Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
One morning when you arrive at your church, you might be surprised to discover many uniformed people in the building. Some might be angry and speak viciously. Others might address you nicely, almost beseechingly. Others may be expressionless but carry themselves with a businesslike attitude. Regardless of their demeanor, you know that something has happened. Your church is being persecuted.
Not every instance of persecution may be so dramatic. The trouble could happen between the landlord and the street administration office. It could occur after the pastor was summoned to the police station. However it might happen, it may shock you to the point of not knowing how you can help your church’s leaders face this crisis or how you yourself might respond.
Perseverance in persecution
That the church experiences persecution in this world is nothing new. Our Lord has continually reminded us that because the world hates Christ, it will persecute those who follow Christ. Though the crime of “disrupting societal order by holding illegal religious gatherings” listed on the police’s summons may be fabricated, as Christians we ought to know that the true gospel will inevitably cause trouble all over the world (Acts 17:6).
In John 15:19–21, our Lord tells us:
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.
In fact, we can say that it is inevitable that the true church experiences this. This is not because we have done something wrong (though we will be accused of many crimes). It is because the world loves itself and hates those from heaven, and the church of Christ belongs not to this world but to the kingdom of heaven. It is the representative and embassy on earth of the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, being persecuted by this world is inevitable and something we should rejoice at: It proves that we belong to Christ, not to the world.
Second, 1 Peter 1:6–7 says, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” The Bible calls such persecution “all kinds of trials” because God uses these opportunities to purify his church.
Persecution gives each person an opportunity to consider his or her faith: Why do I follow Christ at such great risk? Do I truly believe in an eternity more important than this life and for which I ought to live? Am I truly a sinner who would be judged by God in hell, that I need Christ’s salvation? Can Christ truly save me? Our Lord has said that those who have not truly relied on Christ will, in the face of trials, “have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away” (Luke 8:13). Trials are the touchstone of our faith. While trials reveal to nominal believers that they do not actually believe, they show true believers that their faith is reliable, encouraging them to have even greater faith in Christ.
Finally, James 1:12 tells us, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” And, again, 1 Peter 1:6 says, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” These remind us that grief is temporary but that joy will be eternal. Persecution is temporary, and most of us will live longer than the persecution lasts. (If we look at the last period of serious persecution in history, we find that it was merely 20 years from the start of the Three-Self Movement to the end of the Cultural Revolution.) The kings and authorities on earth are temporary, but the true King who holds authority is forever. Though the church might face temporary difficulties, we will all have the opportunity to see the glory of Christ’s kingdom.
How to help
As members of the church, Christians can strive to support the efforts that elders and deacons put toward being able to continue gathering, serving, and pastoring. You can start here:
First, be prepared for instability. For a long time to come, you may not have a regular meeting venue, which means that your Sundays will not be as comfortable as in the past. It may not be as close to where you live; there may not be cheap and convenient food and drink options nearby; you may not find coffee or a convenience store; you may only be able to watch a sermon by a two-dimensional preacher on a screen… The discomfort experienced by many other faithful saints you may also experience in part or in whole.
Second, be prepared to serve. People are needed to help transfer venues, set up temporary meeting places, or move documents and pianos… If you have rarely or never served the church in an onsite manner, or if you have rarely or never put your own time and effort toward the church’s worship, then these opportunities are now prepared for you by the Lord. If a Christian thinks, I only need to wait for the notice and then show up at the new meeting place, he should repent and make changes. It is not merely one member who is being persecuted; it is the whole of Christ’s body. The whole body must mobilize to treat with honor the weaker members.
Third, be prepared to give. These changes typically signify financial loss: The landlord might end the lease, there are moving costs, and renting a new venue has its cost as well. These costs were perhaps not in your church’s original financial plan. If you have never contributed your own offerings or often forget to give, this is a reminder from God to contribute.
Fourth, be prepared to submit to the leadership. Elders and deacons are finite humans and are not immune to fallibility, so we don’t obey blindly. But since we have chosen the elders and deacons of the church through the Holy Spirit, we should trust those “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3, ESV), even if at the time their decisions may seem unwise to you or they cannot please everyone in response to each event.
Fifth, be prepared to pray. Pray over each Sunday’s peace, pulpit, teaching, ministry, and gathering. Pray also for church leaders and encourage them, because they too, like you, have never experienced this kind of persecution and are worried, even anxious over it.
Being faithful in persecution not only trains our own faith but also encourages other members and leaders of the church. Therefore, strive to faithfully participate in every Sunday gathering, because you never know when such opportunities will be gone. Every Sunday might be the last Sunday you can gather in person.
We must treasure the opportunity to love one another, connect with one another, and receive spiritual pastoring as members of the church body. If you chat with other members at church, chat about spiritual matters, because you can talk about all other matters at all other times through other tools. If you see visitors at church, share the gospel with them so that they might have the opportunity for eternal life, because they might not be able to come the next time. If you have not regularly attended gatherings in the past—or attended gatherings but did not love other members in the church well—then this Sunday is your opportunity for repentance. Let the church be filled with the Spirit. And let each minute you spend at church be filled both with the gospel and with love for Christ’s body.
Your pastor, with love in Christ.
Joshua Hsieh received a master of divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and currently serves as pastor at a Baptist church in China.
Translation by Christine Emmert.