Earlier this week, 100 Chinese Christians were arrested and held in prison. Some have been released showing signs of having been beaten and hurt. Others are still in prison. Persecution has been increasing across China as the government begins to crack down on churches, forbidding them to meet, and, in some areas, arresting Christians. One of the pastor's of a fairly large underground church remains in prison. Before his arrest, he wrote a letter to his church in which he describes his devotion to the gospel and to Christ as "faithful disobedience." He writes,
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.
The letter further outlines his commitment to the gospel and his submission to this persecution as "spiritual disobedience" to the civil laws and authorities who would command him to stop preaching Christ and command his church to stop meeting for worship.
I firmly believe that spiritual disobedience is an act of the last times; it is a witness to God’s eternal kingdom in the temporal kingdom of sin and evil. Disobedient Christians follow the example of the crucified Christ by walking the path of the cross. Peaceful disobedience is the way in which we love the world as well as the way in which we avoid becoming part of the world.
This powerful testimony of devotion to Christ in the face of persecution is an example for Christian everywhere of the cost of being a Christian. Yet this cost is worth it. As Paul says,
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
To those in the world, blinded by sin and imprisoned by the devil's deceptions, Christ and the way of the cross is utter foolishness. But persecution also shows us that governments intent on gaining all power and control for themselves have a deep-rooted fear of Christianity. This is because Christ remains ruler over the earth, even over corrupt governments and laws, and he sends out his gospel through the Holy Spirit in power to "set the captives free." The gospel is dangerous because it alone has real and true power to transform people's lives and capture their hearts and devotion. Governments know this and so does the devil: "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matt. 11:12).
Yet Christ remains king and not one of his people can be taken away from him. Men may have some limited power over the body now, but they have no power over the soul nor over Christ's second coming nor over the eternal kingdom Christ is even now building. "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (Jn. 10:28).
As American Christians, relatively free from persecution, we must pray for all other brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who suffer imprisonment and false accusations for the sake of Christ. When will they be delivered? In this world, the answer is uncertain. What we hold onto is that God works both in times of deliverance and times of imprisonment. The same God who provided Paul with the Roman citizenship that kept him from a beating is the same God who allowed Paul to be stoned by his own people, the Jews (Acts 14:19). God uses both suffering and deliverance to spread the gospel to all peoples and bring them into his eternal kingdom. In the next world, the answer is certain–Jesus will deliver them.
Those who continue to suffer today are not abandoned by God but rather they share in Christ's own suffering. God's promises are as true for them as they are for Pastor Brunson, regardless of whether they see deliverance in this life. As the Apostle Peter writes,
But rejoice in so far as you share in Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you…Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
Therefore, for those of us Christians who are not imprisoned for the name of Christ, let us continue to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world as the author to the Hebrews exhorts “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3).
And remembering as Paul commands us to:
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
Praise God for his salvation that whatever the circumstances of his people, he is faithful to bring them through in deliverance, if not in this age, then in the age to come.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."