“THINK STALIN AND HITLER, NOT MAO”: CHURCH LEADERS AROUND THE WORLD URGED TO ADD THEIR SIGNATURES TO DISSIDENT CHINESE PASTOR’S DECLARATION

Church sanctuaries decked with national flags and leader’s photos. The Ten Commandments edited. Bibles re-translated as state church leaders emphasize the need to free Christianity from its ‘foreign cultural captivity’. These are the reports emerging from China today. According to many Chinese religion analysts, they represent not a return to the Cultural Revolution but to something even earlier.

“Put the photos of 1930s German church sanctuaries and 2019 Chinese church sanctuaries side by side. Put the speeches of the leaders and officials side by side. The similarities are striking,” says the Rev. Dr. Eric Foley, CEO of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, part of a worldwide fellowship of organizations aiding persecuted Christians worldwide with roots dating back to World War II. “Xi Jinping calls it Sinification—freeing Christianity and other religions from foreign cultural entanglement. Hitler called it Nazification. Both pledged freedom of religion to those who would hang national flags and leader’s portraits in their sanctuaries. Both trotted out theologians who insisted the Bible needed to be re-translated to be properly understood. Both accused those who disagreed of seeking to subvert the state.”

Chinesedeclarationpressreleasephoto

“Think Stalin and Hitler, not Mao,” says the Rev. Dr. Bob Fu, founder and director of China Aid, a US-based organization that helps Chinese Christians and reports on human rights and religious freedom developments in China. “China is now taking a page from the 1930s totalitarian playbook. Whereas before the government’s goal was to stamp out Christianity, now all efforts are directed at co-opting the moral influence of Christianity and other faiths to advance the Communist Party’s social agenda.”

Foley and Fu see a parallel not only in the actions of the governments but in the response of the faithful Christians of both eras. They are calling on church leaders around the world to offer today’s dissident Chinese Christians things their earlier suffering German and Russian counterparts were unable to receive: solidarity and global theological endorsement.

“There was no Internet when the German ‘Confessing Church’ wrote the Barmen Declaration in opposition to Hitler’s attempt to redefine Christianity,” says Foley. “Today the Barmen Declaration and those who wrote it are revered. But at the time they were cut off from the Body of Christ around the world and forced to suffer while their ‘Confessing Church’ was crushed.”

That has Foley and Fu calling on Christian leaders worldwide to add their names to a declaration of religious freedom written by the former law professor and now-jailed Chinese pastor of the Chengdu Early Rain Church, Wang Yi. The document, entitled “A Joint Statement by Pastors: A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith”, was originally published in September 2018 with signatures from 439 Chinese pastors.

“As the author of this important document, Pastor Wang and Early Rain were also the ones responsible for gathering the signatures of pastors for it,” says Fu. “Now that Pastor Wang Yi and the Early Rain leaders are in prison and many pastors who signed the statement are facing similar difficulties, we as Christian leaders worldwide must carry on the good work they began. We must sound a global ‘amen’ that the Christianity for which they are now suffering is ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’”

The document written by Wang Yi and signed by the Chinese pastors contains four declarations:

1.       Christian churches in China believe unconditionally that the Bible is the Word and Revelation of God. It is the source and final authority of all righteousness, ethics, and salvation.

2.       Christian churches in China are eager and determined to walk the path of the cross of Christ and are more than willing to imitate the older generation of saints who suffered and were martyred for their faith.

3.       Christian churches in China are willing to obey authorities in China whom God has appointed and to respect the government’s authority to govern society and human conduct.

4.       All true churches in China that belong to Christ must hold to the principle of the separation of church and state and must proclaim Christ as the sole head of the church.

The full declaration is available at www.chinadeclaration.com, the website created by Voice of the Martyrs Korea and China Aid to enable pastors and church leaders to add their own names to those of the 439 Chinese pastors. Those wishing to sign the declaration should do so, along with their church name, role, and a contact email, by the end of March. Voice of the Martyrs Korea and China Aid will verify each signee and present the ‘signed’ document to the Chinese Embassy in Seoul.

“It’s important to note that the declaration written by these Chinese pastors is entitled ‘A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith’,” says Foley. “This is about more than China. It is about the Christian faith. An attack on the integrity of the Christian faith anywhere at any time is an attack on the integrity of the Christian faith everywhere at all times.”

“439 Chinese pastors signed this declaration,” says Fu. “We are asking the Lord for each signature to yield a hundredfold harvest, which means we are praying for 43,900 pastors and church leaders around the world brave enough to sign this document in suffering solidarity with the pastors of China.”

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The main character in Tortured for Christ is not a Wurmbrand. It’s this woman

Tortured for Christ is often described as the life story of Rev. Richard Wurmbrand. In fact, however, Rev. Wurmbrand is not the main character of the movie or the book. The main character is a woman, but she is not Sabina, his wife. The main character is not listed in the movie credits or on the book cover, nor is she mentioned by name in any of the promotional materials. In fact, you can only see her in the movie and book at all if Christ reveals her to you, and that may only occur after you have read or seen the story several times.

The chance to catch even a glimpse of this woman is the only real reason to watch and read Tortured for Christ. If you do not see this woman, you will simply think of Tortured for Christ as a kind of a heavy and slightly dated story about a pastor who paid a high price for following Jesus, and you will wonder why the movie opens with Rev. Wurmbrand being tortured and closes with him still in prison. What kind of a movie opens with a torture scene and closes with a prison scene? Definitely no movie that anyone wants to see.

This movie, this book, is made to reveal her. Who is she?

She is the Underground Church.  

As Rev. Wurmbrand wrote in Tortured for Christ, “Before entering prison, I loved Christ very much. Now, after having seen the Bride of Christ (his spiritual Body) in prison, I would say that I love the Underground Church almost as much as I love Christ Himself. I have seen her beauty, her spirit of sacrifice.”

This is the reason why Tortured for Christ takes place in prison: To see her, you must look in prisons and the most closed countries. The Underground Church does not appear in wealthy, free places where people have rights and dignity and good food and running water. But Rev. Wurmbrand would say that South Korean Christians are deprived because Sarang Church on Easter morning, Myungsung Church in early morning prayer, and Yoido Full Gospel Church’s Prayer Mountain—all wither in comparison to the beauty of the Underground Church, in North Korea and in the other darkest places of the world.

Rev. Wurmbrand wrote in Tortured for Christ, “Whoever has known the spiritual beauty of the Underground Church cannot be satisfied anymore with the emptiness of some Western churches.” Presumably the thought applies to South Korean churches as well.

That is why Tortured for Christ is not about torture, not about Rev. Wurmbrand, not simply about standing up for Jesus no matter the cost.

It is about her, the Underground Church.

Watch the movie. Read the book. Perhaps like Christ, the Apostle Paul, and Rev. Wurmbrand, you will be transfixed by her as well.

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Martyrdom precedes persecution, not the other way around

We must learn how the Bible tells stories of persecution and make sure our modern accounts reflect biblical theology.

Unfortunately, these days many accounts of Christian persecution are told like news stories designed to advance the narrative that Christians are increasingly in danger and in need of the prayers of other Christians and the protection of governments. The accounts make the persecutor the actor, the martyr the victim, and God the absentee deity who must be summoned back to the scene by our prayers in order to put an end to the violence.

Biblically, however, martyrdom is the cause of persecution, not the other way around. Martyrdom means making a witness: We witness to the character of God in the midst of those who remain slaves to sin and who are mobilized by the enemy to oppose the good news. Wherever a witness to the character of God is made, the enemy mobilizes his slaves to silence it. But the most vital part of the witness is yet to come: The character of God is fully revealed only on the Cross, where Christ willingly enters into suffering love rather than revile those who persecute him. Christ calls us, his witnesses, to follow him by taking up our own crosses: Thus, our witness to the character of God is complete when we voluntarily suffer in love rather than revile our own persecutors.

This biblical understanding should re-train what we pay attention to in martyrdom. What is important is the witness to the character of God, not the world’s predictable violent response to that witness. We don’t pray in order to summon God to the scene; instead, we give thanks because God has entered the scene, through the witness of the martyr.

So we pray Romans 8:17 for the persecuted: As they share in the sufferings of Christ as his co-heirs, may they be glorified with Christ. We pray 2 Corinthians 1:5 for the persecuted: As the sufferings of Christ overflow to them, so also may the comfort of Christ overflow to them. And instead of calling on governments to protect Christians as though we were an endangered species, we pray 2 Timothy 1:8: That God by his power may grant us to join the persecuted in suffering for the gospel.

That is what makes the stories of Asia Bibi, Pastor John Cao, Cha Deoksun, and the Iraq Bakery Christians so important. They are not victims of violence whose lives testify to the need for greater governmental protection of Christians. They are signs of Christ’s daily advance into the very heart of darkness to liberate captives. We praise God that he has never forgotten those trapped in sin. We imitate those who have responded to the call of Christ to take up their crosses and not revile those who hang us upon them. And our word to the nations is not “Protect us” but in the words of Early Rain Church Pastor Wang Yi, “You are engaging a battle against Christ that you cannot win.”

Jesus Christ is Lord. Our suffering is not the result of our weakness but rather of the merciful, unconquerable love of our Lord for sinners who know not what they do. 

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