Monday, December 5, 2011

China Christian Council meets the Uniting Church

I returned last week from a visit to the China Christian Council (CCC) with a delegation of Uniting Church leaders. We went to sound out a possible formal relationship with the CCC akin to the partnerships we have with 36 other churches, mainly in the Pacific and Asia. China is a country with whom we have historic mission links and, of course, the relationship between China and Australia generally is becoming increasingly important politically and economically. Increasing migration from China to Australia, growing Chinese involvement within the UCA and a shared history of being uniting churches added impetus to our visit.

Our delegation included two leaders from our Theological Colleges, two leaders from Uniting Church community services, two Uniting Church Chinese Ministers, the Director of UnitingWorld and me. Our program concentrated on meetings with the CCC leadership, visits to three theological seminaries, CCC community services staff and the Amity Foundation.

Amity is an NGO Development Agency of the CCC. It also runs the largest printing press in the world, with a staff of 500 it publishes 10 million bibles per year. On visiting the massive printing works I recalled reading books in the 1970's about people smuggling bibles into China. Now the Bible is going out in large volumes across the world from China! I was presented with an limited edition bible marking the 80 millionth bible printed by Amity - that copy will be on display at UnitingWorld.

We also visited a number of congregations in Shanghai, Nanjing and Beijing. One of the churches was called, memorably to my Australian ear, in translation, 'No Worries Church'!

The CCC describes itself as 'post-denominational'. It regards itself as a uniting church and embraces a range of traditions including mainstream Protestant churches as well as Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal and Indigenous Churches! They are determined not to replicate the divisions of the Western Church. When I asked about their doctrinal core they said they basically used the Bible, and the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds. It was formed in the 1950's but during the Cultural Revolution (1966-80) churches were forced to close and Christians gathered secretly. One conservative estimate is that there are now 23 million Christians in China and growing rapidly. Open evangelism seems still somewhat restricted but local leaders attribute the church growth to personal witness and to an intentional approach to discipling and educating new Christians. We have much to learn from this church.

What might they gain from a closer relationship with a church like the UCA?  They have a desperate need for more pastors to serve in the growing church so theological education is a priority. They are interested in possible links between CCC seminaries and UCA theological colleges, as well as possible service collaboration between the CCC Social Service Department and UnitingCare. There is also the possibility of volunteer placements through UnitingWorld and the Amity Foundation.

We hope that a similar delegation from the CCC will visit the UCA next year to coincide with our trienniel Assembly meeting.

Oh and we did squeeze in a bit of sightseeing but that's another story...
Photos by Rev Ji Zhang

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