Editor’s note: As Chinese house churches try to respond to the current challenges in the Chinese climate toward religion, knowledge and understanding are in great need. In a 2021 seminar for Chinese Christians, “Gabriel,” a Christian attorney, shared about how and why house churches should adopt a gospel-centered legal framework, and what that means practically for believers and their church communities. He exhorts believers to reject territorialism, and to encourage and care for one another in times of trial.
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” Phil. 1:15-18
When Christ Is Preached, Rejoice
One point is mentioned in these verses: whenever Christ was proclaimed, Paul rejoiced. When spreading the gospel, some people proclaimed: “I am not like Paul – he is too flamboyant. We are being persecuted because of the high-profile way Paul does things.” Others said, “I am different than Paul, we are not the same kind of people as him.” Yet those people who criticized Paul were still preaching the gospel.
Situations like this happen even in our present time. For example, some people say, “We are not in the same boat as Wang Yi. What he did hurt us [Chinese Christians] miserably.” Others say, “We are different than that church.” Although these sorts of things were said of him, yet Paul said, “I rejoice…because Christ is being preached.”
Would You Pray With Us Today?
If you are preaching Christ, we are brothers. Paul was kingdom-minded. He said he would rejoice even if someone else did not acknowledge him or belittled him while he was imprisoned (resulting in an increase of his suffering so that person might get off more lightly). We need to have a kingdom-mindset and rejoice whenever Christ is proclaimed.
In our Mainland churches, there are many congregations in the same city that are completely isolated from and never interact with one another. Many churches just occupy their own territory and think: “This space is mine; that is yours. If you do not come to my side, I will not go to yours.” When, in a time of suffering, another church is attacked, some churches might say: “We are not like him – it’s a good thing we are not being hit.” They may also say, “That church is too high profile. We need to lay low. We won’t visit them or associate with them while they are suffering, and we will not welcome them to come to us.”
Indeed, many churches act in this fashion. The tendency to protect oneself is very strong, and the predisposition toward territorialism is so severe that the church is fragmented, and the city has no testimony to Christ.
A Beautiful Testimony
When brothers and sisters are suffering, they are in great need of the support of others. Yet many Christians stay neutral, drawing a line in the sand and placing themselves on the other side of it! This leads to a great loss in the church’s ability to witness. My personal experience is that, if only one church in a city is engaged in warfare [i.e. targeted persecution], it is truly difficult. It is challenging for that church, and trying for that preacher.
For example, if their pastor is imprisoned, there will be no one to shepherd the flock. If the church is in financial trouble, they will not receive assistance from other churches to sustain them. They may even be put down by other churches. But if three to five churches in the same city can support one another with a single heart and mind, the result is drastically different.
Here is an example from some churches I know in coastal cities: when one church was punished, another church came to support them. When, in turn, that supporting church was penalized, other churches to their aid. Churches like this are very reassuring. Churches who act in such a manner speak for the gospel. They also touch the heart as people see these believers have suffered a great deal. Perhaps their homes were smashed; they may have been fined; maybe their bones and ribs were broken. They have suffered severely through tremendous punishments, but they are still there and are still in one accord with one another.
This is truly a grace of God to our Chinese churches. It is also a beautiful testimony, because through this we see these churches have been equipped and gifted for what they face.
Support Those Who Are Weak
Although I am not legally representing the churches I speak of now, they still bring me great comfort and encouragement. Because of this, I hope we as pastors can repent before God for our previous indifference and territorialism. Sometimes we act as though the kingdom of God is our own personal kingdom, and there is no room for other people or churches in this kingdom. We need to ask God to have mercy on us. Our churches need unity in the gospel and in the kingdom of God.
We also need mutual blessing and reciprocal help. Some churches who are suffering cannot even afford to hire a lawyer—yet there are other churches who are quite wealthy and could support the first church. Because of persecution, some brother and sisters cannot even find a house to rent. During times like that, other churches could receive these believers [and give them a place to live].
When they are attacked, some churches are actually very weak. Some believers are under the mistaken impression that persecuted churches are very strong, and do not need to be visited and cared for by others. This is not true! In the midst of suffering, these churches have weak moments. When other brothers and sisters visit them, it brings these persecuted believers comfort and encouragement. As you hear their testimonies, your love for the Lord will become more fervent.
Gabriel (加百列) is a pseudonym for a Chinese Christian who works as an attorney representing believers and churches facing legal challenges.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese churches to pray for, support, and actively care for one another when they face persecution or pressure.