“Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.” (Matthew 13:5-6)
Without roots, plants wither and die.
Over the last two decades, the Holy Spirit has been sowing a lot of seeds in China, and there has been incredible growth: tens of millions heard the gospel, and unregistered churches began worshipping openly and in greater numbers. But this relative peace did not last, and since 2018 the house church in China has faced ever-increasing challenges. First came a wave of mounting persecution: new religious regulations, harassment, and arrests caused the church to begin asking how it could best carry out its mission within this new reality. Then COVID-19 hit. The impact of the pandemic has been even larger than that of persecution, for it has enabled the Chinese government to force the church into isolation. While the West will eventually return to “normal,” the effect on the church in China will be long-lasting. The damage has been done, and it is going to get worse.
Now, in this new decade, the house church in China finds itself at a pivotal, generational, historic moment. It faces a critical question: how deep are its roots?
(If the church in China is not rooted deeply in the gospel, it will wither and die. The current challenges will prove too much for it. It will be choked.) The advance of Christianity in China in the past 150 years has been under this pattern of periodical severe and lenient social political environment. God refines and purifies His church during persecution times, and multiplies her afterwards. We see the current severe harassment and mild persecution time perfect to do deeper and wider.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
As we enter 2021, our first overarching prayer request at China Partnership is that the gospel would go deeper in the church in China. We have been blessed to witness tremendous breadth this last decade; but let there be depth! May the church in China not be merely a man-made kingdom built for man-made purposes, nor a plant that grows fast and withers. Rather, we pray for the church to hold fast to Jesus Christ himself. We pray for deep roots.
In this way we hope that, by God’s grace, the church will not merely survive these challenges, but thrive. As a Chinese pastor shared last year, God is using these hardships to refine his church, to call them to repentance, and to grow them deeper.
Thus, by God’s grace, perhaps the current season of hardship will not crush the church in China after all, but rather deepen their understanding of what the church is. Rather than focusing on the physical gathering place of worship, they will be pushed to become more people-defined. Rather than focusing on large Sunday services, they will form deeply-connected communities fellowshipping during the week. Rather than focusing on a breadth of theological head-knowledge, they will encounter Christ himself in Scripture and be transformed. If these things happen, then the churches that rise up during this dark time will not only survive, but will flourish long after the storm has passed.
Indeed, these shifts are already taking place: within China, church members that cannot gather together on Sunday are moving into the same neighborhood together, sharing meals, going to parks, and spending time in each other’s homes. Communal life and intentionality are on the rise. What’s more, pastors are aching for depth. This is good: for, if the gospel movement in China is to have an impact that lasts throughout multiple generations, its leaders must mature in the gospel. This maturation must be marked by sound theological depth, genuine personal piety, and passionate ministry competence. The presence of the Lord and his Kingdom by Christ’s poured out and decent Spirit must be real among His people. Simply put, church leaders must not merely be charismatic speakers or knowledgeable theologians: they must be continuously transformed. Doctrine is not enough: they must have Jesus himself, and more of him!
Looking forward to the next five years, there is great hope for the church in China.
Even in the midst of trials, there is a hunger for depth. While pragmatic solutions are needed, the longing for theological reflection and the gospel is even greater. Our desire is that China Partnership will do whatever we can to support, love, and encourage the house church’s leaders in this time of hardship, pushing them deeply into the gospel, and live out that life in union with the ascended Christ.
As we pray for ministry in China this year, will you join us in praying that the gospel would go deeper? Pray that the church in China will not be a plant that grows quickly and then withers. Rather, pray that its roots continue to go deep into the soil of the gospel. Then, though the wind and rain may buffet it, it will never be destroyed: it will grow tall and strong, empowered by nothing less than Jesus Christ himself.