Editor’s note: The last few years have intensified the pressures faced by many Chinese Christians. What has the effect of this persecution and pandemic been? Here, Chinese pastors present six reflections on how this season has impacted the current state of the Chinese house church.
#1: Building a Healthy Church Can Be an Idol
Over the past decade, because we are convicted of the power of the gospel, each of us pastors had the expectation that we would successfully plant a healthy church. At times, building a healthy church has become an idol. As we have striven to build these churches, sometimes our church bodies have become inward-focused; we concentrated only on internally building up our own churches. When we have this inward focus, the church becomes unhealthily centered on our own congregation. This warrants vigilance.
Outwardly, the [political] situation of the past few years has also posed a great challenge to the establishment of these idealized healthy churches. Even so, the external situation also gives us a good opportunity to reflect and adjust.
#2: The Church Is Lukewarm
Under government policies of harassment, persecution, and so-called “pandemic prevention,” the living space for the church has been squeezed. Communication between churches has also been declining. Everyone seems to be “contextualizing.” We have often heard that persecution brings revival, but no revival has been spotted.
The initial wave of persecution has slowly subsided, and now people seem to have become accustomed to this “pandemic prevention.” Overall, it seems the church is lukewarm. Church members are pessimistic about the political outlook within China. Many are narrowly focused on their own lives as they search for a way out. There is a lack of kingdom vision and of kingdom mindsets.
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#3: Chinese Community Has Been Confined and Compressed
Whether because of persecution or because of “pandemic prevention,” the richness of humanity is diminished as community life and human interaction are reduced. In reality, this is an all-round deprivation of humanity. Within the church, the communion of saints has been challenged. Humanity is confined and compressed. All this makes people prone to live with a certain level of depression. Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, anger, and powerlessness are fostered. Although we have already been adjusting to the current reality for a long time, we still cannot truly accept it.
#4: The Difficulties of Pastoring in Pandemic and Persecution
Although our enthusiasm has not diminished, pastoring in the midst of pandemic and persecution remains very difficult. While worship services cannot be conducted normally, the focus remains on preaching God’s word. Many co-workers are weak, with stress from life, work, family, and faith. Those teaching at universities have to fill out regular surveys regarding religious beliefs, and each month, they have to show up at appointments to be questioned by authorities regarding religion. Many are afraid to open their home to host gatherings.
Pastoral depression is prevalent, and we ministers begin to cast our future hopes on finding relief from the external environment (we wish for new government leadership). This process has revealed that some strong believers are continuing to gain strength, and that the Holy Spirit is working to change hearts. But at the same time, the weakness and sin of many within our body has also been revealed. The revelation of this lack of affection and of forgiveness is the manifestation of end-time humanity.
As pastors leading churches, we are faced with a question: “What are we to do?” How can we strengthen and encourage the church, not to mention exercise church discipline? How will the house church develop in the future? How will church planters arise? If a church planter is sent, but becomes a casualty in the process of planting, this is a great blow to morale. The training of co-workers is crucial.
#5: The Wilderness is Life on Earth
We must surrender any hope that the external situation will change and bring us more space. In fact, this life itself is the experience of the wilderness. As long as the Lord Jesus has not yet returned, this wilderness will not end. Life is just about different forms of wilderness. Different situations within the wilderness reveal our various weaknesses; persecution and pandemic serve only to bring more of our problems to light. Our greatest challenge is not persecution; our greatest problem is we ourselves, the leaders in the midst of the wilderness.
#6: Our Hope is the Golden Shore of God’s Kingdom
At the present time, we are facing many and varied difficulties. The wilderness of this life feels even more “wild” than normal. This reminds me of the witnesses of the faith in Hebrews. Hebrews 11:39 speaks of “All these…commended through their faith,” and Hebrews 12: 2 says they were “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
We ask God to take us to a higher vantage point, a perspective from which we can see the wilderness of this life – not so that we may reject the present wilderness, but that we may accept it, and learn to rest in the wasteland. In the face of our weaknesses, may we learn to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, and begin to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.” We need to see how the eternal kingdom cuts through the shadows of reality, and inspires us to walk through the wilderness to execute the mission of the kingdom of heaven.
We pastors, as well as all those who are willing to serve, need to explore together how we can follow the Lord in the midst of China’s present situation and our own weaknesses. We do not follow him alone, but live within a grand story that covers all of time. This story is not one of methodology, but of theology. By faith, one can lose everything, even one’s own church. By faith, we see the golden shore we will one day reach. In the midst of unpredictable days, we know our future is secure.
Wang Jianguo is a collective pseudonym for urban Chinese house church pastors.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for God to help Chinese pastors to see their lives from his perspective. May they accept “wilderness of this life” and “learn to rest in the wasteland.”