In 2004 a human rights lawyer named Wang Yi made the list of “50 Most Influential Public Intellectuals of China.” In 2005 he became a Christian and joined the persecuted church as an outspoken advocate not only for human rights, but for the cause of Jesus Christ. In 2006 he was invited to Washington D.C. to speak with president George W. Bush about the issue of religious freedom and in 2008 this young, distinguished legal scholar resigned his university position to pastor a church in Chengdu, China.
Since Wang Yi became a pastor he has had multiple run-ins with government officials, but he hasn’t quieted down. In 2015 his church published “Reaffirming Our Stance on the House Churches: 95 Theses” (view the English translation here) and in May of 2018 he was detained by the police for holding a prayer service.
This past December Pastor Wang was arrested along with his wife and more than 100 Christians from Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC). Previous to his arrest he wrote “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience” (view the English translation here) and instructed his church to publish it if he was ever detained for more than 48 hours. So 48 hours into his detainment and while arrests of other ERCC members were still being made the church released it.
As I’ve reflected on Pastor Wang’s uncompromising voice I have been reminded of what Walter Brueggemann expressed about Moses’ ministry in Egypt. In “The Prophetic Imagination” Brueggemann writes, “[Moses’] work is nothing less than an assault on the consciousness of the empire, aimed at nothing less than the dismantling of the empire both in its social practices and in its mythic pretensions.” God used Moses to pronounce judgment on Egypt and God is using Pastor Wang to pronounce judgment on the government that is oppressing his people in China.
However, there is a difference between Israel, God’s Old Covenant people, and the Church, God’s New Covenant people. God will likely not unleash plagues on China’s government to free his new covenant people from oppression. The practices and pretentions of China’s government will likely continue for a time and God will probably let his persecuted children endure suffering for his glory.
When people like Pastor Wang show up on the world scene we need to pay attention. You see…God’s beauty is put on glorious display in this world when his children choose to be faithful knowing it will bring pain. This was true of God’s Son as he chose to endure undeserved suffering and it continues to be true as Jesus carries on his ministry through the Father’s adopted children. (Colossians 1:24)
What we, the Church, too easily forget is that self-sacrifice is one of the most God glorifying strategies that we can use with God’s enemies. We forget about self-sacrifice because we don’t like it. Self-sacrifice hurts. It requires more from us than we want to give. Sometimes it even requires our lives. Yet, this is the strategy Jesus used and through his use of it he is both our Savior and our model.
Most of us instinctively and unconsciously seek to preserve our physical lives. We try to limit our suffering as much as possible. We want to find a more conservative and comfortable expression of Christ-likeness. We want to find a middle ground where we can live in a way that is both faithful and safe. Pastor Wang and Early Rain Covenant Church jettisoned safe and in this they serve as an exhortation to faithful action. In this they serve as a living example of Jesus Christ.
To choose faithfulness to God in the face of suffering is a declaration that God is greater than this world. We Christians know this fact in our heads, but our hearts are slow to learn and so we rarely display this truth with our actions. Pastor Wang is leading a charge into suffering and in doing so he is calling attention to the suffering Servant, his glorious Savior Jesus Christ. And in his display of faithfulness he is energizing God’s oppressed children.
God has raised up a prophet in China to stir up the imagination of his persecuted people so they may not forget that their current, worldly rulers will ultimately be taken down.
Pastor Wang is proclaiming the imperishable quality of the Ruler of the universe. The one who created the heavens and the earth. The one who appoints current political authority and declares them all temporary. Pastor Wang is pronouncing loudly that Jesus is the final Moses and no matter what a Christian’s current circumstances look like or feel like, God’s people can have absolute confidence that he has ultimately delivered them from all worldly empires and will eternally place his people in the Promised Land…his eternal Kingdom.
And the Chinese government doesn’t like that. They imprisoned Pastor Wang because they are frightened of him. They are scared he will stir up the Christian imagination. Oppressive systems of government do not like it when people’s thoughts stray to consider an alternative reality. Brueggemann writes, “…imagination is a danger. Thus every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of the imagination, to keep conjuring and proposing future alternatives to the single one the [regime] wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”
Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would not bow down to their totalitarian regime and were thrown into a furnace (Daniel 3). Just as Daniel would not stop bowing down to the true King and was thrown into a lion’s den (Daniel 6). Wang Yi and his little family of Christian exiles have engaged in faithful disobedience and have been thrown into prison. And I hope their faithful suffering has a similar effect. I hope the Chinese government is moved to declare that the God of Pastor Wang Yi “is the living God, enduring forever, [whose] kingdom shall never be destroyed, and [whose] dominion shall be to the end” (Daniel 6:26).
Learn more about Pastor Wang Yi here.