Post-Pandemic, Will China’s Church Be Changed Forever?

Each day, Aaron Zhang—all names in this story are pseudonyms—wakes up and helps his two children get ready for their day. His oldest is in elementary school, and like a growing number of other Chinese Christian families, their family homeschools.

Last year, they were dreaming about overseas mission work. Zhang even quit his job to prepare. But now, with restrictions tight, the family can’t obtain or renew passports. Their goal of being missionaries is on hold indefinitely.

These are difficult days for Chinese believers, and darker days loom. On February 1, 2020, harsh new regulations overseeing every aspect of faith practice went into effect across China. These completed a spate of regulations initially rolled out in 2018.

But during the 2020 rollout, the government’s attention was diverted: one week before, Wuhan was locked down. Chinese society entered a season of intense quarantine and separation.

More than a year later, life in China remains somewhat bizarre, yet largely functional. But there may be no return to normalcy for the church.

Restrictions

The new restrictions require Chinese Communist Party oversight for every measure of religious life—staffing, fund management, gatherings. China’s unofficial churches, known as house churches, have operated in recent decades in an ambiguous space: they have rented public space, welcomed visitors, and been open about some of their activities, all without official government sanction. The February restrictions effectively close that era of semi-openness.

In China, there may be no return to normalcy for the church.

More ominously, these measures specify that all religious activity within China must promote and support the Chinese Communist Party.

“I think a lot of the churches could disappear,” said S. E. Wang of China Partnership. Still, “God is leading the way forward. This pandemic . . . is not the beginning of the end; it is the end of the beginning.”

Short-Term Opportunities

Even before COVID-19, a lot of Chinese house churches couldn’t meet face to face.

“Persecution prepared the Chinese church to face this pandemic, because it forced churches to close their public meeting places,” said Simon Liu, a pastor who trains unregistered church planters.

All religious activity within China must promote and support the Chinese Communist Party.

Since the pandemic, Chinese pastors have held online crusades. These are not intended to replace Sunday worship, but to preach the good news and unite disconnected Christians. And they require courage: the evening’s preacher must be willing to show his face to a non-vetted crowd, which can be dangerous.

“The risk is there, but I think more and more see opportunity,” Liu said.

The online meetings average 1,000 to 2,000 direct connections. One northeastern Chinese pastor began his message this way: “The Christian hope lies in this—we are not stronger or purer than others, but rather than believing in ourselves, we believe in Jesus, who upholds us whenever we fall, who strengthens us when our strength is drained, who loves us when we are in pain.”

Christians have invited their family and friends, but also have asked their enemies. “Some people have even invited their local police,” Liu said. “The persecuting parties feel like they are also vulnerable: ‘Maybe I could get this virus. Maybe I will die. . . . You are not afraid of death, so maybe something in your faith is quite unique.’”

Persecution prepared the Chinese church to face this pandemic.

Believers have also done what they can to serve and care, whether next door or around the world. Chinese social media were replete with stories of Christians donating masks and caring for quarantined neighbors.

A Chinese Christian in New York received nearly 6,000 masks from mainland Chinese Christians at the beginning of the pandemic. Those masks came in small packs of 100 or 200, from Chinese brothers and sisters who reported it took as many as nine hours to obtain and ship one such small package.

Long-Term Worries

Even while leaning into short-term opportunities, Chinese pastors see problems ahead. The pandemic likely ushered in the beginning of a new reality.

In the United States, churches radically altered the life of their bodies to conform to pandemic norms. Although some of those modifications will remain, most American churches have already returned to worshiping together. In China, things may not ever revert to pre-pandemic days.

“This is not short term,” Wang said. “Even if the pandemic is over, the public space has been squeezed very small for the churches to gather. There is no public space for people to go back to.”

He’s referring to tightening government controls, which mean house churches will no longer be able to rent commercial space for corporate worship, as many have been doing.

In China, things may not ever revert to pre-pandemic days. . . . ‘There is no public space for people to go back to.’

Private space is also tightly controlled. These days, nervous neighbors are more likely to report a gathering of 20 strangers. “Basically, you cannot have larger than two families, or three,” Wang said. “That will be a new norm for Chinese churches.”

“The Devil is using this opportunity to crack down on the church, that’s for sure, but God will use it in a different way,” one Chinese pastor said. Before persecution intensified in the last several years, many in China were attracted to the celebrity-pastor model. Gifted teachers attracted national and even international followings.

This new normal means less elevation of central leaders and a sharper focus on smaller groups. As Christian communities are broken down into smaller clusters through plague and persecution, church leaders must raise up a new generation of local leaders equipped to walk their people through marriages, deaths, and family conflicts.

Much of the training has to be indigenous: many missionaries were driven out of mainland China last year. Even after the pandemic ends, the number of overseas workers ministering in China will be much smaller than before the pandemic.

To that end, preparing capable teachers remains a priority.

“Even if today everything is going down, all of a sudden the door could open widely,” Wang said. “It is our responsibility to make that start to happen, so that when the door opens, a group of ready preachers can go to the streets and stadiums and preach the gospel.”

Pandemic and Persecution

The book of James is clear that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Life is a mist that appears and then vanishes.

“The pandemic and the persecution have led to a new situation,” one Chinese pastor said. “We still do a lot of active planning, but more humbly we say, ‘Lord, if you are willing: this is your time. Use it.’ . . . We don’t know what the future holds.”

Chinese Christians have watched God work in uncertain times before. During the Cultural Revolution, believers were forced underground for decades, and many Western observers despaired at the church’s future. But in the 1980s, the Chinese church experienced an explosive period of growth. Today, there may be as many as 100 million Chinese believers.

“Sometimes we feel like God is pretty close to these things; sometimes we feel like God is pretty far,” Liu said. “But we know that everything is under his control, and he is behind everything. Whatever happens is God’s way to prepare his church. He is always preparing his church.”

Aaron Zhang agrees. “Through uncertainty, we depend on our certain God,” he said. “God calls us to live an uncertain life, so that we can trust and rely on him.”

The first gay Captain America is coming: 4 ways to care for our children and our future

Jim Denison

Aaron Fischer is coming to comic books in June. Part of the “United States of Captain America” series, he is the “Captain America of the Railways,” protecting runaways and homeless youth. He is also openly gay. The comic featuring him will be published in June for Pride Month.

My point is not that the first LGBTQ-identifying Captain America will soon enter popular culture. Nor is it that we should be shocked, or that we should be shocked if we’re not shocked. It is that introducing a gay Captain America in a comic book aimed at youth is nothing if not strategic. 

In other news, the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard University, has officially recognized polyamory. It is the second city in the state to do so. The Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition gave input concerning the change in Cambridge and hopes that it “will be a wave of legal recognition for polyamorous families and relationships in 2021.” 

Meanwhile, a Canadian father was jailed for contempt of court after publicly objecting to his young daughter taking testosterone. A judge earlier warned him that if he did not affirm his daughter as male, he would be implicated in the criminal offense of “family violence.” 

“That the next generation might know” 

Let’s think about what these stories mean not for the present but for the future. 

Comic books normalizing and glorifying gay characters are strategically intended to persuade our children and grandchildren in intuitive and emotive ways. Polyamory proponents want a world in which children are brought up in polyamorous families and thus accept such relationships as normal and healthy. Courts that threaten parents who oppose their children’s gender transitions send signals far beyond the parents themselves. 

Just as proponents of the sexual revolution intend to impact future generations with their version of sexual morality, so we must do the same. Such thinking is not only strategic for God’s people—it is biblical. 

In words that could have been written last week, the psalmist reported that God “established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psalm 78:5–7). This was so “they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God” (v. 8). 

The only way the next generation will not follow this generation’s slide into moral relativism and decadence is if you and I act strategically and courageously to change their spiritual trajectory.  

Four biblical responses 

What are some biblical ways we can use our influence to intervene for the sake of our children and their children? 

The first is obvious: defend the unborn. 

In the face of plans to expand federal funding for abortion, it is vital that we stand and pray for life at its most perilous stage in our culture. The psalmist testified: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). Ronald Reagan was right: “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.” 

Second, defend girls and women. 

Female athletessurvivors of domestic violence, and civil rights for women and girls are all at greater risk because of recent governmental actions and the so-called Equality Act. God made “male and female” equally in his image (Genesis 1:27). We should pray and work for equality and opportunities for both. 

Third, defend our children from immorality in our culture. 

The most recent Grammy Awards featured immorality I will not describe here. The good news is that advocates for sexual abuse survivors were quick to protest the show’s promotion of prostitution and pornography. We are called to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18) and should do all we can to protect our children from the decadence of our culture. 

Fourth, defend freedom of speech in our schools. 

According to a recent report, 62 percent of college students surveyed “agreed the climate on their campus prevents students from saying things they believe.” The “Civics Secures Democracy Act,” educational legislation recently introduced in Congress, has been described as “a massive boondoggle in support of politicizing students and teaching them to trade away equality and individual liberty for identity politics” and “imposing a de facto national curriculum on the states.” The author calls this challenge “the greatest education battle of our lifetimes.” We are to “live as people who are free” and extend this freedom wherever we can (1 Peter 2:16). 

A prayer worth praying every day 

We will say much more about these priorities in the future. For today, let’s close with a familiar prayer that has become very special to me in recent weeks. 

You’ve no doubt seen a famous prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi; it has been set to music and published in a wide variety of media over the years. I have begun praying it every day, slowly and with attention to each word, and have found it to be encouraging and empowering. I invite you to pray these words intentionally with me today and in the days to come: 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

Originally published at the Denison Forum 

Adapted from Dr. Jim Denison’s daily cultural commentary at www.denisonforum.org. Jim Denison, Ph.D., is a cultural apologist, building a bridge between faith and culture by engaging contemporary issues with biblical truth. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture in February 2009 and is the author of seven books, including “Radical Islam: What You Need to Know.” For more information on the Denison Forum, visit www.denisonforum.org. To connect with Dr. Denison in social media, visit www.twitter.com/jimdenison or www.facebook.com/denisonforum. Original source: www.denisonforum.org.

Christian behind massage parlor mass shooting had ‘sexual addiction’ – police




Robert Aaron Long, 21(Photo: Crisp County Sheriff’s Office)

Christian mass shooter Robert Aaron Long, 21, told police he was addicted to pornography and was trying to eliminate “temptation” when he shot up three massage parlors in the Atlanta area, killing eight people who were mostly Asian women Tuesday evening, and was planning to shoot up more parlors in Florida.

“We did interview him last night. He is currently in our facility at the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center,” Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said at a press conference Wednesday. “He made indicators that he has some issues, potentially sexual addiction, and may have frequented some of these places in the past.”

Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department said Long, who attended Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Georgia, a Southern Baptist congregation, “did take responsibility for the shootings” and dismissed reports that his actions were racially motivated.

“He does claim that it was not racially motivated. He apparently has an issue with what he considers a sex addiction and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places. It’s a temptation for him he wanted to eliminate,” Baker said. “Those are comments that he made.”

Baker explained that investigators handling the case said Long understood the gravity of his actions on Tuesday.

“He was pretty much fed up and kinda at the end of his rope, and I guess it was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” Baker said. “These locations, he sees them as an outlet for him, something he shouldn’t be doing. … He had an issue with porn and he was attempting to take out that temptation.”

He added: “It may be targets of opportunity. We believe that he frequented these places in the past and may have been lashing out.”

Authorities say four people died in Long’s shooting spree during his first attack at Young’s Asian Massage near Acworth, a northwest suburb of Atlanta, which was reported around 5 p.m. A Hispanic man was also injured there.

Atlanta police officers then responded to what was reported as a robbery at Gold Spa (open 24 hours a day) in the northeast part of the city at 5:47 p.m., where they found the bodies of three women with gunshot wounds. While officers were at that scene, they received a call about shots fired at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street, where they found another woman’s body.

Police confirmed Wednesday that two of the eight people killed are white.

As police shared the new details on Long’s motives, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, “we certainly will not begin to blame victims.”

“We don’t know additional information on what his motives were, but we certainly will not begin to blame victims. And as far as we know in Atlanta, these are legally operating businesses that have not been on our radar, not on the radar of APD,” Lance Bottoms said.

Baker said Long, who appeared to have used a 9mm firearm in his attack on the massage parlors, told police he was on his way to Florida to shoot up more massage parlors.

Thanks to the help of his family, they were able to track him through his cellphone and stop him before he was able to take more lives.

“We are really appreciative of the family. Without them, this would not have happened as quickly as it happened. They are very supportive and certainly, this was difficult for them,” Baker said.

Long, who was twice baptized at Crabapple First Baptist Church, most recently in 2018, previously attended services with his mother, father and younger sister. Police said that at the time of the shootings, Long was not living with his parents.

Minutes from a meeting of the elders at the church showed that, in 2018, Long was one of 11 people who served as members of Crabapple First Baptist Church’s Student Ministry Team, which “exists to see students receive Jesus Christ as Lord, and walk in Him, being rooted in the faith.”

Jerry Dockery, the lead teaching elder at the church, prayed last Sunday that God would use his church to have leaders in various areas of the public and private sector “drawn toward you.”

“We pray that Lord, our leaders, our first responders, our teachers, our business leaders to have their eyes and hearts drawn toward you. You’d make Yourself known in this community in a very powerful, personal way. We ask that you use Crabapple Church to bring this to pass,” he said.

Asked by The Christian Post on Wednesday to share his thoughts on Long’s faith and any possible explanation for what could have driven Long to carry out the shootings, Dockery said: “We are grieved to hear the tragic news about the multiple deaths in the Atlanta area. We are heartbroken for all involved. We grieve for the victims and their families and will continue to pray for them. Moreover, we are distraught for the Long family and pray for them as well.”

Courtesy of The Christian Post




Ohio Christian schools sue over school closures: ‘Faith-based instruction is an act of worship’

Aaron Baer, president of Citizens for Community Values, addresses the lawsuit the Ohio Christian Education Network filed against the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department over its mandate that all secondary schools in the area close for six weeks to curb the spread of coronavirus, Dec. 8, 2020. | YouTube/Citizens for Community Values

A group of Ohio Christian schools filed a lawsuit against their local health department over its order to close all schools serving students in grades seven through 12 for six weeks to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The Ohio Christian Education Network, which describes itself as “a coalition of schools and community members who stand for freedom in education and want to support initiatives that prevent the government from intruding on the right of Christian schools to teach Gospel-centered principles,” joined with three Christian schools to file the lawsuit in federal court against the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, alleging that the blanket school closures violate the freedom to worship guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“For many parents, teachers, and private school administrators, providing faith-based instruction is an act of worship,” the complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, says.

“First Amendment freedoms don’t go on a holiday break,” said Aaron Baer, president of Citizens for Community Values, which operates the Ohio Christian Education Network. “The Lucas County Health Department has not only violated the religious liberty rights of Christian schools and students by denying them the right to provide religious instruction, but they’ve threatened the mental health and futures of Lucas County children.”

Baer accused the Lucas County Health Department of abiding by double standards when it comes to coronavirus restrictions: “Despite all the medical evidence and experts that continue to say one of the safest places for children to be is in school, Lucas County has taken aggressive action to deny children the right to in-person education. Meanwhile, they’ve let casinos, strip clubs, liquor stores, and concerts continue. We cannot sit idly by while children and freedoms are being harmed.”

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The complaint references comments made by Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, who asserted that “the truth is, for kids K-12, one of the safest places they can be, from our perspective, is to remain in school,” describing it as “counterproductive … from a public health point of view, just in containing the epidemic, if there was an emotional response to say, ‘Let’s close the schools.’”

Baer elaborated on his concerns in a video published Tuesday: “This order is a direct affront to our First Amendment religious liberties. These schools are not just about forming children in their academic performance but also forming them in the image of God, teaching them religious instruction. It’s interwoven in everything they do, in all of their classes, just like our faith is for all Christians.”

Brian Fox, attorney for the Ohio Christian Education Network, wrote a letter to Eric Zgodzinski, secretary of the Lucas County Regional Health Board of Directors, on Nov. 30, four days before the six-week ban on secondary education was slated to take effect. He urged the board to reconsider its decision to mandate the closure of secondary schools and offered the opportunity to resolve the concerns of his clients without resorting to legal action.

“Well-intended as the restrictions may be, the Resolution is unconstitutional because it lacks a narrowly tailored, compelling governmental interest to violate the First Amendment rights of Member Schools to freely exercise their religion,” Fox wrote.

“If the resolution is enforced through January 11th, Member Schools will be effectively barred from: (i) providing daily in-person mentorship and training of religious values for several grade levels (inarguably less effective in a virtual context), (ii) engaging in corporate prayer throughout the day, (iii) collectively sharing musical worship and communal recognition, and (iv) spiritually encouraging and praying for individual students (who may be profoundly suffering through the isolation of this pandemic,” he warned.

Fox maintained that “each of these religious rights and responsibilities is sacred to Member Schools and the families who choose private religious education, and – as a consequence – are guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

He further cited numerous studies detailing “the profound negative consequences forced quarantine and isolation causes among their demographic” as part of the plea to convince the health department to reconsider its decision.

“Across the country, this age group has seen exponential increases in severe depression, anxiety disorders, suicide attempts, substance abuse problems, and mental health-related pediatric emergency department visits,” he said, while pointing to the schools as a source of students’ “purpose, faith, and abiding hope.”

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