The Friday portion of Presbytery was absolutely incredible! (The Saturday portion was as well.*) This was by far the most missional presbytery in my three years experience of attending presbytery.
On Friday night we ate a common fellowship meal of delicious foods prepared by refugees from Burma, Iraq, and other exotic places. We worshiped with refugees from Africa (Congo and South Sudan) and the Middle East (Iraq and Iran). The confession of sin was led by a pastor from Mexico; the confession of faith by a pastor from India. We heard a choir sing a hymn in farsi. We were welcomed to the Lord’s table by a pastor from Lebanon. We received the benediction from a Chinese elder.
After worship, we heard a Chinese missionary give a report. He told about the spread of the gospel in Western China, the growth of (Reformed) churches, the formation of a presbytery (that even uses a simplified version of our Book of Church Order!) and a seminary that trains men for gospel ministry.
At one point he talked about the intensifying pressure the Chinese government has been putting on the churches this year. Several churches have been shut down. “The lay people stand firm, but 9 out of 10 pastors give up and fall.” He asked us to pray for him because though he looks strong to us, he feels weak in his soul, especially in the face of such terrible opposition.
As if that were not enough to move our hearts, he told one story about a recent forceful government action against a small presbyterian congregation of 70-80 souls. The church was gathered on the Lord’s day. Some government officials showed up and told the pastor that he was not authorized to lead that assembly in worship; they ordered him to cease. He refused, declaring, “We cannot stop, for we are here to worship God.” Moments later the sanctuary was surrounded by 60-70 military police. The pastor continued to lead the service, and the congregation continued to follow his lead in worship. After the benediction, the pastor was arrested, the congregation was sent home, and the church was shut down, and a government seal was placed over the doors.
Later that day, the pastor was released and ordered to disband his church. As of today, the church is still meeting when and where it can and still looking for a permanent location.
During this season of persecution, the church has grown. Some congregations have 20-30 visitors per week. When the pastors say, “Why are you here? You know the government opposes us and you could get in real trouble.” The visitors respond, “Yes — and since you know that you could get in trouble, and you gather anyway, you must be genuine Christians.” That’s why they come and join the church.
I won’t use these stories to send any of you on a guilt-trip, but I will say that all this made me realize just how soft and lax –how silly and petty — American Christians tend to be.
Almost anything is good enough excuse to skip worship and other church gatherings, almost nothing is excuse enough to keep Chinese Christians away.
Almost anything is good enough excuse to leave a congregation; almost nothing is excuse enough to make Chinese Christians leave.
Almost anything is good enough excuse to abort mission; almost nothing is excuse enough to persuade Chinese Christians to abandon their post.
I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions and make your own applications.
Suffice it to say for now that some Christians would gladly give up their homes, comforts, time — they would even risk prison and death — just to have what you have at Christ Covenant Church.
Let’s take nothing for granted; let’s make the most of what we have been given.
For God’s glory and our good.
* We had less business to handle and more time to hear reports from our missionaries, church planters, and campus ministries. It was good to hear how God is working among us and through us for the nations.