The title of this piece is meant to sound provocative but the fact is that the recent policy changes in China (Sept 2017) that have been implemented (Feb 2018) have had a dramatic effect on both the Chinese Church (mostly the house church) in Mainland China as well as the foreign missionary community. Scores of missionaries have left China or have been forced out (I am among the latter) through revoked visas, boarder entry refusals with some of these accompanied by interrogation and even detainment. For our Chinese brothers and sisters in the house church, many have seen their meeting venues for Sunday worship forcibly blocked which has caused a large number of churches to break up into smaller home gatherings.
Reports are mixed with respect to how people are weathering these storms. Some are doing better than others but everyone is on the lookout for what will happen next. I would like to recognize that this is not universal. Some cities and towns report relatively little repression while other cities have seen heavy handed actively with church leaders in detention for up to seven months without a court trial, as in the case with Pastor Wang Yi, the pastor of Early Rain in Chengdu. Even in the cities where repression is heavier not all churches experience the same level of pressure. I have heard from pastors in Chengdu that have experienced relatively little in the way of repression.
Nonetheless, large scale persecution and repression has become the new norm in China and it cannot be denied. While the church may not be defined solely by this narrative of suffering, it is clearly the case that it is alive, well and quite real. It is still a factor in how the house church identifies and defines herself.
It is not my goal is this small piece to argue this case in particular but rather acknowledge it in the face of those attempts to downplay this important element. The 反送中 (fan song Zhong) movement in Hong Kong and the churches involvement in this highlight the heavy hand that the CCP in playing in the Chinese society.
Acknowledging this fact, I would like to simply ask a question. Since we believe that God is sovereign what is his plan and how will he use these recent troubling changes that President Xi has made? From the human perspective we can only guess but it seems likely that things will unfold and become clearer over time. However, for now it is painful to walk with our friends from a distance (for many of us) who are going through difficulties. Many of us have been forcibly removed from both relationships with our expat co-workers, Chinese church partners and even our possessions. God, what are you doing?
While answers may not be entirely clear we at least know one thing for sure. In redemptive history and in the history of the church, when God’s people are forcibly scattered, the ultimate result is church growth. In 2012 the then Editor of The Economist, John Micklethwait described why he believed China would become the world’s biggest Christian country (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7atox9HWFw) within a few years. In his commentary he described one of the reasons for the growth in Christianity in China which included the dispersing of larger gatherings into smaller groups. One can’t help but thinking about Acts 8:1 (“And Saul was there, giving approval to [Stephen’s] death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”) Luke follows up this statement in 8:4 by noting that those who were scattered began preaching wherever they went.
Both in the dispersed missionary community (many missionaries that had formerly served in China are relocating to other countries to continue their missionary service) and among China’s local house churches, who are forming small groups, we see the potential for a greater impact for the kingdom. This was not any one person’s particular plan but isn’t that how we see God working throughout history, time and time again.