Yet once China’s doors opened in the 1980s, Chinese Christians began learning about Reformed theology from overseas Chinese. One major influencer: Jonathan Chao, a Chinese-American who returned to his Chinese homeland to conduct research on the church. Once there, he befriended major house church leaders. His father, Charles Chao, had founded the Reformation Translation Fellowship, and the younger Chao followed in his father’s footsteps by setting up underground seminaries and bringing together network leaders to create a statement of faith for the Chinese house church. His organization, China Ministries International, also smuggled into China the first book of Reformed creeds.
Another big influence is Stephen Tong, a Reformed preacher in Indonesia who has reached Billy Graham–level fame through his large evangelistic meetings throughout Asia. In his sermons, Tong, who is ethnically Chinese, emphasizes the doctrine of sola scriptura while angrily criticizing liberal theology and the charismatic movement. Although Tong isn’t allowed in mainland China, his DVDs, CDs, and online sermons have spread widely among Chinese house churches.
TONG ESPECIALLY ATTRACTED the attention of China’s Christian intellectuals, who believe Reformed theology reconciles their rational and spiritual sides and fills the moral void they see in modern Chinese society. For instance, Paul Peng, a pastor at Enfu Church in Chengdu, said that after professing Christ, he felt he had to “sacrifice my head” to be a Christian. Whenever he asked Christians how to examine issues from a Biblical worldview, they responded with pat answers: “Just pray and depend on the Lord.”
While attending seminary in California, his professors introduced him to Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. He began to realize “the Christian faith does not just help us go to heaven, but also allows us to have a kingdom perspective. … It can influence every aspect of life.” Christianity suddenly became deeper and wider than he previously imagined.
Pastor Wang, a former constitutional law professor, remembers learning about the Protestant Reformation as an unbeliever, but it always left him with questions: “How is the Christian faith related to Western development in the past 500 years? What do ‘God-given rights’ have to do with Christianity? And how does all this relate to me personally?”
As he read Tong’s writings, he found that Reformed theology answered his intellectual questions. Not only was there a God, Wang realized, but He was sovereign over individual lives and the world around him. This attracted Wang: “Reformed theology is a complete moral system created for a world in crisis, especially one in which there are no values, like China.”