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China's Reforming Churches

China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom Edited by Bruce P. Baugus

The explosion of church growth in China has been happening at an alarming rate.  The house church movement has seen dramatic growth over the past 25 years.  Yet, what is happening in the church of China as it connects to Reformed worship and practice?  These and other questions are ones tackled by the contributors to the new book entitled China’s Reforming Churches edited by Bruce Baugus.  The book is split into four sections that outline the history, present state, challenges and tradition of Presbyterianism in China.  With 13 chapters, a conclusion and two appendices, the book provides a thorough analysis of the issues regarding Presbyterianism in China.  

Michael M. traces the early Protestant missionary involvement in China to Robert Morrison in 1807.  With restrictions on proselytizing, Morrison in his twenty-seven years in China was able to translate the Bible into Chinese, found a college, put together a Chinese-English dictionary and do many other activities that promoted Christ (10).  Coming from a conservative Presbyterian conviction, Morrison also relied heavily on the WCF as he taught his way through the Scriptures.  Even throughout the early missionary efforts, there was no less than 12 particular Presbyterian and Reformed church bodies in China, from the northeast to other eastern provinces (see pp. 32-33 and table on 32). 

One of the fascinating challenges of the Christian faith in China is the relationship between the way the culture views the faith and the participants of the faith.  One government scholar from China writes, “In the eyes of the average Chinese, Christianity is still regarded as a religion of the West and an “imported product” of Western culture….In China’s mainstream media and publications, Christianity has only changed from having a negative role to a “neutral” one; its presence it tolerated without the need for public criticism (109).”  There is still not widespread openness to the publication of Christian materials in China.  Yet, there moving from a negative to a neutral (if neutral positions even exists) can lead Christianity to a better viewpoint for most Chinese.

One of the challenges of promoting Biblical Presbyterianism is China is the often mish mash of certain Presbyterian practices within house church movements.  “When these churches began to discuss the possibility of establishing a presbytery, it became clear that they wanted to maintain the status quo of episcopal structure and diversity of practices (127).”  The structure of Presbyterian government, including Presbyteries, is designed so that each member works together as part of organic unit.  If one pastor engages in practicing infant baptism but another adamantly rejects this teaching, how does unity continue in the church?  I would add that the complicated relationship between Presbyterian denominations in America connecting with churches in China often add to the turmoil that exists in these local congregations.  The way forward is not to pick up a certain few elements of Presbyterianism and adopt them, but to carefully seek to form Presbyterian practices that each elder commits to as a whole. 

I really enjoyed this book, even as it was written by many contributors.

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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