What Can the Persecuted Church Learn from Chinese House Churches? - Radical

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What Can the Persecuted Church Learn from Chinese House Churches?

Around 75 years ago, the Western world watched in horror as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power and began removing all foreign missionaries from its domain, placing increasingly harsh restrictions on all religious life. Many observers shared the opinion that the rise of the CCP marked the end of the church in China.

And yet, this was not the case. Today, there are likely more than 100 million Christians across China. Though persecution of the church is once again on the rise, house churches across China continue to grow and multiply.

So, what can be learned from China’s house churches about perseverance? Though I certainly do not know how every Chinese house church would answer this question, I can offer a few observations regarding how some house churches are preparing for the next 75 years of being the church in China. As they plant churches, train pastors, and disciple believers, these are some of the major themes I hear them discuss as crucial for being the marginalized church.

The World Wants to Be the Object of Your Love

First, the Chinese house churches I know understand that the world wants not only your allegiance but your love. The world hides this reality behind many different masks. Chinese pastors discuss the temptation to love the world through a whole host of topics: parenting, career choices, ministry, church, and state theology, and even ecclesiology. As Chinese house church pastor Paul Peng writes, “Earthly Babylon will press you and say, ‘If you do not love me or obey me, I will make you suffer.’” 

Suffering and persecution test our highest love and force us to understand what it means to walk with Christ in his earthly suffering. I have heard many Chinese Christians quote Matthew 10:24 in which Jesus tells his followers that no servant is above his master, no student above the teacher. If our Lord’s earthly life was marked by suffering, and if he was tempted to love the world, then so too will his disciples.

Like Jesus, we rise above the world’s temptations by loving our God above all else. As Peng reminds us, the way to overcome the world’s threats is to remind ourselves, “My Lord did not leave me as an orphan. He has promised that as my days are, so will my strength be. His grace is sufficient for me.”

Remember that God’s Grace is Sufficient

Second, there is an ongoing renewal movement in thousands of Chinese house churches centered on the belief that grace alone is vital to being the suffering church. Persecution and suffering do not necessarily make people more righteous. Without a profound understanding that the gospel is about grace and grace alone, suffering and walking the way of the cross can cause our hearts to become brittle, hardened, and legalistic.

Persecution and suffering do not necessarily make people more righteous.

What differentiates a persecuted Christian from his persecutor? Only God’s grace. Therefore, many pastors declare that the primary way to prepare for arrest and interrogation is by repenting of their idols. As one woman has written about her time in jail:

As I prayed, ‘Forgive my debts as I forgive my debtors,’ God helped me face my own sins. In particular, he helped me face my idols: the idol of comfort and worldliness and the idol of wanting others’ approval. We had little privacy in there—we were often strip-searched, and we did not have much food and had to sleep on a floor. But God used all of that to deal with my idolatry.

As for the police and officers who arrested me, I had a lot of anger toward them at first, but I knew that I had to forgive them. Before I was released, an officer asked me, ‘Do you hate the government?’ At that moment, I really could not feel hate in my heart, and they were amazed by my answer.

The Chinese pastors I know teach that the only way to survive persecution with a living heart is to dwell in God’s grace alone.

Seek the Good of Your City

Finally, so many of the pastors and churches I know live with the attitude that they will be for their cities, no matter the cost. The result of understanding the grace we have received and of giving our highest love to the ascended Jesus is that the church becomes empowered to be for our cities, even when our cities are not for us.

For the Chinese house churches, the church itself is the best gift they can give to their cities. As one Chinese leader writes:

A church in the city should be the comforter, the guardian, and the provider for the city… We may not have earthly power, but through prayer, we can bring the needs of the city to God. Through prayer, we can thank God for the good things within our city. The church should provide for the spiritual needs of the city, because the church has the truth, and only the truth can pierce all lies.

The Chinese pastors I know teach that the only way to survive persecution with a living heart is to dwell in God’s grace alone.

Do you need cultural power or political rights to serve the city? Not if you are willing to walk the way of the cross. Not if your hearts are renewed in grace. And not if you understand you are united to the ascended, reigning King of the universe, to whom every square inch of this universe belongs. When you are united with him through grace, you are united to his ascension power. In a real way, you live with Christ on high right now. 

Personally, I feel very weak writing about what persecuted churches can learn from China. As a middle-class American, I am untested myself. But for the last twenty years, I’ve had the privilege of listening to what my Chinese brothers have to say about enduring as the church in a difficult place. And by God’s grace, this is what I’ve learned from them: Grace gives you the freedom to see those who harm you not as your enemies and union with Christ empowers you to go forth sacrificially.

​Hannah Nation

​Hannah Nation is a writer, editor, and content strategist. She currently serves as the Managing Director of the Center for House Church Theology and as the Content Director for China Partnership.

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