China’s state sanctioned Christian churches have come under brutal persecution since the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping took office in 2013.
China’s house churches, which refused to accommodate the government, have frequently been targeted for persecution. However, the state sanctioned churches have generally avoided direct confrontation with the government. They have chosen their battles carefully, have provided social services to the needy, and have tried to operate within the legal structure. Until recently they had good relationships with the government.
Now all of that has changed. The government considers the Church to be s security threat. The local authorities have been told to stop the spread of Christianity, and are showing force by destroying thousands of Christian Church crosses. When the leader of the sanctioned Church, Ga Yuese, protested the persecution in January, he was removed from his position and disappeared into prison.
The Chinese Church has faced persecution before, growing from 1 million at the Communist takeover in 1949 to 130 million today. You have to go all the way back to the Roman Empire to see such church growth in the face of persecution. The lesson for all of us is that a Church which knows its God and lives out its faith in word and deed will overcome the persecution of its enemies.
There is also a lesson from the Roman Empire for the enemies of the Church. Nero, the first Emperor to persecute the Church (64 AD), was driven out of power and committed suicide. Domitian, the next persecutor (95 AD), was assassinated. The persecution by Marcus Aurelius (160 AD) was accomplished by a smallpox plague. Persecutors Decius (251 AD) died in battle and Valerian (257 AD) was captured by the Persians. In the last and worst persecution (303 AD), the anniversary of which comes this week, Diocletian abdicated and Maximum II died in battle. Ten years later, 313 AD, Emperor Constantine bowed his knee to the Lord and legalized Christianity.
Given the bad end of the Roman persecutors of Christians it should not surprise us to see the problems which are beginning for Chinese premier Xi Jiuping. Economic growth has stalled, his stock market has suffered a humiliating crash, and unrest is rising. We can only hope that he will see the light, understanding that Christians are the best friends of an honorable ruler, before it is too late.
Pray for the persecuted Christians of China. But also pray for their persecutors, that they, like Saul of Tarsus, with see the light, repent, and be saved.