Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Things the North American Church Can Learn from the Global Church

I have tried to make it a practice over the past few years to read at least one book each year by a Christian writer from a non-American/European background. I have read So Great a Salvation: Soteriology in the Majority World,   a collection of essays on soteriology by Asian, African, and Latin American scholars. I also read Un Testimonio Visible: Cristología, Liberación, y Participación by Jules Martinez-Olivieri, a Puerto Rican theologian.

This week, I finished Faithful Disobedience: Writings on Church and State from a Chinese House Church Movement, a collection of essays and sermons by Wang Yi and other Chinese house church leaders. The steadfastness and resilience of these brothers and sisters, and their refusal to compromise even in the face of repeated, suffocating persecution, is inspiring and convicting at the same time.

<<One thing I want to point out in particular is that the greatest impact of this change on the church is that for the past two hundred years, the gospel preached by the church has increasingly ignored Colossians 1:15-17 and only preached Colossians 1:18-20. In other words, we no longer preach a cosmic Christ and his eternal reign but only the salvation of Christ on the cross. The church has even developed a sophisticated theological narrative and communication skills that avoid preaching verses 15 to 17 and focus only on verses 18 to 20. We have altered the gospel of the church into a quasi-gospel under the monstrous sovereign state. This is why we can preach the gospel to individuals, but it is difficult to preach the gospel to the nation. We find it difficult to tell a nation as a whole that you are wrong, you are not the supreme, external, or unrestrained sovereign entity to the universe but only an administrator who is temporarily allowed to exist by God and under God.>>
 -- pp. 185-186

The church must recover its prophetic voice, not only when it comes to issues of personal liberty and individual rights, but also when it comes to confronting structures and systems that degrade people made in God's image.

<<In the movie "Hacksaw Ridge," Desmond Doss would not use a weapon because of his faith. How did people know that what he said was true? They beat him and saw how he reacted. If, after being hit, he got angry and hit back, what he was talking about wasn't real. But if, after being bullied continuously, he still kept saying the same things, then what he said was true, or at least he believed it was true.>> 
-- p. 206

When faced with mockery, derision, and even physically violent persecution, do we lash out and fight back (or possibly contract someone to fight for us, so we don't "get our hands dirty" and can thus sanctimoniously maintain our claims to innocence)? Or do we demonstrate that we really believe what we claim to believe, and follow the way of the Lamb? "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." Acts 5:41

One of the reasons I have heard given for the explosive growth of the church in Iran is the very fact that the government is going everything it can to stamp out Christianity. The fact that the restrictive Islamic government so strongly opposes Christianity makes young people who are disillusioned with the current system ask, "What do these Christians have that makes the government so hostile to them? If an evil regime is so opposed to the church, maybe there's some truth to be found there." Thousands upon thousands are coming to faith in Christ, not because of massive evangelistic crusades or media campaigns, but because of a lived-out witness that proves the veracity of the faith claims of believers.

<<If God decides to use the persecution of this Communist regime against the church to help more Chinese people to despair of their futures, to lead them through a wilderness of spiritual disillusionment and through this to make them know Jesus, if through persecution he continues disciplining and building up his church, then I am joyfully willing to submit to God's plans, for his plans are always benevolent and good.>> 
-- p. 224

May we learn, through the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit, and from the example set by our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, to look beyond our present personal situation to the bigger picture of God's eternal kingdom. 

"Christ is Lord. Grace is king. Bear the cross. Keep the faith." -- Pastor Wang Yi

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