Law Is Not Greater Than Heaven: Light in the Darkness

Editor’s note: In the autumn of 2021, Tan Jian, a Chinese house church pastor, was arrested and imprisoned. He remained in jail for one year. Last week, China Partnership released the first season of our first podcast, “The House Church in China.” Season One focuses on the experience of Tan Jian’s wife, Yang Xiaohui, before, during, and after her own time in jail. It is a story of how light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

When Tan Jian was released from jail, in the fall of 2022, he made a personal statement before the court. This is the second half of his statement before the court (part one was published here).


The Church Is Greater Than The Law

When the law confronts the church, those who enforce the law must recognize the transcendent status of church. They also need to understand the law’s limitations. The law is founded on factual truths that measure right and wrong. It cannot turn black to what, nor refer to deer as horses. The law cannot define what is or is not a church, and it cannot condemn a church by labeling it “unlawful.”

““Chinese cultural tradition itself teaches that the law cannot be greater than heaven, because the prototype of the law is the Way of Heaven.”

Montesquieu said the spirit of the law concerns the relationship between objects. These objects and their relationships are the law’s first priority. Yet the church does not operate only in the relationship between objects; the church deals in the relationship of reconciliation between the Creator and the creature, a reconciliation brought about by the Lord Jesus Christ. What is the church? The church is the body of Christ, and her head is the Lord Jesus. The church is the house and temple of God, and God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—defines what the church is. The church is the municipality of the kingdom of heaven. The church is defined by God’s kingdom, not by the law of any secular state.

Chinese cultural tradition itself teaches that the law cannot be greater than heaven, because the prototype of the law is the Way of Heaven. The Bible also teaches that the law cannot be greater than God, because God is master of the law, and the law itself is founded on his divine attributes and will.

Legalities Of This Case

Honorable judge, I do not think it will be easy to come to a verdict, because other cases stand behind this one.

First, this is a case about administrative sentencing and appeal. Our church was first raided in November of 2020, and several brothers and sisters were arrested and then released that evening. We were raided for the second time on the night of December 30, 2020. Five sisters were held for 24 hours and then released, while I myself was in administrative detention for 15 days. The detention affidavit stated that, if I did not accept my sentence, I was able to file an administrative lawsuit. Yet when I went to file, the court refused to accept my case, and would not give a reason for doing so. We hired a lawyer to appeal, but all we got in return was this most recent arrest.

 

““Your role today, honorable judge, is that of Inquisitor: which religion is true? All others are false. Which God is true? All other gods are false.”

Second, although there is no procedure to countersue in a criminal case like this one, this case ought to be eligible for countersuit. That way we could at least return to the truth! I believe the public prosecutor violated several articles 243, 245, and 251 of the Criminal Law. He is guilty of “illegal home invasion and illegal search,” “false accusations and slander,” and “depriving citizens of freedom of religious belief.” Since he is a prosecutor, he understands how serious these charges are.


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Third, academic case law sits behind this case. Religious freedom, the separation of church and state, and the status of house churches are all weighty academic issues.

Fourth, there are religious issues behind this case. Your role today, honorable judge, is that of Inquisitor: which religion is true? All others are false. Which God is true? All other gods are false. Which path is the way, the truth, and the life that leads to the kingdom of heaven? All other ways lead to hell.

Earthly Judgment, Heavenly Justice  

In order to try today’s case, we need to retry the cases of 60 years ago. During the Cultural Revolution, Christianity was treated as a superstition. Yet later, Christianity was reinstated. In order to try today’s case, we need to retry the cases of 120 years ago, when Western clergy and Chinese Christians were massacred during the Boxer Rebellion. Yet later, reparations were made – a local hospital and several nearby universities were built with money from those reparations. In order to try today’s case, we need a re-trial of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Two thousand years ago sinful human beings sentenced him to death and crucifixion. Yet later, he was resurrected, while his human judge was condemned by history.

Honorable judge and public prosecutors: the law seeks justice, and you are representatives of that law. I implore you: fear God, look to the starry heavens, fulfill your divine vocation, and render a just judgment. Even if today’s judgment is unjust, I still believe any judgement pronounced here is less severe than the judgement of history, which is less severe than the judgement of eternity. Human judgment is less severe than God’s judgment.

““The law seeks justice, and you are representatives of that law. I implore you: fear God, look to the starry heavens, fulfill your divine vocation, and render a just judgment.”

Even if you judge unjustly and condemn us – well, as a Christian, I am honored to suffer for righteousness, not for sin. I suffer for keeping the faith and the truth, not for sinning. In the Bible, Jesus said “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I have received the grace of God. I have been redeemed from eternal judgment. I have been saved and justified by faith in Christ.

You, who have not yet heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus: repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!


Tan Jian is a pseudonym for a house church pastor in northern China.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for Chinese officials to carry out heavenly justice.

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