What does Christianity look like when society is not open to the faith? Dr Chan Kim-Kwong shares his view on how he believes Christians can live out their faith when it’s difficult to do so.
Rev Dr Chan Kim-Kwong is no stranger to City Harvest Church. He was a key speaker at the church’s Chinese Leadership and Revival Seminar held in 2015, and the church knows him for an academic study he did on CHC.
It had been eight years since City News last met Dr Chan, and it was evident that time has treated him well. He appeared healthier and even younger than before. “I retired in 2016 and ever since then, I’m enjoying every time in life,” he explained. “I am living well—I exercise and keep taking care of my body quite a lot, and I rest. After I retired, I travel much less for business and more for pleasure.”
Dr Chan is an ordained minister and vice-chair of the Christian Nationals’ Evangelism Commission. He was formerly the executive secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council, until his retirement in 2016. Beyond that, he also received his undergraduate training in Nutrition (BSc [FSc]) from McGill University and subsequently finished three masters (MDiv, China Graduate School of Theology; MA, University of Ottawa; STL, Pontifical St Paul University) and two doctoral degrees from University of Ottawa (PhD) and Pontifical St Paul University (DTh). He also completed graduate studies in Agricultural Economics at the University of London.
At the Global Pentecostal Summit, Dr Chan presented his paper on “The Challenges of the Church in China in the Next Decade”, sharing his observations on how the changing policies in China over the last decade have affected Christianity in the nation.
City News sat down with Dr Chan to talk about his views on living out the faith.
According to Pastor Kong Hee, you are the only non-Pentecostal at this summit. What made you say yes to being part of this, and what do you believe this summit will accomplish?
I will have to credit it to Pastor Kong’s very persuasive arguments and his persistency. At first, I said no, because I don’t really have anything to contribute—I’m not in this Pentecostal movement at all. My specialties are China and the Christians there and I also look at different mission movements across the spectrum.
But as I looked at the characteristics of the current mission movements, I find that quite a lot of them have the involvement of the charismatic movement. So, even though I don’t see a lot of charismatic characteristics in Christianity in China, I see that across the spectrum, especially in the developing world or the younger churches in Asia, Latin America and Africa for the past 30 years, there’s a rapid increase of Christian population. I see that almost all of them are having the same experience and some of them may have quite clearly the charismatic characteristic, while others may not. Nevertheless, I consider them as part of the whole global movement of God in different parts of the world in different ways and different manifestations.
From that perspective, I see that maybe there’s a small voice that is clear, and hopefully enough to contribute to this predominantly charismatic meeting.
Your paper is on the future of the Church in China. Please tell us briefly about the religious situation in China. Is there a difference between what happens on a political level and the Christians living life daily?
I feel that the Christians in China are facing some challenging times in trying to live out their faith. Public manifestations, such as putting a cross on the wall, wearing clerical robes or even singing Christmas carols in the shopping mall, was briefly allowed in the past. But now, there is a government policy not to have any religious images or symbols in public spaces. So, Christians will have to resort to other ways to express their faith, by living out certain things that are identifiable as Christian conduct, like charity, kindness and forgiveness.
It is a challenge for Christians to internalise their faith and express their faith in a much more profound way than just “I am a Christian; I’m wearing a big cross.” It is, I feel, a process of maturity, so it may not be a bad thing.
You write in your paper: “The real strength of a nation is not only money or armaments but also moral integrity and universal values such as human rights, equality and sharing. For the ecclesial community, not only the size of the followers but also the maturity in spirituality, in humility, servanthood, justice and compassion really matter.” This is a huge expectation not just of China but so many of the countries that embrace Christianity today! How do you think we—especially Asian countries including Singapore—can move towards such maturity and what will be the signs that we are growing mature?
I’ll say that for any faith community, when people are converted, they will express their new faith in a very expressive way. Your worship, your language, and even your involvement in charity works will all be different from the past. Those are the signs that are easily observable.
But as you mature, you will internalise those special characteristics. It’s no longer about how many times you go to church meetings, or how many people you share the gospel with, but how you live as a Christian in the midst of your daily struggles. How do you make decisions in your workplace, and in the marketplace? How do you relate to your friends and colleagues who are not Christians? It’s much more difficult to make those decisions than to go to a church meeting.
However, it takes time to mature. I always like to use the analogy of wine. I’m a wine taster and I also teach courses in wine. Any kind of new wine is powerful and fragrant—they are refreshing and they make an impact right away. Yet, there’s not much aftertaste. The body structure is not very solid, and they don’t have different layers of development.
The same grapes, when they are aged with care, have a different profile. The colour might not be as bright as the new wine, it may not be as fragrant, but it has different layers of character, and the body structure is much stronger. There’s a depth to its character—a complexity of character, very long-lasting and stable. Its finishing and aftertaste are better.
Similarly, a young believer is enthusiastic and has a lot of energy and vibrance. Someone who’s mature may not look very impressive at first sight but the more you know him, the more you discover that he has depth and he’s very stable and very secure. And even with a lot of challenges, he or she will not panic but be calm and say, “Let’s do that”. This is maturity.
In our Christian community, the young men will always be very enthusiastic and are trying to say, “I’m here”. But as this group develops, they will know how to face different situations with different responses.
For example, Christians in some areas cannot manifest their faith openly. It is a challenge, and I will say, that is their ageing process. They need to think about how they can internalise that fragrant character into different forms so that they will come out in a different way but in a much fuller body.
You also quoted a wise friend who told you this about Christians in China: “If the weather is good, you see more. If it is overcast, you may not see any. Yet all the stars are there.” I think this is a great analogy—it speaks so much of the Christians who are holding on to their faith in this social-political tension. What are your thoughts about this, personally and from a social observation standpoint?
I will say that it is a time for the individual to think about how important their faith is to them. Some may have discarded the faith; some will feel that there are other things more important than the faith that they have.
Just like the parable of Jesus, where He talked about seeds sown on different grounds. Some may germinate more, some will just die away, and some may multiply 10 to 20 times. So, it is a time when we can see how deep the roots have grown and how good the soil has been. You won’t know until you face a trial. It is in the Bible—a truth that we have been observing year after year. And for those who can endure this winter, in the springtime they will blossom.
The concept of church is not something physical. I’m sure Christians still communicate with each other for mutual encouragement, may it be on social media or virtual spaces. When two or three are gathered to pray in the name of Jesus, His presence is there, and they are already a part of the bigger church in the world.
I don’t see that the church will ever cease to exist. It is just in a different form. In the Apostle’s Creed, we say we believe in the communion of the saints. This communion is a very mystical linkage among Christians. Even though they may not meet, when one is praying for another, there’s a special connection.
This church has lasted for 2,000 years continuously and we are all part of it. I don’t necessarily look for a building or activities. Those are just physical structures, and activities are just to facilitate programmes easily.
In a nutshell, Christians who are connected with each other, by whatever means, are already part of the Church. A physical church building you go to is only considered a church if people are connected with each other spiritually. Otherwise, it’s just like a concert or another event.
A church meeting is a means, not an end. Sometimes, we can use different means and still recognise it as a church.
Pastor Kong mentioned that during the trial our church leaders went through you presented a paper on how God is working through CHC. Thank you for being a friend to us. What did you say in your paper?
The paper was published in Global Chinese Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity in 2017. I look at CHC from a postmodern perspective, its relevancy and all that. At the end, I look at its future and the challenges they’d have to face.