Preparing for the Next Five Years of Persecution

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Editor’s note: The following was written by China Partnership’s President following a meeting with key house church leaders. The meeting was an important time to assess the current political pressure on the house churches and to plan for ministry under the next five years in light of persecution becoming the new normal. All the pastors present agreed that this current round of persecution is God’s work to purify and strengthen the church and should not be feared. Rather, it is a time to grow in union with Christ as we await Christ’s return to his kingdom.


Over these few days, a few other ministers and I got together to pray, enjoy fellowship with each other, share meals together, swim and exercise, and envision the future and hope for Christ’s return. I would like to share a few reflections from our gathering to all the saints in Christ.

#1: Now is the time to prepare for the next five years of persecution

In light of China’s current national and religious policy, and the fact that policies in China tend to extend and fall behind, we must make medium- and long-term preparations. In the next 5 years, we will feel increasing pressure, and this will be our new norm. The model we used over the last 20 years cannot be repeated. We should not expect to continue to do ministry openly under a relatively lax religious environment after enduring a short period of persecution. 

#2: Now is the time God has ordained for the Chinese church

Now is the time and opportunity God has ordained for the Chinese church, let us live out the gospel and the sanctified life in union with Christ in our time and situation. Let us use our individual and corporate lives, through following the cross and its way, and through living cruciform lives, to manifest the grace of the gospel in contemporary China. This is a special blessing for China from God, we cannot and should not simply continue to follow the practices of overseas churches. God has chosen us to follow him in this environment, to show forth the “already” of the kingdom of God in the church. This is also the era in which we can contribute theology and practical experience to the universal church through our discipleship, reflection, and ministry practice.

#3: Now is the time to be deeply-rooted in the gospel

The deepening of gospel theology among us is closely linked to the challenges we face under pressure and persecution.


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A: We must die to ourselves and our idolatry

How do we deepen our union with Christ and follow him in our lives? This is sanctification according to the gospel; how do we follow the way of the cross, how do we follow the example of the older generation of house church [leaders], and not set our hearts on the standard of life we find among the Western middle-class? Jesus has died for us, we already have the life of sonship, how can we press forward, live out of the life we have, and make this our lifestyle? How do we love the law of God and live a life of righteousness? 

God uses persecution to show our sin and unrighteousness; persecution is a discipline of God for us, in order to drive us to repentance. If we never move beyond our anger and polemics against the evil government and our own self-pity, we will waste this divinely given opportunity for our own purification and growth. We need to turn the focus on ourselves, to face our own sin, and to repent. The sooner we recognize this need, the sooner we examine ourselves, the sooner we will be blessed by God. 

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“God uses persecution to show our sin and unrighteousness; persecution is a discipline of God for us, in order to drive us to repentance. If we never move beyond our anger and polemics against the evil government and our own self-pity, we will waste this divinely given opportunity for our own purification and growth.

We must admit our love for this life and this world that is made apparent by the persecution we experience. We will only have power when we admit to this sin, die to ourselves, and take up our cross and follow Christ. Only in this way can brothers and sisters in Christ dispel fear and ministers know how to lead their congregations. Otherwise, we may excuse our reaction on theological, circumstantial, or practical reasons; in this way, we would be lying to ourselves and will tend to judge each other. For ministers, the cost is greater under persecution because our churches can be symbols of our identity and our safety net.

Another temptation ministers have to face under persecution is our desire for control. Will we be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit even under persecution? Will we be willing to raise up new co-laborers, and to lead and nurture the church in new ways? The answers to these questions depend on the degree to which we can die to our idol of control.

B: We must raise up new leaders to replace us

Under persecution, gospel theology can illuminate the maturity of our ecclesiology and the practice of discipleship. Making disciples, proclaiming the gospel, discipleship training, planting new churches, are nonnegotiable components of the Great Commission. It has always been the case that if the church does not grow, it will inevitably decline. To coward before persecution or to shut the door and focus on internal pastoral care will only lead to death. This will not only waste God’s blessing for us in persecution, it will also lead to the decline of the church in the next few years. 

The goal of the church is not simply to avoid becoming a part of the Three-Self Church or to maintain theological integrity, these are only the bottom line we cannot compromise on. We cannot set our bottom line as our goal. Many of Paul’s letters were written while he was in prison, but we get a feeling that he was writing as if he were a free man. He was not concerned about persecution or imprisonment, but the foundation and growth of the church. Our goal and focus is the continuous growth of the church. The focus of this persecution is the church, including her ecclesiology and pastoral practice, but this is also the focus of the gospel – God’s people who belong to God’s city, living in this world while preparing to welcome the return of Christ.

We ministers need to be prepared to be arrested and be intentional in raising new co-laborers and new leaders. We need to discover leaders who can replace us, and to make plans on how the church will go on after we are arrested, how it may continue to meet at a different location. We are not telling brothers and sisters to sing hymns more quietly, to protect ourselves; we want to encourage brothers and sisters to continue to proclaim and spread the gospel, to continue to bring people to the church, to continue living out our corporate witness in this fragmented society. We want to encourage brothers and sisters to continue gospel ministry, Sunday school, discipleship, and theological education in various different ways; continue raising up full-time ministers and planting new churches, prepare for the next 5, 10, and 20 years.

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“We ministers need to be prepared to be arrested and be intentional in raising new co-laborers and new leaders. We need to discover leaders who can replace us, and to make plans on how the church will go on after we are arrested.

We may be arrested, but Sunday worship cannot stop, proclamation and the spreading of the gospel cannot stop, discipleship training cannot stop, theological education cannot stop, training of full-time ministers cannot stop, church planting and missions cannot stop. It is our relationship with Christ, not the external circumstances, that will determine how heavy the cross is to bear and how we can carry it. 

C: We must experience Christ daily

Relying on the grace of the gospel in the midst of persecution, being sanctified in union with Christ, fighting against the love of this life and the world, continuing to deepen our ecclesiology, planting churches, all of these have an intricate correlation with whether we can see and experience in the Spirit by faith the Heavenly Kingdom that is already in our midst. By the word of the gospel, the Holy Spirit has transferred us into the Kingdom of the beloved Son to experience the authority of the victorious Christ. Moreover, we are already resurrected in the Spirit, mysteriously and truly seated with Christ in Heaven.  This is a Heaven created by God in the beginning, and it will be brought down by God onto the earth at the end, and now through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in Christ it has been granted to us. We experience this daily by God’s grace and faith. This is our central focus through all of life’s experiences and persecution. Although we are on earth, we live before God in Heaven, serving and pleasing him. Only by this can we truly and completely face the temptation and persecution of the world, and only by this can preachers lead and shepherd the church. We are sojourners, strangers in this world. If we do not learn to live as sojourners of this world in the gospel, then Heaven and Christ will be strange to us.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world… From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” This is union with Christ, the eschatology according to the Bible, the core message of the gospel. We need to understand God’s word more deeply and clearly, and let the way of God’s life lead the pastors of the church.

#4: Now is the time for a new vision from the Lord

If this persecution lasts for 5 years, what will we hope and pray for? Why do we labor and sacrifice our lives? We hope and pray that more people will put faith in Christ, that the church will become more holistic and mature in its ecclesiology, that there will be more new churches planted, that the gospel of the eschatological kingdom will swallow up death, this life, and this world. Let us fight for 5 more years, if we can plant 10 more churches, maybe we can feel that we have repaid the city that nurtured us.

After finishing these reflections from the last few days, I happened to be listening to Lord, Give Me A Vision on the album Tan Cheng Hymns recorded by Early Rain Covenant Church. God has his loving will. Let this encouraging and resounding song continue to follow us through these years of persecution, to help us stand and shine for Christ. 

Lord, give me a vision,
That not one would perish,
Teach me how to have your heart,
So I strive for the Gospel’s prevalence.
Oh, God, shatter my selfishness,
I am willing to give it all to you,
Looking upon the great love shown at Calvary,
How could I not love you in return.

 Let not my life be lived in vain,
Here I offer the riches you grant,
My life and talents as well,
Savior, I am willing to be sent.
Oh, God, shatter my selfishness,
I am willing to give it all to you,
Looking upon the great love shown at Calvary,
How could I not love you in return.


Translation provided by Ryan and the China Partnership translation team.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for current leaders in China as they prepare for the next five years of persecution and beyond. Pray that they would let go of their idols and be deeply-rooted in the gospel, walking with Christ daily and raising up new leaders to replace them. Pray that they would have a vision from the Lord for a Christ-honoring church that would be like “a city on a hill” (Matthew 5:14), showing the glory of God to the world.

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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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