Editor’s note: Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors thinking about writing about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.
This two-part series focuses on the current state of the Chinese church, a situation that is very much in flux with recent tightening of regulations and increased pressure on believers and churches across the nation. Begin by reading part one here.
If you look at articles in the New York Times or Time Magazine, mainline media will point out trends across China. Sometimes, we are easily influenced to make our decisions according to these trends. But Christian faith and ministry does not make decisions by the trends. We depend on the daily grace of God. We take every single opportunity to serve: this is one thing I have learned in the past years as I have served in China.
People from the United States have asked me each year if that year was more difficult. Perhaps it was because it was the fiftieth anniversary of the Party’s founding, or the year of the Beijing Olympics. I have learned from trends to avoid [certain unnecessary] things, but we must not make our decisions based on the trends. Yesterday, I heard brothers talk and plan for the future. They used this term: “We must continue to press on.” I love that.
I am so grateful for this moment, because in past years, a lot of churches in China, even Reformed churches, have been influenced by the prosperity gospel. I have to confess, sometimes even I was influenced by it. In past years, as we have gone places, we liked to share: “Now, in the Chinese church, we have this or that, we have achieved this.” We had a theology of glory. The Lord has given us this opportunity so we may go back to the gospel and become theologians of the cross, truly living out a cross-shaped life.
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I confess that, even though we say we respect our forefathers in the house church, we have not truly respected them from our hearts. We thought they were good, that they fought the fight, but they did not have sound doctrine or biblical training. I think now we will get the full spirit of the Reformation: the Puritan spirit together with the heritage of the house church. The house church took scripture very seriously, memorizing it, emphasizing bearing the cross with the Lord, emphasizing serious disciplines like prayer, fasting, and self-denial. All these things need to come together with the Reformed tradition and the broader evangelical tradition.
As we consider how to respond [to increased pressure], we should promote unity in the gospel. In past years, we are so grateful that churches from different backgrounds have come together for the gospel and brought forth gospel renewal. That is good, and we still need to develop this. For example, I signed the joint statement. But, in some areas of China, if a pastor did not sign, the congregation will give him pressure. I did sign, but this does not show that I am more spiritual than another pastor. He did this out of his own conscience and according to the Lord’s leading in his life. We should respect that. How can we develop gospel unity? That will be very crucial in years to come.
We pray the gospel movement, church planting, and powerful evangelism can continue. Sometimes, people ask me if I hate the government. Some years, I have been angry with them. But over the past years, I have realized that we know what we fight for. They do not know what they live for.
Some years ago during the first time I enjoyed the company of my [government] “bodyguards” seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, my wife and I went to the movie theater. My bodyguards went with me. When I went to the restroom, they followed me. I was angry. But it was a wonderful movie, and the two bodyguards fell asleep. That’s the first time I realized how blessed I am as a Christian and as a minister. I know what I live for; they don’t. Living for something ridiculous is a difficult thing to bear in this world.
As we look at China, we see it is struggling with its identity. Some years ago, I asked middle school students in the United States to pick one animal to represent China. Some people said panda, some said dragon. In the 80s, one of the most famous songs in China was Descendants of the Dragon. Later, we figured out we were not welcome as descendants of dragons. Dragons are powerful, but nobody wants to get close to dragons. Then, the Chinese government started to sell the image of the panda to the international community. They sent pandas to America, to Seoul, to Japan, and to Taiwan as gifts. The panda represents being welcomed, accepted, embraced, adorable. They wanted to send the message we are friendly, but they still want to show we are powerful.
How can a powerful China be not a disaster to the world, but a blessing to the world? Only the gospel can do this. Our Lord is all-powerful. He is called the Lion of Judah, yet he has a big and tender heart and is called the Lamb of God. He surrendered himself for sinners, to serve. Only the gospel can change the heart of a nation, making the powerful become a servant to serve the world. China wants to be powerful and to demonstrate her power, but at the same time, she wants to be welcomed by the international community. The next ten to twenty years will be very crucial for Christianity in China, and will even shape the map of Christianity for the whole world.
I am grateful that, over the past years, many partners and churches have prayed for and supported China. I ask you to continue to walk with China, and to continue to pray for your brothers and sisters there. Sometimes, I am very scared. If you face a dragon, you should be scared. In the 1950s and 60s of the last century, as the Communist Party seriously persecuted Christians, nine out of every ten ministers surrendered. Most of the stories you read of those who stood firm in the faith were laypeople. Because of this, many Chinese brothers and sisters — especially the older ones — don’t like ordained ministers. They consider that type of thing to be nonsense, because it was the laymen who had a great testimony for our Lord. Thinking of this, I tremble. I know I need to depend on his grace every single day. Please, remember your weakest brother, and remember the church of China.
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