VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Mennonite Church Canada Witness/Mennonite Mission Network) — Pastor Jonathan Yin, recently ordained for ministry in Beijing, called his encounter with Anabaptist theology more than a decade ago a “homecoming of faith.”
While pastoring in Beijing, a fellow Chinese pastor in Sichuan told Yin to “check out these Mennonites, I think you could get excited about what they are teaching.” Yin connected with Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers and was given the opportunity to study at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN.
Pastor Yin says that many Chinese intellectuals see a disconnect between Christian faith and life, calling it a hypocritical religion with followers who ignore Jesus’ teachings.
Christianity and Western imperialism are still closely linked in the minds of many Chinese. To correct a huge trade imbalance in the 1800s, Western gunboats forcibly opened Chinese ports to accept trade – and the missionaries who at times actually rode in on those gunboats. Anabaptist rejection of gunboat power presents a new and different view of Christian faith that is attractive to Christians and non-Christians alike.
“Belief and actions, faith and life must be congruent. We don’t see the ‘crook with a good heart’ hero in our movies,” said Li Ou, Peking University graduate and professor of comparative culture. “We just can’t admire someone like that.”
Author Derk Bodde in the Journal of America Oriental Society, wrote, “It is ethics (especially Confucian ethics) and not religion (at least not religion of a formal organized type) that provided the spiritual basis of Chinese civilization. All of which, of course, marks a difference of fundamental importance between China and most other major civilizations in which a church and priesthood have played a dominant role.”
Modern theological emphasis in the Chinese church focuses on sacrifice, atonement, and forgiveness, concepts borrowed from Western theology. This approach does not resonate well in Chinese culture, where one monitors his or her actions through the perspectives of others. A focus on ethics and on the life of Jesus in Christian teaching is more in accord with Chinese thinking.
Pastor Shi, who recently encountered Anabaptist beliefs, works with Yin and other church leaders in China to form active, living, missional congregations. Shi said that in Chinese cultural belief, religious faith is something that changes every aspect of life and behavior. “If you explained to a Chinese intellectual that because of your faith you refuse to take another’s life, they would say, ‘Of course,’” Shi explained. “This is an inevitable conclusion in the minds of those steeped in traditional Chinese culture.”
Wang Ying, founder of the non-governmental organization Peace in China, said took part in an international volunteer exchange program. “One thing I and other young Christians I knew struggled with was how ‘Christian’ nations could participate in wars, when we saw something so different in Jesus’ teachings." Ying discovered believers from around the world trying to follow Jesus in the way of peace.
These and other church leaders are urging Mennonites to gift the larger church in China with this perspective of Christianity so that many more will experience “coming home.”
Heritage of faith
Jonathan Yin’s ordination into ministry symbolizes a strong personal calling to serve the church, a calling that also reflects his family history.
Yin’s great-grandfather was ordained for service as the first Chinese pastor in the Brethren Church. Years later, in the 1940s, Yin’s grandfather, Yin Jizeng, graduated from the influential Huabei Seminary, located in Shandong province.
Eventually Yin Jizeng left the Brethren Church to become an independent indigenous church leader in Beijing. When the churches were closed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s his ministry was temporarily derailed. Yin Jizeng was sent to a labor camp as a farm worker.
In 1972, the first church reopened in China. Although it was merely a showpiece available only to foreigners in Beijing, Yin Jizeng saw it as a chance to get back to the work he loved. Other churches eventually reopened too, and Yin Jizeng pastored at several of them before his retirement at the age of 85. He recently celebrated his 100th birthday.
Jonathan Yin reflects that his studies in Chinese seminary and his pastoral experience in Beijing did not prevent him from considering other possible professions. However, after furthering his education at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Yin said, “I knew I belonged to the church.” He paraphrases Paul from 1 Corinthians 9:15-16: “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.”
Yin said his studies at AMBS caused him to see “an Anabaptist vision of the church that really fit with Jesus’ teaching.” He feels drawn and committed to this teaching, and refers to himself as an Anabaptist Mennonite pastor, even though none of the churches he works with have “Mennonite” written on their doors.
Jonathan Yin works in Beijing with Mennonite Partners in China, a partner ministry of Mennonite Mission Network. He helps manage logistics for the educational and cultural exchange program, and works with Chinese partner churches within a growing Chinese congregational network that invited Yin to be ordained for service in China.
The developing network is designed to facilitate mutual support and sharing as pastors build missional congregations in China.
Yin says he has thought seriously about ordination in the years since he first graduated from seminary. “I feel a very strong call to follow God in church ministry, so this fits so well with that call on my life,” he said. “It also feels like I am following in the footsteps of my grandfather.”
Jeanette Hanson, her husband, Todd, and their two children, have served in China since 1994 through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness. Presently in Vancouver on a North America ministry assignment, the Hanson family will return to China in the summer of 2010.