Confessing King Jesus In Caesar’s Empire

As we feast on Christmas dinner and attend public Christmas celebrations without fear, perhaps we ought to call to mind the hardships our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world endure for no reason other than that they profess the very same faith we treasure. Consider the case of Chinese pastor Wang Li. On December 09, Chinese authorities arrested Wang Li, one of the most articulate, courageous and influential Christian preachers in China. In September, anticipating his arrest, he wrote a letter to be published within 48 hours should he be arrested. I have duplicated a translation of that letter below. It reminds me of so many courageous statements made before hostile authorities in the New Testament, the early church and during the NAZI era:

My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience

On the basis of the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the authorities God has established in China. For God deposes kings and raises up kings. This is why I submit to the historical and institutional arrangements of God in China.

As a pastor of a Christian church, I have my own understanding and views, based on the Bible, about what righteous order and good government is. At the same time, I am filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience. But changing social and political institutions is not the mission I have been called to, and it is not the goal for which God has given his people the gospel.

For all hideous realities, unrighteous politics, and arbitrary laws manifest the cross of Jesus Christ, the only means by which every Chinese person must be saved. They also manifest the fact that true hope and a perfect society will never be found in the transformation of any earthly institution or culture but only in our sins being freely forgiven by Christ and in the hope of eternal life.

As a pastor, my firm belief in the gospel, my teaching, and my rebuking of all evil proceeds from Christ’s command in the gospel and from the unfathomable love of that glorious King. Every man’s life is extremely short, and God fervently commands the church to lead and call any man to repentance who is willing to repent. Christ is eager and willing to forgive all who turn from their sins. This is the goal of all the efforts of the church in China—to testify to the world about our Christ, to testify to the Middle Kingdom about the Kingdom of Heaven, to testify to earthly, momentary lives about heavenly, eternal life. This is also the pastoral calling that I have received.

For this reason, I accept and respect the fact that this Communist regime has been allowed by God to rule temporarily. As the Lord’s servant John Calvin said, wicked rulers are the judgment of God on a wicked people, the goal being to urge God’s people to repent and turn again toward Him. For this reason, I am joyfully willing to submit myself to their enforcement of the law as though submitting to the discipline and training of the Lord.

At the same time, I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God. My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws.

But this does not mean that my personal disobedience and the disobedience of the church is in any sense “fighting for rights” or political activism in the form of civil disobedience, because I do not have the intention of changing any institutions or laws of China. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disruption of man’s sinful nature by this faithful disobedience and the testimony it bears for the cross of Christ.

As a pastor, my disobedience is one part of the gospel commission. Christ’s great commission requires of us great disobedience. The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world.

For the mission of the church is only to be the church and not to become a part of any secular institution. From a negative perspective, the church must separate itself from the world and keep itself from being institutionalized by the world. From a positive perspective, all acts of the church are attempts to prove to the world the real existence of another world. The Bible teaches us that, in all matters relating to the gospel and human conscience, we must obey God and not men. For this reason, spiritual disobedience and bodily suffering are both ways we testify to another eternal world and to another glorious King.

This is why I am not interested in changing any political or legal institutions in China. I’m not even interested in the question of when the Communist regime’s policies persecuting the church will change. Regardless of which regime I live under now or in the future, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church, violating human consciences that belong to God alone, I will continue my faithful disobedience. For the entire commission God has given me is to let more Chinese people know through my actions that the hope of humanity and society is only in the redemption of Christ, in the supernatural, gracious sovereignty of God.

If God decides to use the persecution of this Communist regime against the church to help more Chinese people to despair of their futures, to lead them through a wilderness of spiritual disillusionment and through this to make them know Jesus, if through this he continues disciplining and building up his church, then I am joyfully willing to submit to God’s plans, for his plans are always benevolent and good.

Precisely because none of my words and actions are directed toward seeking and hoping for societal and political transformation, I have no fear of any social or political power. For the Bible teaches us that God establishes governmental authorities in order to terrorize evildoers, not to terrorize doers of good. If believers in Jesus do no wrong then they should not be afraid of dark powers. Even though I am often weak, I firmly believe this is the promise of the gospel. It is what I’ve devoted all of my energy to. It is the good news that I am spreading throughout Chinese society.

I also understand that this happens to be the very reason why the Communist regime is filled with fear at a church that is no longer afraid of it.

If I am imprisoned for a long or short period of time, if I can help reduce the authorities’ fear of my faith and of my Savior, I am very joyfully willing to help them in this way. But I know that only when I renounce all the wickedness of this persecution against the church and use peaceful means to disobey, will I truly be able to help the souls of the authorities and law enforcement. I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority, and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

Regardless of what crime the government charges me with, whatever filth they fling at me, as long as this charge is related to my faith, my writings, my comments, and my teachings, it is merely a lie and temptation of demons. I categorically deny it. I will serve my sentence, but I will not serve the law. I will be executed, but I will not plead guilty.

Moreover, I must point out that persecution against the Lord’s church and against all Chinese people who believe in Jesus Christ is the most wicked and the most horrendous evil of Chinese society. This is not only a sin against Christians. It is also a sin against all non-Christians. For the government is brutally and ruthlessly threatening them and hindering them from coming to Jesus. There is no greater wickedness in the world than this.

If this regime is one day overthrown by God, it will be for no other reason than God’s righteous punishment and revenge for this evil. For on earth, there has only ever been a thousand-year church. There has never been a thousand-year government. There is only eternal faith. There is no eternal power.

Those who lock me up will one day be locked up by angels. Those who interrogate me will finally be questioned and judged by Christ.  When I think of this, the Lord fills me with a natural compassion and grief toward those who are attempting to and actively imprisoning me. Pray that the Lord would use me, that he would grant me patience and wisdom, that I might take the gospel to them.

Separate me from my wife and children, ruin my reputation, destroy my life and my family – the authorities are capable of doing all of these things. However, no one in this world can force me to renounce my faith; no one can make me change my life; and no one can raise me from the dead.

And so, respectable officers, stop committing evil. This is not for my benefit but rather for yours and your children’s. I plead earnestly with you to stay your hands, for why should you be willing to pay the price of eternal damnation in hell for the sake of a lowly sinner such as I?

Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever. I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.

The Lord’s servant,
Wang Yi

For documentation of this story and letter you can check CNN and USA Today. A copy of his letter is posted World Magazine and many other places. Here is the link of World Magazine:

https://world.wng.org/2018/12/my_declaration_of_faithful_disobedience

 

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9 thoughts on “Confessing King Jesus In Caesar’s Empire

  1. Paul Highfield

    Thank you Ron for sharing this powerful testimony. May God give him and others strength during these difficult days. I have heard myself about this increased persecution these days. It has affects on our ministry because of the fear the students have. They are very cautious.

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  2. nokareon

    Well put, Wang Yi. There is much to agree with here.

    One note of caution I would put forth is to the starkness with which statements like “the goal of the gospel is not to transform any government or social institution” are put forth. This is technically correct, as the church’s mission should not become parasitic on any government or other aspiring force of empire. “Render under Caesar what is Caesar’s,” “My kingdom is not from this world,” etc.

    However, the error that many modern Christians have fallen into is thinking that not aiming to transform social institutions means not aiming to transform *society*. This, I believe, is a fatal error. Indeed, the kingdom of God loses its very identity if we make it about saving souls for heaven rather than bringing about God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. While the church is not a social institution and does not work primarily through pre-existing social institutions like governments, the church is inherently a socially-oriented institution—aimed at transforming society itself for the better through non-institutional means.

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      Thomas: I think you would agree that LI’s situation differs greatly from ours and more or less resembles that of the first through third-century church in its relationship with the Roman Empire. I did not hear Li saying that the social and political order is of no concern. I think he would agree that the gospel has implications for all areas of life, individual, communal and political. He condemned the Chinese actions as evil. But he rightly relates these orders. The goal of the church is witness to Jesus Christ; it preaches a gospel of faith and obedience to Jesus Christ. That is the sine qua non. Apart from that, there is no meaning and no power for changing the other two dimensions.

      As you know, I think today’s greater emphasis on social change among American Christians has been accompanied by a lesser emphasis on personal faith and radical obedience. The more alliances Christians make with those who have no personal faith and don’t have a conscience that leads them to obedience, the less clear will be our witness.

      I think Li’s statement says it well, and I think western Christians should listen closely. We should not love the world. We should not be ashamed of the gospel. And we should examine ourselves to see what compromises we have already made. Of course Christians should want justice to “roll down like an ever-living stream!” But we should also want the people to worship the Lord and not Baal and Aphrodite! Can Baal worshipers really understand justice? Can the devotees of Aphrodite love the law of the Lord? First things first: Christ died according to the scriptures, was buried and was raised on the third day. He is the new Adam and we must be transformed into his image…real, living breathing individuals. The Christian confession goes like this: “If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). In the early centuries, saying these words could bring severe persecution and death. And this is the confession no government wants its citizens to take seriously! All of them want to be the highest authority for their citizens. Governments like the Chinese–officially atheist–like Caesar or Pharaoh, proclaim themselves to be the only God for their people. They are jealous gods and tolerate no others.

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      1. nokareon

        Yes—you and I are in agreement, as is Wang Li. We can all be content in a nuanced middle ground with differences of emphasis as the situation calls for. I simply want to stave off any who would take Li’s statement and run to the other extreme, to a faith of individualized devotion that has no ripple effect whatsoever. Against such extremes we can all warn, with James, that “such a faith, without works, is dead.”

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  3. markskrause

    Thanks, Ron. This is very powerful. I think we must remember the China context, which we may not understand fully, but it has application to us to. The quote from Mr. Calvin is excellent, that wicked rulers are God’s judgment on a wicked society. We need to hear this.

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  4. Dr Jonne Smallhouse

    My friend Dr Jonne Smalhouse has asked me to post this prayer. I am not sure that I can format it correctly or do it justice, but here it is anyway…
    “Heaveny Father, we thank you for your Eternal love, and we pray in the name of Your perfect Son Jesus Christ for Pastor Wang Yi in China’s Sechuan province.
    May your glorious light hold and sustain him closeby, deeply entwined within our own hearts and thoughts. And may your heavenly hosts tend to him, strengthening him as like a root of Jesse- for the faithful and pious servant that You know he is.
    Though you have placed him in chains like St.Paul, Lord help all of the world to see your Great Purpose in this situation. And by the power of your Holy Spirit we commend his gentle soul unto you: either in living and demonstrating the mind of Jesus, or in passing on to assured wholesome gain and Your Eternal Glory.
    Lord we have heard him crying out in that terrible wilderness, and earnestly pray for Your will to be done. Take pity upon all of those powers and authorities in high places who do not know or even understand Jesus Christ. And bless now the actions of your humble servant pastor Wang Yi, in order to change and soften their hearts by your Divine goodness!
    The very last thing that we would hope and pray for -would be a so-called church institution that is set up to rival the state in that country. May the words of Jesus, and Pastor Wang Yi provide a solution, and echo a spirit of tolerance and cooperation in that place, forged in lasting love, respect and neighbourliness. Amen.”
    Thank you.

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