Determined To Press On, Part 1

Editor’s note: Yang Mingdao is the collective pseudonym for Chinese voices within China Partnership. This series is drawn from an update given by a Chinese theological teacher at a recent gathering. It has been edited from transcriptions of the original talk.

This series focuses on the current state of the Chinese house church as it reassesses its identity in the midst of increased pressure on religious practice across the nation. Still, believers are determined to press on, and remain focused on God’s grace even in the midst of pressure. Make sure you check back for the second half of the series next week.

What is the Chinese house church? Some of you may think, “House churches are in houses.”  But nowadays, the “house church” is more of an ecclesiological position, meaning such churches are not registered churches. They started in houses once, but today any church that is not registered to submit to government authority is considered a house church [regardless of where it meets]. When I was young, in high school and college, our house church literally met in my parents’ house with seven or eight people. Now, although still considered a house church, there may be hundreds of people gathered together [on any given Sunday]. Many of the house churches rent places to worship. House churches are a church movement that considers Christ, not the government, to be the head and the center of the church. 

Christ called us for the mission of the Great Commission: to disciple and plant churches. If someone says, “I’m gospel-centered, but I’m indifferent to people’s souls, I’m indifferent to mission, I’m indifferent to church planting,” then that is a false gospel. We want to see the fruit of gospel-centeredness. This means bearing fruit through visible and tangible church planting. 

[In China], we are seeing this happen organically, by word of mouth. One pastor suddenly rehears the gospel, and his heart comes back to life. We have heard this story again and again, as pastors say, “I have felt the loving gospel in my life again.” When that happens in a pastor’s life, he shares it with others; he cannot stop.


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In the midst of current persecution, a gospel-centered pastor does not forget the core mission of the church, which is gospel preaching, evangelism, church planting, and discipleship. 

Gospel-centered pastors know they are fighting for the lives of the lost. This type of pastor has the power of a dragon and the humility of a panda. This is gospel-centeredness. This is what we are praying, laboring, and fighting for. A true gospel movement wants to call people back to the gospel and invites them to be theologians of the cross. Christ is the center, he is everything. Leaders must minister and pastor the church in Christ, by Christ, and through Christ.

There is uncertainty about the future in China. We don’t know what the future is. These days a lot of people are asking: what is happening in China? There are three things we are facing.

First, political and ideological pressure and persecution from the government. This is a nationwide phenomenon. For the first time in thirty years, the government listed Christianity as a national security threat in their national security white paper in 2015. The second major challenge is economic and social instability. China is at a turning point, deciding which direction she will go. Looking at the data, economic performance indicators are going south, which puts a lot of stress on society. Many middle class people are talking about leaving China and buying property outside of China. People are voting with their feet. The third challenge we face is a personnel crisis. This can happen at any time, as leaders from outside the country are rejected for visas or denied entry, and those who are Chinese citizens can be detained within China. 

To demonstrate the political and ideological pressure, the very famous Chinese monks at the Shaolin Temple recently had to raise the national flag to show they love the country and the Party. This was the first time in their 1,500-year history they have complied with the requests of government officials to do this kind of thing. 

This has also happened for Christianity. Recently, in Three Self churches (or government-registered churches) have been forced to sing red songs, songs that praise the glory of the Communist Party and the nation state. That is why the house churches have not complied with the government: they cannot do it. This is happening now, but it is not new. 

We face pressure, but we believe all this pressure is God’s means to help and mold the church’s growth. Throughout China, as I have traveled to different places, almost every pastor tells me, “Yes, there is great pressure and persecution, but we pray the pressure and persecution will not be removed so quickly. Give us more severe pressure and persecution, for a longer time, so God can purify the church and can call us to be theologians of the cross, not of glory. This is the means God is using to shape the churches into Christ-likeness.” 

Churches are not complying with the government’s order to change. They are resistant to these demands from the government, and sense that this is not only time for them to stand up for Christ, but it is also time for them to reflect. For many years, Christianity in China has been an individualized, personal faith. Now that the government is pressuring the churches as a whole, they are wondering: what is church? What does it mean to worship as one church on Sunday? This is an opportunity for them to mature and advance their doctrine of how to be a church.

Throughout this time, Chinese churches have developed a sophisticated theology of suffering. First, they believe suffering is the norm for the resurrected life. If you are resurrected in this fallen world, if Christ lives in you and you have the Holy Spirit, there will be suffering. Suffering is not new; it is just Christ-likeness. Second, Chinese churches think suffering is about identity, mission, and hope in union with Christ. If we are united with Christ, then suffering is natural; we will experience what Christ experienced in this world. Third, they believe suffering is not about seeking after suffering, but rather about following of Christ. Whenever one follows Christ, there will be different forms of suffering. What they are now experiencing is normal. Fourth, suffering is the agony of the process of recreation. God is recreating us. He is recreating pain and birth, and that process means suffering. Fifth and finally, suffering is the pathway to find resurrection joy. Suffering is an integrated component of a Christian life. We cannot escape it; it is a tool in God’s hands used to shape his church.

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Further Reading

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The Internal Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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