What Christianity in China Is Really Like

Claude reports on an article by Colin Clark.

The issue in China is the lack of trust between government and believers who know how quickly rules can change, leaving you high and dry. The core concern of the authorities is foreign and subversive elements forming disruptive, dangerous movements – so they insist on whatever religion is practised, is done transparently and with no foreign influence. This results in a very mixed outcome for churches.

The following quote says it well:

First, a disclaimer. I can’t tell you what anything in China is really like—that is, unless we’re comfortable with saying it’s like a bunch of contradictory things all at the same time. A faithful and honest description of Chinese Christianity will be nuanced and somewhat paradoxical, not definitive and one-sided. Joann Pittman wrote an extremely helpful article that should be required reading for anyone visiting or discussing China. In some places and at some times China is one thing, while at other places and times it’s the opposite.

When asked if China is like this or that, the answer is almost always “Yes.” In fact, it’s easy to spot a China rookie: They’re the ones who confidently begin, “The church across China looks like ______,” “All Chinese Christians believe ______,” “Ministry in China is always ______,” or “The government’s attitude toward Chinese Christians is ______.”


So the goal of understanding what China is really like must be tempered. Or at least approached in a way that allows for ambiguity and recognizes the enigma of the subject. Toward that goal and in that spirit, here are five things helpful to understand about the church landscape in China.


Bible donation received!

We are so thankful to the Bible Society of SA who generously arranged these ESV Global study bibles for some of our international members who have been struggling to follow my sermons in their Bibles.

I have adopted the ESV as my default preaching translation as I feel it has the best balance of accuracy to and contemporary language. But for 2nd language listeners, following in another English version is very difficult!
The Bible Society very graciously provided these particular members with the ESV World Study Bible. This is the same as the freely available online and mobile app ESV version.
May the Lord bless the society and these members as they grow deeper in their knowledge of the Saviour, Jesus Christ. 

“Hate Crimes and Hate Speech” bill – Response

Knysna Baptist have submitted the following appeal to the Justice Department of SA. Submissions were invited by the department in response to their proposed bill. The original bill as proposed can be found here:


Our response is attached below. Essentially, the central content is:

We would like to thank the Department of Justice for taking steps to reign in hate crimes and hate speech in our beloved country.

Please consider the following QUALIFIER which certainly applies to such legislation, and which we earnestly request is included under section 4.1. (or at least with other wording to the same effect).

“It shall not be construed as Hate Speech if objective public and private discussion is held about the factual issues concerning any of the above matters, and the extent to which private or public practice by persons engaged in religious, social, sexual or remedial measures is healthy, advisable, desirable or commendable. The fact that persons so engaged may feel offended by such discussion shall not be a valid reason for classifying it as Hate Speech.”

We think this paragraph speaks for itself. Our concern is that people who hold different views on issue like sexual practices and religious convictions could be accused of hate speech or hate crimes unjustly without this proviso.

On behalf of the Executive of Knysna Baptist Church, a member of the Baptist Union of South Africa.

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A C T 2016 Day 3

The 3rd and final day of our Alumni Come-Together began with an early breakfast, so that the delgates could check-out from the lodge and arrive at Christ Baptist Church, Polokwane, for corporate worship and the final sermon from Anthony Kidd.

Before we checked out, we had a great opportunity to connect around our breakfast table with the Beakleys, Buchan-Smiths (served as missionaries for 15 years before studying at CS, now serving at Midrand Chapel) and Stephan (personal friend and student, serving at Mondeor). We grappled with the issue of NT ‘prophecy’, versus NT ‘impression’ (this relates to the question of authoritative divine revelation and whether it is legitimate today for someone to say, “Thus says the LORD” apart from scripture). We also reflected on questions of the Trinity, and some new academia concerning the ‘human soul of Christ’. A very enriching time indeed.

Back in Polokwane, we enjoyed yet another time of worship, and Anthony shared from Hebrew 12 a very compelling message to persevere and complete our Christian ‘race’. Notes here: Why Keep Running

2 cows had been slaughtered and the entire church and all the delegates were urged to stay after the service to enjoy the braai. Jacqui and I met up with some old friends again, and caught up on the last 8 years.

The weekend has been well worth the journey. The driving was not easy. But we’re very glad we came and very grateful to Christ Seminary for the entire program. They are showing no sign of slowing down or losing traction – they continue to be an amazing ministry.


Photo’s can be found here

A C T 2016 Day 2

The day began with a powerful prayer meeting from 7 to 8 – the key word of what to pray for being transformation (2Cor3-4): focusing on the preaching we were to receive this day, ourselves, and our ministries back home. After a devotional challenge read from Colossians 4 (‘the village of pastors’), we moved into groups of 5 and spent time agreeing with each others’ prayers to the Lord for His help.

Breakfast was a full buffet and we caught up over the meal with Andrew and Dorcas from Christ Baptist, and made new acquaintances with folk from Jhb and Pretoria. We discussed the state of the universities in SA, the role of the BU and other affiliations, children, property, ministry in Knysna and probably a dozen other topics.

The morning session was excellent. Anthony clearly demonstrated the need for every minister to with fear and trembling, preach the Christ-centred gospel always, and not be tempted to convince people through clever philosophy or other methods – so that the power of God may be seen and people’s faith will rest on Him alone. The notes can be found here: Power in Weakness

The bonus giveaway this morning was a counselling handbook, written by Joel James of Grace Fellowship in Pretoria: a topical handbook for dealing with various counselling scenarios.

The organisers also got us to wear our new jackets and herded us together for a group photo, and then with our spouses.

The afternoon session split the men from the women, who studied the qualifications of elders as a means to see how they could support their husbands to be the best elders they could be. E.g. How could they help him to be a hospitable elder? (By helping make the home welcoming to strangers) Or how can they help him to be a gentle elder? (By not adding fuel to the fire when he feels upset about something in the ministry). The men on the other hand were taught by Anthony from 1 Peter 5 – The duty of Shepherding. Again, another great message, the notes of which can be found here. Pastoring – Shepherding

Afterwards, over tea and coffee I met up with some pastors I had done village ministry for when we lived in Polokwane. Both of them have lived through very stressful and disappointing circumstances, on financial and family fronts.

The rest of the time before supper was spent with Dave Beakley, Johann Odendaal and 2 other graduates talking about the relation of white to black churches, and the problems and principles to guide us. This was a very informative time, and we came away agreeing that

  • these partnerships can only be successful if they begin in genuine Christian friendship, apart from any hope or promise of benefit to one or the other.
  • we cannot only invest in churches across the cultural line who worship like we do, or have the same philosophy of ministry. Otherwise we’d probably find no church to invest in.
  • The negotiables and non-negotiables of the ministry we partner with should be grappled within the leadership – theological lines, philosophical lines, cultural lines. Essentially, it will only be through friendship that we really become convinced of the true Christian  identity of the other church. Theological ‘positions’ are important, but a position is very different from a true conviction. If we engage over deep Christian convictions on the Person and Work of Christ and the Gospel we will more easily discern what is behind their desire to partner.
  • It can be patronising to black churches to say, ‘we’ll only partner if you agree to get theological training’ or some other help. It indicates to them that they are inferior and need to be raised to our level, which of course is a very destructive notion, and void of humility. Rather through genuine interest in their ministry accompanied by regular personal or corporate connection will reveal the  truth about what’s really behind the relationship.

Over a buffet supper, we had a sad discussion about a graduate who has left the Way and is following a self-proclaimed prophet. He hardly refers to Jesus, and as his close friend relayed to us, if he does, it’s a different Jesus and a different gospel. It appears the driving motivation behind this change is the frustration with struggling financially. This prosperity prophet has offered him his heart’s desire. And when challenged or corrected by his friends from Seminary, he only laughs it off. It is amazing how someone so seemingly genuine has become an exact illustration of 1 Tim 6, that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And that those who seek to be rich, plunge themselves into many harmful desires and destruction. A sobering conversation.

The final session with Anthony was opened with worship in song, as usual, but the roof really lifted off when an African song was sung – the words of which were translated for us to read on the overhead. The song looks to Jesus for the answers and help in impossible situations, and rejoices that He has made the way, and that ultimately one day we will be taken up into Heaven where no more trouble is. A very true and appropriate song for many of these struggling African pastors.

Anthony preached from 2 Tim 3-4, “Stay in the Word”, the notes of which can be found here: Stay in the Word Again, an excellent message. These messages will be made available to us in audio format.


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A C T 2016 Day 1

Today saw the opening of the Annual Get-Together for the Christ Seminary Alumni. What makes this year special is that we celebrate 20 years of their existence. For this reason, the Seminary staff went out of their way to treat the pastors and their wives as a way of encouraging them; letting them know that they are not alone – graduating from seminary doesn’t leave them disconnected and lost.

They outdid themselves, and the Lord graciously provided beyond expectation. The venue is Protea Hotel The Ranch in Polokwane. 2 weeks ago the planned accommodation become unavailable, but what was thought to be a disaster resulted in the organisers finding this gem, which normally would’ve been at double the cost.

The program is simple (messages, meals, and respite) as is the goal: to bless the pastors. And truly it has been.

Long lost class mates reunited and caught up. Lecturers received us with gladness.

The guest speaker is Anthony Kidd, senior pastor at Community of Faith Bible Church in LA, USA. He is a humble and passionate man, and preaches the Word accurately but simply. The 2 messages from the Day 1 were, “The Man God Uses” from Isaiah 6 and “The Word God Uses” from Psalm 19. Both messages were great encouragement to be Christ centered and Word based. Some notes from the sessions can be found here: Session 1, Session 2

As a generous surprise, every attending graduate received a Christ Seminary polar fleece jacket.

Photo’s Here

Heaven and Don Piper – A short review

A summary report from the book, "Encouragement from 90 minutes in Heaven" by Don Piper.

This seems to be extracted from a larger book, '90 minutes in Heaven' which I haven't read and cannot comment on.
I find no significant problems with the book. It's actually an amazing story. Whatever you make of the supernatural experience he shares, this is one incredible miracle that a man so mangled is alive. He actually notes near the end that during his one-year hospital recovery he nearly lost his life.
Before reading the book I researched his web page. I was encouraged to find a very clearly presented gospel message. In his FAQ he also answers questions such as "Are there pets in Heaven" and "What do people wear in heaven" – He answers with a mix of his own experience and bible knowledge. Nothing heretical stood out to me. 
The book, however, is not a theological treatise. It is a subjective account of an individual experience. Writing like this doesn't give much to discern on – there are very few theological propositions. Most of the supernatural experience is the encounter of overwhelming love and delight, which only increased. The descriptions were not counter anything of the Biblical Revelation of John, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Matthew or others.
The propositions from the book include:
  • Heaven really is real, and it is experienced immediately at death (see 2 Cor 5:8)
  • Other souls are recognisable, and there is great joy at receiving more into Heaven (see Lk 16:9)
  • Light, worship and holiness are the dominant experiences, even above reunions with friends (see Isa 6, Rev 4-5)
Don doesn't claim to have seen or met God. He supposes that once a person does, they would never be 'content' to come away/ return to earth. In fact a number of times, Don 'supposes' things, more than he declares things. That is a lot safer than making theological propositions.
The message of the book
The message of the book is quite clear: "Be encouraged, believing friends/family who you've lost to death are happy and well"
The author and the co-writer take a lot of time to show how much this testimony has greatly helped people who were very distraught over losing others. (I did start feeling like they were trying to sell the book to me at the end as they kept on saying this)
It's the kind of testimony that grieving people will find very encouraging.
The one proposition he did make which didn't sit comfortably with me, however, was the statement that there is no sadness in Heaven, and therefore they don't sing songs like 'the old rugged cross' or 'the nail scarred hand'. Jesus death is a sad thing,he writes, and so there is no memory of it (! I think that's what he said). This troubles me because Rev 5 presents the slain Lamb of Heaven, worshiped for his sacrifice. The scars of Christ were seen on his resurrected body by the disciples. And although the cross was a sad and traumatic event, it will remain forever the central glory of Christ and our eternal hope. I was disappointed by Don's summation here.
My theological reflection
I'm cautious to add my 2c to an account that claims divine revelation. I never make it my business to judge someone's experience. I accept that this is a personal and subjective story.
Although I don't find any explicit danger with the message, there is a subtle lack which I think was short-sighted. If Don Piper's web page has got such great gospel presentation, why not put it in his book? Especially as this book will be handed to many people who are grieving. I'm afraid that an unbeliever who reads this book will miss the almost negligible references to salvation and gain a false hope that they will be reunited with lost loved ones when they die.
There is also very little Scripture-Root in the book. There are little quotes now and then but I don't remember any strong directing to any scriptures. Perhaps in the fuller edition that material is included. But just reading this book, it's as if Don's testimony proves once and for all that everything's going to be OK. But the revelation of Jesus Christ at the cross – the greatest testimony that everything's going to be OK, is not referred to. And that is a gaping hole.
Mark read a great passage from 1 Pet, where Peter points to his experience with Jesus at the transfiguration, as a proof of his authoritative word; But then Peter says there is a more sure testimony of these things – the Prophetic Scripture. If only Don had done the same.
So I'm left hanging after reading the book – wishing that he'd not let his experience be the final word for our encouragement.
This book is not heresy. But neither is it one I'd counsel someone with. 
I understand (only to a small degree because I haven't lost someone close to me) the preciousness of these testimonies to people who are grieving. Books like this are a friend to them. I think it's like the testimony of Brother Yun to people who are passionate for missions. Yet as far as developing my theology about missions, I don't make Brother Yun's experiences my guide. And neither do I develop any theology of Heaven from Don's experience.

BU Assembly, Day 4

Monday was the day of anticipated stress. 2 very critical items were on the agenda: firstly, the future structure of the BU, and secondly, the proposal to appoint a youth developer. These items, among the other usual toughies, like finances, made for a very interesting assembly.

  1. In short, the BU executive have initiated an indaba of people representative of the union, to look at some of the core unhappinesses that exist in the union. It was noted that there are many 'happinesses' but that certain 'elephants in the room' existed that have to be identified and addressed. The details of the initial bosberaad are in the assembly handbook, and include questions such as "Does the BU need to be reinvented?", and the relationship between and roles of the central office and regional associations. As a first step, a statement of unity was proposed by the executive, who encouraged all to sign it as a pledge, which affirmed that we will "seek the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" despite differences in race, culture, and (Baptist) theology. Unfortunately, amid someone raising the question of "hermeneutic" as a safeguard against 'unity with false doctrine', the assembly became confused with procedures for admitting and contesting proposals and voting. It seemed that the executive present, were not well versed in the procedure. And so a couple of men from the floor were directing the chairman and general secretary on what was allowed and what wasn't. This also effected a general confusion in the assembly about what people were voting for. It was a terribly messy situation, and almost irrecoverable. And worst of all, it was evident that a large contingent were hurting because beyond the procedural confusion, they felt robbed of proper representation or recourse. No doubt, this will leave a bruise for a while, and I believe it needs to be addressed in the final sessions.
  2. As for the youth developer proposal, we have agreed to submit this issue under the greater investigation of the indaba – as one of the critical issues of the BU to be addressed. The think tank of the BYSA will get to work immediately in conjunction with the Indaba.Youth Developer or none, it is agreed that urgent action is needed to encourage youth ministry development in the union of Baptist churches.
After a long and arduous day, we skipped the assembly dinner and met as friends at Bradley Trout's (assoc. pastor, Mountain View Baptist) place for dinner and more fellowship. A refreshing time indeed.