The Power of Heaven

Editor’s note: How does a church under pressure stay renewed in the gospel of grace? For 70 years, house churches in China have grown amidst cultural marginalization, political disenfranchisement, and periods of active persecution. In recent years, a growing movement of Reformed, urban house churches have begun to articulate an important theology of ‘walking the way of the cross’ which shapes their ecclesiology, evangelism, and discipleship. As North American churches navigate the increasing pressures of a polarizing culture, there is much to learn from our brothers and sisters in China.

This essay is adapted from a seminar at the summer 2023 PCA General Assembly.

The Power of the State

The major difference between us and China is they exist under the rule of an authoritarian, atheistic government and lack religious freedom. Whether you are a Christian or not, the power of the Chinese government is felt everywhere. It is watching you, and is ready to pounce on you if you do anything critical of the government. Xi Jinping’s primary focus is the stability of Community Party rule. In China, it is not enough to just keep quiet. For him, you have to give enthusiastic support to his government and to the [Communist] Party.

Whether you are a Christian or not, the power of the Chinese government is felt everywhere.

This makes house churches a major target, because they acknowledge a higher Lord and a higher rule than the government. Their allegiance is first to God: not to the Party, not to China, and not to Xi Jinping. This is something Xi cannot accept, so it forces house churches to carefully reflect on their relationship with the government, and the relationship between the heavenly and the earthly kingdom. They have to think about when to obey and when to resist; when to accept penalties and when to fight.

It also forces them to think about their relationship with their city. How do they love their neighbors in the face of social injustice? How can they be salt and light when so many people keep their heads down and don’t speak up? Reformed theology becomes an important tool as they reflect on these questions.

We have the same doctrines, but if you carry a pocketknife and live in a city, you probably don’t use it much — maybe to cut apples. But, if you go camping with a friend, and he pulls out a pocketknife and uses it to clean fish, you learn something about the knife you carry: it is really useful!

In the same way, we have been living in a relatively peaceful era, and don’t think about how to use our Reformed doctrines. The Chinese church has lived as a church in the wilderness. They can teach us the power of this “pocketknife” we have been carrying around. We can learn to use our doctrines to think about things we didn’t think they spoke to.

Keep Quiet, You Are Powerless Anyway

One way Chinese Christians live out the resurrection power they have is through what they think about power. Two recent examples came to mind regarding this.

First, I was reading some Chinese reviews of the film, Everything Everywhere All at Once. There is a silent scene where Evelyn and her daughter turned to rocks and are thinking about how small and insignificant they are in the vastness of the multiverse. Everything in me revolted against that idea, because I know I am loved by God. God sees us, loves us, and gives us value. But many Chinese reviewers said that scene was the most powerful part of the movie. That scene connected with them, because they feel powerless and insignificant in their society, like a tiny black speck in history.

We have been living in a relatively peaceful era, and don’t think about how to use our Reformed doctrines. The Chinese church..can teach us the power of this ‘pocketknife’ we have been carrying around. We can use our doctrines to think about things we didn’t think they spoke to.

The second example came when, almost overnight, at the end of last year, China removed their very strict Covid lock-down. After a lot of devastation for a lot of people under two years of strict lock-down, everything snapped back to normal. They suddenly removed the lock-down, and a lot of people went on to die. But almost nobody asked: “What happened? Why did they do this? What is going on?” In America, there would have been multiple congressional hearings, people would have protested, voted, all of that. But nothing like that happened in China.


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Some of that is because people don’t want to get in trouble by speaking up. But also: what is the point of asking questions when you can do nothing about it? You would get more angry, but you cannot change anything. You also risk drawing attention to yourself. This is what the Chinese government relies on: people keep their heads down and keep quiet. But this is exactly what Chinese house churches don’t do. They do not want to keep quiet.

The Power of the Kingdom of Heaven

While Chinese house churches don’t have political power, they do have heavenly power. They are united to the Lord, Jesus is in heaven interceding for them right now, and they testify to a kingdom that is to come. This knowledge gives them a tremendously large amount of power. It also gives them courage to speak up against injustice, and to speak for their neighbors. They speak out, not to gain political power, but as salt and light. They want to speak the truth when most people just let the authorities tell lies. Sometimes, asking hard questions is one way to love your neighbors.

As Christians in the U.S., we have some political power. We can vote, protest, and keep people accountable. We absolutely should do that. We are given power to keep the government accountable — but do we exercise our political power at the expense of speaking the truth, or of loving our neighbors? How does our union with the risen Lord inform us to exercise our political power correctly?

While Chinese house churches don’t have political power, they do have heavenly power. They are united to the Lord, Jesus is in heaven interceding for them right now, and they testify to a kingdom that is to come.

We are not as powerless or as marginalized as we think. It is just that our power is of a different sort. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” What does it mean for us, here in America, to know we have a different kind of kingdom?

In Chinese churches, I see the balance. They love their neighbors, clean streets, have ministries to visit widows and the elderly, and do things other Chinese citizens would not do. These Christians love their neighbors. They care about the well-being of society, and at the same time, testify to a power and a kingdom that is yet to come and is different from earthly power here. They keep the delicate balance of focusing on both present reality and the reality to come.

Ryan moved from Guangzhou, China, to Ohio at the age of 12. He is the pastor for neighborhood ministries at a PCA church, and also serves as the translation manager for China Partnership. 

Pray that the Lord will help you and your church to live in the freedom of the power of the kingdom of heaven.

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Further Reading

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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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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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