Editor’s note: At this year’s CP conference, we were honored to host a number of Mainland Chinese pastors who spoke on God’s work in their country. The following was taken from one pastor’s testimony of the ways God has changed his heart and his congregation’s attitude towards the community and the government. If you did not have the opportunity to attend the conference, check out our attendee interviews and testimonies from other speakers.
First, I would just like to thank China Partnership and the people in the West for your love for China and the Chinese church. I always think of China as a nation of debt – we always owe something. Since 1807 when the gospel and missionaries came to China, throughout these two hundred some years, China has always been a receiver of the gospel and grace. In my years of serving the Lord, I have had the chance to commune with and get to know pastors from the West.
I am a pastor from the Presbyterian system of churches. From a certain perspective, I can say that my church represents some of the major characteristics of the church in China in general. The church in China since the 19th century has been greatly effected by pietism. Therefore pastors in China and Christians in China are very legalistic when they consider their Christians lives. So our sermons are mostly moralistic sermons. The church always asks, what have you done for God? What have you suffered for God? How do you serve God? We are self-righteous in this way.
Because of this theological way of thinking, our service to the Lord is focused on ministries. In the past the church has been very introverted and we have only focused on ourselves. We haven’t really cared about what happens outside of our church. Our church was started in 1992, so in 2012 it was about twenty years [old]. During those twenty years, God has blessed us and we grew very fast.
But in 2012 we faced a major hurdle. During that time we got to know [China Partnership] and for the first time we heard [their teaching about the gospel]. It was really at that time that we realized, oh, so this is grace. In the past we weren’t really bringing Christians to Christ, we were only bringing people to a sense of morality. We realized that in the past, what really satisfied us was that we were so busy in the ministry; we weren’t really finding grace in the gospel.
Of course, the deepest impact on my mind was when I heard Tim Keller sharing on the scripture of the Prodigal Son. I and all of my coworkers realized, my goodness, we are the elder son! We are so self righteous! We were suffering in our self-justification and we realized we had totally misunderstood the gospel.
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Then the more we got to know the gospel, we started to enjoy the rest that it brought to us. We realized the gospel itself is enough to give us a true Sabbath rest. In the past, our sense of rest was based on how much we worked, how busy we were, always needing to do more ministry. But we don’t need that! The gospel itself is enough. The ministries are really just a vessel. So with this new understanding of grace and the gospel, we planted a new church. It was planted in 2015 and we started with fifty members. In two years it grew to one hundred and seventy.
In the past, because of the political atmosphere and traditional thinking, our relationship with the government was very tense. In our hearts, we rejected the government. For example, this time I especially brought my daughter with me so I could specifically tell the government, “See I’m only bringing my daughter as a tourist to the US.” But of course, the government probably doesn’t believe that anyway. They say, when you come back we want you to write us a report – a report on how you toured the US and where you went to play.
In my twenty years of ministry, I have been arrested many times. I used to have an extreme hatred towards the government. I cannot forgive them. I was actually very proud of the fact that I had been arrested many times and that I had been incarcerated many times. But [the training I received] has challenged me to also see them as the target of gospel evangelism. The church can be a blessing to the city. If a city is to have righteousness, if a city is to have justice, it must start with the church.
Now every time I have to deal with the government, I want to show the aspects of grace to them. So with this mindset, I’m totally changed and totally challenged and totally transformed in my view of them. Now we plant churches in communities, in the housing communities. And when we plant a church there, we seek out the organizers of these communities. [The leaders of these] housing communities are actually government bureaucrats and I tell them right away, “I’m here to serve you.” I ask them, “If you need any help with anything, I’ll do it for you.”
Of course, at first, they don’t believe me. So we start to let our actions do the talking. We visit the elderly that nobody cares about; we visit them and take care of them. In snowstorms, you know the community roads are very messy. So we will mobilize the Christians, us, to clean up the streets because nobody else is doing it. And then we will just actively start community service, community activities free of charge for anyone who wants to participate.
We do this for many years and then these bureaucrats within these housing communities come and look for us. They say, “We’ll make your job easier – here is a list of people we think you should go help.” They even give us a flag of recognition. We put this flag on the wall, so when we are investigated by the higher ups in the bureaucracy, I will show them the flag and say, “See this is from your government.” Even the media reporters are coming to us and want to write a story about us. But the reporter said, “Well, I can’t really call you a church. I can only call you a community organizer with a very loving heart.” But whatever – I think the name of Christ has spread!
In the past, usually the brothers and sisters in the church, we all hate the government because we don’t really care about what is going on around us. But last month we had a members meeting, and during that meeting one third of the members had a proposal saying that we are not doing enough, that we could do more for the community. We realized the gospel has changed us. We truly see that it is solely by the grace of Christ. We are motivated by the grace our Lord Jesus Christ [demonstrated] to save our lives, and the grace of the gospel helps us to love those who used to be our enemies.
So hopefully China will no longer be a country that always owes something to someone else. We can start to proclaim the priceless grace of the cross to the people around us. May the glory be to our Lord. Thank you.