to OC to meet with me at the encouragement of another minister, and thus began my relationship with this group.
Despite much fruit over the years in OC, one goal that our Mission has yet to attain, by Godâ€™s grace, is the establishment of a biblical understanding of the church. Thanks be to the Lord that there are signs that this goal may be reached in AC within the next few years, and then perhaps soon thereafter in OC as well. Prior to coming to a Reformed understanding of the Bible, the three men in AC were ordained generically as â€œelders,â€ without the biblical distinction (on the basis of 1 Timothy 5:17) between teaching elders (ministers) and ruling elders. Currently, they serve the church as her ministers, but lack the formal training and certification that Reformed churches require for their officers (in accordance with 1 Timothy 3:10 and 5:22). However, their extensive practical experience and less formal training make up for much of that. My plan in the coming months is to supplement that training and help prepare these men to take ordination exams for the office of teaching elder.
(A process for the ordination of Reformed ministers in China has already been established in another part of the country, mostly through the work of other Reformed ministers. I had a chance to participate in a small way in helping to prepare the church history exam. There, too, progress has been made toward the establishment of a biblical structure for elders in the church.)
The next step in AC will be to help them prepare materials and men for the offices of ruling elder and deacon, and help them establish a fully biblical structure. Once one is established, it can help reach other areas of China. Particularly close to home, it can help to establish biblical unity among the churches in the area around OC, where we have traditionally focused our labors, and help them in the organization of some of the fruits of that work.
Other New Opportunities In China
Last October, I had the opportunity to speak in still another city about covenant theology. More than five dozen people from around China were in attendance. This was a significant opportunity for me, not only to speak about the need for biblical structure and the need for unity among Reformed Christians, but also to get to know many upand- coming leaders in the Chinese church who are interested in the Reformed faith. Already these new contacts are bearing fruit, including more requests from around the country for me to speak on Reformed principles than I am able to follow up on. Iâ€™ve already spoken once to a church in a city up north, and this led to a new friendship with a Reformed church elsewhere in Asia.
Just a few weeks ago, I met with six men from five cities in China. During our meeting, we formed a semiformal discussion group that has as its goal the coordination and organization of a program to train people in basic Bible doctrine as set forth in the Westminster Standards, with the ultimate goal of promoting wider unity among Reformed Christians. This group will no doubt open even more doors. These are exciting times for the gospel and the Reformed faith in the worldâ€™s most populous nation. It is a great privilege for me to serve here, and I am thankful to the Lord, the Committee on Foreign Missions, and the members of the OPC who all have a vital part in this work through their prayers and support. If the Lord tarries, may we all together, by the grace of God, help to promote Reformed principles in China in the years to come.
New Horizons, May 2012.