“China has declared war on faith,” U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom Sam Brownback said in June. In the latest Report on International Religious Freedom, he called out the country for firing Protestants because of their faith, shutting down Christian churches, and arresting church leaders.
For many American evangelicals, China’s reality is their biggest fear. Yet our Chinese brothers and sisters remind us that though marginalization is not something to seek, it cannot stop the advance of God’s kingdom. The power of perseverance comes from the Holy Spirit, not from social position or privilege.
We recently asked four Chinese house church pastors what we should know about loving our cities from the margins. (These aren’t their real names.)
Hold Out the Gospel
Only the power of the gospel can enable churches to continue loving the city from the cultural sidelines. And rather than making churches impotent, the call to suffer with Jesus is empowering.
Though serious persecution is on the rise in China, most encounters look more like softer harassment. Pastor Li is called into the police station for questioning one or two times a year.
“In the beginning, sometimes your heart is very nervous because they are shouting and yelling at you,” he said. “So you are frightened. But you believe in the gospel.” Local officials ask questions about the church, about connections with other churches, and about work with foreigners. “They criticize you. They say, ‘You are so bad.’”
Criticism is something to which American evangelicals can relate. But where the American church often responds to criticism by straining to demonstrate relevance, Li responds by seeking a gospel connection.
“I told the police, ‘I am a sinner. I am bad. I am really bad,’” he said. “‘But God loves me, God saved me.’”
Love Your Enemies
Li experienced a breakthrough the last time he was interrogated. The interview went late into the night, and the officers’ wives and children started calling them on their cell phones.