Redefining Missions

The Missions Revolution in China

by Dr. Bob Finley
Founder of Christian Aid

What´s happening in China these days has astounded missiologists in their academic cloisters from coast to coast. It has demonstrated the need for a complete reformation of our concepts and practices in foreign missionary operations.

After 150 years of foreign missionary activity, we guestimated that perhaps a million Chinese were professing Christians when I left there in 1949. Less than half of those would have been born again evangelicals. And after they had gone through fiery trials of great tribulation, possibly only 250,000 survived to pass on the torch of faith.

But the torch was passed. A new generation grew up without any knowledge of the foreign denominations that had been a stigma on the cause of Christ in China. The Chinese believers had only the Word of God as it gradually became available in many forms: hand copied, Xeroxed, imported by mules from India, shipped in by businessmen from Hong Kong, carried in the luggage of tourists (especially foreign students from Africa) and, eventually, downloaded from the internet.

Soon after the communists took over. They rounded up all "ordained ministers" of foreign denominations and sent them to labor camps. Church buildings were converted to warehouses, stores and communist propaganda centers. Without ministers or buildings the Lutherans, Baptists, and Presbyterians weren´t able to have church "services" any more. But the New Testament type house churches went right on meeting together and planting new assemblies. And even though they had been despised and rejected by colonial missionaries, the house churches welcomed true believers from the now defunct foreign denominations into their fellowship. In the late 1950´s I received word out of China that the number of house churches had doubled within five years after the communists took over.

That growth has continued to this day, in spite of dungeon, fire and sword. A great multitude which no man can number has come out of great tribulation, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

It would never have happened if colonial missionaries had remained in China. The Christian faith was known as "the foreigners´ religion." Few Chinese would work for it. Few would die for it. Theater-style churches were propped up everywhere by foreign support and supervision.

But now a new day has dawned. It has been 50 years since colonial church operations were closed down in China. A billion Chinese have grown up during these years having no recollection of the colonial foreigners. Christian faith no longer carries the stigma of being a western religion imported by "foreign devils." And the flow of new believers into the churches, estimated to be 20,000 souls a day, is without parallel in church history.

But, sadly, most churches in America have been left out of this marvelous work of God. Instead of getting behind our fellow believers in China and helping them financially, our churches are still living in the past, trying to hang on to obsolete 19th century traditions that should have been phased out 50 years go.

Why can´t we turn loose our 19th Century traditions? Why don´t we give up our colonial mentality? There is no precedent in the New Testament for the "send out your missionaries" approach. Rather, God´s Word says that all true believers are one body in Christ and every one members one of another. If some members of His body suffer needs, those who have more should share in meeting those needs. As God leads us to further the cause of Christ in China we should send financial help to our fellow believers who are there. Trying to go ourselves is likely to make things more difficult for them, and hinder more than help in furtherance of the faith.

It´s time for an entirely new approach to foreign missions. I urge pastors and churches everywhere to discontinue our insistence on sending our representatives to invade foreign countries and cultures. Instead, let´s get behind our fellow believers who are already there, and help them financially to carry out their God given ministries among their own people.