Editor’s note: This pastoral letter was written by a house church pastor in Eastern China, some months after the start of COVID-19. This letter is a sober admonishment for Chinese Christians to soberly take advantage of the freedom, resources, and peace of the age in which they live, even as they prepare for the seeming inevitability of increasing hardship and persecution in coming years.
Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors writing and thinking critically about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.
“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” 1 Tim. 4:8
Would You Pray With Us Today?
I hope our last pastoral letter has motivated you to rebuild your spiritual habits, especially the habits of reading the Bible, prayer, and developing discipleship relationships. Although all Christians know these habits very well, they often neglect to do them. We are always looking for excuses to settle our conscience, such as, “I’ll do it later;” “next time;” “I am not ready right now;” “don’t just check the box;” “it’s better not to read than do it half-heartedly.” Maybe these excuses seem reasonable (otherwise they could not become excuses), but the result is that you are not obeying God, but subjecting yourselves to sin. Furthermore, before you know it, you will fall into the trap of Satan’s various temptations.
We Christians of this generation are very fortunate. As I found while researching for my previous sermon, these decades since the beginning of the reform and opening-up policies in the 1980s are probably the longest period Chinese people have enjoyed without war or turmoil in Chinese history. The last large-scale political upheaval (the Cultural Revolution) ended in 1976, and the last border war (China–Vietnam) ended in 1990. The second longest peaceful age in Chinese history was the period of time between the war of the Shanyang Iron Crown in the third year of Yongshi era during the reign of Emperor Cheng of Western Han (14 B.C.) and the Yangling Ren Heng uprising in the third year of Yongshi Period, under the reign of Emperor Cheng of the Western Han Dynasty (A.D. 3). That period of peace lasted 17 years.
Dear brothers and sisters, have you thought about this? You’ve been placed in the longest peaceful age in Chinese history. God has given China a window of 30 years (I hope it will last longer) to share the gospel, establish churches, multiply spiritual fruit, develop theology, and build up ministries. We live in an unprecedented age. If we applied the parable of the three servants from Matthew 25 to a historical Chinese setting, our generation of Christians has been entrusted with more resources than any other, as compared with our Christian forefathers.
Brothers and sisters: are we faithfully managing the resources and talents which God has entrusted to us for his kingdom? This is also the question that was asked in the parable of three servants in Matthew 25. In the foreseeable future, the Chinese church will face further restrictions and persecution. Have you been faithfully using the resources, time, wealth, and gifts with which God has blessed you to grow in God’s love, to serve others, and to grow with the Body of Christ in order to face the coming trial? I will give a few examples of what I have been worrying about in the past few months. We can predict that:
· The entire political climate development and the new norms of pandemic prevention regulations have made the gathering of the church more difficult. Churches, both here and in other cities, that have resumed their gatherings have been interrupted, raided, persecuted, and scattered. This will weaken the faith of some, and steer the efforts of the pastors and elders from prayers and preaching, to ensuring church gathering.
· For the same reason, the space for children’s ministry, Christian school, and homeschool will be further compressed. Christian parents will have to spend more energy and time, as well as money and resources, raising their children or dealing with authorities. That will make us feel worried, scared, even doubtful and disheartened.
· For the same reason, the space for communication with overseas churches and the sharing of spiritual resources will also be compressed. Good websites, conference information, and books cannot be published, but low-quality and false information will have more space to circulate and spread. Heresies, cults, secularism, self-centeredness, consumerism and postmodern Christianity will expand. This will not only affect brothers and sisters within the church, but also erode the space for healthy faith.
· The long-term lack of blessing from in-person gatherings and the laxity resulting from online services can cause some of our weak members to remain in sin, backslide and fall, or some of those who have never been born again will refuse to submit to the Bible and the Holy Spirit. The Church will have to deal with more cases of church discipline, or face the reality of people giving up their faith.
· The pandemic, unemployment, and economic recession will cause offerings to drop. Those situations will also further weaken some Christians’ faith, or make them busier. As a result, pastors and elders will be more burdened and worried. Plans for training or raising more leaders (such as internships or hiring another pastor) will be inhibited, and other pastoral resources will also be reduced.
Reflecting on Heb. 10:36-39 can help us:
“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
Just like I said in the beginning, compared to our Chinese Christian forefathers, we have not endured as much as they did. God has given us a great window of time to prepare us, train us, and equip us, as well as to prepare the Chinese church to face the next ten years’ challenges and assaults. You must equip yourselves, prepare yourselves, and spare no efforts to crucify the old self to follow Christ. Otherwise, my friends, Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour you. Satan will also seek and devour the Church. The next ten years will provide an opportunity to refine the Chinese church and Chinese Christians. Are you the wood, hay and stubble that will be burned up, or the gold, silver and gems that will be refined? I hope all members of our church are “not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” This is also my daily prayer for you.
You should prepare yourselves in these ways in the coming months:
· Join a small group on Sundays, and sign up for a small group near you. If there is no open spot left, choose one that is a little further. Just keep in mind that even if there were no pandemic, it would still take some time for you to go to church on Sundays. If no group is available, you can invite people to your home, or be bold and grow a thick skin to ask if there are still vacancies in any group. In a word, don’t just do church alone.
· Build up or deepen your spiritual discipline, including Bible reading, prayer, and discipleship relationships. It is not too late to start.
· Join other equipping and training programs provided by the church. we have several core courses which are hosted online on Sunday mornings. On Wednesday evenings we also have a one-hour Bible study. This will help you read, understand and apply the Bible better. Again, it is the Bible, not our feelings or experience, that is our highest authority.
May the Lord help you equip yourselves. While you are equipping yourselves, you are equipping the church, because you are a member of this Body.
If you have been equipping yourselves in these ways, thanks be to God. Think about how you can serve other members and our church!
Week 19 of the pandemic
Although the situation in the West is different than that in China, Western Christians can learn much from the attitude taken by Chinese Christians as they look to faithfully follow God in the times in which he has placed them.
Just as this Chinese pastor asked his congregants to examine their hearts and actions, Western believers can ask themselves the same question: “Have you been faithfully using the resources, time, wealth, and gifts with which God has blessed you to grow in God’s love, to serve others, and to grow with the Body of Christ in order to face the coming trial?”