“The Church In China” or “The Chinese Church” is probably terms that you have heard before. It is interesting to me that people refer to Churches in China in this manner the majority of the time. People seem to lump everyone together and make statements about “the Church in China” as a whole. Because of this many misconceptions seem to arise about China.
We usually don’t do this as much when speaking about Churches in America. I think we say “Churches in America are…” or “American Churches are…” more than “The American Church is…” We talk more in the form of a plurality of Churches instead of one united movement. This might seem like a small difference, but I think it impacts the way we think about things. I am not trying to be picky with terms, as the wording can many times have the same meaning or have that of a majority/minority meaning based on context, but I think we generally think about it in this manner:
The first one leads to clicking the “apply to all” button while the second one leads to clicking the “apply” button. Let me illustrated:
Apply to All: If you say “The Church in China” is having a great revival. – This means all the Churches are having revival.
Apply: If you say “Churches in China” are having great revival. – This simply means that many Churches are having a revival but not all.
This wording leads one to believe there is this huge unified movement in China where all the Churches are connected and are not separated over issues of doctrine and denomination. This simply isn’t true. It is a false appearance of unity that comes from the loosely used and hard to pin point terms. If churches choose not to stand for key doctrines it isn’t because of an over spiritualization but because of an ulterior motive or a weakness in doctrine (not saying that being strong in doctrine necessarily causes one to be separate and cause division but it does cause one to contend for the faith and stand for truth).
Christian organizations also use this terminology by saying “help build up the Church in China” or learn how you “can be in a better position to serve the Church in China.” What does that mean?! Imagine if your church promotion for this Sunday was “learn how you can better serve the Church in America.” The diversity and locality of Churches in China have different and specific; needs not to mention the vast majority of local areas without Churches and therefore a Church would need to be started and men trained. (Interesting Note: I think this type of thinking is a contributing factor to why many Christian workers in China come to help “the Church in China” but never actually physically work in a local assembly of believers or even attend a local worship service regularly.)
Final thought on this, it moves thinking about the Church from local or even universal to national. It segregates those on the outside and forces unity for those on the inside.
The terminology isn’t really that big of a deal, but it is just a symptom that I have noticed about how a lot of people talk about Christianity in China. All of that to say, be carful about what you read and perceive to be true about China, weather it be good or bad.