Friday, December 4th
by Dr. LIN Manhong, Associate General Secretary, CCC and Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary
Dr Lin offered these reflections on the ecumenical dimensions of the delegation’s visit during the closing session of the consultation at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, December 3-4, 2015:
Time flies. Our final concluding session of this joint forum is on cooperation in partnership between our two churches. To my understanding, this forum has already served this purpose to some extent. In order to cooperate and to partner, getting to know each other and to know each other well are important steps. In this forum, we have recalled the history of our two churches as well as our long-time fellowship; we have shared with each other the fruits of and challenges in ministries; we have exchanged our understandings about the church and its relationship with culture and society. Nevertheless, being in partnership is more than sharing information and thoughts; it is about being into a relationship .
In her article, “Theology of Partnership”, Cathy Ross, a professor of the University of Oxford and General Secretary of CMS wrote that the relationship of partnership is essential to the nature of God. God is a community of three divine persons, and God is also one God. Each person of the trinity has its own divine nature, expressed in relation to the other persons of the trinity. There is the space for each divine person to be, as each person relates to the others . Each person of the trinity is a distinct person in a love relationship with the other persons of the trinity. They cannot each exist without this relationship. We experience God in relationship with the other, in partnership, and within community. These realities allow not only for relationship but also for unity and diversity.
We shall be reminded, encouraged and inspired by this understanding of God’s nature as we look ahead to our cooperation in partnership for our two churches. We are different in many ways because of our the historical, social, cultural, political and other contexts in which we live, and therefore, our experiences and perspectives can be very different; and yet as the different parts of the body of Christ, we are in unity with diversity because we belong to one body, share one faith and have one baptism.
Ross quoted Paul Fiddes and urged that Christians not only need to imitate the triune God but also actually participate in the Trinity. Fiddes claimed that such participation enables us to truly appreciate the other because of our engagement with the other. Furthermore, engagement in the life of God means an experience of “otherness”, even like the otherness of God from humanity, the otherness of the Creator from the created.
The China Christian Council sincerely welcomes such engagement with the United Church of Canada in the future. We not only welcome more visits from you to our churches, but also would like to encourage you to share what you have heard, seen and experienced in China and Chinese churches with the fellow Christians in your churches and organizations. We arranged this forum at NJUTS instead of putting it in a nice hotel in an attempt to let more people, especially our young seminarians, to be able to share what they have experienced with you with their home congregations.
Such engagement can also be carried out through concrete projects such as cooperation in the areas of theological education and social service. We are grateful that your church has supported several of our colleagues to have further theological education in Canada since the late 1980s. We hope that this kind of support can be continued. We can also have more theological consultations on different themes that interest both of us, and have consultations on theological education as well. We would also like to invite your support and input into the doctoral program we hope to laugh next year. We can also start to work together in the area of social service and to share with each other the experiences and challenges of our community ministries.
Cathy Ross also pointed out that partnership includes three factors. First, there must be the acceptance by each one concerned of genuine involvement in trust. Ross especially emphasized that the element of trust is foundational and inescapable within the involvement. Second, partnership involves a ready acceptance of responsibility, a readiness to serve the purpose of common enterprise. Third, involvement must carry with it a readiness to pay the price of partnership, to accept all the liabilities and limitations that arise. Ross opined that without involvement, responsibility and liability, there can be no true partnership.
I think these three factors are essential to our cooperation in partnership and we have actually already put them into practice. For instance, such genuine involvement in trust was embodied in choosing to visit the United Church of Canada as one of the very first overseas trips of the Chinese church after the Cultural Revolution; it was embodied in the UCC recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1952; it was embodied in the significance of the work of Katherin Hockin and Bishop Ting both in China and in Canada. In terms of trust, may I humbly remind you to trust what you have heard from your partner church in China and what your own experience and eye-witness in China has shown you, and not just to trust the Western media reports about China and the Chinese church.
Partnership requires responsibility, a readiness to engage in the purpose of common enterprise. Being partners, we may want to ask ourselves what our common enterprise is. In a nutshell, I think that we will agree that we want our churches to improve, in many ways. It may involve the issues of what we want the church to be and what the church ought to be. Should the church be prosperous, powerful, influential, largely populated, at the center of the world, or should be the church be content with being powerless, small and marginal, but prophetic, caring and loving?
Even though the Chinese church is growing very fast and with a big number of Christians, the Chinese church is in a very small minority and Christian communities have always been in the margin of the larger society. Our friend from the UCC, Maylanne, also shared with us that the membership, attendance, revenue and other resources of the church have kept declining. Because of the time issue, I cannot go into the details of a theology of marginality, but I just want to humbly remind our two churches that a church being small and marginal has great significance. The significance of a church being small and marginal is that it helps the church re-read the gospels from a perspective of marginality instead of a centralist point of view, which tends to put more emphasis on Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords, which is more interested in his lordship than his servant-hood, and which is interested in the power and majesty of Christ, which leads the church to tend to seek to be at the central place, and to tend to measure the success of a church by the size of its membership and its budget. But if we read the gospel from the perspective of marginality, we will realize that the birth, childhood, life, and death of Jesus have indicated that the incarnated God was a marginal person, and therefore, as a result, we Christians are called to be the marginal people of God. Furthermore, a church being small and marginal is more apt to respond to the new shift from mission to the margins to mission from the margins. Also, a small and marginal church will have more space for innovative changes, as Douglas John Hall has put it, the church’s relative “powerlessness” can be a creative opportunity for change and renewal.
Regarding the liability element in partnership, we also need to be aware of and be ready for, such possibilities as being criticized for becoming too liberal or too conservative for our respective churches respectively.
I think that I have spoken enough for the time being; I will leave the representatives of the UCC to make the real conclusion. To conclude my part, however, I shall say that this forum has really deepened the cooperation in partnership of our two churches, and we look forward to further cooperation in partnership.
Nora Sanders, General Secretary – UCC, and Dr. LIN Manhong, Dean of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary – photo by Alan Lai