Last week I tweeted a link to the statement of imprisoned Chinese church leader Wang Yi’s church. You can read it here.
In brief, Wang Yi is the pastor of an underground church in China, Early Rain Covenant Church. Pastor Wang and 100 of his fellow believers were arrested by the Chinese government about one year ago. Now, Wang has been sentenced to nine years in prison for subversion of state power and illegal business operations.
What I love about this statement is how it emphasizes things that we wouldn’t emphasize if we are being persecuted. The statement is written by a people who know what it means to suffer and how to do it well. It’s a model for how us as Christians should handle suffering as it becomes more and more normal to suffer for Christ in the West.
Here are just a few thoughts from the letter that I think Western Christians can learn from:
- “Christians should be willing to submit to the government’s physical restrictions of them.” What’s refreshing about this take is that Christians in America often get caught in a kind of antagonism where if we are jailed or even lightly rebuked for sharing the Gospel, we want to demand our rights. The apostle Peter tells us to submit to civil authority and to bear up under the pressure of suffering, even though we’ve done nothing wrong (see 1 Peter 2:13-20).
- Pastor Wang’s arrest is part of his calling. In the West, we often take on titles and positions as an antidote to suffering. We give difficult, arduous tasks to those who are farther down the “ministry ladder” than we are. However, Pastor Wang and his church understand suffering as a normal part of his calling. 1 Peter 2:20 tells us that we are called to follow Jesus into the same type of suffering he endured. We are called to suffering, especially as a servant of the Gospel. So OF COURSE he’s suffering. He’s responded to God’s call on his life. May we understand again that our calling is not what’s written on a business card, but to literally follow the footsteps of Christ, whichi includes suffering as He did.
- No crimes were committed. In a free society, Yi would not be jailed for his actions. I find this part of the statement interesting, mostly because I believe this to be an effort of the church to earn credibility with the Chinese people and people around the world. In arguing that he has not committed a crime, the church is defending his morality and trying to earn rapport with the rest of the world. Peter tells us it’s better to keep our integrity and suffer rather than to suffer for committing and actual crime (1 Peter 3:16-17) and the church seems to be making a case that this is what happened.
- No hate, just evangelistic love. After some exhortations of the Chinese government to “stay in their lane,” the church calls on believers to pray for the salvation of the Chinese government. This is so crucial. Many would be tempted to pray down God’s judgment, but the church is following in Jesus’ steps and saying “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they do,” (Luke 23:24). It’s this kind of heart cry that will open the hearts of unjust persecutors to the truth of the Gospel and save some of them.
Imagine this-the church in America can learn to suffer for the glory of God. We can learn to submit to government authority and still obey God. We can embrace suffering as part of our calling and maintain our integrity. We can even pray for those who persecute us to find the light and the truth. We have no better teacher in this than our brothers and sisters in China and other parts of the world.
We just need to be willing to learn from them.
[Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series about learning from the global church. Other posts in this series can be found at the bottom of the page.]
The church around the Earth, living under persecution and depending on God’s power instead of their wealth and influence, has much to teach every believer in the West. But the house church movement, specifically, has much to learn from their global counterparts.
Our house churches have had the unique opportunity to meet some brothers in the house church movement from around the globe, to be a part of some of their meetings, and to learn from those who have planted house churches globally. These experiences have helped us to see God’s Kingdom from different perspectives and avoid the traps that sometimes consume the house church conversation in the West.
So, what has the house church movement around the globe taught us?
- The Gospel is Essential to the Church– Sit down and talk to any house church participant from Africa or Asia and it isn’t long before you hear of their heart to reach the lost with the gospel. I’ve sat with servants from other nations whose hearts burn to see the Gospel of God’s Kingdom transform their nations. For me, in particular, every time I meet with one of these figures, it reminds me that while community and spiritual family are important, they are the result of the Gospel. And this has helped us not be consumed with convincing every existing church to become a house church (and judging those that don’t) but sharing Jesus with those that don’t know Him and teaching them to follow Him in the context of organic spiritual family.
- Discipleship Must Be Universally Reproducible- One of the significant ways we’ve learned from the church around the world is through brothers and sisters who have served the church in Africa and Asia bringing back principles they witnessed at work in the church there. These generally have stressed not just the preaching of the Gospel, but the structuring of the church so that each true follower of Christ learns how to obey Jesus like the New Testament teaches. Many streams such as NoPlaceLeft and Church Multiplication Associates teach discipleship principles first learned in massive movements of the Gospel in other countries and then brought and implemented here. These principles are simple and can be passed on to other believes so they can participate in the work of evangelism and discipleship.
- The Purity of the Church is Important- In our house church network, we have a brother who has spent time with the underground house church movement in China as a member of the body. One of the realities he has stressed over and over again is that the church there frequently will observe the lifestyle of an unknown brother or sister for a season before they let a brother participate fully in the life of the church. This sounds harsh in our Western context, but in the context of the church of China, where a new person could be a government spy, this is a matter of survival. In our context, this example has helped us learn how to handle false workers that the New Testament has promised would try and come into our midst (and have). It’s also helped us have hard conversations with those who aren’t born again, but come with a belief in God.
- The Kingdom of God is 24/7– Our brother who has spent time in the church in China is constantly reminding us that the church meetings there often last all day, with kids! Training sessions last through the night and into the next day. The point is, there are no nice, anticipated end times. There is no time when the meeting is projected to end. Our friends in Africa have an entire village that wakes up at four AM to energetically pray for their village, their church, and their nation. I have one friend in Africa who wakes up and prays between midnight and 5:00 AM for his nation because he’s been doing it since he was a young man. In each of these scenarios, the church has submitted their use of their time to God. It’s no longer theirs, but His.
- The Church Needs to Embrace Multiple Giftings- We’ve believed in the diversity of gifting that Christ gives his body for some time. However, when we heard a friend of mine from a closed nation begin to describe how they are beginning to value not just apostles, prophets, and evangelists, but shepherds and teachers as well, it was transforming for us. Since that time we’ve been able to embrace the shepherding gift in a way that has significantly helped us care for the body and continue to grow the church.
These are some of the significant ways that the church from around the globe has significantly informed how we live out life in house churches. I encourage everyone from the West to find ways to connect with what God is doing in other parts of the Earth in order to better see His Kingdom.
If you’re interested in learning about the house church movement around the globe, check out The Five Best Books on House Churches. Most of the books are a great starting point for seeing house churches planted in a different soil than the cultural West. It may just help you to see the church and God’s Kingdom like never before.
Learning From the Global Church Series:
Over the last ten years, God has had me on a journey learning from the Church in the global South and East. Many of these lessons I’ve been able to learn directly from those from other parts of the world. But while I have had the privilege of spending time in other countries with believers I would never meet here, not everyone will have that opportunity. Thankfully, in order to learn from the church in other parts of the world, you don’t need ot be able to afford a plane ticket, you just need to be able to read.
Even earlier than my trips overseas, God was beginning to teach me about His Kingdom through books that were written by saints from other nations. For those of you who haven’t experienced or read much beyond your own borders, the following books can be helpful:
For those of you who remember that my story started in the midst of revival, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that the topic of revival was near and dear to my heart. Early on I started reading books on revivals in the West, but I quickly discovered there were books that talked about revivals going on in other nations of the Earth. This book documents the story of the revival that took place in Argentina over the 80’s and the early 90’s. This revival had ties to what was currently happening in the United States in the mid-90’s and talks about how Argentina was affected by this move of the Spirit. C Peter Wagner’s book not only talked about revival, but it sowed a vision for apostolic church planting in the midst of a move of the Spirit that I had never conisdered before.
I picked up this copy shortly after I read “The Rising Revival.” Carlos Annacondia was featured in that book in a short way. This book is his story of becoming the Pentecostal Billy Graham of Argentina. I think the draw of this book is Annacondia’s reliance on the Holy Spirit to direct him and draw in a harvest, not just hold revival meetings. His meetings were marked by demons being cast out, the sick being healed, and the Holy Spirit filling new converts. I loved seeing how the movement of the Spirit was playing out in a fairly modern nation like Argentina. I should note, while many of the things mentioned in “The Rising Revival” and “Listen to Me, Satan” were pivotal to my spiritual growth, I probably no longer hold to some of their views on how the church is structured like I did back then.
Technically this breaks with my theme of learning from the church of the global South and East, since this book was written by a German. However, much of the insight that Wolfgang shares comes from studying house church planting movements all over the Earth. Most notably, Wolf spent a number of years in India trying to understand what the Lord was doing through the house church movement there with a goal of applying the lessons learned to the church in the West. This book changed my understanding of the nature of the church and I would recommend it to anyone who wanted a good book on house churches.
I read this book a year after I read “Houses That Change the World” and these two books helped change the direction of my life. While Houses was more of a “how to” manual for meeting as a church like in the New Testament, the Heavenly Man read like the book of Acts. This book tells the story of one of the leaders of the underground house church movement in China. Through persecution, Brother Yun spreads the gospel, raises up leaders, and mobilizes the Chinese church to take the gospel back to Jerusalem, the very place that it came from. You will not walk away from this book without being personally inspired and challenged. And, as a bonus, for the first time in reading, I saw a house church movement and the power of the Holy Spirit tied together in a way I hadn’t read about outside of Acts. In many ways it’s why I’m still able to contend for the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a church planting movement. Many of us hear about how God is moving powerfully in the Chinese Church. This book give you a front row seat.
This may be cheating to have two books by the same author. This follow up is not really a sequel, as much as it is Brother Yun’s attempt to teach after having told his story. If you finished reading “The Heavenly Man” and were left wondering “How, then, should we live?” Living Water is the answer. It’s full of solid teaching on the Kingdom of God in the life of a Christian, from a Chinese perspective. Reading this book is like asking Brother Yun to disciple you a little bit each day for a month. It’s well worth your time.
It’s hard to put into words how refreshing this book was. I picked this up last year at the recommendation of some friends. It follows missionary Nik Ripken as he tries to grapple with horrible darkness and incredible fruitlessness that he encounters in Somalia. When he leaves the mission field for a season, he and his wife use the time to meet and research how the church survives and thrives under persecution. The stories he encounters and the people that he writes about are some of the most inspiring stories I’ve heard recently. They pages are also filled with a challenge to endure for Jesus under long-term sustained pressure. This is truly a global book, starting in Africa, moving to Russia, China, and the Middle East. Reading this book will convince you that God can work on your behalf anywhere you go. Because of all of this, this book was my number one book recommendation for last year.
This one deserves a mention though its a book I’m currently working through right now. The book is written by a church historian and a missionary to Thailand. Both of them use their background and education to reveal how we in the West read the Bible through lenses that the original audiences of the Bible never wore. When we do this, according to the authors, we come up with a different message than the one the Bible was intending us to hear. This book has been a fascinating look at concepts like honor/shame and individual/corporate interpretations that I think most Western believers never get exposed to. There is a lot of eye-opening thoughts here. Reading it with an open mind will change (for the good) how you interpret Scripture.
Well, that’s enough for today. I could go on. But my point in listing these books was that you see you can learn from the church around the world without buying a plane ticket.
Many of you have already written me some of the books you’ve read about similar things. If you’ve read a book from an author from a dramatically different part of the world that has strengthened your walk with Christ, leave a comment for us and tell us the name of the book and how it impacted you.