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.”

Healing the Relationships Broken by 2020

Healing the Relationships Broken by 2020


BreakPoint.org

I’m ready to make a prediction about the 2020 election. I realize it’s a bit late, though I am comforted by the fact I cannot be more off than the polls were. For the record, this isn’t a prediction about whether or not President Trump will concede or succeed in returning to the Oval Office, or even about what will happen in the very important Georgia Senate run-offs.

No, this is a prediction I thought about making months ago, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to articulate it. Even so, I’m ready to predict that many people are going to regret how they talked about and treated others over the last year or more.

Christians, especially, will regret how this election has ended deep and important alliances and, even, friendships. We are going to regret things we posted and tweeted. We are going to regret ways in which we questioned motives or even character. We are going to regret placing so much weight on a set of political outcomes that certainly matter, but not nearly as much as it felt like at the time.

It’s not just the election. Disagreements over mask mandates, lockdown orders, and other aspects of pandemic frustration have broken up families, churches, and friendships. I predict there will be a good bit of self-reckoning in the future, looking back at words we allowed ourselves, and wondering, “Was it really worth all that?”

Don’t get me wrong, all of these issues at the center of our fighting have mattered greatly. I don’t think there are “two sides” to most of them, at least not two sides that are rational, measured, or moral. There are, however, image-bearers on both sides. In most cases, there are image-bearers whom God has ordained us to “do life” with, or whom God has blessed our lives with for years. Many Thanksgiving meals were ruined this year, and we can’t just blame overreaching governors.

I’ve experienced the fracturing myself. Emails and phone calls from long-time listeners and even friends demanding I agree with them … or else. Of course, instances of “How dare you!” and “Shame on you!” are always part of this gig, but they have dramatically increased in volume and frequency, and have come from surprising corners.

This was a crucially important election, and this was a charge we took seriously. Each week for three months prior to it, the Colson Center held a national prayer webinar for the Church and our country. We did our best to help Christians be informed, not only on the presidential and congressional elections, but also about the very important local and state elections and state ballot initiatives.

Chuck Colson often observed that politics is downstream from culture. That’s almost always true, but most outside observers would have to admit that today, politics has taken over the lion’s share of our culture. In a sense, that’s still a “downstream” reality, because so much of the larger culture has thinned out over recent decades. Nature might abhor a vacuum, but political forces love it. As other aspects of culture, especially our pre-political relationships and local institutions, have drawn back, the noise of political ultimatums ride the tide of big tech right into more and more of our lives.

Fr. Robert Sirico once said that Christians should be ruthless with ideas but gentle with people. Too many Americans, but especially too many Christians, have been ruthless with people. Not only is this a way of shortcutting our task of truth-telling and persuading, it’s wrong.

A second prediction is that we are going to miss, and even need, many of the relationships we lost. Christian friendships, as C. S. Lewis describes in his masterful book The Four Loves, are among God’s greatest gifts to His people this side of eternity, and even beyond. “To the Ancients,” Lewis wrote, “Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue.”

But of course, a time is coming, and coming soon, when Christians who spent the last few years shooting at each other find themselves, once again, side by side in the cultural foxholes. Many of us used the word “reprieve” to describe the 2016 election. That was the right word; it was never a solution. By all accounts, although there may be some additional buffering courtesy of a remade judiciary, that reprieve is over.

The incoming administration has promised to revoke the Mexico City Policy, which forbids U.S. foreign aid for organizations that promote abortion, and the recent appointment of Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services indicates there’s not really an interest in “coming together” and “moving forward” with those of us not in lock-step on abortion and sexual issues. Not to mention, during the campaign, Joe Biden promised to continue the fight against the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have been to the Supreme Court three times so that they don’t have to pay for birth control. And he’s promised to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortion.

Will Christians be ready to face these challenges? And, even putting those challenges aside for just a moment (because a moment may be all we have), the body of Christ predates and will long outlive any election cycle. How are we going to humbly obey Christ’s command to encourage one another to love and good works, from thought leaders to family members, when we can’t stand each other?

Jesus’ instruction, even before we appeal to the throne of God for help, is this: “First go and be reconciled to your brother.”

Publication date: December 14, 2020

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/dragana991


BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can’t find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

“We’re Not Ready” – Pastor Urges US Christians to Prepare for Persecution

“We’re Not Ready” – Pastor Urges US Christians to Prepare for Persecution


Pastor Andrew Brunson, who served as a missionary in Turkey for over 20 years, recently predicted that U.S Christians will face increased persecution in the near future.

According to CBN News, Brunson’s remarks were made during the “Global Prayer for US Election Integrity” event on Facebook last Sunday.

“On my return to the US just over two years ago, for the first time in my life—most of my life I’ve been focused overseas—for the first time in my life, I really, I have an urgency for this country, for the United States,” Brunson explained. “And not just with this election. It’s not precipitated by this election, but it has been growing in me these last two years.”

He warned of increasing pressures in the U.S, especially towards people “who embrace Jesus Christ and his teaching, who are not ashamed to stand for him. My concern is that we’re not ready for this pressure. And not being prepared is very, very dangerous on a number of levels.”

In 2016, Brunson was unjustly imprisoned in Turkey after the government accused him of partaking in an alleged coup against Turkish President Erdogan. Bruson then spent the next two years in prison despite having nothing to do with the allegation. 

Fortunately, the imprisoned pastor would be released following diplomatic intervention from the Trump administration. Brunson had also established the Izmir Resurrection Church, which preached Christ and tended to Syrian refugees, including Kurds.

Despite his imprisonment, Brunson believes God would providentially use his story to help prepare other Christians to persevere despite the forthcoming trials

“I think one of the purposes God had for me in my imprisonment was that I learned perseverance at a deeper level again and again and again, as I was repeatedly broken and finally he rebuilt me,” he noted. “But one of the purposes he had for me was to learn this perseverance so that I could help to prepare others to persevere.”

Whether or not President Trump can overturn the 2020 election, Brunson says persecution will come no matter who is in the White House.

“Whoever ends up prevailing in this election, I believe that persecution is still coming and it’s coming quickly and it’s coming soon,” he cautioned. “So if President Trump prevails, it will delay persecution at a government level, but this will not keep us from the hostility that’s rising in our society toward followers of Jesus.”

Even though Jesus “was the most loving, kind person in history,” he was called evil, Brunson said, and that the same is to be expected for all Christians. 

“They will say that we are evil and they will justify everything they do to us because they will paint us as evil people,” Brunson continued. “What is heavy on my heart, is that we need to prepare ourselves to prepare our own hearts.” 

Photo credit: Unsplash/NeOnbrand


Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.

Drop-off sites for Christmas shoeboxes open across UK




Locations across the region opened on Saturday, ready to receive Christmas shoebox gifts lovingly packed up by residents throughout the national lockdown, this has all been made possible through Operation Christmas Child’s shoebox project.

From Saturday 5 until Monday 14 December inclusive, many churches, businesses and organisations will collect shoeboxes ready to send to vulnerable children in different contexts of poverty across the world. For many children who will receive them, these shoebox gifts are the first gift they have ever received.

Individuals can refer to an online drop-off location finder, in order to find the most convenient location and their opening times. All drop-off locations will comply with the current government social distancing guidelines, and some collection points have been made contact free.

Nick Cole, Director of Operation Christmas Child UK says, “Having moved our collection week to coincide with the ending of the national lockdown, has meant that we can ensure as many children as possible will be gifted a big smile and feel and know that they’re loved and special. We rely so much on our local partners, who help us collect the many boxes that have been packed; I am so grateful to them and to those in the local community who come together to have such a heartwarming global impact on children this time of the year.”

Residents are still able to pack a shoebox, through Operation Christmas Child’s digital offering Shoebox Online. This facility allows residents to pack a tailored and personalised shoebox, with specially selected gifts – as well as offering them the chance to write a personal message to the recipient. Volunteers then pack up every box donated, with the gift selection made online, and these are sent onto children living in some of the toughest circumstances across the world.

Cole continues, “While the pandemic endures, we must continue to remember the most vulnerable in society, whether they are in our local area or in tough circumstances far from here. My hope is that children across the world will find joy this Christmas through the small offering of a Christmas Shoebox. Whether packed up physically or through Shoebox Online, these small gifts are a tangible act of kindness, and can help contribute to the mental well-being of children in the most vulnerable communities. Thank you to everyone who is dropping off a shoebox this week, and to all our collection partners.”

Fin your drop off location here and more about packing a Christmas shoebox online here