A major LHF translation project more than 5 years in the making is nearing completion: the Book of Concord (BOC) in the Traditional Chinese language.
“There’s something amazing going on right now in Taiwan in our partner church (China Evangelical Lutheran Church – CELC),” said Rev. Michael Paul, LCMS theological educator in Taiwan and editor of LHF’s traditional Chinese translations. “There’s kind of a revival in confessional Lutheranism, meaning the Book of Concord and the Lutheran Confessions.”
Rev. Paul recently taught a class on the BOC at a CELC congregation, where about 70 people worship each week. Twenty-four members signed up for his BOC class, and to Rev. Paul’s amazement, more than half of them read the entire book.
It was a feat even more impressive when considering that the class read from an older translation of the BOC that uses difficult language for modern Chinese readers.
“That’s why we’re doing a new translation,” he explained. “But these members read this very difficult translation, with difficult theology to begin with, and they really got into it!”
While Chinese is a well-developed language and there are many theological books written in that language, “unfortunately, there aren’t nearly enough Lutheran books,” said Rev. Paul. “The Chinese Christian church is so influenced by Reformed theology that a translator will read what it says in English – good, Lutheran, Biblical theology! – but they default to language that is not Lutheran. The Chinese, especially with the influence of Confucianism, have a very strong, ethical, moral foundation. They’re just very Law-based; that’s kind of their culture.
“What we Lutherans can bring to the table is that we are saved completely by God’s grace, by what Jesus has done for us, not by our works.”
Another roadblock to faith: Ancestor worship
As in many countries where Christianity isn’t the predominant religion, publicly converting to Lutheranism can come at a cost for new believers.
“The Chinese focus on the family, and in some sense, that’s good,” explained Rev. Paul. “The Chinese really respect their elders and take care of their parents when they’re old, much better than we do in the United States.”
The problem, Rev. Paul said, is that their familial care and piety continues after parents die. The physical care they demonstrated in life continues into the afterlife, with children praying to and even worshiping their ancestors. It’s expected that children will offer their deceased parents food sacrifices and fake paper money that they believe helps their family members in the afterlife.
“Everybody knows in Taiwan that if you become a Christian, you can’t do these things,” Rev. Paul said. “And so to become a Christian means that you’re breaking with your whole culture; you’re breaking with your family.”
Increasing social liberalism
Yet another barrier to sharing the Good News in Taiwan is the increasing social liberalism spreading throughout the culture.
“The challenge in Taiwan is the same as the United States,” Rev. Paul shared. “In the United States, the issues of gay marriage, transgenderism and so on happened pretty quickly, but it’s happened twice or even three times as fast in Taiwan.”
Taiwan is the first and only country in Asia that has legalized same-sex marriage. “Right now, there’s starting to be a little bit of persecution against Christians, just like there is in the United States,” he said.
The Word of the Lord grows
Despite these many hurdles, God is calling His Taiwanese children to faith in jesus Christ! The influence of LHF’s good Lutheran books, in combination with faithful teaching from Rev. Paul and other missionaries, is bearing fruit in Taiwan.
One example: A woman named Sharon graduated from China Lutheran Seminary, but by her own admission, she graduated without a good understanding of Lutheran theology and practice. She began serving in a liberal Lutheran synod, preaching regularly.
Then she took one of Rev. Paul’s classes.
“I was teaching straight theology – the Small Catechism and others of Luther’s writings – and she was just eating up our good Lutheran theology,” Rev. Paul recalled. “Sharon became convinced that she was in the wrong synod and that she shouldn’t be preaching as a woman, so now she’s a member of the CELC.”
The woman whose faith was fanned into flame by LHF books is now giving back by serving as an editor of Lutheranism 101, Reading the Bible with Understanding and Handling the Word of Truth.
“Sharon’s clearly been set free by the Gospel, and a lot of it is LHF’s work,” Rev. Paul said. “In the future, she’ll be 100% committed to getting LHF’s stuff out, because she sees how incredibly valuable it was for herself, and she wants to share it with as many people as possible.”
Once the Traditional Chinese BOC has been printed, LHF will undertake the Simplified Chinese edition, which is spoken throughout mainland China.