Church and State in an Atheist Age

Editor’s note: In the aftermath of rare Covid protests, Elder Li shared the following thoughts on the role of the church in the modern age and on the interplay between church and state. Li is interested in further discussion of these issues with other Christian pastors or scholars, and invites anyone who is willing to communicate further on the subject to reach out to him.

To respond to Li and share your thoughts on the interplay between church and state in an age of atheism, please contact CP directly.


The Battle Now Is Different

As a church, we are in the latter stages of the end times. Still, this does not mean Christ will definitely return soon. We look back at the early church, or at the medieval church, or the church during the Reformation, and see that they were also in the end times. (When I speak of the church, I am referring to the church that can be observed: the visible church.) Yet the warfare the church waged in those earlier ages is quite different from the one in which we are engaged today.

”“The warfare the church waged in earlier ages is quite different from the one in which we are engaged today.”

In the last two or three hundred years, the devil has accomplished much in the field of ideology. Previous generations could hardly imagine all he has done. Today, people generally live under the sway of atheism. The impact Darwinism and Marxism have on the world at large and on the church continues to unfold. Right now, it is still difficult for us to make an accurate assessment.

Church and State In An Atheist Age

The Protestant view of history and of the relationship between the church and the state is still largely based on groundwork laid down by the Reformers. Although Christendom was breaking up and falling apart at the time, it was still the background from which the Reformers came. The Reformers did not have experience dealing with paganism. They had even less practice dealing with atheism, or with totalitarian governments. In fact, experience in dealing with atheism or totalitarianism is still scarce in the church today.

As it stands, Protestantism is naïve and superficial in the way it handles church-and-state relations. Protestantism, as a whole, is not able to recognize the spiritual nature of communism. (Progressivism, of course, is merely one of the many spiritual descendants of communism.) When it comes to church-state relationships, Protestantism is no match for Catholicism. When we look back at the church in Germany or at the present-day United States, it is easy to see that this is not a harsh judgment.

The Orthodox church also seems to be lacking in this area. Still, the Orthodox church has more insight into how the church relates to the government than Protestantism does. This can be seen in Dostoevsky. Right now, we have to rely on Catholic or Orthodox traditions for our understanding, criticism, and response to the modern world.

We Are Not Worthy Of Our Suffering

The Chinese church has been given an opportunity to fight the ghost of communism. This is one of the most profound of all the trials currently occurring in our modern world. However, I am sorry to say that we are not worthy of our sufferings. We have experienced much sorrow: when you take an objective look at human history, the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Famine, the Cultural Revolution, and even the Three-Antis and the Five-Antis campaigns have all been extremely significant.

”“Although the Chinese church has endured all these difficulties, we have hardly produced any serious theological reflection from this suffering… The history taking place now is an opportunity for the Chinese church to step forward.”

Yet although the Chinese church has endured all these difficulties, we have hardly produced any serious theological reflection from this suffering. We have no theological thought or writing to show from these experiences. The history taking place now [i.e. riots and protests against Covid lockdowns] is an opportunity for the Chinese church to step forward. Both pastoral practice and theological reflection should be more present and more relevant. Practice and reflection also need a greater sense of their historical importance and responsiveness.


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I pray that the Lord will help us, and that he will keep his own church!


Elder Li Yingqiang is an elder of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. He and his wife have two children.

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray that the Chinese church will make good use of her suffering and will bless the larger body of Christ by sharing what God is teaching through these trials.

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Further Reading

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Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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Stories from Beijing

About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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