An Even Better Situation

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Editor’s note: As the future is uncertain in China these days and threats of harassment or persecution loom, Chinese pastors must discern anew what God has called them to do. They must dig deeply into the theology of Christ as the resurrected, reigning king; they must commit themselves to prayer; they have the opportunity to grow as perhaps never before. In a continuation of last week’s interview, we hear about what Chinese believers are facing now and how they are equipping themselves to lead their local churches and contribute to the global body of Christ.


China Partnership: Does the reality of Christ’s invisible kingdom give leaders power in the face of difficulty?

Muxi Zhang: That comes with the descended Spirit in us. The ascended, reigning Christ in heaven sent the Spirit; Christ has returned, by and through the Spirit, to reign in us. The weakness of the Chinese—and also the Western—church is that we miss this ascended Christ who reigns. We know about the cross; we talk about the resurrection. But we miss the big picture of the ascension and the continuous reign of the Holy Spirit.

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“One day, God is going to push heaven down to earth. He will transform and reform this created world to his heavenly archetype. I feel this is something we don’t truly believe, because we do not always live in this reality.

Our theology of the Holy Spirit is limited. It is hard to resist materialism when we see only the visible world, because we don’t take as real the kingdom in which Christ has resurrected and ascended. We pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” as if it is far in the future. It’s not in the future; it’s here. 

Our default assumption is that when Christ ascended, he rewound back to what he was before the incarnation. No. He is in another, higher stage of his taking of the human body. We think heaven is abstract. No. Christ has been resurrected into a real, physical body with a spatial dimension. That resurrected body is in heaven, which has a physical dimension. It is unlike our materialistic dimension, but is still a created heaven, which can accommodate the resurrected body of Christ. One day, God is going to push heaven down to earth. He will transform and reform this created world to his heavenly archetype. I feel this is something we don’t truly believe, because we do not always live in this reality. We like the world, we like material things. In the secular world, we push God back. Taking the resurrected and ascended Christ for real is the true power of the church and the leaders. To achieve this, we must have deep theology. 


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Chinese leaders need that larger framework of the ascended Christ. If a group of leaders grasps this, they must pray. Prayer is not one of the functions of ministry. At Pentecost, the Spirit poured down and led the early church. The Spirit and Christ the King are at the center of church leadership. Prayer is central. It is only by dependent prayer that we know how the Lord is using us. We want to give pastors this deep, kingdom, covenantal, eschatological theology. If that is real in our lives, we will live after that pattern.

As we train leaders, we do not focus on theology alone. We go deep and let leaders see all this is in the Bible. We have small groups where we pray and walk together for two years. We invite the Spirit into our lives, write prayer journals, and pray for each other. So many things happen. The pastors say, “I cannot believe prayer works!” We want that taste of God’s work to be real. Together, we appreciate and live out deep theology. When they read and approach the Bible, they will preach what they see. Biblical theology controls exegesis and preaching. 

We want to equip pastors so they taste, know, walk, and live. We want them to be a living fountain to others through their preaching and discipleship. The core is preaching, to allow the larger framework of the kingdom to shape their churches, this generation, and maybe even the next generation of Chinese Christian churches. 

They are exploring a new kind of spirituality within the larger, Western context. I see Chinese Christians as part of the Protestant missionary movement in the larger Western context of theological perspectives and ministry. The theological framework Chinese believers are trying now is unique. To some extent, what started in the Reformation age with Luther and Calvin’s focus on justification by faith and union with Christ has gotten more fulness in this eschatology over the past hundred years. It gives new life to that. I think this will serve Chinese churches as a whole, and their practice and learning can even contribute back to global Christianity. 

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“We all face the same challenges, at different levels. This is not something that is happening, but something that is looming and could happen. This is the perfect time for discipleship, for growth, and for learning. Dependence is the perfect time to live out the reality of the early church: which king is the true king?…We definitely do not have the freedom we enjoyed two or three years ago. That time is over. In this new reality, God will do things. I think it’s an even better situation.

CP: The pressure and persecution now is directed more at pastors and leaders than regular laypeople. How does this affect the leadership of the church in China?

Zhang: China is so large. There is a nationwide policy driven by the central government, but different places have different implementations. Some, like Shanxi Province, are very strict. We have seen people arrested and jailed. For some pastors, it is a challenge to decide how they are going to minister to the church. But in other places, like Shanghai, I don’t see that they even have severe harassment. In Shanghai, there are several cases where churches have been harassed and raided, but they can very quickly continue as before. In the west of China, Chengdu and Guiyang have some severe harassment.

In these circumstances, most church leaders face a challenge regarding calling. There are potential threats, potential persecution, and potentially more severe harassment than before. At this point, different places have persecution or harassment, but it is not a nationwide, severe persecution situation. You could be forced out of your rental Sunday worship place; you could be threatened or put into jail; but this is not happening on a large scale. For church leaders, this is a time to reflect on their calling and where the power is from. Based on that, they decide how they are going to be a church. 

We all face the same challenges, at different levels. This is not something that is happening, but something that is looming and could happen. This is the perfect time for discipleship, for growth, and for learning. Dependence is the perfect time to live out the reality of the early church: which king is the true king? What matters most? What is true life? We definitely do not have the freedom we enjoyed two or three years ago. That time is over. In this new reality, God will do things. I think it’s an even better situation.

CP: Why?

Zhang: It’s easier to select people. You can tell who has the godliness and the guts and the courage—and also if that courage comes from the flesh, or from a Spirit-dependent prayer life. It is the perfect time to grow, to deepen your theology and walk.


Muxi Zhang is a pseudonym for a China ministry veteran who has in-depth and extensive ministry experience.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for pastors and church leaders who are discerning God’s call on their lives in this season. Pray for them to have Spirit-led courage, conviction, and assurance.

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Further Reading

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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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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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