A Modern Day Martin Luther

Justification by Love: The Second Reformation

Few of us have had the experience of a numinous experience, that is, a profound and life changing moment that happens in a flash but gives us a lifetime of inspiration. It is the experience of the mystic and the mother. Holding your child in your arms the first time she takes a breath or catching an aesthetic moment that takes away your breath are numinous moments.

K H Ting experienced this flash of insight when he read the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. “Like lightning, those three chapters woke me up from my slumbers. I opened my eyes and saw a vision. I saw a great, noble personality, awesome and gentle, deep and penetrating – He took hold of my soul. He almost stopped me from breathing. When I returned home, I cried out for joy. I was moved to tears. I could not help confessing this vision, Lord you are my Savior.”

Although not a systematic theologian, Ting has emerged as a theologian both of international stature and depth. He has developed a theology of love with influences of the phenomenology of Pierre de Chardin, the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, and the Liberation theology of Latin American theologians. All three influences are reformatted under a doctrine of love. For example, he says about Liberation theologians who incorporate a Marxist politic into their worldview, ” I hesitate to think that the poor, just because they are poor, are necessarily the bearers of truth and that the mandate of history is necessarily in the hands of the poor in their struggle against the rich. To be poor is miserable. The poor deserve justice. But poverty is no virtue, unless voluntary, and does not always bring with it wisdom. To make a messiah of the poor just because they are poor and to pit the poor against the rich . . . is neither Marxist nor Christian.”

Western missionaries insulted their host by making Chinese European before making them Christian. In 1949 western missionaries were kicked out of China and one of the great experiments in Christianity began. For sixty years Chinese Christianity was able to rethink the nature of a 2000 year old religion in a Chinese context free from the confines of Aristotelian, Greek, Latin, and Germanic thought prisons. This is no less than the second reformation of Christianity. Much of this has been led by Bishop Ting.

During the first Reformation, Martin Luther developed the doctrine of “Justification by faith.” This meme of human thought ignited a revolution in Europe. The ordinary person was freed from the authority of the Church and individual faith trumped the Pope. Unfortunately every protestant became his own pope. Categories of Aristotelian thought invaded theology and the limitations of faith began to unravel the fabric of faith. Intellectual ascent clouded doctrines of soteriology.

Bishop Ting proposes “Justification by love” and this could very well ignite true reconstruction of human society.

“Love country, love church,” says Ting, “must not remain in the realm of theory and slogan, but be made visible in deeds of service to society and to the church.” Speaking in 1989, Ting pointed to many kinds of service programs.

“The promotion of literacy; cleanliness and hygiene; good family relations; equality between men and women; thrift in weddings, funerals and other ceremonies; care for the handicapped, the sick and the poor, the fight against the buying and selling of brides; works undertaken for the common good and to protect the environment: All are worth our effort. All these programs can be ways and means for Christians to serve their neighbors and to witness to Christ.”

The idea of being Protestant is an Aristotelian idea. It presumes there is a body of truth by which all other doctrines are measured. If one is liberate from the presumption that the historic Roman Catholic Church is the measure of things Christian then there is no Protestant church. There is only a western church of the 16th century Europe and all those that proceeded from it. Each church is measured from within it’s own context, history, experience and internal influences.

Modern manuscript research, of which I am acquainted has abandoned Aristotelian presumptions. Instead of presuming that the most ancient texts are the ones closer to the original, each manuscript is measured against itself and a family of texts shown to be related. Such research has demonstrated that some manuscripts formerly understood to contain copy errors have turned out to be closer to the original than older manuscripts. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls proved many later copies to be closer to the original than earlier copies of various texts.

The vision by Bishop Ting and others of an indigenous Chinese church is neither Protestant nor Catholic. A church must arise out of the context of it’s own history, context, and internal influences. Love always adapts. Love neither holds onto the past  nor worships the future. Love stares into the face of the ever present cry to be itself.

Bishop K. H. Ting, God Is Love ( Colorado Springs, Colorado: Cook Communications Ministries International, 2004).

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About daleinchina

Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences.
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