Being “aliens and exiles” is nothing new to the people of God, … but it can get confusing if one is in any illusion about its context. It gets more confusing when there are those who identify themselves as the people of God, while at the same time, espousing those governmental personalities and policies that are totally at odds with the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is also challenging when there is a price to be paid in obeying those teachings, whether that be the scorn of acquaintances, or the penalties imposed by governing authorities.

This can readily be seen in China, where the governing Communist government does not placidly countenance anything that challenges the ultimate authority of the state, and only allows the Christian church to exist when it is registered by the state, and when it does not do or say anything that is in opposition to that autonomy. The ‘registered’ church is known as the Three-Self Church (self-government, self-support, and self-propagation), designed by the government to keep it free from foreign influence. (And, to be clear, this is aimed at Protestant churches, the Roman Catholics deal with the government differently, but still exists under government approval.)

Ah! but then there is the other Protestant church, which is the underground church, which, because it operates clandestinely and is unregistered is difficult to quantify. But, it is widely acknowledged that the Christian church in China is the largest Christian church in the world, with estimates ranging from 31 million to 67 million, and projected to reach 110 million by 2030. For our purposes here, it is essential to note that it is with this underground church that the exponential growth is taking place in apartments, homes, out-of-sight locations, and is a church that owns only one Lord, Jesus Christ, and is seeking to be formed by his teachings. Its members know they live under the state authority of the Communist Party, and participate as citizens as they are able, but seek never to forget or compromise their primary calling.

The official Three-Self Church, for the purpose of being able to be public and to meet in public, bows the knee to the Communist ideology. Since the time of the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao, the underground church has frequently prospered as communities forming in odd places such as concentration camps. A holy nation existing with an alien culture, not bowing the knee to any Lord but Jesus Christ, … often at the cost of their lives.

This is not new. The Christian church has always been at odds with the ultimate demands of the empire, going all the way back to its clash with the Roman empire at its birth. It the twentieth century it was tragically displayed with the vast majority of the Christian church in Nazi Germany, maintained its security by never challenging the horribly wicket policies of Adolph Hitler. The witnessing church in Germany was the exception, but it had to survive by being underground, and out of sight. Its major figure was the giant Christian leadership of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The political context became so extreme that Bonhoeffer felt he was justified in cooperating in a move to assassinate Adolph Hitler, for which he was ultimately captured and hanged.

The true Christian community is always a community of aliens and exiles. So, at this moment and in our day, it is not sufficient to hi-jack the designation of Christian or Evangelical to justify your legitimacy. The true Christian community is that company of people formed by their obedience to the teachings of Jesus, regarding justice, stewardship of God’s creation, peacemaking, care for the poor, rejection of the power of wealth/mammon, … but primarily by their love. It exists as a holy nation within a nation often anything but holy! This comes at a cost.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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  1. Jermaine Ladd says:

    I love it. The church is the Holy nation not the State.

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