Five Steps of
The Church In China
Two years after their take over of China in 1949, the Communist
party expelled some 10,000 missionaries from the mainland thereby
ending the era of western evangelization in the largest Asian
country. During the Cultural Revolution of the 60's, the Communist
party declared China a religion-less state. Churches and mosques were
closed. Every religion encountered persecution. Believers who met in
“house churches” were arrested, beaten, and put into prison.
Their Bibles and meeting places were destroyed. Even today while the
Chinese government officially allows churches to conduct worship
services, Christians still suffer persecution. In May police raided
approximately 100 “house-churches” in a northern province,
detaining almost 600 believers. Most were released but over 100
leaders remain in custody. Two days later in another province, three
women were arrested, held for two days and brutally beaten. One
suffered a heart attack. Given the intensity of the persecution in
Communist China, we need to ask ourselves, how has the Church in
China not only survived but thrived?
One author explained “It is because the Chinese can't live on
bread (or rice), computers and mobile phones alone. Whether it is
indigenous Falun Gong (that the Chinese government ruthlessly
crushed) or alien Christianity, the Chinese need some food for
While there is a spiritual hunger in China after 56 years of
Communist rule, that alone does not explain the growth in both the
officially registered churches and the unofficial “house churches.”
The owner of a beauty salon, Xun Jinzhen, near the Beijing zoo
provided additional insight to a reporter:
City people have real problems, and mental pain, that they
can't resolve on their own, "So it's easy for us to convert
these people to Christianity. In the countryside, people are richer
than before, but they still have problems with their health and in
family relationships. Then it's also very easy to bring them to
Xun's shop gives more than facials and manicures. Last year alone
he introduced over 40 people to his church. His success is related to
his aggressive strategy. Notice that Xun states “it's ...very easy
to bring them to Christianity.” He does not wait for
people to ask. He does not sit by his church's telephone hotline
waiting for people to call. He actively brings them to Christ. Xun's
witness is a dramatic illustrations of Paul's words,
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed
in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15
And how can they preach unless they are sent?
The process of salvation is an active five-step movement—of
calling, believing, hearing, preaching, and sending. Paul presents
the elements in reverse order. He begins with the end. The process is
completed when a person calls upon God. Salvation is not secured
until a person takes what he has come to believe and responds.
Information alone does nothing. Knowledge must be applied. While
salvation is not secured by adherence to the Law for Paul, salvation
still requires a human response.
Jesus uses the same approach in his teaching ministry. His
parables are not entertaining stories. They are not intellectual
anecdotes to stimulate speculative thinking. He tells the stories to
elicit a response. He says a parable, “Here is what the kingdom of
God is like.” He then expects a response. His tone holds a sense of
urgency. He calls for a choice. Jesus compliments the decisive person
and warns the procrastinator.
This is not easy for us. We have a tendency to hold back, to wait.
We would prefer that God would do everything for us. We are like a
dialysis patient that passively sits in a chair watching her blood
flow through the tubes. She does nothing. The harmful toxins in her
blood are removed by the chemical process of osmosis. Paul says that
a person is saved when he or she calls upon the name of the Lord.
Before we can call upon God to save us, Paul states, we must
believe. He is very specific about the object our faith. He is not
advocating for a belief in a nebulous higher power. He is not
suggesting that wishful thinking will accomplish the intended
results. Paul is very focused on the content of our beliefs. He tells
the churches in Rome that they are to place their trust in the God
who raised Jesus from the dead. Paul's intent is obvious. Before we
can trust in God to save us, we must know that he is able to
accomplish that which he promises.
When Sarah was in elementary school she and a friend, Brooks, were
playing on a jungle gym set. Sarah was several feet off the ground.
Brooks told her to jump and she would catch her. Trusting her best
friend at her word, Sarah jumped and struck her head on either the
ground or a pole. A few minutes later she complained to the teacher
about having a headache. On her way to the office she threw up.
Assuming that she had the flu, the office staff called me and told me
to come and take Sarah home. It was not till the next day that we
learned what had happened. In piecing together the story we decided
that Sarah had suffered a concussion due to her unqualified belief in
her friend's ability to “save” her. By pointing to the
resurrection, Paul proves to both Gentile and Jew that God does not
promise something he cannot fulfill. God is able to save them because
he raised Christ from the tomb.
Before we can call upon God we must believe that he is powerful
enough to save us but before we believe we must hear the message.
Hearing is a multi-layered phenomena. Simply because our ear drums
have detected sound emanating from the mouth of another person does
not mean that we have heard them. Hearing a message, also requires
the ability to decipher the sounds into intelligent speech and to
interpret that speech into a meaningful message. The slang
expression, “I hear you,” captures the essence of Paul's words.
The listener is acknowledging that she has not only heard the words
but has also grasped the meaning of the message.
Paul Tournier was a Swiss physician before he started writing
books. He would eventually become a well known author for his insight
into psychological and spiritual issues. Upon completing his first
book, he visited one of his favorite professors from his medical
school. The old professor granted his former student an afternoon
appointment. Bubbling with enthusiasm over his first publication, he
read portions of the book to his former teacher.
After several minutes the teacher looked at Tournier with tears in
his eyes and said, “That is a wonderful book. Every one of us
Christians should read it. Tournier was surprised. He said, “I did
not know you were a Christian, professor. When did you become one?”
The former teacher answer surprised Tournier even more, “Just now
as you read your book.”
How many times had the older man heard the message? How many times
had he read the Scripture? How many times had people shared their own
faith with him but he heard the story for the first time through the
words of his former student. We do not always know when a person will
hear the gospel. It may be the first time we share it with them. It
may be the 3rd or 4th time. We should never be
discouraged if they do not respond the first time. We should not stop
inviting a person to come to church simply because they have
previously turned us down. We can never anticipate when they will
finally hear and believe.
Before a person can hear the gospel and respond, someone must be
willing to preach the content of its message. The Presbyterian
church, has emphasized that our preaching of the gospel must be in
both word and deed. The proponents of this strategy will often cite
Francis of Assisi's famous quote, “Preach Christ, when necessary
Francis' instructions remind us that living the message of faith
through our personal lives is equally important to preaching that
message. However, the defenders of the silent witness have dominated
Presbyterian evangelism for too long. The current joke is, “What do
you get when you cross a Jehovah Witness with a Presbyterian? You get
someone who knocks on your door but does not say anything.”
Communicating faith, through personal witness or in a prescribed
sermon, is essential for bringing others to a saving knowledge of God
in Jesus Christ. The time has come for Presbyterians to recapture a
word-based method of evangelism. People will not know their need for
faith unless the message is explained. People will not know what to
believe unless the message is shared. People will not understand
unless the message is announced. Preaching the gospel requires the
demonstration of God's power and love in our lives but it also
requires sharing the story of God's work in Jesus Christ.
People cannot call upon God unless they believe and they cannot
believe unless they hear, and they cannot hear unless the message is
preached, but none of this is possible unless they are sent. Yet, too
often we remain passive saints, sitting comfortably in our Lazy Boy
rockers. This is quire a contrast to some of the songs we sing. One
of our favorite contemporary songs is “Here I am Lord.” Do you
recall the lyrics:
Hear I am Lord, it is I Lord,
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me,
I will hold your people in my heart.
Its a great song but I wonder, we sing, “I will go,” but how
many of us do? We leave the sanctuary and head out to our homes but
are we really going in Christ's name? Are we really responding to the
call of God upon our lives to “Go into the world and make disciples
of all nations,” or are we really returning to the safe confines of
our living rooms? When we drive to work, do we really believe that we
are entering into a mission field to which God has commissioned us to
serve by preaching the message of salvation.
By not going we miss out on a wonderful blessing. Paul says, “How
beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” By remaining
passive observers in the great drama of faith, we miss the
opportunity of seeing someone begin their new life in Christ.
On his night job at Taco Bell, 17-year-old Nicholas was taking
orders at the drive-up window. He heard a woman scream, turned, and
saw very pregnant Deborah Anderson standing in front of him. The
high-school student pulled off his headset, called the paramedics,
and tried to make the woman comfortable. But the baby wouldn't wait.
"The baby's head just popped out into my hands," Nicholas
said. Paramedics finally arrived and took baby and parents to the
hospital. Nicholas cleaned up, "sterilized my hands about a
thousand times," and finished his shift but later when he talked
with reporters he was still radiating with exhilaration.
Nicholas may not have had to “go” anywhere to participate in
the birth of that new baby. The expected mom just happened to stop by
the restaurant but those type of experiences are rare. What is not
rare is the joy we experience when the other person commits their
life to Christ. Having been in both, the delivery room and the living
room, for such wonderful moments, I can honestly say that both
experiences produce similar feelings of joy and wonder.
Paul's message throughout the book of Romans is consistent. He
wants people to share in the wonder of new life in Christ by calling
upon God for their salvation. But how can they call unless they
believe that God has demonstrated his own love in that even while we
were yet sinners Christ died for us. He also wants them to know that
death has lost its sting. And how can they believe unless they hear
the news preached, “Christ has risen” and how can the news be
preached unless we are willing to go.