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The ‘true politics’ of the gospel: An imprisoned Chinese pastor’s sermon on peace and freedom

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In response to the explosive growth of Christianity in China, the country’s communist authorities have ramped up efforts to curb the trend—imprisoning Christians, shutting down churches and schools, and moving to release their own state-sanitized revision of the Bible.

Last December, Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu became a target of such efforts, forced to shut its doors as an estimated 100 members were hauled away by state police. This included the pastor, Wang Yi, and his wife, Jiang Rong, both of whom are still detained for “inciting to subvert state power,” a crime that could keep them in prison for up to 15 years. According to church sources, authorities have now arrested more than 300 members of their church, including children.

As we witness these violations of individual freedom, it can be easy to focus only on resisting and restricting the autocrats at the top and how we might dismantle their preferred methods of systemic oppression—in this case, Chinese-style Communism. Indeed, this is an important and necessary step.

Yet according to Yi himself, now detained in a jail cell, the revolution that’s needed is not so much against Communism as it is for the Kingdom of God, which, in turn, is sure to spread the law of liberty up and down and back again.

In a sermon titled “The Gospel of Peace,” preached almost a year ago before his imprisonment, Yi outlined his views on the political significance of the cross, emphasizing that its power comes not from humanistic control and manipulation but from an free-flowing peace that repairs and restores peoples, communities, economies, and ideological factions across public life.

“The gospel is true politics,” Yi explains. “It is a higher kind of politics, the politics of God. It is a kind of politics that is invisible, that does not need the sword, that refuses the sword, that says, ‘put your sword away.’ Those who do not believe the gospel think that politics ultimately depends on the sword, don’t they? How can you have politics without relying on the sword? How can you gather together those who are scattered about? How can you rule? How can you get rid of the walls dividing people? How can you maintain stability?”

You can listen to an excerpt of the sermon here:

十字架有政治含义The Cross Has Political Significance- 王怡牧师 Pastor Wang Yi摘自成都秋雨圣约教会2018年05月06日的证道《和平的福音》From the sermon "The Gospel of Peace” preached on May 6, 2018 at Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China.On December 9th, 2018, Chinese authorities arrested Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church and his wife Jiang Rong on charges of "inciting to subvert state power" and seized their church, school, and seminary. The two are are currently being held in secret locations. As of February 25th, 2019, authorities have arrested more than 300 members of their church, including children.

Posted by Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church on Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Speaking directly to his congregation, Yi highlights the significance of all this in their specific situation. “In our church, are there descendants of Communist Party members and descendants of Kuomintang members? I believe there are,” Yi explains. “In our church, are there capitalists and workers? I believe there are. In our church, are there people who were Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution? Are there people who, during the Revolution, were bullied by Red Guards and whose homes were ransacked by them? There are, aren’t there?”

Amid these divisions, and amid the past social and economic destruction and ongoing oppression, the gospel is still wielding restorative power in repairing these relationships—all at work through local churches such as theirs. “If the church becomes full of former Communist Party members and former Kuomintang members, and the two confess their sins to each other and repent of their sins, and through the redemption of Christ become brothers and members of His body, if they come together to the Lord’s table, let me ask you, does this have political significance?” Yi asks. “Of course it has political significance.”

For Yi, these are the relationships that will repair the broader social order. If they are given room to flourish from the standpoint of policy, that restoration can certainly be accelerated. But without them in the first place, the changes on the surface will be merely that.

For full and authentic flourishing to take place across all of society, those systems need to be inhabited by something true. If they aren’t, Yi explains, communism will only be replaced by a different idol unto man:

No matter how messed up Chinese society is, no matter how despotic the rulers in China are, as long as the church is there, as long as the gospel is still being preached, Chinese society is moving toward the ultimate political solution. And this ultimate political solution is the gospel, even though it may not be influencing politics and society at the moment.

In China today, if we do not continue to preach the gospel, if there is not a gospel revival, if this does not continue for another 50 to 100 years, then I can’t think of any other way to solve the many political conflicts between the Han and the Tibetens, between the Han and the Uygurs, between mainland China and Taiwan. As soon as the Chinese Communist Party loses its status as an autocratic power, I’m afraid that Chinese society will enter into a long period of ethnic conflict and social unrest… If we do not spread the gospel, China is doomed. If we do not spread the gospel, as soon as the Communist Party collapses, disaster will befall China.

We see this in the American context, as well—albeit from an entirely different cultural and political context. We, of course, have our capitalistic system, tainted and cronyist though it may be, and yet amid all of our prosperity, we see the dangers of an eroding civil society and an increasingly daunting spiritual vacuum. The places that have been spared much of the turmoil: those with strong and active churches and religious communities.

Having the right economic and political systems is simply not enough. Without a corresponding moral and spiritual foundation and framework, such systems will inevitably regress, along with whatever fruits they manage to produce.

In our advocacy for freedom—religious, economic, political, and otherwise—let’s not forget it, whatever the particular context in question. “No man can bring us peace,” Yi concludes. “No man can remove bitterness and resentment. No man can prevent mutual animosity between people groups…Only a gospel movement of the church can.”

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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