Lection Connection - Spirit Sightings

January 27, 2019: Shaped by God's Word

From Sandra Rooney

 

A month ago, as we celebrated Christmas in all the traditional ways, many Chinese Christians were forced to meet in small, informal gatherings in the homes of friends and relatives. Some members of Early Rain Covenant Church, in the southwest city of Chengdu, have been worshipping on the banks of a river near the church’s former headquarters since early December, when police shut down the church. They confiscated Bibles, closed the school and seminary run by the church, and detained the pastor on charges of “inciting subversion,” punishable in serious cases by at least five years in prison. In September, authorities in Beijing closed the 1500-member Zion Church, one of the largest unofficial churches in the capital.

 

The government requires religious groups to register, but many still worship in unofficial churches, sometimes called underground or house churches. Many party members believe that Christianity, which by some estimates is China’s fastest-growing religion, promotes Western values and ideals that conflict with the aims of China’s authoritarian government, and with President Xi Jinping’s embrace of traditional Chinese culture and Confucian teachings that emphasize obedience and order. Sermons in state-sanctioned churches are often tightly scripted. From independent churches often come messages indicting corrupt officials and calls to protect the rights of the poor.

 

Experts believe there are as many as 60 million Christians in China, with roughly half worshipping at unofficial churches, against which Mr. Xi has campaigned aggressively. The government has banned online sales of the Bible, burned crosses, demolished churches, and forced the closure of places of worship. The effort to control religion across China has included the detention of thousands of Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang as well. Renee Xia, international director for China Human Rights Defenders, explains that the government has focussed on unofficial Christian churches because they tend to promote ideas such as social justice, or are critical of the party.

 

In the words of one member of Early Rain church, “We will not forfeit our faith because of suppression by the authorities.” After church members were asked to sign letters stating that they no longer believed in Christianity, another member said they had no choice but to continue in secret. “We have moved underground,” he said.

 

Explore…Luke 4:14–21

  • What words in this passage stand out for you? In what way do they resonate today?
  • What would you do if the government tried to censor your pastor’s sermons?
  • What about contemporary life challenges your faith the most these days?
  • What action might you take in response to one of these challenges?

 

Prayer…

We ask for blessings over that which calls us out of comfort, that which we cannot ignore, that which requires us to do or be more. And we give thanks for those who taught us, challenged us, named us as children of God. Amen.

 

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