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    Soul Rythem

    Chinese Christians inspire commitment to follow Christ

    Someone sent me the link to this story about a church in Beijing that had been evicted from its place of worship and added the words “be inspired.”  It is both an inspiring story and a somewhat troubling one for me as I enter Holy Week primed from weeks of uneven fasting and praying to reflect on the great sacrifice that Jesus paid on the Cross for my sins.

    The New York Times article tells about a group of 1,000 Chinese Christians who tried to come out of the shadows of government-run house churches and worship freely in a building they purchased last year.  The church, which started with 10 people in 1993,  is called Shouwang, or Lighthouse Church,  and it has been  a “release valve for an educated elite seeking a nonpolitical refuge for its faith,” the article said.

    Photo from Urban Christian News

    But now, the church has been deemed illegal by the Communist Party government and evicted  for a second time from the building it legally bought. On Sunday when members attempted to pray outdoors in a public plaza, they were corralled and many of the church’s leaders were detained or placed under house arrest. This latest police action follows years of struggle for these Christians who decided that believing in Jesus Christ is worth the harassment, threats and persecution from their atheist government. The story said:

    “Shouwang’s latest troubles began again three years ago, shortly after its application for official recognition was denied. Officers from the Beijing Public Security Bureau burst into Sunday services, pronounced the gathering illegal and wrote down the personal details of everyone in the room, one by one. In the days that followed, calls were made to congregants’ employers or college administrators. Many congregants say they were threatened with dismissal from jobs or school if they did not switch to an official church. Some left, but Shouwang’s ranks continued to grow.”

    I am encouraged by the determination of these fellow believers who don’t mind standing up for their faith. Church leaders say they are not interested in challenging the government as much as they are in  freely worshipping their Lord and Savior. Members don’t  enjoy the government-sanctioned congregations, with their packed services and sermons riddled with political messages.  Meanwhile,  in the wake of the recent rise (and quick quelling ) of dissent in China, the government continues to move swiftly to crackdown on anything that resembles a revolt against its authority –Shouwang and house churches included.

    “The bottom line is that house church members believe in Jesus, not the party’s version of Jesus,” said Zhang Minxuam, a pastor and leader of a Chinese house church organization. He told the Times he has been detained 41 times.

    Rev. Jin Tianming, who started Shouwang as an underground church, said he would like for the government to peacefully resolve the matter so that the church can worship in its building. He also said, though, that the congregation will continue to meet in public places until then.

    “I am fully prepared to go to jail for my church,” he said. “I belong to the Lord, and if this is what God intended, so be it.”

    The story link was sent to me I’m pretty sure because while visiting Beijing last September I went to a church that was sanctioned by the government. It was an international church that welcomed visitors who showed their passports to enter. The worship was sweet as I wrote in a previous blog. For a few minutes, I felt  I could have been in any large ethnically-diverse church in the United States. But it was not lost on me that Chinese Christians are not as free to worship as I am; it is estimated that two-thirds of the 60 million Protestants there worship, praise, pray and  fellowship at unregistered churches.  Their faith means just that much to them.

    “There is something so cold and empty about life outside the church,” one 32-year-old Shouwang member told the Times.

    What troubles me about this story is my own tendency toward taking my Christian walk for granted, living as if church is an extension of my weekly routine, a comfortable security blanket that will always be there. I don’t have to think about what if the government moves to shutter my church or the church down the street because we are talking too much about the power of the resurrected Jesus. I really don’t have to think about putting my faith on the line and taking the kind of stand that the Shouwang members are now taking. I don’t have to think about what if going to worship may mean going to jail instead this Sunday. Christians here are not persecuted like those in China and other places around the world; we can follow Christ without hindrances, largely without consequence, and all too often without any deep conviction of what following Christ really means.

    “The cost of coming to church is high for some,” a preacher said at a revivial service last night, noting the personal struggles some people endure. “But it’s routine for many of us.”

    This week I’m revisiting and renewing my commitment as I meditate on the price Christ paid for my sin debt. I am grateful that I live in a country where I can worship Him freely, and I am mindful that being a comfortable Christian also comes with a heavy cost. What about you? Are you more comfortable than committed in our faith walk? 

    Join me in praying that God’s protection, direction and love will continue to strengthen Christians in China and other parts of the world who are persecuted for their beliefs.

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