We Know What We Fight For, Part 1: I Have to Be Accountable Before My Lord
Editor’s note: Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors thinking about writing about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.
This two-part series focuses on the current state of the Chinese church, a situation that is very much in flux with recent tightening of regulations and increased pressure on believers and churches across the nation. Check back on Thursday for part two.
I am honored to share about the state of the Chinese church. Through different channels, you may already know some of what is happening: it is quite complicated.
In different areas, there is persecution in different forms. In Beijing, they shut down one of the biggest house churches in the city. In Henan Province, they are taking down crosses, and have tried to close and shut down a lot of churches. In southern China, a church I know has been assailed and officially shut down. In my presbytery, a mission church was officially shut down, and they have had to find another place to gather for worship. As we look at these things, we will see: what is the real interest and primary goal of the government?
My family has just finished a three-month sabbatical in the U.S. Just a few weeks before we came to the States, several governmental departments had a serious talk with me. Since graduating from seminary, I have served in China for more than a decade. I’m an old player in this field; I have experience dealing with different levels of authorities. But this time, they are taking it very seriously.
As we talked, I figured out there are three major things about which they are concerned.
The first is that they want us to be registered under the Three Self Patriotic Movement, in the religious bureau. The government cannot tolerate such a big group, the house church, that is out of their control. The question they asked me is very funny. They asked, “Do you want to recognize the leadership of the Communist Party or not?” Later, they asked, “Do you want to accept the leadership of the government or not?”
I said, “You mentioned two things: the Communist Party and the government. According to my understanding, those are different. Of course, we respect your authority. In past years, every time you have come we have respected you, talked with you, and answered any questions. But if you ask us to register in the Three Self movement, we are done with this kind of talk. Since the first day I was ordained as a house church minister, I have been ready to pay the price for my faith. If some day you come to take me, you are welcome to do that. I don’t hate you —really — but I have to be accountable before my Lord.”
The second concern is children’s education. In my church, we have a church school. During the Sunday service we have over one hundred children, so they ask about this. My answer is, “All Christian parents are willing to pay the price for this. One day we will be accountable before God for how we raise our children. Not just me as the pastor, but all these parents want to raise their children in the Christian way.”
The third concern for them is foreign connections. The authorities checked with me: “Do you accept money from overseas? What are the main organizations you work with?” They always think of things from a political perspective, but for Christians, it doesn’t matter what nation we live in: we are one family. That is what scripture says, and that is what we believe. Just as they may have relatives in another country, so I have relatives [in Christ] around the world.
The authorities tried to warn me, and they asked me to lay low. Some of you may know we issued a joint statement several months ago. I signed it. I assume that, after I return to China, they will come to talk with me about this. In recent weeks, most of the other ministers in our presbytery have already been summoned to talk about their signing of the joint statement.
I have served in China for a decade and a half. As I look back at these past years, how do we understand what is happening now? What are the characteristics of this round of persecution? First, this is a national campaign regarding Christianity. In the past, most operations were on the regional or district level, while this is a national campaign. Second, the government has upgraded the handling of religious affairs to the national security level.
Ten years ago was the first time I encountered national security. That year, they tried to shut down our church. I talked to them directly and spoke with the guy who was in charge. They set up meetings for me with the people in charge of our case. In those years, I felt they were very sensitive: they did not want to make a small thing into a big thing. They did not want a local thing to become well known across the nation or even internationally.
Now they no longer care. For years, I never posted their antics on the Internet. But last Christmas, they were harassing our evangelism meeting. You know what the guy told me? “If you want to post it, post it.” This means that since religious affairs have been raised to a national security level, they no longer care about their image in the international community. In the past, if you did not speak too much about certain Party leaders, they would leave you alone. They wanted to make peace with us. But now, that is not good enough. They want us to speak out loudly, to say, “I love the Party.”
That is why they have put so much effort on education, shutting down Christian schools and checking teachers to find out whether they are Christians. In some areas they have asked students to fill out forms confirming they do not have religious faith. They are checking, one by one, because they consider this to be a national security issue. They do not just want people to leave the Communist Party alone. They need everyone to say, “We love the Party; we want to stand with the Party.”
The more I reflect and pray, the more I consider this to be spiritual warfare. Why? Because some things, a lot of things, cannot be rationally understood. For instance, in 2014 the government took down crosses from churches in Zhejiang Province. In the beginning, they planned to handle the issue in six months. But, because the churches fought this, after a year and a half they had only taken down about one-third of their goal. They spent a lot of money, a lot of manpower, and got a bad name in the international community. Usually the Communist Party is very good at calculating the cost. The government operates by trying something in a specific region as an experiment. If it is successful, they apply it to other areas. But the 2014 removal of crosses in Zhejiang was definitely a failure. Still, they took it to Henan, Jiangxi, and other places.
In [our city], they even surveyed hospital doctors to find out whether the doctors had religious faith. According to the common sense of the people, everyone knows Christian doctors are good doctors, responsible doctors! But now, if you are a Christian, perhaps you cannot be put in an important position. It is ridiculous; it is not rational. That is why this is actually spiritual warfare. We can see the Lord’s work in China over the past years, the tremendous growth of the church, the seminaries, the church planting movements. It has drawn their attention.