A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary
Global Vision - Spring 2009
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Luther Seminary Graduate Leads China Christian Council
by Melanie Boulay Becker
Rev. Paul Gao Feng
Rev. Paul Gao Feng, a native of China's Shandong province, graduated from Luther Seminary in 1997 with a degree in church history. In January 2008, he received the prestigious appointment of president of the China Christian Council (CCC). This umbrella organization, founded in 1980, unites Chinese Christians around their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; provides theological education; publishes Bibles, hymnals and other religious literature; and fosters information sharing among local churches.
The Christian Church in China
There are at least 18 million protestant Christians in China (formal membership lists are often not kept). Although many members are older, numerous young people also attend and declare their faith through baptism. Chinese Christians are generally more than 75 percent women. While Chinese Christians once represented the poorest social class, with recent economic expansion, many Christians are now wealthy. This creates new challenges for the church in China.
Below are Rev. Feng's reflections on the Christian Church in China and his connections to Luther Seminary.
What are your responsibilities in your role?
My main responsibility, with the assistance of the vice president and the general secretary of the CCC, is to manage the work of the standing committee of the CCC. The main work is to actively promote the Reconstruction of Theological Thinking; to facilitate the theological education and personnel training of churches in China; to further the publication of Bible, hymnals and other Christian literature; to develop social service work; to introduce and help share the experience of preaching, ministering and management of various grass-root churches; and to continue our friendly relationship with overseas churches.
What was your previous role as a leading member of the CCC?
I was the vice chairperson of the National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) of the protestant churches in China from 2002 to 2007. My responsibility for that position was to attend meetings with leading members of CCC/TSPM to discuss church ministry and give instructions to local Christian Council and TSPM regarding how to serve grass-root churches. However, my main focus in that period was in Shandong Province because I was the chairperson of Shandong Provincial Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the protestant churches and the president of Shandong Provincial Christian Council.
As the new president of the CCC, what would you most like to accomplish?
I would like to strengthen the reconstruction of theological thinking, theological education and personnel training to enable churches in China to develop in a healthy way.
China is a huge country. How will you serve such a large area? Will you travel frequently?
China is indeed a country with vast territory and large population. To better serve churches in China, we coordinate with Christian councils of different provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, providing services, sharing information and experience and discussing solutions to various problems.
Together with my fellow colleagues, I always travel to different provinces for research and investigation to discuss and summarize experiences with local church leaders.
What are you most optimistic about regarding the future of the Christian church in China?
What I feel most optimistic about is that the policy of religious freedom has been fully implemented in China which enables church ministries to be smoothly carried out. The number of Christians is growing. Seminaries and bible schools have trained qualified personnel for churches continuously. Churches in China have set up good images and won sympathy in society.
What do visitors find most surprising about the Christian church in China?
Visitors to China's churches are most surprised to see the churches packed with people. Despite the shortage of ministers and the relatively poor condition of churches, the ministry is still going well.
What is the Christian church in China like now? How has it changed over the years?
Currently, the number of Christians in China is growing and all ministries are developing rapidly. However, we still lack ministers. Some churches are not well-managed and there is still an imbalance among churches in different regions. Compared with the previous situation, churches in China have experienced tremendous change. For example, more new churches have been built. Seminaries and bible schools have trained a number of preachers. There are more and more middle-aged and young believers in church and more intellectuals as well. Five or 10 years ago, the majority in church were women, the elderly or illiterates.
Where do you envision the Christian church in China will be 10 years from now?
Along with the development of church ministries as well as personnel training, I believe that churches in China will develop robustly and have more influence over the society and our compatriots. We will partake more in social service activities and shoulder more social responsibility.
What led you to study at Luther Seminary?
After graduation from Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, I went back to work in Shandong church and taught in Shandong Theological Seminary. After several years work, I felt that what I had learned was not sufficient. In order to be more efficient in my work and to keep pace with the development of churches, I thought it necessary to have further education. Therefore, recommended by Shandong churches, I took the examination conducted by CCC/TSPM. Eventually, I was sent to study in Luther Seminary in January 1995.
What influence does your time at Luther Seminary have on your current role?
My time at Luther Seminary is an important period in my life because it not only expanded my vision but also helped improve my spirituality. I also learned a lot from my fellow students who came from various countries and regions. The study in Luther Seminary helped to lay a solid foundation for my service in churches. Without the training and experience I gained at Luther Seminary, I could have not accomplished what I've been doing now.
How has seeing how the Protestant church operates in the United States impact your work with the Christian church in China?
When I studied in the States, I also visited some churches and got familiar with some pastors. After visiting churches of various denominations, I was impressed with the ministering and management. I observed that the church office has a long-range involvement in social welfare, from which we can draw experience.
Do you regularly connect with other Luther Seminary alumni who are residing in China?
I've had some contact with other Luther Seminary alumni. However, due to my busy schedule, we do not communicate frequently.
You started a church near Luther Seminary when you lived in St. Paul. What prompted you to start the church, and for whom did you start it?
I started a church with my mentor, Prof. Paul Martinson, his sister, Charlotte Grounseth and Rev. Liao Yuanwei ,who was also studying at Luther Seminary then. The church was called the Faith Church. At that time, we set up the church for students and scholars coming from mainland China. There were churches for Taiwanese and Hong Kong people in St. Paul, but none for mainland Chinese. Our church also welcomes natives. When I graduated from the Luther Seminary, there were over 60 regular church attendees in that church.
Read more about the Chinese Protestant Church and the Minnesota Faith Chinese Lutheran Church