Editor’s note: This pastoral letter was written by a Chinese pastor to the members of Early Rain Covenant Church in the months after the arrest of Wang Yi and the church’s leadership, and in the midst of Early Rain’s ongoing persecution. The author is a close personal friend of Wang Yi and knew the strengths and weaknesses of Early Rain well. The letter is long, but it is better read in one piece, rather than divided into shorter posts.
This December 9th marks the first anniversary of the arrests at Early Rain Covenant Church. Since then, the persecution of the church in China has only increased. Many Chinese believers have lost homes, jobs, and freedom because of their faith in Christ. And yet, in the midst of suffering, the church in China continues to praise God with incredible joy.
“Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” (Mark 14:70b)
Dear brothers and sisters of Early Rain Covenant Church,
Peace be with you! No one can take away this peace from you, because you have been resurrected with Christ, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Pastor Wang Yi and many of your beloved elders have been detained for more than two months, and we do not know how long this will last. Do you have peace inside? Maybe in the past two months, you have come to recognize your own weakness; you have witnessed how unreliable and deceitful human nature can be. If this is so, congratulations, because Christ the Lord has come for your weakness. Now is the time to turn to the Lord. Now is the time to rely on the gospel. This letter is written especially for you!
In the past two months, you have experienced great pressure, threat, persecution, and deception. You may have started to question your pastor and your leaders. The vision of Early Rain Coveneant Church may have also become unclear. You may even ask: “Is it worth it? Have the pastor and the elders gone too far? Have we gotten ourselves inappropriately involved in politics? Are we actually motivated by politics?”
Your pastor was formerly a liberal intellectual with a strong sense of justice. Later he was baptized into the church and became a disciple of Christ. In the past ten years, he has grown into a pastor who lives for the gospel and the building-up of his church. Out of his love for the gospel, he is determined to walk the way of the cross. In their leadership of the church, he and the elders did not consider fame, influence, human rights, the defense of human rights, or universal values as anything worthy to be pursued. Compared to Jesus Christ, these are counted as rubbish. His faithfulness to Christ has even compelled him to say, “For the sake of Christ, I can even lay down the church,” which may seem paradoxical to you. “Walk the way of the cross” became his slogan for the past two years. Because of the coming of the gospel, he saw Jesus ruling over the land of China in faith, and the church as the presence of Christ’s authority over God’s people.
As people of heaven, the church simultaneously bears the weight of two different ages. One is the eternal age of the kingdom, and the other is the passing age of the world. These two ages overlap with each other in regard to space. However, one age is invisible and heavenly; it exists before God, just as Jesus lives before God. The other is visible and earthly, and will eventually pass away. Between the two, the heavenly age is more essential, because we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. In fact, the overlap of the two ages inevitably causes great tension and conflict in our lives, but these are the marks of our heavenly citizenship. This is also the way of the cross. The reason why today’s church and Christian life have become so weak is because that tension and conflict are disappearing.
Therefore, your pastor does not allow himself to avoid the severity of this tension, so that he may not grow weak. In faith, he relies on the Holy Spirit to live as a man of heaven and seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Do you remember that during the “Gospel and Church-State Relationships” seminar, he said he would give up the safety of the flesh in exchange for the security of the soul? He explained this by sharing with us his experience at the local police station. He told us he would always speak in absolutes the moment he arrives at the police station, giving himself no leeway. In this way, he could obtain internal peace and freedom.
This is your pastor. Out of his faithfulness to Jesus Christ, in order to pastor the church Christ entrusted to him, he charges forward without reservation. He does not avoid the tension between heaven and earth. He does not leave himself any room for weakness. Sometimes he even tries to cause this tension in order to walk the way of the cross. Thus, he publicizes his salary information and donates most of the income from his writing. He does not buy any property for himself. He only rides a small scooter. He does not turn a blind eye to cultural or social sins, but publicly criticizes them, and calls people to repentance. He does not allow himself to dissolve the tension between heaven and earth in him. He does not allow himself to be unfaithful to Christ. He does not want to leave any room for his weakness. For the sake of Christ, he has laid down his marriage, his children, and his own life. He faithfully fulfills the pastoral vocation into which God has called him, bearing all the consequences that come with his calling, including imprisonment. Your pastor is worthy of high respect.
He could have kept his silence, like many other people. However, if this were the case, he would have lost the sensitive conscience that God has given him. He could have kept a low profile, just like many other churches, quietly building up and expanding his church with his talents. However, if this were the case, it would contradict the burden God had placed on him, because he was called to minister to the oppressed and to those living in fear and darkness. He could have taken precautionary measures by dividing the church into smaller ones, so that it might escape persecution in the next few years. However, he said that the church is a universal church; we should not consider only the safety of our own church. We have received much grace, and we ought to make sacrifices for the benefit of the universal church.
Is your pastor really involved in politics? Is he inciting the subversion of state power? If the state were not trying to control people’s souls, if the authorities were not attempting to replace Jesus Christ as the head of the church, then your pastor would not do anything political, either. Your pastor is pastoring Christ’s church under the authority of the kingship of Christ. He is preaching the gospel of the kingdom to a people sitting in darkness. Christ is the biggest threat to the kings of the world, so it is not unusual if they rise up to fight against God’s Messiah. The accusation they brought against Jesus as they nailed him to the cross was that “he is the King of the Jews.” Jesus was involved in politics; he was subverting state power. This world killed Christ this way, and today they are persecuting the servants of Christ and threatening all of you, too. This only shows that you are children of light. You belong to Jesus Christ, and you are under the authority of the Holy Spirit.
Today, you have to make a decision again: whether you believe the lies of the authorities or whether you believe your brothers. Today, you have to make the decision again: whether to dissolve the tension between the heaven and the earth, or to walk the way of the cross in order to be the light of heaven and the city of God, relying on God to be faithful to the end.
If your doubts and fear under intimidation and temptation from the authorities have caused you to compromise your faith, sin against your brothers, and leave the church, do not allow yourself to continue to live in weakness or guilt. Do not drown yourselves in tears. Without Christ, this regret is simply a deeper kind of self-pity and self-righteousness. The disciples also judged Jesus by his appearance. Because they were all Galileans, they attached themselves to Christ. If you joined the church because you were attracted by your pastor’s talent, charisma, courage, and integrity; if you joined the church because you were drawn by the church’s organization, reputation, and love – in short, by the most beautiful things on earth – it is inevitable you will fall into weakness today. Be grateful, because God is using persecution to bring out the weakness within you. Otherwise, if you persevere on your own, you are only trying to accomplish God’s righteousness in the flesh.
Two years ago, I asked your pastor this question: “Are your co-workers at the church attracted by your vision and spiritual gifts, or by the love of Christ? Are they running the race with you out of their love for Christ?” He thought for a moment, and answered candidly, “The answer is both; mostly by the former. They are still maturing in their faith.” For the sake of his church, God has shown favor to your pastor. All his talents and spiritual gifts are grace, given by God for the sake of his people in order to serve the church, so that you may love Christ more deeply and grow more mature in the Spirit. Now is the time for the Holy Spirit to help you grow. It is also the time in which your pastor hopes you can mature. Your pastor does not expect you to be with him; his hope for you is that you can always be with Christ. Your pastor does not want you to be chained prisoners; he wants you to be servants of Christ.
If you joined Early Rain Covenant Church and became “one of them” out of reasons other than Christ, let these temptations make you stumble. Let these temptations drive you apart. However, God will not let you off. After you leave, the Lord who deeply loves you will still meet you on your way to Emmaus. Do you hear the Lord asking you, “Do you love me more than these?” May you become one of Jesus’s people, because you have met Jesus in person. May you gain heavenly courage, so the world will recognize you as one of those who have followed Jesus.
If you are weak, if you have stumbled, do not allow yourself to be trapped in weakness, as if God has stopped loving you. Do not look for excuses to remain unrepentant, as if God does not hate sin. Pray to the Lord and rely on the Holy Spirit. Rise up! Bid farewell to the weakness you loathe, but also bid farewell to your own strength in which you rejoice. Turn to Christ and make him your strength. He became weak for you, but he also became strong for you. Do not just mourn for your sins, but, before God, repent of your sins. Confess to the Lord your unbelief in his goodness and sovereignty. Confess to the Lord that you did not believe he was in charge of your life and your death. Confess to the Lord that you did not believe he loved you more than you loved yourself or your family. Repent for all of this. Turn away from yourself and turn to the Lord and rely on him. Return to your church. God has chosen you, and the Holy Spirit is in charge of you. Early Rain Covenant Church is your band of brothers.
Do you hear the Lord saying, “When you have turned again, strengthen your brothers?” Be strong and courageous. Return to your platoon and return to your ranks. Do not stop gathering, because the church is God’s temple. It is also where you will die. By all means, continue your fellowship and your worship. Serve each other in the Holy Spirit, in God’s words and in prayers. Press on to confirm your rebirth in Christ, and earnestly experience God’s love in every detail. If you are scattered by attacks and cannot return to Chengdu, then go to other cities. Let the word of the gospel which you received at Early Rain Covenant Church generate more followers to form new platoons and establish new battalions. Whenever and wherever, let your life manifest the mission you have received from the Lord.
Christ is your Lord: you were bought with the price of the life of Christ. The person within you has been resurrected and is now sitting with Christ in heaven. Whether you live or die, you belong to the Lord, and the Lord will take care of your family. Be prepared to die for Christ. If you are imprisoned, do not expect to come out alive. Do not worry about your family outside. Trust the Lord alone and be faithful to him. Trust in God’s love.
Grace reigns: You are God’s people and you have been chosen even before the creation of the world. When God created mankind according to his own image, you were engraved on his heart. When Jerusalem comes down from heaven, you will be there. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” you were in his heart. Your names have been engraved in heaven, and you are a people after God’s own heart. Amazing grace! Let God’s grace reign in your whole life and serve him only!
Carry the cross: You are the body of Christ, and your humanity is united with Christ in heaven, who is also our head. You belong to heaven and you also live in heaven. You are united with the heavenly Jerusalem. You are the image of God in the end time. You reveal the presence of God in history. The cross is the crossroads of the heavenly Holy City and the world. It is your mark of glory. Let the cross become the pattern of your life. See persecution from the authorities as your reward.
Revive the gospel: you are the temple of the Holy Spirit. You live by the gospel and for the gospel. The Holy Spirit can bring life to dry bones and recreate an army for the Lord. It will build up the heavenly Jerusalem, a true humanity at the end of time. Other than Christ and the Holy Spirit, there is no other true ministry outside of your ministry to God’s people and the world in the gospel. Your presence is light in darkness. Whenever and wherever, in season and out of season, always revive the gospel to prove that you are alive.
You call December 9, 2018, the “12-9 Church Disaster.” From a historical persective, this is appropriate. However, every word has its own meaning and value. I hope you will not use it for too long, otherwise it will turn around to define and control you. How will you think about this day after twenty or thirtyyears? How will you describe your expereince in it to your children? Can you see God’s work in it? Could December 9, 2018, become your day of glory?
In a little while, you will see the Lord. On that day, on the wall of the Holy City of Jerusalem, will you be able to find the treasures you are carving out today?
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
Are you one with Jesus?
May peace be with you, because Christ is victorious.
– A pastor who is in fellowship with you in the Spirit, and eager to see you face to face in the day of the Lord.
Will you join us in praying for our persecuted Chinese brothers and sisters? Will you pray that the Lord will strengthen the church in China, accomplishing his will through them even in the midst of persecution?
Translation provided by Rachel, Ryan, and the China Partnership translation team.