The Chinese Church Under Pressure – Part 1, “Who Do You Love?”

A Historical Review, Part 1: “Who Do You Love?”

Editor’s note: Yang Mingdao is the pseudonym used by Chinese staff within China Partnership. This important eleven-part series is from a recent lecture given by China Partnership’s president. It has been edited from the original transcriptions.


How do we view the Chinese church under pressure? There are many perspectives: some focus on whether the church can continue to exist – should we first preserve the remnants? Should we view the church from a more traditional, pragmatic perspective? Others view the church in China as the rise of the greatest private self-governing body. Those who hold this view have high hopes for the church and expect the church to drive China to change.

The lens we look through will help us discern the concrete situation of the Chinese church. Once we have clarity of vision, we can formulate strategies which are in line with the will of God, and also realistic. We should start with reflection and finding the right perspective. How should we approach and understand the current problems? How do we respond to the situation biblically?

First, we must see contemporary China from the perspective of modern Chinese history.

Second, we see China through the lens of missiology, particularly the relationship between the church and Chinese culture from the cross-cultural perspective of the gospel.

Third, we look at the situation through the lens of gospel theology, especially focusing on Christ’s resurrection and coming reign. The identity and calling of the Chinese church are defined by the eschatology of the kingdom of God.

Let me explain the current situation. The New Regulations on Religious Affairs have been in force since February 1, 2018. These new regulations come down hard to control places of worship and the pastoral staff. If you are at a certain place of worship and you are a pastor, you face two problems: first, this place of worship is illegal; and second, you are not qualified to be a pastor or to preach. The desired outcome is for all churches to officially register with the government. If this does not happen, restrictions come down on the place of worship and the pastoral office. Official punishment and possible fines are threatened.

If you are in an illegal place of worship or are an “unqualified” pastor, you may be issued a summons. Following that, there will be administrative detention – we have seen several cases of this. In Henan and Guangzhou, official detentions have already begun. But because the New Regulation is an administrative regulation, the most it can do is to issue a summons or an administrative detention. In the legal system of China, the longest one can be detained under such a rule is 15 days. If a pastor is willing to be detained for 15 days, that should be the end of enforcement.

Some high-profile churches and leaders who have clearly resisted these regulations now face legal persecution. We hear charges such as “inciting to subvert state power,” “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and “illegal business operations.” It is not clear what will happen next, but some of these leaders will be sentenced through these charges, and some are definitely going to prison.


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On December 9, 2018, Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) – after the issuing of summons and detention – entered another level, the legal level. Once on this level, they may be criminally charged. Many of the ministry team members of ERCC have been legally detained; as such, the longest they can detain a person is 37 days. At the end of 30 days, they decide whether to authorize an arrest, when a prosecutor officially files charges against detainees.

The opposite of such persecution can be seen in models that show us the purpose of this regulation. They display what is “good” [behavior.] Have you seen the pictures of monks in the Shaolin temples raising Chinese flags? It has been fifteen hundred years since the monks raised a Chinese flag. Now, it is not just temples raising Chinese flags, but churches are doing the same. The government hopes for mature and developed civic organizations, including religious organizations, to express nationalistic loyalty. Raising the flag is a metaphorical symbol akin to kowtowing to the emperor; it is a sign expressing where your true allegiance lies, like a shout-out saying, “I love you.” The government used to be laissez-faire, but now they need to hear everyone say: “I love you.”

We often think of these regulations as merely destroying Christianity, but actually, they are not only targeted at Christianity, but are an expression of central control. The regulations target every religion, including Islam and even Buddhism. Every religion must come under this umbrella. It is a systematic expression of self-ideology. For the first time since China’s reform, this is a sign of authoritative control over all institutionalized religions.

The perennial question of whether Chinese ought to celebrate Christmas has been debated ever since Christianity entered China. This is a popular level question of the deeper questions, “Where is your true allegiance?”, “Who is your boss?”, and “To whom do you report?” These questions are manifesting themselves acutely in the present persecution, leading house churches to existential crises: “To split, or not to split? To go, or not go?”

When viewed from two thousand years of church history, these are missiological questions that span culture. With the lordship of Christ who died and rose again, the gospel inevitably creates impact, a stir, when it collides with three thousand years of Chinese culture. This not only concerns questions like whether to celebrate Christmas, but it shakes the core of the culture. Asking, “Where is your true allegiance?” is an essential part of the cross-cultural evangelism process.

Read Part 2


Read the whole series below:

A Historical Review

Synopsis: The current round of religious persecution in China is fundamentally an issue of ultimate allegiances. “The government used to be laissez-faire, but now they need to hear everyone say: ‘I love you.’”

Synopsis: Modern day China is the result of a clash between cultures. Before its engagement with the West, China viewed the world according to two categories – its kingdom and the barbarians outside. 

Synopsis: A discussion of the authority structures that exist in China due to the long legacy of Confucianism. Authority belongs to the emperor as given by heaven and total loyalty to superiors is necessary for the Chinese system to function. 

Synopsis: A two-millennia old system of governance does not easily change overnight. “Yuan realized the universal and interconnected Chinese system could not be transformed into a republican or parliamentary system simply by changing it on paper. In a public discussion in America, he said: “If we do not even have citizens, how can we have a republican system?”

Synopsis: In the past, while China was busy getting rich, the government had confidence in its full legitimacy to rule and there were fewer questions of loyalty. But now, in this time of reconstruction, they ask: “Do you love me? If you do, you must raise the national flag. If you love me, you will register [your churches].

What is the Church?

Synopsis: When a culture desperately needs the message of the cross (not the prosperity gospel, but the central message of Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection) and it is given, the gospel not only crosses and transcends cultural boundaries, it produces long-lasting fruit. 

Synopsis: Chinese pastors are asking the question, “What is the church?” The answer is crucial for determining their response to the government. As they try to define their theology of the church, these pastors are going beyond considering its attributes, to trying to understand the very nature of the church.

Synopsis: In the light of Genesis 3, the most important question to ask is not, “How can we be saved,” but rather, “How can the creative will and plan of God to make a perfect humanity be fulfilled?” The answer is the one-and-many humanity God is calling to himself to make up the church.

Synopsis: Today’s church is the construction site for the new creation God is building and which will be revealed in the final day.

Synopsis: The persecution and challenges the Chinese house church currently faces are no different from those faced by the early church in Acts. The authorities of this world always challenge the church with the same question: “Who do you love?” The extent to which the church’s response to this question is informed by its union with Christ will determine its faithfulness to the Lord in the face of persecution.

Synopsis: Moving forward, we must ask: are we protecting ourselves, or are we doing it for the gospel? A lived-out ecclesiology will inevitably encounter suffering.

Translation provided by Moses, Jane, Ryan, and the China Partnership translation team.

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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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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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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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