Stand Up, Speak Out, and Suffer: Gospel-Centered Legal Practice

Editor’s note: As Chinese house churches try to respond to the current challenges in the Chinese climate toward religion, 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. In this final excerpt, Gabriel encouraged Chinese Christians to stand firm and prepare themselves to pay the price necessary for their faith.

Parts one, two, three, four, and five of this series were previously published. This excerpt has been edited for both clarity and length.


21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. 

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Phil. 1: 21 – 30


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Christ Is King, Not the State

Paul was determined to press on toward the goal and live for Christ – but he did not live to become Christ incarnate. In our Chinese tradition, the ultimate belief is faith in a Heavenly Mandate, but understanding of the mandate differs from one philosophy to the next. Lao Tzu believed in lack of communication [letting things take their own course instead of meddling in society]. Confucianism promotes rituals, and Legalism is in favor of draconian law. The overall purpose of each is a permanent, stable society.

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“The emperor is the heart of politics; the son of heaven is the core of religion; church and state are unified. An authoritarian society has been built on a theological foundation of church-state unity.

Christianity is not the same. Christianity teaches God created the world, and no human, including the emperor, is a god. We Chinese call the emperor the “son of heaven.” The emperor is the heart of politics; the son of heaven is the core of religion; church and state are unified. An authoritarian society has been built on a theological foundation of church-state unity. The emperor is the high priest, the object of worship, and the core of power. His words are divine decrees; there is no higher standard. But in an atheistic society, even the Heavenly Mandate is no longer mentioned. Everything is aligned with power. Is there any hope?

Paul said Christ reigns among all people. We are to exalt Jesus. Because of this theological premise, Western society separates church and state. Even in the Middle Ages, Western society was not as authoritarian as ancient China.

The Soul Belongs to God

Paul said, “for to me to live is Christ.” (v. 21) He was determined to dedicate himself to life. Why, then, did he say, “to die is gain”? (v. 21) Because the Christian faith is both out of this world and in this world. Paul preferred to leave the world and be with Christ. Death was a beautiful liberation. For us Chinese, this is an “out-of-the-world” faith. Our faith is not science for the sake of science or art for the sake of art; our faith is an ultimate destination for the human soul, a destination which exists beyond the standards and bondage of the city. Ultimately, the human soul returns to God, not a king or an organization. No person or organization can govern the soul. The soul belongs to God.

Some Christians think, once they are saved, the rest is their own business. They do not commit to church. This is especially true for educated intellectuals, “cultural Christians.” But Paul chose to “remain and continue with you all.” (v. 25) The Old Testament shows God rebukes those who care only about their own personal salvation, and are unwilling to share the burdens and sufferings of the saints. Paul did not fear death, and was not afraid to lose his freedom. He was not worried about being fined, warned, or lectured. Paul humbly and diligently served the church.

Paul mentioned that believers have reasons “to glory in Christ.” (v. 26) Indeed, when our persecution began, we were bitter. But as time went on, joy in Christ became more evident. When we were willing to both die and live for the Lord, and when we asked God to strengthen us, joy was revealed. Personal joy and the joy of the community both increased.

Our Ultimate Hope Is In God

Next, Paul says we are to be “in one spirit, with one mind.” (v. 27) The believers strove side-by-side for gospel faith. There are said to be tens of millions of Christians in China, but our societal influence is small; we lack testimony and direction. To this day, we do not have a detailed history of the Chinese house church, and much of what we do have was written by unbelievers.

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“Ultimately, the human soul returns to God, not a king or an organization. No person or organization can govern the soul. The soul belongs to God.

The same is true in the legal field. Although there are many Christian attorneys, we have numerous deficiencies. If ten million people were intellectually equipped and willing to pay the price to follow the Lord, churches would unite and govern themselves biblically. Those people would impact society, and the gospel would be manifest. But we are lacking.

Verse 28 says do not be  “frightened in anything by your opponents.” Yet we are often fearful. For instance: an older lady, who might be from a Neighborhood Council, comes to church and shouts: “Why are you holding an illegal activity? Go home!” Some are so weak one old woman can scare them. We should not be afraid. The enemy is in God’s hands. When we focus on circumstances, we do not believe God reigns. But Paul said the enemy’s terror proves God’s sovereignty. Their destruction and our salvation both come from God.

You have done no evil or harm, so why do enemies persecute you? They themselves sometimes feel they are unjustified. But God reigns. Ultimately, we do not rely upon law. If judges and law could be relied upon, we would no longer need salvation. Because of this, when we experience failure, we can thank God for showing us our lives are not in human hands. Our ultimate hope is in God. This should comfort us, even when we fail.

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“We ought to battle for the sake of our descendants. Although our generation is pursued and punished, we do not want our descendants to live in this way. We cannot escape our responsibility and leave this to the next generation. This is ours. We must stand up, speak out, and suffer.

This Is Our Responsibility

Verses 29 and 30 emphasize suffering for the Lord. Brothers and sisters: do not flee. You have hidden long enough. For a long time, Chinese churches have been “wise as serpents.” Many churches do not lack money or talent. We lack a heart that can suffer and struggle for the Lord. In this regard, we are greatly inferior to our fathers. From the Boxer Rebellion, to the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, to the Anti-Christian Movement, to the Cultural Revolution, many Chinese saints have engaged in warfare. These days we are growing in numbers and wealth, but we have lost our heart and mind. We cannot be salt and light.

You are not merely struggling for yourselves; you are struggling for a city. If believers do not fight, officials will think they have more power than they actually do. The warfare one church engages in helps churches across the city. You might even be struggling on behalf of the Mainland Chinese church. Do not the sufferings of Early Rain shelter other churches?

We ought to battle for the sake of our descendants. Although our generation is pursued and punished, we do not want our descendants to live in this way. We cannot escape our responsibility and leave this to the next generation. This is ours. We must stand up, speak out, and suffer.


Gabriel (加百) is a pseudonym for a Chinese Christian who works as an attorney representing believers and churches facing legal challenges. 

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray that Chinese believers will be courageous and willing to suffer if that is what God calls them to as they follow him.

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Further Reading

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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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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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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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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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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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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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