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For six months, Beijing’s 1,000-member Shouwang Church has attempted to hold outdoor services after officials blocked them from taking possession of a $4 million property. Today, the church’s leaders are under house arrest. Any church member who shows up at the park designated for Sunday services is arrested.
The Chinese government only allows Christian services in state-approved churches where evangelism is forbidden, sermons are pre-approved by the Communist Party, children are barred, and pastors who succeed in boosting attendance beyond a few elderly find themselves demoted to serve under compliant pastors at remote, rural congregations.
Shouwang refused to seek state approval or would not cooperate with any of the other restritions — and thus came under the intense measures that continue. It would appear that the Chinese government has won. Not so, writes Liu Guan, an elder in the church, in a letter smuggled out of China. Here is his letter:
by Liu Guan
special to Beliefnet
Lately, the Shouwang’s outdoor service event has caused hot debate inside and outside the church, and has brought great shock to each person who is involved. I believe that it has much greater impact and influence even than the outdoor service event and the purchase of the gathering place of ShouWang in 2009. In my opinion, ultimately, this event won’t have substantial influence on one’s work, life, school, career, and ministry, but it will have substantial influence on one’s inner spiritual life. It is a real spiritual warfare, and is not a game! It is too early to comment on this event since we are still in the process, but I do have some observations to share with you.
The great switch in the trajectory of Gospel proclamation in China: the development in the dynamics of target people group in evangelization.
I come to this conclusion from analyzing the dynamics of the explosive development of evangelization among different people groups in China since the reform and opening up. This trajectory of Gospel proclamation can be pictured as:
1979-1989 Vast Peasantry
1989-1999 Intellectuals and Professionals
1999-2009 Entrepreneurs and Business People
2009-2019 Government Officials
The first phase: the entire 1980s
During this decade, China had a huge economic development in the countryside. At the same time, churches suffered from persecutions succeeded from the Culture Revolution, and ministers were scattered to different areas throughout the country. Christianity thus thrived in rural areas throughout China, which was marked by the building up of rural churches and the establishment of several national team-based churches. Both my parents and my grandfather came to faith during that period.
The second phase started from early 1990s
A large amount of intellectuals were called to be full time ministers, and they started to establish fellowships and plant churches. Although they were called “the third trend” (which means that they neither belong to the official Three-Self system, nor belong to traditional house church or team-based church) for a while, they come to be a main force of Chinese church due to their similar explosive development as the rural church in the 1980s; they soon get recognition and respect from mainstream house church. The establishment of these churches brings energy to urban churches and ushers in formal institution and system. This type of church usually has a formal name, a set of faith statements, an internal church management system, a formal pastoral office and team, a relatively transparent and open spiritual environment, and strict church discipline. It thus becomes a new and more mature platform for Chinese church to handle the relationship of state and church in this new era.
The third phase
After entering the 21st century, a large group of entrepreneurs and businessmen came to the Lord, and began to join the building up of the church and urban gospel ecosystem; they contributed greatly in terms of financial resources for different types of churches. There are several landmark events:
1. In 2008, churches and Christian organizations gave Wenchuang great financial support as the earthquake hit that area;
2. Shouwang church raised 27 million RMB (US $4 million) in nine months for purchasing a gathering place, mainly from the congregation;
3. During the preparation for the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, Chinese delegates, volunteers, and delegates of some neighboring countries received great financial support from entrepreneurs. No matter whether the church wants to make it public or whether the government wants to admit it, these are undeniable facts.
The fourth phase
Since 2009, out of our expectation, God used an unusual way to bring the Gospel to people who work for the government; the Gospel is proclaimed “by force” among them through administrative means by the government itself. This can be traced back to the event of Shouwang’s outdoor service and purchasing a gathering place in 2009. The government gave administrative orders, asking government officials of Beijing Municipal government to take issues related to churches into concern. Therefore, from the end of 2009 to early 2010, a large amount of grass-root cadres of Beijing Municipal government first learned about Christianity and the Gospel at Shouwang Church in a passive way.
This kind of dialogue is different from the scene happened between government officials and ministers in rural areas in the 1980s when these ministers were persecuted; it was relatively carried in a rational and peaceful way, with a few exceptions who threatened believers. According to a government official in early 2010, almost 4,000 people who work in the government were involved in this process.
Another event happened in October, 2010, when Chinese delegates were prevented from attending the third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town. During this process, another big group of grass-root cadres, following administrative orders, had an “intimate contact” with Chinese house church leaders. On the day I was stopped at the airport, seven government cadres took me home. And on my way home, I shared the ABC’s of Christianity with them. Other delegates also got to communicate with their local government officials in different ways. No matter how these communications happened, in a positive way or in a negative way, they are of great values.
As I have said many times early this year, the third time to proclaim the Gospel to this group of people started as Shouwang’s gathering place event further develops; and the congregation of Shouwang is used by God again to evangelize the group of government officials (but we did not expect that it would be in the form of having outdoor service).
There is a concept of “UPG-Unreached People Groups” in missiology. In China, minorities belong to UPG, the emerging “Ant Family” in cities belongs to UPG, and there are also other people groups belong to this category. From my perspective, the biggest UPG in China is the group of people who work in government.
Therefore, when I see titles like “the residential committee started to move,” “the job description and the limit of authority of police station,” “another visitors,” I am amazed by the way in which God works!
I want to remind believers whom are visited by government officials: they are brought to us by God, and they are the fields for the Gospel.
Where shall we go to find UPG? What a better opportunity can we have to share faith with these government leaders and with our neighbors? Please remember that they are our neighbors! Do not forget this just because they seem to have an opposite standing. They are not our enemies! Our real enemy is the devil Satan, who wants to prevent the proclamation of the good news of salvation! Do not take those who work in government as our enemies! From a spiritual perspective, they are the disadvantaged! They need our love, care, and help, and they have family, children, and conscience!
Therefore, I suggest that, on the one hand, we pray for ourselves so that we can face God with no shame, and face our choice with peace, and on the other hand, we pray for wisdom from God, so that we can face government officials, our co-workers, residential committee staff, and even police, with love. We need to know that they are not doing this legally.
The issue of “subject to the governing authorities” is a pseudo-proposition in this context, since none of them is able to represent the government to show us an official legal procedure or document. Their actions are no more than a threat. We also need to know that none of them has the power and authority of deciding our lives; they are brought to us by God through this special way to hear the Gospel. Therefore, we need to argue for our standing and to point out that their illegal actions are mere threats, and we also need to equip ourselves to proclaim the Gospel and to explain our faith to them.
On the outdoor worship service issue
Believers and even some co-workers hold different attitudes and opinions on “outdoor worship service.” Some of them have mature response after communicating with us, but some do not respond it properly. As a brother who has served in church for many years, I want to show my deep concern for them, and give them necessary warnings.
In the past few years as I serve in church, I have seen people hurting each other due to different opinions, and the worst thing is that those differentiations are not controversies on truth, but are mere differences on detailed practice. It even hurts to see that in such a process, due to our weakness and limit, we often argue for ourselves and fight with each other by using a long list of “spiritual truth,” which are often mocked by outsiders.
And we need to reflect and examine ourselves if there is further action resulting from such a differentiation.