When you think of China, what images run through your mind? If you’re over 50, you might envision conical hats, two-wheeled, human-drawn conveyances called rickshaws, bowls of rice, wizened faces with long, wispy beards, fine porcelain, ornate dragons, and chopsticks.
For those 40 and under, it is more likely to be thoughts of Mao Tse Tung, brown-uniformed armies, banner-waving dancers, and marchers moving with graceful precision to honor the Chairman.
The latter imagery is far different from the former. A radical change occurred, and now China is so unrecognizable that one is tempted to call it by some other name. How did all this happen? What set it in motion?
Beijing had a culture of its own. That culture was the natural outcome of Chinese people interacting with other Chinese people, and maybe some foreigners. The influence of this city affected all of China.
For centuries Chinese thought, mannerisms, and sensibilities were the result of life under the various dynasties that rose and fell, one after the other. Within that ebb and flow of the Chinese kingdoms there was one stable, consistent focal point. People could find their stability and maintain their orientation by unconsciously adhering to it. That focal point was Chinese tradition.
Tradition is what defines every culture, and culture defines every people. Tradition in all its varied forms is what remains constant in any culture, giving it stability. Most traditions have their roots in the basic, instinctive understanding of what serves the greatest good in human interaction. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part, traditions recognize and preserve human worth.
The history of Beijing is the history of Moscow and, to a certain degree, much of the world. The transition began when the traditions came under attack. The dissident voices were the minority, yet they were clamorous to the point that the majority voice became intimidated and silent. The traditions that defined the Chinese culture, and the culture that defined the Chinese people, were criticized and finally eliminated. Something new, brutal, and totalitarian was set in place. Every voice that spoke out in protest was eliminated. Everyone was forced to study daily the Little Red Book of Mao’s quotations, whether they believed the doctrine or not.
Those born within the new regime had no idea what the truth was. They knew nothing of the old traditions, while those who did know remained silent out of fear of severe reprisals. The place is still called China, but few, having not known the old, can appreciate the complete cultural change that has taken over in the new China.
What happened in China was a political transformation. Some people rose up within the old society, attacked the traditions and those who held to them, and finally set their own culture in motion. That was something that happened in the political realm. But is it possible that the same thing can happen in the spiritual realm? Could it happen to the Church? Is it conceivable that the traditions and life of the Church could come under attack, and the result would be something completely unrecognizable as the Church, even though it would still be called the Church?
The Church, in its beginning, was recognizable only as a group of believers who lived together, sharing all things in common.1 They had a common life together. Their common life was based on their common experience of forgiveness for their sins, through the blood of the One they called Yahshua. The Spirit He gave them filled their hearts with undying love for Him and for each other.2
They developed certain traditions based on the teachings of the apostles, bringing back the standard of how the Creator wanted His people to live.3 The culture which arose from these traditions made these believers recognizable as a distinct people. This was God’s heart from the beginning. All true believers would live this way.
As time went by, something else began to creep into their midst. It was subtle and came in tiny doses at first. Some began taking exception to the apostles’ teachings in seemingly minor ways, not keeping the traditions they had established. Such disorderly people should have been shunned,4 that they would be ashamed and brought to repentance, but instead they formed factions, drawing a following after themselves.5 Although the churches had been exhorted to pay closer attention to the things they had heard from the apostles, in time they drifted away.6
One of the distinguishing marks of the believers in the beginning was their outspokenness. They exercised their freedom of speech in love, causing a vibrant, thriving life to exist.7 But with the repeated indoctrination by the few who were most vocal and seeking recognition, the outspokenness of the many was quenched. They sat silently back and allowed the self-proclaimed leaders to take over.
Like the new leaders of China, these new leaders (called Nicolaitans) in the Church worked and taught in diametric opposition to all that pertained to the original foundations and traditions of the Church.8 Just as in China, if anyone spoke up in opposition to these men in the church, reminding them of the apostles’ teachings, he was put out of the Church.9
When the traditions died, the culture died. Just as the new China is completely unrecognizable to those who knew the old China, so is the system called the Church today completely unrecognizable in relation to the foundation and pattern of the true Church described in Acts 2 and 4.
It is sad to say, but if a Chinese person desires to find the old traditions that made China distinctly Chinese, he would not find them in China. Yet, even if he left and went searching, he would not find those traditions anywhere else.
Likewise, if one wants to find the original foundation and pattern of the Church, he has to come out of the fallen religious system that has developed over centuries, calling itself the Church.10 But for this person there is hope, because, unlike China, he can find a people who live according to the original foundation and pattern of the Church in Acts 2 and 4. They are living together in communities all over the world — places where you are welcome to come and see for yourself.