Editor’s note: The below is an excerpt from a 2021 article. In the last year or so, many Chinese house church leaders have been arrested on charges of fraud. Because their churches receive tithes and pay their salaries from the tithes, these pastors are charged with defrauding their church members, running an illegal business, or other similar charges.
This is the second in a two-part series on this issue. In the first excerpt, house church elder Li Yingqiang focused on theological reasons behind these charges. In this conclusion, he shares specific thoughts on how house churches ought to respond when they face these sorts of accusations.
An Embassy of the Kingdom
Here are specific thoughts on how house churches can respond to persecution.
In the face of being persecuted with accusations of fraud, the church’s primary mission is to maintain its identity as an embassy of the kingdom of heaven. The church’s job is to obey the commandments of the kingdom of heaven. The church should not compromise or distort God’s commands, but should actively prepare itself to walk in the way of the cross the Lord has given her.
No one should stop giving financially based on the pretext that the church is facing persecution. The church should also not stop collecting offerings out of a desire to avoid risk. The heavenly nature of giving is more truly revealed when there is risk in doing so.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Just as the church should not use risk as an excuse to cease giving, the church should also not stop providing for the preacher – or for workers in the church – because of risk. If the church does this, it will incur God’s wrath and discipline. The Lord feeds the workers he calls through the money his children give.
Each local congregation can use its own discretion to wisely collect and administer offerings. Some methods of paying workers’ salaries may be better protection against persecution. As churches exercise discretion, we must continually ask ourselves: “Are we doing this because we fear the Lord? Are we doing this out of love for our brothers and sisters? Or are we doing this out of our own fear?”
Churches should teach brothers and sisters how to make biblical choices. Of course, believers must make biblical decisions about giving. But churches should also teach brothers and sisters their role when they are asked to assist as witnesses and/or victims in investigations of their preachers on charges of fraud. When believers face this issue, we must think in a balanced way. We should see the issue from three perspectives: the norm; the situation; and the motive for being there. We cannot simplify God’s law to shirk our most important responsibility of loving both God and people.
In conversation, one pastor told me:
“When the government begins to invent the sins of preachers like this, the difficulty is not really about whether believers are willing to give or not. Instead, the trial is more focused on how many co-workers in the church are willing to manage the tithes. Later, this will invariably increase the risk they may be convicted alongside the preacher.
“The preacher must prepare for the possibility that, one day, he may be arrested as a fraud. Those who manage the money should be prepared for the possibility of becoming accomplices. Normal believers should be prepared to be viewed as “victims.” When they face authorities who are threatening to charge their preacher, they must consider how their consciences will stand at the future judgment before God.
“Churches should use more wisdom in the specifics of how they provide for their preachers. When they manage the way preachers receive their salary, they should try not to leave behind evidence.”
This insight is important, so I am sharing it here for you.
Finally, I want to make some comments on how preachers ought to face and respond to persecution. This round of persecution is a fiery examination of the calling of the preacher. Every servant of Christ who is called today to serve the church in China should honestly ask: “Am I really willing to take up my cross and follow Christ, who entered suffering and death? Do I really believe in Christ’s resurrection? Do I really rely on the power of the resurrection to serve the kingdom of the Lord? Do I truly look forward to Christ’s glorious return?”
We should give up the illusion that brothers who are arrested and condemned are immature or imprudent. We should not doubt or judge our brothers, thinking they have really sinned, as their persecutors charge. We should understand that this is a trial from the Lord which has come to them – and also that this trial is his grace and glory to them.
Since the collection of tithes and the payment of salaries is considered fraud, we must ask: are we prepared, dear pastors, to one day be arrested as frauds ourselves? “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Since these charges of fraud are bound to come sooner or later, perhaps we should just go ahead and turn ourselves in.
Has your church made safety plans for a crisis? If you are taken away, will your church still have normal worship, discipleship, and evangelism? If you are arrested and charged, will the flock you shepherd be scattered because the shepherd has been struck?
Is your family prepared? If you are taken away, where can your wife get help to continue to lead your family to trust and serve the Lord? I have shared my thoughts on this elsewhere.
I would like to end with a quote from Pastor Wang Yi:
“I praise the Lord all the more. Today, he has rewarded the Chinese church with the office of prophet, priest and king in Christ. Together with all of society, the church has the opportunity to bear the crisis of the times and oppression from powers above. In this way Christ’s resurrection life may be unleashed throughout Chinese society. This will happen through the church’s being united with Christ even unto death.
“One day, the number of those who trust in Jesus will be too many to count, because today’s Chinese house churches have willingly taken the way of the cross.
“May glory be to the Triune God, and may God’s grace come to this dark and perverse Chinese society.”
Elder Li Yingqiang,
Early Rain Covenant Church, Chengdu
Elder Li Yingqiang is an elder of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. He and his wife have two children.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for churches and for pastors to be courageous and prepared to respond to accusations of fraud and wrongdoing in a way that honors Christ.