Editor’s note: This month China Partnership invites you to pray with us for discipleship in Chinese churches. As we focus on discipleship, we share this update on the situation of the Chinese house church over the last several years. Despite rising pressure, God’s command to “go and make disciples” still stands, and he continues to build and grow his church amidst the storms of culture and politics.
Yang Mingdao is the collective pseudonym for Chinese staff within China Partnership. This lecture has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. Check back later this week to hear more about how the Chinese church respond to their new and challenging circumstances.
God’s people still are faithfully marching forward. God is doing a great work in China, and we can learn from how they respond to the current Chinese situation.
Before our Lord ascended, he gave marching orders—the Great Commission—to the disciples. He said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” These two verses are the picture in my mind, because that is exactly what I am seeing the churches in China doing. The marching orders from the Lord are given, and they are faithfully implementing their orders in all circumstances. God has been with them.
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What is God doing in China? To understand the Chinese church’s situation, to comprehend and appreciate what China is experiencing and how God is working, you have to look to the past 170 years. China is a tale of two kingdoms. One kingdom is a two-thousand-year-old Confucian empire, powerful and huge in the Far East. But since the middle of the nineteenth century when China encountered Western Civilization, China has been through mass social and economic change. This started with war and revolution. Since the ancient Eastern empire encountered modernity, the modernization process is still ongoing. All the conflict we are seeing now with China is in the context of this modernization.
There is a huge moral vacancy and cultural crisis in China: what do people believe? What is morality? Confucianism was the core, but that was wiped out and replaced by atheism for seventy years. Then atheism crashed. What is identity? What is human dignity? These are huge challenges in China.
Christianity is still crossing into the Chinese culture, trying to become the Chinese people’s own faith. Even though there are many who have been Christians and have called it their own faith, the large majority of Chinese people have not been Christian. Over the past 170 years, persecution, pressure, and harassment are the norm for Christians and churches. This is not special. In this cross-cultural process and under persecution, God is raising up his people and advancing his kingdom in China. That is what is going on in China. Gospel-centered churches are maturing and being planted all across China.
Currently, there is personal religious freedom for individuals. Unlike twenty years ago, nowadays you are free to believe anything: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or Daoism. The government is not pushing Communist or atheist ideology nationwide. It is a different day. However, there is no organized religious and community freedom. If you want to organize people into a church, you have to register under a certain government sect. You have to bow down and show your loyalty to the government. Then you are licensed to worship; otherwise, you have no freedom.
This comes at a cost to a lot of unregistered churches. Unregistered churches say they cannot do this, because they cannot support the government’s socialist values. Christ is their king. They are, for this reason, persecuted—especially in the past seven years, under the new regime. There has been increasing pressure, harassment, and persecution since the middle of 2018. Church leaders are under great pressure. They are asked to stop worship and their church community, or to join the government-endorsed, registered church. That would mean they bow down and give their loyalty to socialist values.
Church members face different pressures. They are asked by their bosses and their communities to stop going to the unregistered church, but to go to the official church. If they do not, there are different kinds of harassment. The first layer is, the government might terminate utilities, water, electricity, and gas for the Sunday worship place. They could also do this for individual people’s houses. This is common and normal; people may have no gas and no heat, even in the winter. The government also tries to pressure the landlord to push the churches out of their rental space for Sunday worship. If a landlord allows anyone to rent their space for Sunday worship, nowadays there is a fine for about $30,000.
If individual believers continue to go to an unregistered church, their landlord might be pressed and kick them out of their rental apartment. We have cases where, in wintertime, these Christians do not have anywhere to stay. The government can ask someone’s employer to stop their employment, because the state controls everything and everyone. They might put glue in the keyhole of your house, so you have to call a locksmith. There are all kinds of harassment of churches and church members. The last layer is jail: sometimes for a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks. The most extreme cases are for pastors; Pastor Wang Yi has been sentenced for nine years.