Responding in a Time of Testing
From ChinaSource, retrieved on 16 October 2018 (https://goo.gl/WVcFLW)
As highlighted in this article by Brother Liu, many Christians in China fear they are now entering a “tumultuous time.” Recent news reports highlight prominent cases of authorities pressuring and even closing churches, prompting Christians to fear these actions are steps in a greater government movement against their faith.
How should Christians respond in the increasingly tense environment? In this article, Brother Liu stresses the need to hold a peaceful rather than confrontational stance toward the government. He also cautions Christians not to promote rumors that stir up agitation. He reminds readers that the church has withstood persecution before and will do so again.
In a Time of Testing and Persecution, Do Not Be Moved by Rumors, Nor Stir Up Confidence in the Flesh
Recently, some churches in Henan have been demolished, and it seems the Chinese church is once again entering a tumultuous time. The suffering of the church is of course heartbreaking. However, at the same time, some people are surreptitiously creating and spreading rumours, and others are proposing unrealistic solutions. The resulting confusion is very serious and harmful, adding sleet on top of snow.
Recently people have been forwarding a message online saying that the current demolition campaign is the action of a certain communist party official at a local level who is now under investigation. It looks like a victory that boosts our confidence a bit. Some Christians have no discernment, so they blindly forward it, rushing to share, even “with hallelujahs” and “praise the Lords.”
However, if you analyze it, this “insider information” doesn’t mention any reliable source, and if you search online, there is no related news. Also, this content does not contain much common sense. It is clearly a rumour, drawn up behind the scenes by who knows who. But many Christians blindly forward it, once again exposing a bruising lack of discernment.
Around the same time, there were two short videos circulating online. Some people call them: “The Strategy for the Henan Church to Be Strong and Courageous.” It looks like they could really “boost troop morale.” But they have stirred up quite a bit of controversy and confusion. These two short videos were both created by a Christian named Cao Nan, who hails from somewhere in Shang Qiu, Henan province. In the video, this Brother Cao claims his group, the Joshua Evangelism Band, came to Shang Qiu in Henan to stand with the persecuted church, and then he gives a “Strategy for the Church to Be Victorious” and calls on churches everywhere to follow this example.
He says that Christians are to be victorious over persecution, and it is useless to just rely on prayer and holding discussions online. “We have only one way, which is for brothers and sisters to be strong and courageous, and to go out, walk to the square in front of the main government building, worship there, pray there, make declarations there, dance there. As long as brothers and sisters all boldly go out there, in the towns, the districts, and the city squares; and pray, worship, sing psalms and praises, then those who are persecuting us will be afraid, and the church will restore the cross and hold meetings freely.” (This is a paraphrase.)
Brother Cao’s courage is commendable, but his “Strategy for the Church to Be Victorious” has caused confusion for some brothers and sisters, and has even caused controversy.
Encouraging brothers and sisters to go to the government square to dance and sing and worship—is this the normal way for Christians to gather? Or does it reduce worshipping God to a means of “resistance” and “pressurization?” Would this extreme response to persecution mix faith and politics, reducing worship to a means to political ends? Would it even use ordinary brothers and sisters as a “weapon” in their hands, forgetting the apostolic teachings?
1 Peter 3:13-16 says:
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
This passage of Scripture gives us very good guidance for how to face persecution.
Firstly, when Christians are persecuted for their faith, the Bible definitely says we are blessed and furthermore tells us not to be afraid. But the Bible definitely does not want us to use this as an excuse to confrontationally deter our persecutors, manifesting a courage that is of flesh and blood. In contrast, the Bible encourages and exhorts us, the more we are persecuted, the more we must live out a beautiful testimony, that witnessing our holy character, our persecutors would feel ashamed when seeing our godly character. For Christians, this is a very challenging lesson.
Compared to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone with gentleness and respect,” maybe it is much easier to dance, praise and worship in the square, but have we considered this: to what extent can these actions testify to our faith and spread the gospel; what are the consequences? Would it cause disturbances, would it hinder the order of traffic, and end up actually losing the testimony we should have? To quote one brother’s comment from a WeChat group, “For the government square, it is just having one more Christian-themed square dance.”
Four years ago, I observed a church that had organized an “Aerobics Praise Dance” in the square. For a time, every night twenty-some ladies from that church would go to a small public square to do their “aerobics praise dance” using praise and worship music. They originally intended to share the gospel, but it later evolved into just another type of public square dance. Sure it was accompanied by Christian music, but it had nothing to do with evangelism. Later, the church cancelled its “Aerobics Praise Dance” activity.
Therefore, on the surface, this Brother Cao’s proposal looks very “strong and courageous,” but it is an unrealistic and blind action. Responding to persecution in this aggressive way might bring worse consequences, losing the testimony that Christians should have. The current situation is indeed very serious. In persecution, we are not to be afraid, but we are also to be shrewd. We cannot respond and “overcome” persecution using methods of flesh and blood, and we certainly must not forget the power of prayer in our quiet closet. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 10:3)
When we face forced demolitions, we are saddened by it, but we must not lose a heart of calmness, patience, and prayer; and we really must not hate those who persecute us. Christians also need to understand the law. They can try their best to fight for themselves in a legal way, to defend themselves, and even to hire a lawyer and go to court. However, using extreme methods to “stand up for their rights" and “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” might backfire. Because the Bible commands us, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." (Luke 6:27-28)
Taking a step back, even if the crosses are demolished, the church buildings are taken over, the churches completely lose their property rights, does that mean our faith is all over? We have a retreat: as long as we have the cross in our hearts, can we not worship God in our homes? Are we unable to “love our neighbours” starting with those around us?
During the Cultural Revolution, all church buildings were closed down. Was that “game over” for the Chinese Christian church? No, they actually prospered in another form. Jesus showed us another way to move forward when facing intense persecution that you can no longer bear. We have a way out, as Jesus told us, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.” (Matthew 10:23)
Jesus did not say here that when you are persecuted, you are to confront the conflict directly and fight back to the end. No, this is not the way! When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he could have appealed to his father to send him more than twelve legions of angels to annihilate his enemies, but he did not do so; he silently endured. Would we say that Jesus was acting cowardly? No, he was victorious in his apparent weakness!
In the successive persecutions of the ancient Roman Empire for three hundred years, Christians faced persecution in this way. They did not regard the Roman Empire as an enemy, nor did they think of subverting the Roman Empire, but with gentleness, patience, and reverent hearts, they responded to all scheming and persecution. When their houses were confiscated, or when they were driven out, or when their church properties were taken over, even when they were executed, they steadfastly held to their faith; they did not make the Roman Empire out as the enemy. But, they strived to obey Jesus’ teachings as best they could on this earth, and lived out a lovely testimony (see American author Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity).
Therefore, in the face of today's difficult situation, Christians must remain calm and prayerful.
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience.
Finally, I want to conclude with a paragraph from another brother:
When you face persecution, you must be patient and calm. Don’t act out of your flesh, don’t be stirred up by others, and definitely don’t be ignorant and confused. Be shrewd, pray for those who persecute you, answer others with a gentle and respectful heart, rely on the great power of the Holy Spirit to say what should be said, be patient. Make sure you do not slander, curse, resist with force.
I think, this should be how a true Christian acts in the face of persecution.
[S]trengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. Acts 14:22