According to Wang and Sam, the church in China today is once again practicing this strategy. Instead of hosting large services, they are discipling many leaders of small groups. "New people are coming to the meetings and are committing themselves to Christ. This time, though, the increase did not come about because of one large, impressive, flashy service. Rather it is the fruit of the smaller, multiple gatherings around the city that are being led by different co-workers."
The churches are looking for new opportunities to strategically show Christian love in a public way. Barred from large-scale organizing through the church, many Christians are opening charity organizations, food banks, and responding to disasters such as the Sichuan earthquake. They are earning respect from other Chinese as well as from government officials.
Churches are also finding ways to send missionaries across China and to other countries. The Back to Jerusalem movement, which seeks to bring the gospel from China west through India, Pakistan, Iran, and into the Middle East, remains a compelling vision. The persecution faced in China is only preparation, according to these pastors, for missionary efforts into the Middle East. One benefit of the crackdown is that churches have more money for missions now that they are not paying rent, buying buildings, and running sound systems.
Paying the Price
The Chinese church's missionary efforts may be only one ray of the light it shines around the world. The current throughout Christian China and the Light of the World is that there is a cost to being a Christian, but when we pay that price we receive greater faithfulness and a more vibrant witness. As Christianity faces persecution worldwide, the Chinese church's ability to thrive amid opposition may offer essential guidance.
In the U.S., on the other hand, where Christians are quick to call any opposition "persecution," this book offers an important corrective. It may be good to resist harmful policies or anti-Christian attitudes, but suffering should not provoke an external backlash. Rather it should first refine us spiritually and shape our witness. The church in China amply shows that a vibrant, successful, and growing faith can exist amid—and even because of—real persecution.
It is a lesson we should learn, whether or not we eventually need to.
Rob Moll is CT editor at large and author of The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come (InterVarsity Press). His second book, What Your Body Knows About God (InterVarsity Press), will be published next fall.