Imaginations Awakened: Part 1

Editor’s note: This fall, Hannah Nation wrote for byFaith magazine on how interacting with Chinese has encouraged and awakened American believers. She spoke with several PCA pastors about how reading the writings of Chinese house church believers has encouraged, challenged, and blessed them in their lives and work — and helped them stand firm to persevere in their own challenging times. This month, we are re-publishing that article in several parts.


The imagination is powerful.

About 20 years ago, I began to dream of saying I had experienced the Chinese house church. Somehow, I knew that what was taking place in China was important and noteworthy. Like Hudson Taylor 150 years before, my heart was captured by a vision of a countless Chinese host streaming into Christ’s kingdom. Ever since, that image has continued to encourage and motivate me as I walk with Jesus.

I’m not the only one captivated by China. This spring, Kevin Smith, senior pastor of New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, said that in the aftermath of his worst year of ministry in 30 years, reading from the Chinese church reminded him of the beauty of Christ and his kingdom. In the midst of their own suffering, Chinese pastors held up “something that is so engrossing, something that so captures your heart and your imagination, something that so captures your life,” Smith said. “And that something is Jesus, and his kingdom, and his glory. They reminded me, ‘Oh yeah. Jesus is worth it.’”

For many American Christians, China may seem a niche interest. But recently, PCA pastors and theologians have had a growing interest in Chinese house churches. As Jim Plunk, pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Hernando, Mississippi, says, “[They] seem in some ways different from our Western context, but that doesn’t mean it’s not relevant.”

In the aftermath of his worst year of ministry in 30 years, reading from the Chinese church reminded him of the beauty of Christ and his kingdom.

This has largely been driven by the writing of a Chinese pastor named Wang Yi and the recent publication of a collection of his essays in “Faithful Disobedience: Writings on Church and State from a Chinese House Church Movement” (IVP Academic, 2022). Because Wang Yi is ordained in China’s first indigenous presbytery, holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and has read the Protestant Reformers widely, there has been much natural curiosity within the PCA.

“Faithful Disobedience” has been eye-opening for many. For some, such as Jay Harvey, assistant professor of pastoral theology and executive director of Reformed Theological Seminary New York City, it has been encouraging to find fresh material from a global church he previously knew little about. He says, “There is such a rich history to China. It’s such a powerful nation. I’ve known about the faithfulness of the house church in China and Wang Yi in particular, but I didn’t know about his theological writings. It’s been a refreshing discovery.”

For others, what stands out is the boldness of Wang Yi’s writings. David Hall, senior pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church in Powder Springs, Georgia, and a scholar of Reformation history, notices how Wang Yi’s writings harken back to the old reformers. He said, “If I admire the Reformers of the 16th century, not only their boldness but their theological articulation — I feel like I’m seeing it lived out again in China.”

Chinese Christians are convicted that Jesus is the only head of the church. Because they trust that Christ is the only preeminent authority, they can act without regard for political agendas.

Wang Yi is arguably the most famous house church pastor in China. Before his conversion to Christianity, Wang Yi was a well-known intellectual and human rights lawyer. After founding Early Rain Covenant Church, he remained a prominent voice online, pushing the boundaries of house church engagement with the public square. On Dec. 9, 2018, Wang Yi and the entirety of his church’s leadership were arrested. One year later, he was sentenced to nine years in jail for “subversion of the state,” the longest sentence given to a house church pastor since the Cultural Revolution.

To better understand why the words of a pastor halfway around the world are affecting American pastors, we recently sat down with several PCA pastors to hear about how Wang Yi’s writings are awakening their imaginations.

Three themes from Wang Yi’s writing come to the forefront of what is inspiring PCA pastors and theologians.


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Chinese house churches believe in a power that stands above the Chinese Communist Party.

This shapes their corporate and individual identities, and is deeply rooted in house church history. Chinese Christians are convicted that Jesus is the only head of the church. Because they trust that Christ is the only preeminent authority, they can act without regard for political agendas. Instead, they concentrate on spiritual realities. “When churches refuse to obey evil laws … it stems only from the demands of the gospel and from a love for Chinese society,” explains Wang Yi.

While the Chinese government wants its people’s ultimate allegiance, house churches declare a different world order. And because the Chinese government does not want its people to believe in eternal realities greater than itself, proclaiming that Jesus’ kingdom will come in the end is protest enough. Together with Wang Yi, Chinese house churches say: “This does not mean that my personal disobedience and the disobedience of the church are in any sense ‘fighting for rights’ or political activism in the form of civil disobedience, because I do not have the intention of changing any institutions or laws of China. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disruption of humanity’s sinful nature by this faithful disobedience and the testimony it bears for the cross of Christ.”

For many North American pastors, Chinese house churches offer strong encouragement in discipling congregations as Christianity loses its cultural influence.

While the Chinese government wants its people’s ultimate allegiance, house churches declare a different world order. And because the Chinese government does not want its people to believe in eternal realities greater than itself, proclaiming that Jesus’ kingdom will come in the end is protest enough.

Kevin Smith in Chattanooga says, “I believe America is on the brink of persecution toward Christians in ways we haven’t seen before. And the way it will come seems to be through issues of identity. … I’m seeking to prepare my people for suffering in the name of Jesus and His kingdom, and counting it joy to do so.” But, “even if it doesn’t come, I want my people to love Jesus like [the Chinese house churches] anyway.” He continues, “I want to know this Jesus. But I want my people to know this Jesus.”

Preparing people for possible persecution is a scriptural task, not one based on defending a way of life. David Hall states, “I don’t think Wang Yi is on a mission to defend a tradition. I think he tries to go to Scripture, to see who God means the church to be, and extrapolates from Scripture who the church is to be, and it bumps into civil governors quite frequently in his context.” Whether faithfulness to Scripture means frequent bumps, as in Wang Yi’s context, or less frequent bumps, as in other settings, Hall says, “As a common pastor, we have to be teaching our children, our grandchildren, the members of our churches, that there may be some times when you have to say to civil governors: No, that is God’s authority, not yours.”


Hannah Nation serves as managing director of the Center for House Church Theology and as content director for China Partnership. She is an editor of Faith in the Wilderness: Words of Exhortation from the Chinese Church (Kirkdale Press, 2022) and Wang Yi’s Faithful Disobedience: Writings on Church and State from a Chinese House Church Movement (IVP Academic, 2022).

Pray that the work and words of Chinese believers will help global Christians fall more in love with Jesus and stand firm in their own difficulties and trials.

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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

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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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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 Guangzhou

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About Shenzhen

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About Chengdu

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About Beijing

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