Is the BCEC a Chinese church? Well, naturally it must be. I mean, after all the full name of BCEC is Birmingham Chinese Evangelical Church. The very word Chinese is smack-dab in the middle of our name.
So then is a Chinese church exclusive only to Chinese people? And isn’t that racist? And shouldn’t Chinese people mix with the society that they’re in? Why have a Chinese church at all?
These are questions that linger around any English-speaking congregation in a Chinese church. If the majority of the people in the church speak English already, why don’t they just go to an English church? Why should they bother going to a Chinese church at all? Actually, God’s church should be an international church, full of different races and faces all worshipping together.
This past Sunday was missions weekend: when we have the honour of a German-Jewish Christian–former missionary in Malaysia–as the keynote speaker, questions of culture, exclusivity, identity, and God’s church all come rising to the surface. (btw, Martin Goldsmith is a fantastic speaker and his messages, along with some notes from the weekend, are available online). And of course at the BCEC, it’s our responsibility and duty to raise and address these questions.
And so, in no particular order, here are some thoughts on the Chinese church in Britain.
1) This country needs every good church they can get.
Perhaps unlike America or Canada, where a plethora of good churches abound, the UK remains spiritually stagnant. We’re moving to a generation that is beyond post-Christianity, to one where the message of the gospel has not been heard at all. There will be people born in this country whose parents and grandparents have not heard or accepted the message of Jesus. It means then that there is a great need to be part of any good church community available. Would I say BCEC is a good church? All I can say is that we are still learning and trying to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, & strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves.
2) God loves different cultures.
In Genesis 11, God does a scattering of nations, essentially birthing a diversity of cultures.
In Genesis 12, he chooses one, the tribe of Abraham, to be his people. From them all nations will be blessed.
Throughout the Old Testament we discover God’s relationship with his people, the Jews, and God’s mission for his people. (Martin Goldsmith put a nice diagram on this.)
But through Jesus, we see a fulfilment of God’s plan: not to segregate but to “draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32). And we see how God’s plan is not one of exclusion, but one that brings greater glory to himself.
We have this amazing picture in the book of Revelation – “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
And we begin to realise that the diversity of culture, the diversity of language, and the diversity of people groups brings greater glory to God. This diversity reflects the multi-faceted beauty of God.
3) Chinese culture has something to offer
Often times, we can reject our culture, saying Western society is better. We might complain about parental restriction, or frustrations about what Chinese holidays are like, or whether we talk too loudly in the library. 😛 On the other hand, we might complain about Western culture. The rubbish on the media, for example, or the lack of discipline. But what is more helpful to realise is that we are not at war with another culture. Rather, God has created us to contribute to each other’s lives. All cultures have cultural blind-spots. No one culture has a monopoly on God. That’s the beauty of him. And when we’re commanded to love one another, it’s not a mandate to culturally dilute but rather for different cultures to speak blessing into each other.
4) English Speaking congregations can’t be culturally exclusive
One of the reasons I don’t call our church by its full name (Birmingham Chinese Evangelical Church) is because I realise that for some, thinking that a church is only for Chinese people will put them off coming. The truth of the matter is, if we believe that God has placed us in our situations for a purpose, then the people we as ambassadors of Christ come in contact with will become our focus.
This means that if we want to bless the people around us and invite them to church, those people may or may not be Chinese. So it is (hopefully) inevitable that our congregation becomes more and more ethnically diverse. But a church’s desire shouldn’t be ethnic diversity. Instead, it is the desire is to love God more and love our neighbours more. Never forget that.
5) Jesus’ Love
Lepers, women, Gentiles, Samaritans, Romans, criminals – you name them, and Jesus’ love extended to them. There is no greater motivation for us than to realise that we belong to Christ first; culture is but one way our love for him is expressed.
picture taken from Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel, American Born Chinese, p26.