This article is well worth reflecting on, and for me, is an example of how we in the West can learn from the growing Church in the East. The example of godly pastors in the Registered Church teaches and informs, or so it can do so, those of us in the West who are serving in Church Traditions that are struggling with compromise and heresy. The article is from the latest issue of ChinaSource Quarterly.
The signature quote here is “Even though there is supervision from government bodies, the church does not belong to the government; it belongs to Christ. We are not serving the government; we are serving Christ. Once we clearly understand this, then we can know how to have a relationship with the government and help them understand what the church is. We can be salt and light in society.”
Our brothers and sisters in China are clear that their priorities do not come from the government or more generally from appeasing an institution, but rather from Scripture itself and the calling to be ‘salt and light in society’. From that vantage point, there are possible outcomes:
1. Rebuke (and persecution): The government can reject the local Church leader, defrock him or her, or even imprison him or her. Am I willing to be rebuked, rejected, defrocked or worse for putting the Gospel first, and the institution second?
2. Conflict: The government, locally or regionally, sets policies that are in conflict, and the pastor is confronted by the bureaucracy, the red tape, etc. to get things done. Am I willing to work through the same hassles in order to get the job done of proclaiming Jesus?
3. Distance: Some pastors find a distance from the government in which to operate freely, yet with the ever present possibility of a sudden change in circumstances. Both the authorities and the pastors work at not inciting the other, and so the space is developed mutually. Am I willing to work in the space that is given me–or will I find it necessary to provoke conflict with the institution?
4. Cooperation: A number of pastors actually find that the government wants the pastor to serve in the community. I think of an area on a sensitive border of China where there was no registered Church. The local authorities approached the pastor of the largest house Church and asked her to register, specifically so that she could help protect her members from being mistaken as trouble-makers and arrested. She did, and she began to protect all of the other house Churches in the vicinity.