The Church-State Conflict: 20 Ways Persecution Is God’s Way to Shepherd Us

Wang Yi is the pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. Over the weekend, news broke of Wang Yi’s arrest, the mass detention of his church leaders and congregants, the separation of their families, and destruction of both church and personal property. This article was originally published on Wang Yi’s personal blog in November 2017 and is a fitting read for the events of the weekend. Please earnestly pray for your brothers and sisters in Chengdu, especially those who have not yet been located.

To my brothers and sisters who are called to live “self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12b): may peace be with you.

When Paul talked about marriage, his personal opinion was it is better to be single than married. However, he was not speaking of the meaning of marriage in regard to creation and redemption. Paul did not deny the value of marriage or having children; instead, he urged believers to “remain as you are,” “for this world in its present form is passing away.” Those who are married should remain married, not seeking divorce. Those who are single should also remain single, not seeking marriage. This is all for one purpose: so that God’s people would not be concerned about themselves, their wives, their children, or the things of the world, but instead would be concerned about the Lord’s affairs and how they can please the Lord (1 Cor. 7:26-32). 

When we talk about the conflict between faith and the world, this verse expresses the belief that everything should be seen from the viewpoint that “the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31). Moreover, all things must be discussed with great eagerness to be “anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:32b).

Without this strong eschatological awareness of the fleeting nature of the world and the conflict between the world and faith, anything you think is meaningless. Without this awareness, anything you say is wrong. 


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Someone shared with me his concern that because the church’s posture during this period of church-state tension is that of preparing for war, daily pastoral care will be undermined. I told this believer that it is usually through preparation and drills for war that soldiers accomplish their daily training. The more urgent the situation is, the more effective the training becomes. For the church, without spiritual warfare, there is no daily shepherding. On one hand, fighting itself is the Lord’s way of shepherding his disciples; on the other hand, the purpose of shepherding is to prepare for the fight.

I have seen many Chinese churches die in spirit as a result of their lack of preparation. During times of persecution, thousands in the Lord’s church may be killed by the devil; but after persecution, millions are killed. 

So, the following are twenty thoughts I want to share with you on our topic today – what spiritual benefit does the current church-state conflict bring to the church and to Christians? How is this conflict God’s way to shepherd us?

1. The possibility of persecution is a test to see if, out of our fear of death, we choose to become slaves. Have our hearts truly been set free by the gospel, and will they remain honorable under any system and in any environment?

2. Our fears show us the deep-rooted servility living our hearts. The church-state conflict is a test revealing the slavish residue living in our bodies.

3. Persecution shows the power of the sword has another important value for the church. God made the cross to serve as the boundary marker between the church and the world. The cross is the means he uses to show the world the gospel’s great power. His intent is that now, through the church, his manifold wisdom can be made known to rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.

4. The church-state conflict can help us determine whether the obedience we display as we live in Chinese society flows from a slavish submission to authority, or out of a God-loving perseverance; this conflict helps us see whether we are yielding to powerful authority, or are showing courage as sheep among wolves. No matter what our reaction, once fear has spread, any reaction based on fear is not one driven by love.

5. This is the difference: obedience flowing from love will enable us to respect a humble government workerwhoacts legally, leading us to show him great respect as if he were a king. At the same time, when we face the unrighteous deeds of our national leader, we will also be brave enough to regard him as a tyrant.

6. The church-state conflict is also a test to see if we are cowardly and bullying at heart, obeying the powerful but despising the humble. This sort of obedience is not biblical obedience, but is the mark of the lowly.

7. Only when you are able to obey those who are more humble than you is your obedience to those who are more powerful in line with the Bible. In the same way, it is only when you are able to despise the unrighteousness of the most powerful that your rebuke to the humble flows out of humility.

8. The church-state conflict has vividly revealed this difference in the sharpest manner, a way that cannot be covered or disguised.

9. This conflict also tests if we have experienced dignity and liberty because of Christ. This is what the Bible describes as a faith and obedience that acknowledges “there is no authority except that which God has established” (Rom. 13:1). This type of obedience makes for a conservative temperament, knowing both the time to obey and the time to resist. The liberty of Christ leads to an obedience and a resistance which both flow from the same submission to the divine order. 

10. Therefore, persecution tests if you are truly gospel-rooted in your theological conservatism. When a God-obeying, theologically conservative individual obeys the government, evil is not fueled, but rather restricted.  When a God-obeying, theologically conservative individual resists, the moral order of society is not disrupted, but consolidated.

11. For this reason, when Christians obey the government, pro-democracy advocates who change society in a positive way might criticize us as loyalists who help the government maintain social stability. But when Christians choose to obey God over men in church-state conflicts, we are accused again, this time by pragmatists, of inciting subversion against the state.

12. This is also a test to see if we place value on the evaluations of the world or the praise of Christ. The church-state conflict, as compared to any other type of conflict, more fully reveals the confrontation and distinctions between the church and the world. As a result of this clash, the social relationships of Christians will be exposed and re-evaluated by the world. One of the most significant benefits of church-state conflict is that any Christian who faces it cannot continue as a silent disciple.

13. Therefore, every church-state conflict throughout history is a moment in which God’s kingdom moves forward. It requires believers to stop living like they are on vacation and to return to their posts. When Paul says “remain as you are,” he is referring to the lifestyle of “readiness” which Christians are to display in the world. Conflict between the church and the state puts an end to any false state of peace, and instead reveals the universal truth of continual, ongoing spiritual warfare. In this war, the real hindrance is not the world or the government, but the power of sin and fear in a Christian’s life.

14. Every church-state conflict is a moment for God to cleanse his church. As the house church forefathers said: “Freedom is for wide distribution; tension is for selection.”Through persecution, the Lord expels false believers from the church, exposes false teachers, and preachers who are not called to teach lose their opportunity to take advantage of the church.

15. Test yourself to see if you are crazy for the gospel. When you are threatened with death for the gospel, you find out for whom you really live. When faced with the risk of job loss, you know for whom you really work. When you may lose fortune and position for the sake of the gospel, you find out whether you are crazy for money or crazy for the gospel.

16. Therefore, one great benefit of this church-state conflict is realizing how much we overestimate our spiritual lives. This miscalculation is where almost all the problems in our daily lives come from. If Christ had not been arrested, Peter would not have known he could not make it, and the disciples would not have admitted their disbelief. Believers who live at ease usually misunderstand their piety. Only when the absolute temperature drops do we feel the cold and truly long for light.

17. The news about persecution as well as the persecution itself gives us a real opportunity toshare with churches being persecuted, murdered, imprisoned, and humiliated in North Korea, the Middle East, and throughout the world. It keeps us from arrogantly despising missionaries who are martyred for the Lord and prevents us from holding at arm’s length those who are zealous for God. The experience of sorrow helps us weep more intensely with those who weep, and the danger of bondage binds us more tightly with those in bondage.

18. The church-state conflict is also the best antidote for individualism or the prosperity gospel. Through conflict, God shows that faith itself is a relationship between two kingdoms, not of a solitary spiritual life. Church-state conflict reveals the power of community. For instance, 100 Christians together are more dangerous than 20 together; a group of Christians with pastors, elders, by-laws and election is more dangerous than a loosely bound group of Christians without any influence. Through this danger, God shows us the value of community. The focus of Christ’s kingdom is not ourselves, but the community; what earthly political powers fear most is not divided Christians, but a holy community governed by God.

19. Therefore, the greatest benefit of the church-state conflict is our union with a Christ who himself was judged. Caesar’s focus was not whether you believed in Jesus (as they often said, “We do not care if you believe in Jesus,”) but whether you believe Jesus is “the king.” Persecution forces us to answer the world the same way we answer the Lord: “Yes. He is the king.” In this way, we allow the police to tear their clothes and say, “What else can we say? They are inciting subversion of state power.”

20. That is because church-state conflict is determined by the nature of the gospel. Church-state conflict means the cross; and the cross means conflict between the church and the state. In the U.S., this may be presented in two extreme ways: mass shootings in churches, or the verdicts of the Supreme Court. In China, it is shown through secret police, imprisonment, bans, border control, threatening those landlords who rent space to churches, as well as controlling thought and speech. The cross is the border between the world and the church. To walk from the world to the church you must pass by the cross; in the same way, that is how you return from the other side. 

Brother Wang Yi, 
who wishes with you to “consider everything a loss and see suffering as trivial.”
Nov. 9, 2017

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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 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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