Editor’s Note: As coronavirus spreads across the United States, Christians face circumstances unprecedented in America: how can we build the body of Christ when gathering together is severely limited or impossible? This question, although new to the U.S., is one Chinese churches have been wrestling with for a while – not just in their battle with COVID-19, but for years in the fires of persecution. The answers they have developed are ones churches in the West deserve to hear.
One of China Partnership’s goals is to serve as a bridge between Western and Chinese churches. As America deals with COVID-19 in the coming months, we will be sharing resources from Chinese pastors, thinkers, and laypeople as they grapple with this and other trials. We invite you to learn from China with us.
“We never imagined churches in China and the U.S. would share common, realistic circumstances as quickly as we do today,” a Chinese church leader recently shared, as more than 60 participants from ministries across the U.S. gathered online in a meeting planned to help American churches learn from the Chinese house church’s experiences facing the coronavirus. “By the Lord’s providence, Chinese churches have walked before the U.S. churches and have learned much in the past several months…under the stress of the coronavirus, we share this common moment. Help us to learn from each other.”
The Bible says Jesus, who was perfect, humbled himself to learn and grow when he came to earth as man. Luke 2:52 says, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” God became a man who learned from others. As American Christians face drastic changes to life and fellowship introduced by COVID-19, we have a special opportunity to follow Christ’s example and learn from the experiences of others.
The epidemic is showing the world’s interconnectedness in a tangible way most alive today have never experienced. Christians are called, even more than others, to bear one another’s burdens. No matter where we live or what language we speak, we are one in Christ. Humans of every stripe struggle with ethnocentrism or myopic thinking focused only on issues directly confronting them. But as the entire world reels, this is a particular opportunity to display the overarching unity believers have in Christ, and to learn from the experience of China.
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“I have been telling people for the past several years that there will come a time when the American church is learning profoundly from the Chinese church,” said a former missionary to China who is now an executive director for a large PCA church in the States. “Institutional Christianity is now dying, if not dead [in America], so we are going to need to learn how to thrive as a maligned minority in our society, like they have for many years. There is a chance we’ll get to persecution one day, but even if we don’t, we’re going to need to employ a lot of the Chinese church’s methods.”
The online meeting, led by a Chinese house church pastor, was a perfect example of this. During the meeting, a Chinese pastor shared about how they had begun to use Zoom as a tool for conducting church services, small groups, and training online. There was little fanfare; it was a simple and practical meeting. Yet it represented something much bigger: a chance for American churches to begin being tangibly blessed by the Chinese church’s skill in building online communities.
After all, the COVID-19 crisis is not the first time Chinese believers have had to adapt: Chinese believers have long been used to creative expressions of church fellowship. “They actually started to do this [online gathering] under persecution. Some churches were demolished by the government and they could not have Sunday service,” shared “Pastor Zhang.” The technological know-how gained through the fires of persecution, prohibitions on in-person gatherings, and most recently COVID-19 can now bless the global church.
“They’ve been having to leverage technology for the last 20 years circumventing governmental restrictions on worship,” the returned missionary said. “When I was there, much of our energy was spent trying to simply figure out how to worship in an unrestricted way, many times over virtual private networks online. Now there are [other tools] they have been leveraging on a very high level.”
As COVID-19 has progressed, Chinese churches have used technology not only to care for the existing church, but have begun outward-focused online evangelistic meetings reaching thousands of people, said Pastor Zhang. They have continued building community virtually, even as people were separated physically. “We ask people to put on their Sunday clothes and have the whole family gather before the screen. After the worship service, we ask everyone to turn on their video so everyone can see each other, greet each other, and say hello.”
“They take seriously the precious time they have together,” said Jeff Kyle, China Partnership’s VP of Operations and Advancement. This focus on the communal nature of the church was a contrast to the highly polished presentations which can sometimes be valued by highly-resourced American churches. “During coronavirus, we have the opportunity to glean from the church in China what God has been showing them about the nature and purpose of church.”
Christians are assured that nothing – including illness or persecution – can destroy God’s church. American believers seeking God in the midst of coronavirus can be assured his plans and purposes will stand. May the unity of the church increase across borders, cultures, languages, and earthly divisions, and may the U.S. church be willing to humble itself and learn from its brothers and sisters in China who have gone before us. In this way, may U.S. Christians look more like Jesus and his global Bride.