Theological Reconstruction in China: Ecumenical Accompaniment in the Self-Theologizing Effort in Theological Education

By Wilson, Henry S. | International Review of Mission, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Theological Reconstruction in China: Ecumenical Accompaniment in the Self-Theologizing Effort in Theological Education


Wilson, Henry S., International Review of Mission


Abstract

In 2007 Protestants in China celebrated the 200th anniversary of their journey of faith. The continuing concern of Chinese Christian theological educators is to rejuvenate Christianity in China by critically adapting to the contemporary socialist order and the best religio-cultural tradition of Chinese society. Chinese Christians have been challenged by the socialist order of society particularly because of the political and social changes that have taken place in China since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 and the changes brought about within Chinese society. With the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the change of political atmosphere in 1978 there has been once again an opening for public Christian activities within the confines of certain state regulations. This change has provided scope for pursuing the reconstruction in China of Christianity initiated in the 1950s under the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). Besides the revival of TSPM, the Chinese leaders have set up another instrument, the China Christian Council (CCC) especially to cater to the surging pastoral and congregational needs. This article briefly surveys the development of the vision of reconstructing Christianity through "theological reconstruction" and the need for ecumenical accompaniment.

Introduction

Expressions of ecumenical solidarity were pouring in in support of Indian Christian communities as I began writing this essay in the middle of October 2008. In several parts of India Christian worship places were attacked, including on September 14 in the town of Mangalore where I live, for the first time on such a scale since Indian independence in 1947. (1) The church buildings have been part of the city landscape since 1586 with the building of the Rosario Cathedral (now the church of our Lady of the Rosary) by the Portuguese. From the Protestant side the Shanti Church (now Cathedral) of the Church of South India, built by the Basel German Evangelical Missionary Society, has stood on a hillock since 1861. Despite such a long-standing history in the community, the perpetrators of the attack, Hindu religious groups like Bajrang Dal (a fraternity devoted to the Hindu warrior deity Hanuman who helped Lord Rama to fight against his adversaries) and sympathizers such as Sri Rama Sena (Lord Rama's army), doubt the loyalty of Christians to the nation and the Indian community. Even though the dispute was centred on the Christian activity of conversion by inducement, the epicentre of misunderstanding is the suspicion about the loyalty of Christians to the Indian nation and its well-being. On the one hand, the majority of the Indian Hindu community appreciates the contribution of Christian missionaries and Indian Christians to the country and the society. At the same time some Christian beliefs and practices are suspect and perceived as alien to the revered age-old cultures and customs of India.

The scenario referred to above impinges on the challenge for indigenization, inculturation and contextualization, a perennial ministerial and missional concern within Christianity. Christianity being perceived as disloyal and alien is not only an issue in India but is true in most of Asia, where Christians are numerically minority communities and owe their formation to western missionary work. Christianity, rightly or wrongly, is associated with western colonialism and imperialism and Christians are seen as promoters of a western religion in Asia. How Christianity has to be adapted to the local context without compromising its catholic nature and universal calling is a challenge that requires careful discernment. The challenges vary according to the situation of each community. In some contexts adaptation to the historic context of the larger society may be the priority whereas in others the challenge may be to adapt to the contemporary realities of the community. Disputes and disagreements are no less in matters of adaptation to contemporary realities than historical realities. …

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