During a panel discussion at TGC21, Hannah Nation, Ryan Zhang, and S. E. Wang from China Partnership discuss the experience of the Chinese church and how the American church can learn from its suffering and kingdom mindset.
Since the 1970s, the church in China has grown 60-fold, which is a clear sign of revival. Nation and her team challenge and encourage the American church to pray for revival and learn from the Chinese church by adopting these four beliefs and practices:
1. Believe that prayer is real and powerful.
2. Know that the church really is the best gift you can give to your city.
3. Don’t slow down in evangelism as you encounter pressure or persecution.
4. Keep repentance central in the life of the church.
Stories of persecuted pastors from China show that the more focus is put on kingdom advancement, the more Christ is seen and glorified. One Chinese pastor said it best: “Survival is not our calling. Rather, the goal of the church is uncompromisable evangelism and discipleship.”
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Welcome, everyone. This is Jesus the greater King, learning about suffering from the Chinese church. My name is Hannah nation, and I’m going to let my colleagues introduce themselves.
S. E. Wang
My name is S. E. Wang and I work with Hannah.
My name is Ryan Zhang. I’m a pastor at New City Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, I also work with Hannah.
We work for an organization called China partnership, and CEP is involved with serving and training house church pastors in China, and coming alongside a gospel movement across China. The topic of our session is talking about what we as the American church have to learn about suffering from the Chinese house church. Now, I think, for probably many of you in this room, associating suffering with the churches in China is probably not a surprising idea. Probably a lot of us when we think about the house church, we think about persecution, or we think about people worshipping in private homes. And all of this is true. But of course, the situation in China is very complex, complex. And really, at the end of the day, what house church and China really means is that it’s a church that has decided not to be registered under the Chinese government’s state church system. These churches, however, can be large, they can be large or small, many churches have grown to be more than 100 people. And they also either meet in private homes, or a lot of times they meet and read in commercial spaces. So we really are talking about primarily a position within society in terms of a relationship to the state church. I think the kind of big question is, why should we learn from? So I have a question for everyone in this room to start us out. And I want you to go ahead and raise your hand. So how many in this room believe that we need to see revival in America today? It’s kind of a trick question. The idea I’d like to propose to you is that if we want to see revival in America today, then we need to be listening to and learning from churches that are currently seeing revival in their midst. In 1970, the population of Christians professing Christians in China was estimated to be about point 1% of the population. Today, the very conservative estimate is that there are 70 to 80 million Christians spread across China. Now, even adjusting for China’s growth and population, this is a 60 fold growth in the number of professing believers in China. This is what revival looks like. Many of these people are very acquainted with suffering. And they’re very acquainted with the idea of walking the way of the cross. This is the traditional house, house church term for walking as Christ walked on this earth. And at this time, I’m going to turn it over to my colleague. He’s a lot more experienced than me with working with pastors pastors themselves. And we just would love to hear from you about the state of the church in China.
S. E. Wang
Yeah, and if we want NSN, China and the churches we have to understand China as a country, or even a civilization has been undergoing great changes in the past 180 years. Until today, the political ruling system structure in China is still fundamentally an anthro system. That’s still the same, no matter what you call it. At essence, that’s the Emperor system. The heart of the issue now is really about the ultimate loyalty. And the love of Empress people is about whom do you love? The Emperor desert demands undeserved love. Because of that this the fundamental social problem is between the Empress power and the potential power that can even remotely possibly challenge their power. So what you’re saying see nowadays, no matter what form this power can be commercial, Alibaba any ethnic groups in Hong Kong as Tara oratory or any social society is it’s Christianity. And if you can challenge that, they will crush that. That’s that’s the situation. And the church has been facing these challenge, this typical challenge in the past 150 years, since its birth from the fourth generation of the missionary movement in China. So, because of this, the exact meaning of how the church we call that today, is not first, a meeting place is not about the Church State, political position. It is first about the hearts of people’s first love about who is the head of the church is it Christ, or eight is the intro, the house church leaders for 5070 years, the unwavering say, is Christ and Christ alone. Therefore, as a result, the persecution for all the house church leaders has never been new. It’s only a surprise to the younger generation, who grow up who converted to Christianity in the past 20 years. This current situation is a new experience for them. That’s current situation in China. However, in the past two or three days, as you all know, the tightening up pressure, the persecution in China, what we see, and or the press persecution under the pressure. A surprises me, the heavenly kingdom on earth in the churches become even more clearly seen. Even you can feel that, under these persecution, the leaders and church, they simply turn to their king resurrected KING, ascended Christ who is ruling powerfully in Heaven, to draw their power. And their prayer is their ultimate weapon is their very practical abiding in Christ. It’s so real in their life, in their church life in their daily Christian life. They are really a group of people who are simultaneously in heaven, on earth, fighting these spiritual warfare. It makes me almost for many times, tase again, acts for after disciples were threatened and warned by the earthly power in Jerusalem. And then the immediate turned to their king in heaven pray to Him in case that power from heaven, or even x six and seven, when Stephen was on trial, actually, through his vision, we saw their two courts simultaneously, they’re confronting each other in controlling each other. And Stephen, being faithful to the Heavenly Court, die for Christ. So because of these, hearing, what they preach and seeing their work, they are really trying I can see trying very consciously, intentionally and consistently to live out the life of the already, but not yet, as a tautology. I saw four distinctive characters of the Chinese house church, and are these persecution in recent years. Number one, is a real union with the Ascended Christ in His death, and resurrection. Number two, their daily abiding in Christ and relying on Christ in their prayers is a real heavenly a standard prayers. And number three, their unwavering faithfulness to follow Christ in the way of the cross. And these way of cross is considered their glory on Earth. And number four, they are so determined to consider the evangelism, discipleship, leadership training and church planting, the end comfort compromisable action, they are and they are they are resolved to push forward for these. For example, I met a pastor in November 2019, just before the pandemic Hong Kong asked him how was he doing on his church, and after six month, he was kicked out of his church, and his house has been guarded by the police 24/7 I was expected to hearing a story of bad government persecuting the churches. However, to my surprise, he told me that God is really discipline them and refining them through the Carmen’s persecution. They see through the persecution, their love of the ward, they love the war. They don’t love Christ, the sad they desire for American middle life, middle class life instead of the Way of the Cross. And then he said, they repented and they pray. They said, their way is across. Now, this word, everyone, at least he said, every one of us need to prepare to go to jail. And he says survival is not our calling. And the goal of the church they’re calling and go is uncompromisable, evangelism, discipleship training, raising up full time pastors, and church planting, and this church and their persecution. In the past, one year of pandemic, they planted five more churches in their city. Another example, I’ll give you, Pastor one II, who was arrested in 2018, on trial and nine years in prison. He also, in one of the sermons said the following, I’m going to read that to you to just feel their reality. He said, I was once arrested. And prior to the police station, the officer there asked me, Did you do anything that is subversive? I asked him whether praying comes as a subversion. I said, I often pray to the Lord. I say, oh, Lord, we have been oppressed so heavily. Can you reach out your arm to us, and demolish this political authority? In one nice time? Or are you going to allow the heart of Pharaoh be hardened, and manifest your glory and power? I said, Oh, Lord, you have millions upon millions of children in China, and we are all waiting eagerly for this day to come. So I asked him, the policeman, whether this is a considered subversion of the country’s political authority via prayer, he thought for a while and said, This did not count. So I reply, that, Oh, then I did not have any other matters. Because this is a secret weapon of the church. It is atomic bomb of the church. It is because God gave us this power and channel of prayer, we can therefore be submissive, even to a to be submissive, even to and just authority. So I recited Colossians 116, to the officer. For by Him, all things were created, in heaven, and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created through Him. And for him. This past one he, he lives in this reality throughout, and his prayer, his encounter with a police man, just show us that. So in summary, enter this situation, I’m seeing the Heavenly Kingdom, more visibly, even touchable. The presence of Christ so real, their genuine prayer life, totally reply relies on Christ and the power of the Spirit are truly amazing to me. I just want to be with you.
I think this point that pressure, the pressure of the earthly kingdoms of the world reveal reveals the Heavenly Kingdom to us is such an important and crucial point for American churches today. And I think we, we fear that pressure, we fear that potential marginalization. But watching the Chinese churches and watching their response and watching the way that this pressure reveals, the Heavenly Kingdom is such an encouragement to me. And I think there’s so much that we can learn. So I have a couple of points that for me, a lot of my work is really more or less to help bring this theology this perspective, out from the Chinese house church, to the global church so that we can hear from them and learn from them. And and it’s I am not trying to point the finger at the American church or to criticize the American church. I’m a part of it. I love my church. But we all have weaknesses, and we all have strengths and we benefit from hearing each other’s weaknesses and strengths. So there are a few touch points that I think based off of what SE is saying really come to my mind were the specific weaknesses of American Christianity have the ability to hear and learn from the strengths of house church, Christianity and China. So those four More things that come to my mind are just first this idea that prayer is real. I think we we all say, we believe in prayer, and we pray. But I think engaging with house churches has just personally convicted me on this question of do I think of prayer as active participation in the kingdom of God? Do I live like a prayer is my life blood. And I think when you are under the pressures that that Chinese house church faces, that just becomes crystal clear that our life as Christians is a life of prayer. We’re dependent on prayer. A lot of the stories that I work with come out of China, it’s amazing to me how much the testimonies are that as people are taken to police stations, they’re praying in the taxi cab or the police car as they go, or they’re singing hymns as they go. And while they’re in the police center, they talk about actively praying while they are there for the police officers that they’re interacting with. Now, these aren’t superhuman Christians, they’re they’re not fundamentally different from us. But because of their situation, they’ve realized and been able to see how much prayer is what sustains us and keeps us alive in Christ through these things. I think the the other thing that really just sticks out to me, the second thing is how much they believe that the church really is the best gift they can give to the city. There are many social problems that they face, and many struggles that embroiled Chinese society today. And the house churches are just deeply committed to evangelism. And they are willing to take great risks. And I think when we look at ourselves in the West, it’s a hard question for me to answer of, when I look at my city and all the problems that I might see in my city. Do I believe that the church is the best thing that I can give in response to all those problems? And I think a part of that question is, is our churches the best things we can give to the city? That’s a logical question and follow up. connected to that is obviously the question of evangelism. And this is the third thing is just that the Chinese churches have not slowed down in their evangelism as they have endured these pressures. They are just as committed to church planning, there may be more committed to church planting in the last several years, as persecution has increased, than they were earlier, even. And this is also true through COVID. So as as you mentioned, we know of several house churches that have been planted during the last year of pandemic. I have a dear friend, he’s in Shanghai. He planted his church the week or the week after the Wuhan lockdown. And there was so much prayer that went into that, because it was anyone’s question whether this church could be planted, as pandemic actively broke out, not only across China, but around the world. And a month ago, he sent me a message and he said a year later, they have 100 people in their church, and on their first baptisms, Sunday. They baptize six adults. This is incredible to me that their first response in the midst of pandemic was evangelism. And I and I, it just, it convicts me I don’t I don’t know how much when pandemic broke out that my first response was to think about my friends who don’t know Christ and immediately say, let’s share the gospel with them. This is the time this is the year. This is the year that they are asking the questions about life and about death. And now is the time to be bold in our evangelism. It just convicts me so deeply to have seen that response. Once from people, they have, of course been concerned about encouraging anxious Christians. But they haven’t stopped there. And they haven’t said pandemic is just about reassuring the saints, it’s about winning those who are dying to Jesus. I think the last thing that just really sticks out to me too, is just the centrality and the role of repentance in these churches as they face persecution. And to me, this is just a really mind blowing thought that the first response of not just one random church in China, but generally, the response of house churches across China is that when they are persecuted, they all talk about it as a time to repent of their idols. I don’t think we have that language in the US. I don’t think we have the language to say, if we receive pushback, if we receive marginalization if we receive persecution, that it’s a time for us to repent, corporately or individually. And I think this is a hard, this is a hard thing for Americans, this is a hard thing for American Christianity. I have, I have a friend, she spent a month in jail. And she just talks about how it was a time for her idols of worldliness and of comfort, to be challenged. And she talks about her month in jail as a time of personal repentance and conviction that she should be evangelizing the prostitutes and the drug dealers and the other criminals who are in jail with her. And I just think that’s, that is what we need. We need that faith and that ability to see ourselves and say that, if that comes, what it means is that we repent, and we evangelize those that we are suffering along with. And I think this is just at the end of the day, the really big question that I find myself asking over and over again, as I work with the sermons and the writings coming from Chinese House, church pastors is just a question of, are we able to love and serve our cities from positions of weakness, and not from positions of power?
One of the women who’s involved with several house churches, she’s a pastor’s wife, she says, just as Christ stays where on earth, so are our days also, students are not above their teacher. And I think this is just don’t watch or it for us that the student is not above the teacher. And this is something we can really think about and ponder on, and learn from our brothers and sisters in the Chinese house church. I think with that, I’d love to hear from my good friend Ryan. He’s a pastor himself and an American church, but engaging a lot with house church pastors. So Ryan, I’m really curious to hear from you how all of this is affecting you as a pastor in a local church.
Yeah, thank you, Hannah. It’s a great segue. I think one of the things I’ve tried to implement and share with our church in Cincinnati is the question of posture. And then we see in the West here, and also in the east, a breakdown of the moral fabric that ties the sides together. And, of course, in the east, the moral fabric comes from traditional Confucian values in the East that’s from the Judeo Christian values. So for the Chinese church, they see this breakdown as an opportunity to share the unique perspective of gospel. Whereas for us here, American churches see it as a loss of influence. So the Chinese see it as an opening, whereas the Americans are angry about it. And I think the Chinese church really, in this sense, have been modeling for us how to love and serve our neighbors. Well, even though some of those neighbors are persecuting them actively as, as Lisa S II and Hannah said, they share the gospel with the police officers that came to arrest them, or with the inmates that they share a jail with. and these are very poor thing to do to share with people who are persecuting you knowing they’re also suffering from the same moral fabric, the same breakdown the moral fabric that you suffer from, and you have pity on them, and you should love them. And I think that the Chinese church really serve as a model for us how to serve and love our neighbors from the margins, and how to repent of our failures to be a prophetic voice in society. And I really hope that that’s a posture we could adopt as we plan more churches and do our own evangelism. The second thing, I think, is the learning about the church as a family. So the some of the most endearing pictures in my mind. Chinese Christians waiting outside of police stations and outside of prisons, waiting for their pastors to come out to be released. And they usually come with flowers and presents waiting for them. And they will take a group pictures together smiling as if, you know, they just want some kind of award. And in a sense, they did because they felt they were worthy to suffer in the name of Christ. But at the same time, they also do this as the own risk, because now they’re known as accomplices, to these criminals. And I often tell my church people that you’re much closer to the people sitting next to you in your pews, than your unbelieving family members, you know, you’re much closer to people next to you right now. Then your unbelieving relatives. And it says it’s true, because we are the people that will go into eternity together, that we are the family of Christ, God redeemed a people for His Kingdom, not just individuals. And that’s a category busting thing for the Chinese churches, because they come from very traditional family values, but in the church, they realize who their families are. And that doesn’t mean that our family is not important, but our church families is at least just as important. So that has reshaped my thinking about how we cultivate deep communities within our church, and how do we reap those will reap rejoice with those who rejoice, in fact, that you don’t know how much someone has to suffer to sacrifice to be part of the church. So be a family love each other. And I think the last thing, you know, it’s a full perspective in suffering. And I think we are more naturally more a Christmas people than an Easter people. And what do I mean by that? Now, it’s easiest for us to think about God with us know His peace with us. It’s comfort with us. God loves us, loves us, Emanuel, it’s much easier to think about God entering into our space. And that’s all true. But what I see more and more in the Chinese churches, the emphasis on us being with God after the resurrection. So after Jesus is crucified, he raised from the dead, He has now ascended us, Lord in heaven with God. And we have a deeper union with Him there than he has with us because we were with him and Holy Spirit. And that makes us the Easter people. And I knew that as a concept before, but now I could really see it happening, how it’s lived out in the Chinese churches. And as soon as he said, you know, gives us some hope, it gives them hope. It gives them a mission and empowers that prayers. And I think we should talk about that as much. Here in America, as we told about God’s presence with us here. Let me give you an example of how I could apply this. So last week at our church, we had a family, very dear friends of mine that had a stillborn baby at 39 weeks, very sad. And, and the whole time I was talking with them praying for them. I kept thinking about Second Samuel 12 When David lost his baby with the Bathsheba. And David said, I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. And that verse never really meant much to me, until I really understood what it meant in the context of resurrection, you know, in the context of Jesus’s resurrection, that what they’ve said is true. You know, that could be a great comfort to the family who just lost the baby, because one day they will get to behold the sun in heaven. And I lost my dad, three years ago, to lung cancer. And it’s been a great comfort to me, because I know my dad has union with God right now. And I have union with Jesus, the same union with Him. I’m just here, I’m not there yet. And one day I will be there with him. And that gives me quite a bit of hope, and also even a purpose as we grieve our loss. So how has learning from the Chinese brothers and sisters affect your spiritual growth? As he
S. E. Wang
Yeah, there are so many ways I’ve been traveling back and forth in past my 10 years, many times a year. Apparently you can see I serve them but from my heart I know God has been In serving me through them in these many years, I become a different person, I owe a lot to them. One of the nearest change, I can still remember so significant human life was in the same time, November 2000, knighting. Talking with that Pastor, I just share, I was expecting his going to complain, talk about government persecution narrative. But when I heard him saying God really uses to discipline them, refine them, and to grow them, I was seeing socially, so great shock. When they said, we repent, we love the American middle class life, we don’t love the cross. I just reflect myself, my life. I still remember when I was ordained, during the ordination ceremony, my elderly elderly father came to the stage and he says, as he I bless you, and my plan is, you will be a pastor for God in jail. He was in jail for five years, he was a pastor. And he said, My blessing to you is you will be a pastor for Lord, you in jail. I hate that blessing. I really hate that. I hate that very much. I said, you my heart, Dad, you’re just bragging Your history is not even possible. And on that spot, when I heard that Pastor saying, we are prepared to go to jail for the Lord, I repent, I pray to the Lord. I said, Lord, I’m willingly to be a pastor for you in jail. There’ll be my glory. I’m waiting me to accept my father’s blessing. At that moment, I feel free. I feel so much empowered. That’s one of the latest change to me.
Yeah, I mean, knowing and serving these men and women in China has had a profound impact on my understanding of Jesus. And I think really, apart from the study of Scripture itself, there’s probably nothing that has impacted my understanding of who Jesus is more than learning from these men and women. I think, you know, I know a lot of pastors, Chinese pastors, who will say that every Christian is called to suffer in union with Christ. And this has been very hard for me to accept thing that’s probably hard for most Christians in the West to accept. But I’ve come to really find a lot of comfort personally. In this idea, so I, I, my family, we I joke that we are COVID dislocate, ease, but basically, we were made homeless twice over in the pandemic. And so as you can imagine, it’s just been a really challenging year, we have had somewhere to live with live with family. But um, yeah, I mean, my, my sense of what I need in life, in order to be secure, and my identity has been very much challenged this last year. Being an adult with kids, and having to tell people I don’t know where I’m from, or where I live has been hard. But simultaneous while we’ve been going through this year, I’ve been editing a lot of translations of writings and sermons from house church pastors, and some of them are from a pastor named huangshi, who’s arrested and in jail for nine years. And he just he is so clear in saying that our citizenship is in heaven. It’s not on this earth. And that is our true home. And so just for me personally, as I have struggled so deeply with this question of where my home is hearing from a man who is currently in jail, telling me our Home is in heaven, you can endure through hardship on this earth because our home is in heaven has been just incredibly encouraging and helpful for me personally, as I’ve gone through this year. So I’m personally just very thankful for this time in the world when we get to hear from those in China. And we get to be bossed by their their wisdom. Any other thoughts guys? Let me pray. And then I want to tell you something before you leave. Heavenly Father, I thank you for your children in China. I think you that we have the opportunity to hear from them that we can glean from their wisdom for our weaknesses. I just pray that we will be blessed. I pray that they would be blessed. I pray that you would give them further perseverance. strengthen them as they continue to go through the challenges that they face and Revive Our Hearts from knowing them and from hearing their stories. When we pray all these things in your name, amen.