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.
In this excerpt, a house church elder shares a few theological comments on some of the reasons for these charges. He says these charges are not just a means of forcing groups of believers to disband, but are an attack on the very mission and purpose of the church on earth.
I want to share some theological comments on falsely accusing house church preachers of “fraud” when they are paid from church tithes:
1. Tithing is a privilege and obligation for citizens of heavens.
When a Christian tithes to their church or makes other special offerings of thanksgiving, this is an expression of commitment to God’s kingdom. Tithing is a way they can express their loyalty and deference to the Lord, the king of heaven. Christians are devoted to God, and this devotion is a privilege and a duty for the people of his kingdom.
The church is the earthly expression of God’s kingdom. As such, the church is entrusted with managing the “national property” of the kingdom of God. Scripture clearly commands the church to collect tithes. For 2,000 years, churches everywhere in the world have continued this practice. This is true in every culture and under every national system.
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Churches pay those workers who serve the church full-time: “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” This is a concrete way for God’s servants to receive provision from the Lord, as he has commanded. Some preachers do not receive a salary from the church because their families have an abundance or because God has provided through another channel. But for 2,000 years, across the globe, most workers who serve the Lord have received financial provision for themselves and their families from the church.
Because of all this, Chinese house churches receive offerings from believers and provide for the financial needs of preachers and workers. This is commanded by the Bible, and is the normal situation of the universal church. When God’s kingdom is concretely manifested in China, this is one of the patterns of life. Christian giving and the church’s providing for its preachers is closely tied to the essential identity and mission of the Christian church.
2. This present persecution is an attack on God the king.
In February of 2018, China implemented new regulations on religious affairs. Since then, it has become increasingly clear that this current wave of persecution against house churches is persecution on an ecclesiological level. Supposedly, many of the measures authorities have put in place are meant to force public churches to go underground, large churches to be dispersed, established churches to be pulled apart, congregations to be broken into small groups, and small groups to be dissolved into individuals and families.
At the ecclesiological level, persecution is focused on three areas: church property, church doctrine, and church polity (which includes clergy). All of this is aimed at restricting the church from exercising the basic mission entrusted to it by the King of heaven: worship, discipleship, and evangelism. Government attempts to “Sinicize Christianity” have been mainly focused on doctrine. Demolition of crosses, churches, and the shutdown of church gatherings are mainly focused on property.
Recently, pastors have frequently been arrested and charged with “fraud” because of church collection of offerings. This strategy simultaneously “drains” the church of any property, and is also persecution directly targeted at the pastorate.
This will become a major move by the Lord to purify the Chinese house church. Many false servants will be exposed, and will leave the holy ministry they should not have occupied. The Lord’s chosen and faithful servants will also be revealed. Accusations of fraud are only one of the means used to stigmatize preachers. These charges – “fraud,” “illegal business,” “sedition,” and “provocations” are thorns the world has put on the heads of faithful preachers. Yet these charge are also a crown the Lord has given his faithful servants. To be arrested and sentenced for “fraud” because of receiving a salary from the church, to be arrested and sentenced for preaching the word of Christ, shepherding his flock, and building and expanding his church is an extraordinary grace and honor from the Lord.
Persecution of preachers and of churches for receiving offering is the current and newest tactic of persecution. Atheists believe economic foundations set the structure the organization is built upon. They think that, by cutting off the church’s financial resources, the church will not be able to survive as an organization. But the Lord says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” May his will be done!
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 Chinese believers to understand the theological reasons for tithing, and for attacks on pastors and church organization.