Editor’s note: Recent years have brought a crackdown on Chinese house churches which continues to intensify today. As Chinese house churches try to respond to their challenges, knowledge and understanding are in great need. In a 2021 seminar for Chinese Christians, “Gabriel,” a Christian attorney, shared about how and why house churches should adopt a gospel-centered legal framework, and what that means practically for believers and their church communities. He admonished believers to think about why they are suffering, and to use their suffering to make Christ’s gospel known through their suffering.
Part one of this series was published here. This excerpt has been edited for clarity and length.
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Phil. 1:12 – 14
Would You Pray With Us Today?
This is our theme: to advance the gospel.
Because of the Suffering Saints
Some churches make it known they are being persecuted. Their church has been punished again; brothers and sisters have been raided again; their houses have once more been forcefully demolished. Consequently, others become afraid. They might say, “We cannot run a church anymore – we will be punished.” Or, “We can no longer operate any Christian schools. If we do, the police will come.” Many Christians are overwhelmed. Instead of seeing that God’s will is clearly for the gospel to advance, they live in fear.
We need discernment. Paul understood the weakness and fear of brothers and sisters, so he comforted them, deliberately reminding them of his imprisonment. He was beaten, carried to Rome, accused, and lost his personal freedom. He says, “Do not be afraid of these things. You are not to grieve for me. Rather, notice how this causes you to see the kingdom of the gospel expand.” Our true comfort is to see the gospel advancing.
There are times we use the law to defend our rights, but we often fail. If you file an administrative lawsuit, they dismiss it; if you file a lawsuit, they say you do not have a case. Many times we are discouraged by the persecution directed at the church. In those cases, Paul would say, “The kingdom of God is expanding and the name of God is being revealed.” Because of the efforts of suffering saints, more and more people are hearing the gospel, recognizing the gospel, and understanding it. This is the significant fact.
A lawyer once said, “You cannot talk about law in the church. If you do, you are no different from the Three-Self Church.” I felt what he said was wrong, but did not know how to answer. But when I read church history and studied some of the debates of the May Fourth New Culture Movement, I slowly realized what the problem was.
During the May Fourth movement, many people attacked Christianity using science, democracy, and the social gospel. Scientism argued Christianity was not scientific enough, so some churches responded by saying we should not preach things in the Bible which are not in line with science. Science became the standard of truth.
One of the nationalist ideas was that Western missionaries established by foreign missions boards must be replaced by Chinese. All churches and schools operated by Westerners came under the management of the state; Christian faith was judged by the standard of the nation.
How does this concern us today? The law is in the church; the flag is in the church; the national anthem is in the church. This is all a manifestation of nationalism. Scientific knowledge in the church is an extension of this. One of the funniest things I have seen are churches which employ the Confucian tradition of erecting saints and establishing moral models, calling one man a moral model from whom all Christians should learn.
Do Our Actions Glorify the Gospel?
Many churches are compromising, undiscerning, and failing. When we talk about the law in church today, we do this to return to the gospel. Science is good, scientism is bad; piety is good, pietism is problematic. When you treat something as higher than the gospel and use it to judge everything, it will create problems. We must return to the gospel. But how do we testify to the gospel when we are in the process of defending our rights?
Once, a pastor told me he secretly threatened to break the legs of the director of the Civil Religious Affairs Bureau investigating his church. That chief was so scared that he never returned. Pragmatically, this was useful, but the gospel was not revealed.
Some brothers and sisters tell me that, after police harass them daily, they call the police at night to harass them, or publish information exposing which school the officer sends his children to. Brothers and sisters, what is our testimony to the gospel? Not to mention the legal risk from doing these things.
Other pastors are punished, but because they have many relational networks or a certain social status, they circumnavigate and lower the penalty. If they are fined 200,000 yuan, they find a social connection who can get the fine lowered to 100,000 yuan. They compromise with their accusers, and admit their fault. From a human point of view, this could be perceived as a success. But where is the manifestation of the gospel?
I am not criticizing or judging, I am only speaking about the facts. We actually believe the Holy Spirit is moving in us – do you think it is worth it to do these things? I do not. You suffer for the sake of the gospel; if you suffer in a manner contrary to the gospel, there is no benefit in your suffering. We have to keep returning to the gospel. Do our methods of defending our rights, our ways of thinking, and our actions ultimately glorify the gospel? Or do they cause Gentiles to despise the gospel even more?
Gabriel (加百列) is a pseudonym for a Chinese Christian who works as an attorney representing believers and churches facing legal challenges.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese Christians to use their suffering and persecution to boldly advance the gospel of Christ.