A delegation of 24 leaders from the World Evangelical Alliance met with leaders of China's official church bodies Monday, building upon the relationships formed during the first visit by the alliance's head, Geoff Tunnicliffe, in 2008.
The delegation, which arrived in Shanghai on Sunday, includes Tunnicliffe, European Evangelical Alliance General Secretary Gordon Showell-Rogers from the United Kingdom, National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson from the United States, and members of the WEA's governing body – the International Council – among others.
On the first official day of their visit, the WEA delegation was welcomed by local Chinese officials and leaders of the state-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council, the umbrella organization for all registered Protestant churches. Among those present were CCC President Gao Feng, CCC General Secretary Kan Baoping, and Amity Foundation Board Member Bao Jiayuan.
In a welcoming speech, TSPM Chairman Fu Xianwei said he was happy about the WEA's visit, which he said will enable the development of mutual relations and further promote mutual ties and interaction.
Traditionally, evangelicals outside of China have distanced themselves from TSPM/CCC churches as affiliation with them or even the acceptance of invitations to speak at them is frowned upon by leaders of China's house church movement, who refuse to register or affiliate with the TSPM/CCC.
Critics of TSPM/CCC have accused their leaders of placing submission to the state's authority above submission to Christ's authority and of admonishing against proselytism, which they consider a central teaching of Christianity.
Those sympathetic to the TSPM/CCC, however, say believers in state-approved churches are genuinely living out their faith within the context of Chinese law and that their way of reaching out to the unchurched is simply not the same as some Western models.
TSPM/CCC leaders, meanwhile, point to the rapid growth of their churches as a clear sign of their vitality and to their efforts to provide services for churches in China by formulating Church Order, encouraging theological education through seminaries and Bible schools, publishing Bibles and other Christian materials, and coordinating training programs for churches.
After Monday's meeting, WEA International Director Tunnicliffe said he was "deeply encouraged by their commitment to proclaiming and living out the Gospel in their fast-changing context."
"This visit was the first step in creating a new map in the relationship between WEA and the Chinese Church," he stated in a report. "At the end of the meetings, we realized that we have many areas of common concern and the CCC warmly encouraged WEA to return for more in-depth discussions.
"WEA is looking forward to this historic dialogue," he added.
During the meeting, Tunnicliffe expressed the organization's willingness to strengthen its relationship with the Chinese Church, which to date has mostly collaborated with the ecumenical World Council of Churches.
The visit by the WEA delegation to develop deeper communication was a fulfillment of the wish Tunnicliffe had expressed during his first visit to China as WEA head in April 2008.
As a network of churches in 128 nations and over 100 international organizations, the WEA ties together more than 420 million evangelical Christians through its membership. The alliance's mission is to foster Christian unity and provide a worldwide identity, voice and platform to Evangelical Christians.
Prior to China, the WEA delegation was in South Korea, where meetings of the alliance's International Council and International Leadership Team were held last week.
The delegation is expected to conclude its trip to China this coming Sunday after further meetings with key Chinese representatives, including those from China's largest seminary and government officials in Beijing.
The WEA reports that its delegation comprises members of its senior staff, International Council, Regional Alliances, Commissions, and Global Partners.