Uniting Church President Rev Prof Andrew Dutney and a delegation of Uniting Church leaders attended a historic series of meetings with leaders from the China Christian Council (CCC) in four Chinese cities from 16-24 September.
“This was a unique opportunity to share with the CCC our experiences since the formation of the Uniting Church, and to reflect on our practices with a partner church on a comparable journey,” Prof Dutney said.
“This was a time of mutual learning.”
Delegates from the UCA shared their vision and experience of a post-denominational church in meetings with the CCC in Shanghai, Nanjing, Hefei and Beijing.
The CCC has made a deliberate choice to reject denominationalism, pointing to its incompatibility with traditional Chinese culture and its contradiction within Christ’s own teachings.
“This trip has embodied Jesus’ prayers for his disciples in John 17, that all who believe in him may be one,” Prof Dutney said.
“It has enabled us to see clearly how in both the Chinese and Australian context, we are able to leave denominationalism behind us for the sake of the unity which is Christ’s gift and will for the Church.
“This is the story of two churches, on two continents, in very different circumstances discovering that we’ve been on the same journey – it’s an exciting partnership.”
Delegates met at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary for two days, spreading the message of ‘One Flock, One Shepherd’ and shared their vision for their own churches.
The Nanjing seminary has a rich history of its own. It was established as a bible school in 1911 and became a theological seminary in 1952 under the influence of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a Chinese Protestant Church.
On a broader scale the Christian community is steadily growing in China with the CCC baptising 2.4 million Christians in the last five years, adding to the 24 million strong CCC community. The Church is seeing unprecedented growth and three new churches are being built every day.
In conversation with Prof Dutney, Dr Lin Manhong, Dean of the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and recently elected Associate General Secretary of the CCC, said that the Chinese culture lends itself to a different kind of evangelism.
“The primary form of evangelism in our country is personal witness – in particular, the witness of a transformed life and of loving the neighbour,” Dr Lin said.
In China, where large-scale demonstrations are deemed culturally inappropriate, a pragmatic approach to Christianity is felt to be more effective. The CCC is careful not to criticise Western churches’ evangelistic efforts, however they have developed their own style of evangelism.
“They aren’t drawn to Christ by doctrine or intellectual argument but by seeing a transformation in a neighbour’s life,” Dr Lin said.
Prof Dutney noted that Australians, like the Chinese, are also a pragmatic people.
“As a nation, we’re not terribly interested in clever arguments or slick marketing,” Prof Dutney said.
“Seeing a neighbour’s life transformed by Christ, however, that would be well worth looking into.”
With this growth has come responsibility and the CCC, with youthful new leadership coming up through their ranks, is beginning to implement social services as well as delivering theological training.
This involves a close partnership with the State Administration of Religious Affairs, the Chinese government department which works with the CCC and the other four authorised religions in China (Buddhism, Daoism, Islam and Catholicism), to assist them in providing social services, the allocation of land for religious buildings, and other services to the community.
“There is such a strong calibre of leadership coming through the CCC,” Rev Dr Kerry Enright, national director of UnitingWorld, said.
“The CCC is not only focussed on theological issues but on greater societal issues, like the increasing need for aged care.”
Other members of the UCA delegation included Lin Hatfield Dodds, national director of UnitingCare Australia, Stuart MacMillan, president-elect of the Assembly, Rev Dr Ji Zhang, manager of church partnerships in Asia with UnitingWorld and Rev Koh SweeAnn, director of Cross Cultural Mission & Ministry Unit at the Vic/Tas synod.
The relationship between the CCC and the UCA looks set to grow even stronger in coming years through the work of UnitingWorld’s Church Partnerships program and continued visits and sharing, particularly in three areas: theological education, social services, and church-to-church dialogue.
By Tilly South