An American living in China who assists with the support and strengthening of the Chinese house church penned the following article. His words help us understand the approach of Christians in China to the persecution they face. His words challenge us Western Christians to face the difficulties we face as followers of in Christ.
The author used 1 Peter 4:1-2 as the foundation for this article: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
Chinese Christians and suffering
I have heard more than one Chinese pastor in mainland China exclaim that they do not pray for the suffering and harassment of the church in China to cease; rather, they pray that God would use it to continue to purify the church. It is important to make a point of clarification here about what Peter is not saying. He most certainly is not saying that if you suffer in the world you will automatically not have to suffer in the flesh. Rather the emphasis is clearly on arming ourselves with a mindset that in some way or another we will suffer. To put it another way, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).
American Christians and suffering
So how are you experiencing this? If you are a Christian living in America, you need to recognize you are not part of the majority. You are part of a community that is increasingly losing power. How should you respond? Should we lie down and take it? Should we power up and dominate political and legal structures to gain a voice? Peter would call to us and say that we ought to arm ourselves with an expectation that is consistent with the Christian witness of two thousand years.
Identify with the suffering
The language of arming ourselves with a mindset of suffering is ironic and strangely contradictory; yet, that is exactly what we are called to do. The phrase “arm yourselves” appeals to a military image. We are to be militant about our willingness to suffer, in a way that brings glory to Christ.
I would go as far as to say this. Unless you somehow identify with the weak, seemingly insignificant, marginalized, outnumbered posture of the church in some way, much of the Bible will make no sense to you. Some of the Psalms we read seem so foreign as we read the Psalmist’s imprecatory words of judgment on God’s enemy. They only make sense when we connect with the sentiment of a beleaguered, powerless, rag-tag, group of people who have no hope of surviving; whose only hope is to call on the sovereign Lord of the universe to save them.
One of the blessings of working with the house church in China is that they are a marginalized, disadvantaged community. At the same time, they are a growing and influential community. So much so that both Christian and non-Christian journalists and scholars cannot ignore the impact the church is having.
The teenage Chinese church
As a result of my own ethnographic interviews, church leaders have identified themselves as a “teenager” in comparison with what is going on in the church globally. A teenager that is eager to learn, but sometimes cocky about what they know. A teenager that is growing fast, but needs to learn how to govern themselves through wisdom. They admit they have much to learn.
But our “teenager” brothers and sisters in China also have something to teach the rest of the world. They know of suffering in the shadow of the cross. With them, it is time we all grow in our understanding of the theology of the cross and of Peter’s words: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.”