The Original Mission of the Church

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

Not long ago I had a conversation with an elderly missionary who had spent his early career in China. He had been among the six thousand missionaries expelled after the Communists took over. As in Russia, these Communists too strove mightily to destroy the church, which until then had been a showcase of the missionary movement. The government forbade house churches, made it illegal for parents to give religious education to their children, imprisoned and tortured pastors and Bible teachers.

Meanwhile, the exiled missionaries sat on the sidelines and wrung their hands. How would the church in China fare without them? without their seminaries and Bible colleges, their literature and curricula, without even the ability to print Bibles, could the church survive? For forty years these missionaries heard rumors, some discouraging and some encouraging, about what was happening in China, but no one knew for sure until the country began opening up in the 1980s.

I asked this elderly missionary, now a renowned China expert, what had happened in the intervening forty years. “Conservatively, I would estimate there were 750,000 Christians when I left China. And now? You hear all sorts of numbers, but I think a safe figure would be 35 million believers.” Apparently, the church and the Holy Spirit fared quite well on their own. The church in China now constitutes the second largest evangelical community in the world; only the United States exceeds it.

One China expert estimates that the revival in China represents the greatest numerical revival in the history of the church. In an odd way, the government hostility ultimately worked to the church’s advantage. Shut out of the power structures, Chinese Christian devoted themselves to worship and evangelism, the original mission of the church, and did not much concern themselves with politics. They concentrated on changing lives, not changing laws.


The Place Where God’s Kingdom Thrives

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

I had the distinct impression that God was moving — not in the spiritualized sense of that phrase but quite literally packing up and moving. Western Europe now pays God little heed, the United States is pushing God to the margins, and perhaps the future of God’s kingdom belongs to places like Korea, China, Africa, and Russia. The kingdom of God thrives where its subjects follow the desire of the King; does that describe the United States of America today?

As an American, the prospect of such a “move” makes me sad. At the same time, however, I understand more clearly than ever before that my ultimate loyalty lies with the kingdom of God, not [a single nation.]

An Unexpected Repository for Truth

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

When I visited Russia in 1991 … I saw in Russia a people starved for grace. …

I heard form ordinary citizens who now relished their freedom to worship. Most had learned about the faith from a babushka, an old grandmother. When the state cracked down on the church, it ignored this group: let the old women sweep the floors and sell the candles and cling to the tradition until they all die off, they reasoned. The aged hands of the babushka, though, rocked the cradles. Young churchgoers today often say they first learned about God in childhood through the hymns and stories Grandma would whispers as they drifted off to sleep.

I will never forget a meeting in which Moscow journalists wept — I had never before seen journalists weep — as Ron Nikkel of Prison Fellowship International told of the underground churches that were now thriving in Russia’s penal colonies. For seventy years prisons had been the repository of truth, the one place where you could safely speak the name of God. It was in prison, not church, that people such as Solzhenitsyn found God …

Finding Faith in Prison

By Marjorie Holmes, in How Can I Find You, God?

Lord, Lord, could I do as much for you if put to the test?

Would I be able to endure what today’s martyrs are still enduring? … Tortured for their faith, brutally tortured, I’m afraid I wouldn’t bear up long.

I didn’t think I could even read about torture until In God’s Underground came into my hands. But I had to, something drove me into it, past the jacket that told me its author, Richard Wurmbrand, a converted Jew, had spent fourteen years in Romanian prisons because he would not collaborate with the conquering Communists. And there, starved, beaten, savagely tortured, his faith actually grew. He determined to use suffering as an opportunity to win souls for Christ — and did!

What IS the Perfect Government?

[The] state must always water down the absolute quality of Jesus’ commands and turn them into a form of external morality — precisely the opposite of the gospel of grace. Jacques Ellul goes so far as to say the New Testament teaches no such thing as a “Judeo-Christian ethic.” It commands conversion and then this, “Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Read the Sermon on the Mount and try to imagine any government enacting that set of laws.

A state government can shut down stores and theaters on Sunday, but it cannot compel worship. It can arrest and punish KKK murderers but cannot cure their hatred, must less teach them love. It can pass laws making divorce more difficult but cannot force husbands to love their wives and wives their husbands. It can give subsidies to the poor but cannot force the rich to show them compassion and justice. It can ban adultery but not lust, theft but not covetousness, cheating but not pride. It can encourage virtue but not holiness. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?