Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“A City upon a Hill” first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of Touchstone.
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A City upon a Hill
by Jinghong CaiOn Sunday, July 6, I attended a church service imbued with patriotic sentiment; it was my first time commemorating the 4th of July in church in the United States. Church members from different countries together sang a special "liturgical song"—the first and last verses of the American national anthem. As we raised our voices to intone, "Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just / And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust,'" I burst into tears. Although I am not a U.S. citizen yet, I can't help being enormously proud of this country, the "land of the free and the home of the brave," over which that Star-Spangled Banner is waving.
The Struggles of the Shouwang Church
This emotional celebration of freedom, however, evoked painful recollections of the hardships fellow Christians in my native China are enduring in their pursuit to have a true Christian church in my home city of Beijing. In 2011, Time magazine reported on such a church:
Those Chinese Christians belong to a non-government Protestant church in Beijing. The name of the church is Shouwang, meaning "keeping watch." The church leaders' aim is for their church to be "a city upon a hill," as Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount: the light of the world and a city that is set on a hill and cannot be hidden. If the church were to consent to join the official church system, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, it would be entirely under the government's control.
As of September 2012, members of the Shouwang Church had been detained 1,600 times, 60 of them had been evicted from their homes, as officials put pressure on landlords to terminate church members' leases, and at least 10 people had lost their jobs because they attended the church's outdoor worship services or simply because they refused to change their membership to a government-sanctioned
Every time church members were arrested, the police recorded their addresses and phone numbers. Many from outside Beijing were sent back to their hometowns, and others were confined to their homes during the weekends. They were tracked by the police and blocked at their homes from Friday evening to Sunday night, to prevent them from attending church services.
Church members and their families are constantly intimidated and harassed in these ways to make them give up their true Christian faith. Some detainees have been tortured and pressured into signing disavowals of their church before being released.
The church has also been prevented from acquiring a specific building in which to house its congregation and hold services, even though Chinese law does not explicitly state that churches cannot own property and land. But the Communist party has decreed that all land belongs to the country and the "people," and the government has given itself the arbitrary right to give land or to take it away from anyone without due process.
Shouwang started out as a house church in 1993, meeting at the home of the founding pastor, Jin Tianming. With more and more members joining the church, they had to rent a larger place, such as a restaurant or office building, in which to hold Sunday services. By 2011, the church had over 1,000 members, and the government wanted it to segregate members into smaller groups that would meet separately. But the church decided to continue congregating together, and it raised $4 million with which to purchase a large meeting space in a Beijing office building. But the church could not get the keys to the building because the authorities pressured the sellers, who were afraid and refused to hand over the keys. Meanwhile, the government threatened other landlords into not leasing any space to the church, leaving the congregation with no place to meet and worship.
Determined nevertheless to be that "city upon a hill" of which Jesus spoke, Shouwang Church began meeting outdoors in a public park. Its leaders have declared, "We only want one thing: to freely practice our religion." Becoming a government-sanctioned church would mean that Shouwang's pastor would be chosen by the government, his preaching would be censored by the government, and evangelism would be completely banned. As the worshipers at the church have said, "We only take Jesus Christ as the head of the church and the Bible as the only moral standard." This is fundamentally against the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Example of the Shouwang Church
Even before coming to the United States, I knew this country was a "shining city upon a hill," just as the Puritan John Winthrop preached to the first wave of migrants to America in 1630. I fled from the grip of the Chinese Communist regime and joined the Assembly of God; here I can attend every Sunday church service, freely and
In the twentieth century, at least two American presidents quoted the "city upon a hill" passage to remind us of our spiritual obligations, not just to each other, but to the whole world. That sense of spiritual obligation is encouraged by the example of the Shouwang Church, an example that moves Chinese Christians and should move Christians all over the world to serve God as our one and only Master, not the Communist Party—or any other anti-Christian form of government, for that matter.
I pray for my brothers and sisters of this church in Beijing. I encourage you to pray with me.
“A City upon a Hill” first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue. Support the work of Touchstone by subscribing today!
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