Confessionalism in China

Dear Church Family,

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a luncheon at the headquarters of ChinaAid here in Midland. The luncheon was, in part, a celebration of the 11th anniversary of this organization that is “committed to promoting religious freedom and the rule of law in China.” Clay Finley, an attorney and the CEO of ChinaAid who attends our church, had extended to me the invitation. It was a great opportunity to learn more about what this organization does. It was also a wonderful time of testimonies as three Christians from China told of how they came to embrace Christ as Savior. They also told of how they are currently working for human rights amidst a government and a culture that suppresses religious freedoms and the basic human freedoms that we often take for granted in this country.

During the lunch, I sat with a man who is an attorney in China. His Americanized name is “John.” Out of a concern for reprisals, it is unwise to share specific details, but I did want to relate one thing from our conversation that was both encouraging and fascinating to me. I learned that in addition to being an attorney, John is the pastor of a house church of about thirty people. When he asked what I did, I replied, “I’m the pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church here in Midland.”

This sparked great interest in John. He became very keen on learning how to pronounce “Presbyterian” properly. Then he surprised me when he said, “Yes, I know of this Presbyterian. My church – we are seeking to be Presbyterian and, how do you say – Reformed.” We continued to talk. Then, after the meal, he stood up and spoke to the guests gathered there about his work as an attorney in defending human rights in China. And, he spoke of how he was converted through hearing the gospel on the radio and then reading the Bible.

After the program, I told Clay of my conversation with John. Clay immediately went back to a storage area somewhere in the building and emerged with a couple copies of the Westminster Confession of Faith in the Chinese language. Upon seeing them, John said, “Oh yes. I know this. We use this in my church, along with the – how do you say, Heidel…Heidel…” I said, “Heidelberg Catechism?” He said, “Yes, that one!”

At that point, John began to talk about how important it was to have a confession of faith, and how much he appreciated the Westminster Confession of Faith. He spoke of the danger of everyone having their own personal interpretation of the Bible based on their experiences or making things up in their own minds. I was flummoxed – in a good way. Would that more Christians in American could hear this man’s testimony!

These interactions with John resonated with me on many levels. As most of you probably already know, I am a strong advocate for creeds and confessions. They not only under-gird and unite our common faith, but they are very practical and helpful in understanding the Scriptures and living the Christian life (for example, see this post about the Westminster Confession of Faith’s usefulness in gaining an assurance of salvation).

Presently, I am reading a book by Carl Trueman called The Creedal Imperative. The premise of the book is that creeds and confessions are necessary, useful and helpful in the church, and indeed a biblical imperative. In the last chapter of the book, “On the Usefulness of Creeds and Confession,” he makes these points with regard to the importance of having, and adhering to, an agreed upon confession of faith:

(1) All Churches and All Christians have Creeds and Confessions

(2) Confessions Delimit the Power of the Church

(3) Creeds and Confessions Offer Succinct and Thorough Summaries of the Faith

(3) Creeds and Confessions Allow for Appropriate Discrimination between Members and Office-Bearers

(4) Creeds and Confessions Reflect the Ministerial Authority of the Church

(5) Creeds and Confessions Represent the Maximum Doctrinal Competence That Can Be Expected from a Congregation

(6) Creeds and Confessions Relativize the Present

(7) Creeds and Confessions Help to Define One Church in Relation to Another

(8) Creeds and Confessions are Necessary for Maintaining Corporate Unity

I don’t think that I can add much to these salient points. For explanations of these points, I recommend the book. In the meantime, Carl Trueman has recently written a couple of online articles about the importance of confessionalism under the title “I Confess.” You can read parts one and two at reformation21.org, here and here (the third part is forthcoming).

As we reflect on our common confessional faith, please pray for John and our many brothers and sisters in Christ in China. I recently read that more people go to church on Sunday in China than in the whole of Europe and that today there are more evangelical Christians in China than in any other nation. That is astounding. God’s grace and kingdom is bigger than we can imagine. May the Lord protect and grow His church as He has promised (Matthew 16:18), here in Midland and around the world.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch