Separation of church and children in China

Separation of church and state is well-known in western countries – but separation of church and children?  It’s real.  It’s in China, right now.  Will it be coming to a neighborhood near you in the future?  If you’re a regular reader here, then you know I’ve been working on a series about the new religious regulations in China that went into effect as of Feb 2018.  There’s nothing in those regulations targeting children in any specific way.

Separation of church and children in China

I recently heard about how China was supposedly targeting children going to Christian schools.  Given that there’s an entire Article in the new religious regulations about religious schools, my first thought was that I missed something in the new law.  But I didn’t.  

So I searched for something on this, and found the following in an article on gospelherald.com.

China has tightened its “choke-hold” on churches across the country in recent weeks, according to advocacy group China Aid.

Recent bans on unregistered church worship and on teaching Christianity to children, “as if intending to eliminate all house churches at once,” have startled Christians, a China Aid source reported.

True – unregistered churches in China are banned.  Also true – no registered church in China teaches Christianity.  The “Three Self Patriotic Movement” church teaches something China calls Christianity.  However, no Christian who knows what their religion is really about would ever mistake one for the other.

This all begs the question, why the ban on teaching Christianity to children when Christianity itself is already banned?

Is there freedom of religion in China?

Believe it or not, and you should not be surprised, the answer is – it depends.

Here’s what the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China says, according to a translation on the web site of The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China says.

Article 36 

Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.

No State organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.

The State protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the State.

Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Actually – no, it doesn’t.

(1) The people have freedom of religious belief, except that they can only choose from the beliefs offered by the government.  That would be either the official religion – atheism, or the allowed government versions of religions like Christianity and Islam.  Neither of them is close to the real belief systems of those religions.

(2) No discriminating for believing or not believing.  The catch is, believing or not isn’t the issue.  The real problem is, again, in the definition of religion.  Belief in a non-state-allowed religion is a problem.  You see – it’s not a religion if the government doesn’t sanction it.  Religions, under the new Chinese Religious Guidelines, are treated as social groups.  Therefore, Christianity is an outlawed social organization – not a religion.  Seriously.  It’s in the 2018 religious regulations.  I’m not kidding.

(3) The state does protect “normal” religious activities.  In other words – the religious activities the government sanctions.  Christianity, as practiced outside of China, is not a normal religious activity.  It’s an outlawed social organization.

(4) No foreign domination.  Again, that’s a definition problem.  Foreign domination is when a religious body in China wants to follow the official doctrine of that religion – as opposed to the Chinese state-defined version.

No – Article 36 doesn’t sound good at all.  Not when we realize what it actually means.

What it really means

I normally don’t like to do this, but I’m going to pull one line from the article.  It’s to make a point, after which I’ll reveal the context.

Similar bans occurred earlier this year, as Chinese law that is inconsistently enforced forbids adults from teaching religion to Chinese children, according to China Aid.

My point here is that Gospel Herald says the law is inconsistently enforced.  But what does that really mean?  

I don’t think it’s possible to understand the true meaning, unless we take to heart something Jesus said.

Mt 10:11 “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

When dealing with China – we’re in wolf territory.  We need to be shrewd, like snakes – but innocent, like doves.  In other words – know their ways, but don’t become like them.

When we read Article 36 of China’s constitution, we cannot read it as they wanted us to read it.  We cannot read it as if the people really have freedom of religion.  It’s well-known that religious freedom in China is a lie.  So why do we insist on trying to read the constitution like it’s true?  We need to read it for what it is.  The four comments I have above are the “shrewd as snakes” interpretation.  That’s how we need to go forward.  Being “innocent as doves” doesn’t mean trying to pretend that the government really cares about things they’re trying to wipe out.  It does mean knowing how they act – dealing with it appropriately – but not becoming like them.

The snake vs the dove

With those thoughts in mind, let’s look at more of the article.

“Many Sunday schools in Wenzhou were shut down,” a Wenzhou Christian identified only as Li told China Aid. “Many teachers sent messages to their colleagues in group chats in order to prevent children from attending religious gatherings.”

Similar bans occurred earlier this year, as Chinese law that is inconsistently enforced forbids adults from teaching religion to Chinese children, according to China Aid. In Wenzhou, county-level departments dispatched officials to more than 100 churches who verbally issued prohibitions against teenagers attending church services, church-related summer camps or Sunday schools and assigned personnel to monitor the churches and their activities.

“Outraged, the Chinese Christians argued that the government had violated its own laws on protecting minors, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and China’s religious freedom regulations,” China Aid reported.

Article 36 of China’s Constitution stipulates that all Chinese citizens have freedom of belief, and its Regulations on Religious Affairs do not forbid children from attending worship services, according to China Aid.

This is not the snake’s view.  It’s the view the snake wants us to see.  But it’s far from the way the snake itself views things.

There was outrage over what happened.  Of course.  And there should be.

But arguing that the government had violated its own laws on protecting minors, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and China’s religious freedom regulations is, in a very real sense, just not true.  It’s not true, because the government in China has one view of its own laws while those outside the government have another view.  

It all goes back to the definition of “freedom of belief” and “religion”.  Christianity is not considered a religion in the official eyes of the atheist government.  And so, there is no violation of the law when it comes to beliefs and religion.  Furthermore, the government can claim that it is protecting minors, since its keeping them from being corrupted by outlawed / foreign dominated / false religions.

Where it starts to fall apart

Let’s keep going with the article.

“For a long time, teenagers and students have not been allowed to participate in religious activities,” a local Christian identified only as Zhang told China Aid, referring to the law that forbids children from attending religious events. “However, the [official, registered] Three-Self Churches and house churches would usually hold summer camps during the summer vacation.”

Now the government is emphasizing that even Sunday school classes are prohibited, he said, adding, “The government’s major intention is to shut down the Sunday schools.”

The crack-down comes in the wake of a recent order from the Henan Provincial Three-Self Patriotic Committee and the Henan Provincial China Christian Council forbidding churches from organizing summer camps for minors and students, citing high temperatures as a possible health risk. A Christian from Henan said such camps have been allowed in previous summers, and originally officials would interfere only if they received a tip-off about such events.

“The government is trying to control ideology,” Zhang told China Aid. “During [Chinese Presidents] Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao’s time, the government was tolerant toward preaching and missionary work. After Xi Jinping came into power, the government’s grip on religion has strengthened.”

Here, we have a problem.  An obvious one.  And – one that’s got nothing to do with hidden meanings of words.  The official Three Self church can have summer camps.  But the non-registered church summer camps are banned because of high temperatures posing health risks.  Like the Three Self church outings are somehow immune from heat related issues?  

Inconsistency is the problem here.  Not a wording problem.  Nothing related to what does religions mean – what are valid belief systems.  But a real problem with one group supposedly causing potential health issues while the other group – under the same conditions – somehow doesn’t.  

Let’s take a look at something else Jesus said.  Something that’s usually looked at as a defense of Himself – yet also makes a statement about the devil.

Jesus and Beelzebub

Lk 11:17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. 19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”

God is not divided against Himself.  But Satan is.  Satan’s goal is to keep us from God.  And anything goes in an attempt to accomplish that goal.  Here’s something on Satan from Easton’s Bible Dictionary.

SATAN—

adversary; accuser. When used as a proper name, the Hebrew word so rendered has the article “the adversary” (Job 1:6–12; 2:1–7). In the New Testament it is used as interchangeable with Diabolos, or the devil, and is so used more than thirty times.
He is also called “the dragon,” “the old serpent” (Rev. 12:9; 20:2); “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30); “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2); “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4); “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). The distinct personality of Satan and his activity among men are thus obviously recognized. He tempted our Lord in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–11). He is “Beelzebub, the prince of the devils” (12:24). He is “the constant enemy of God, of Christ, of the divine kingdom, of the followers of Christ, and of all truth; full of falsehood and all malice, and exciting and seducing to evil in every possible way.” His power is very great in the world. He is a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Men are said to be “taken captive by him” (2 Tim. 2:26). Christians are warned against his “devices” (2 Cor. 2:11), and called on to “resist” him (James 4:7). Christ redeems his people from “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Satan has the “power of death,” not as lord, but simply as executioner.  1)Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Notice in particular the phrase, full of falsehood and all malice, and exciting and seducing to evil in every possible way.  When we get to something like every possible way, discrepancies, conflicts, divisions are bound to come up.  Satan isn’t God.  It’s not like he’s all-powerful or all-knowing.  He does mess up.  And scenarios like what we just saw with heat related health issues are one way.

More snake-like recognition of reality

Here’s yet another excerpt from the article.

In the eastern province of Jiangsu, officials have launched a new investigation that includes acquiring information on key church leaders and other members and their connections to Christians overseas, as well as their plans for future development. When a pastor asked why she was being made to fill out a form that included her personal information, an official replied that the Communist Party suspected “Christian imposters” were infiltrating churches and deceiving believers, according to China Aid.

“The government often uses excuses in order to investigate churches, such as alleging that they need to perform fire-safety checks, and it is likely the government’s so-called suspicions are actually just ruses used in order to sanction the baseless persecution of Christians,” China Aid reported.

A China Aid correspondent theorized that such actions are being carried out as “comprehensive stability maintenance” ahead of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China meeting on Oct. 18.

I can’t help but wonder, after reading this, why not just be this straightforward all the time?  Furthermore, why can’t all Christians do the same? 

I went to the BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) web site.  They have this for a headline: AROUND THE WORLD
More than 2,200 locations. On 6 continents. In more than 40 nations.  A bit further down, it says:

Although Bible Study Fellowship began in the 1950s on the West Coast of the United States, its founder, A. Wetherell Johnson, was an English woman who was a missionary to China. Class members helped start BSF classes elsewhere as they moved from California to other parts of the country in the 1960s and the world in the ’70s.

Nice mention of China.  And then a bit further down it also says:

In Asia today, you can find BSF classes in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

So what’s the big deal?  Why do I mention this?  After checking a number of cities in China, including all of the ones mentioned in the Gospel Herald article – I found two BSF locations in China.  Two!  One is in Shanghai.  The other is in Beijing.  However – the Beijing church that hosts BSF points Chinese people to the official government supported Three Self Church!  This is shocking.  Why can’t BSF be open about what’s happening in China?

Rather than going into detail here, I feel like this is important enough to do a separate article on just this one topic.  I’ll put a link in here when it’s ready.

Why the Separation of Church and Children?

Back to the original topic. 

So – why do all this?  We know China is trying to kill off any interest in Christianity.  But why target the kids?

Recent bans on unregistered church worship and on teaching Christianity to children, “as if intending to eliminate all house churches at once,” have startled Christians, a China Aid source reported.

In Guangzhou, Guangdong Province in southern China, a source told China Aid that in the past week police visited members of unregistered church members at their homes to warn them not to attend worship services. Officers also summoned a large number of them for questioning.

“The police called me again today and ordered me to stay away from church gatherings, which irritated me,” reported one Christian, who wished to remain unnamed. “I don’t know what to do with these people.”

Authorities also ordered the Christian to write a letter guaranteeing not to attend church services.

“Today, people from the sub-district office went to take pictures of our two church buildings, using inspecting the fire systems as an excuse,” the source told China Aid earlier this week. “People from the religious affairs bureau also called and summoned me for a talk on Friday [Sept. 7].”

Separation of Church and Children

In Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province on the eastern coast, children were specifically prohibited from attending church services, with local officials ordering churches to cancel all activities involving teenagers. Elementary and middle school staff members told parents not to allow them to attend Sunday worship services or other church events, according to China Aid.

The kids are the way to control the parents.  It’s that simple.  Good parents will do pretty much anything to protect their kids.  That includes keeping them from ending up as orphans, if the parents go to a Chinese prison for violating the law.  Fear is a great motivator, especially when the fear is for one’s children.

What would Jesus say?

As with all topics on this site, let’s look at what Jesus says about this – about whether or not any other “god”, including the god of government – can really have control over God.

Let’s start off with something about parents.

Ask, Seek, Knock

Mt 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Mt 7:9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

First off, we see that God cares.  Second – we see that when we look to God for answers, He will provide them.  

Next, let’s move to children.

The Little Children and Jesus

Mt 19:13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.

Mt 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

So we know children – literally and figuratively – are important to Jesus.

And then there’s this.

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven

Mt 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Mt 18:2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Mt 18:5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Mt 18:7 “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”

I guess that tells us where the people of the Chinese Government who are involved in all this are going to end up.  Hint – with a millstone, so to speak.

God will not be removed by people.  For more on that, especially extreme cases like what we see here – I invite you to read The more you tighten your grip, Satan … from my other site.  

Know this though – God will win.

From my favorite book of the Bible, we read this:

The Throne in Heaven

Rev 4:1 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

Part of what must take place is this:

Satan’s Doom

Rev 20:7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

The Dead Are Judged

Rev 20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

So we see, Satan and his followers will end up in the same place.  Hell.  Just in case there’s any doubt about who Satan’s followers are – that would be the angels who went with him and a whole bunch of people.  Those people will include the ones in the atheist Chinese government, as they are part of the mass of humanity who are against God and will therefore not be found in the Book of Life.

What about the U. S. – What are we doing?

Religion News Service published an article nearly a year ago, April 2017, titled America is abandoning independent Christians in China.  The conclusion was sadly, all too true.

The hands-off moral position emerging in U.S. politics — slashing the foreign aid budget by 30 percent, lifting human rights conditions for selling fighter jets to Bahrain — and the decoupling of morals and trade, is changing the face of the diplomatic game. While U.S. intervention may rarely have been decisive for religious believers in China, the threat of trade retaliation for rights abuses often sets the parameters of engagement. As former head of Thomson Reuters China, David Schlesinger, has pointed out, holding China to human rights standards used to be a bipartisan issue and a fundamental element of U.S. foreign policy; it was a Republican government that gave political refugees asylum after Tiananmen.

American Christians who voted in a president who fails to do the minimum to secure religious freedom abroad have some serious soul-searching to do before their sisters and brothers around the world. 

Do we think the suffering of the Chinese Christians isn’t real?  Or maybe we think they’re doing the wrong things about their government?  Possibly we think – it’s their problem, not ours?  Maybe we drank too much of the Chinese kool-aid and believe the government over the news that is little-reported about the truth?  Or maybe we’re just too self-centered to even acknowledge, let alone understand, the problems?

Conclusion – separation of church and children

In the end, what do we do about this?  As I pointed out earlier, I think part of what “we”, outside of China, need to do is be more open and honest about what’s going on.  And / or to be more realistic and snake-like in our view of China.  Religious freedom, the way we think of it, does not exist.  

More specifically, what should the people in China do?  That’s a tough one.  We aren’t there.  We don’t live the life of fear that they do.  It’s easy to look at a verse like one in the passage below and arrive at a conclusion.  It’s harder to examine the whole passage and then reach a conclusion.  See if you can spot the single verse – and also see if you can see the importance of all the other verses.

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

Mt 10:1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

Mt 10:2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mt 10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10 take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

Mt 10:11 “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Mt 10:17 “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Mt 10:21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Mt 10:24 “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!

Mt 10:26 “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny ? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Mt 10:32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Mt 10:34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“ ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—

Mt 10:36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

Mt 10:37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Mt 10:40 “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Do you know the verse I meant?

33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Question – is trying to evade the Chinese authorities a case of disowning God?  Did you consider all the other verses?

Consider this:

Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison

Ac 12:1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

Ac 12:5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

Ac 12:6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Ac 12:8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

Ac 12:11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”

Ac 12:12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”

Ac 12:15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

Ac 12:16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the brothers about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

Ac 12:18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.

Or this.

Paul and Silas in Prison

Ac 16:16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

Ac 16:19 When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

Ac 16:22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Ac 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

Ac 16:29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Ac 16:31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.

Ac 16:35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”

Ac 16:37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”

Ac 16:38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.

If you still think there’s a clear-cut answer, how about this one?

In Iconium

Ac 14:1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. 4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the good news.

We believe in a “personal” God.  We believe that He wants to have a relationship with each of us.  We also believe, as Paul wrote, that the church is like the body – made of many parts.  Each of those parts has a purpose.  God has a plan for each of us.  And we’re not robots.  It’s an individual plan.  

So – who are we to decide / judge / ignore what someone else does with the plan we / they believe has been received from God?

No, we should be helping the Christians in China, not helping the atheist government keep up the facade of freedom of religion when in fact it’s freedom from religion.  We also shouldn’t be hiding our heads, pretending it’s not going on.  And we shouldn’t be telling them how to deal with the problem.  God has a plan for them.  Pray that they have the strength to do what God’s plan is for each Chinese Christian, as an individual and as a group.  God has the solution – we don’t.  We even know how God’s solution will eventually work out.  He wins.  And when we win, all Christians win as well.  So pray for that plan – not our plan – and not for ignorance so we can pretend nothing’s happening.

If we take a page from the early church, we’d make this more well-known.  When things happened – good or bad – even in the age before the internet, Paul, Peter, John, James, Etc. still managed to get letters out to the churches.  We read some of those letters today – two thousand years later.  Can’t we do that – and more – with all the resources we have today?

How many of you – specifically Christians – read something like the Gospel Herald – to find out what’s happening to fellow Christians?  If you do – awesome.  Spread the word.  And it’s not like it needs to be the Gospel Herald.  That’s just the most recent one I’ve read.  There are others.  If you don’t read anything like it – why not? 

Remember, the church is more than your local building and the people in it.  The “church” – the way Jesus meant it – is literally every Christian in the world.  And since God is outside of time – I submit that it even means every Christian, ever, regardless of whether or not they are Christians right now.  Everyone, as far as we know, is a potential Christian.  Everyone might be a member of the church.  

Earlier, we looked at “Jesus and Beelzebub” from Luke.  Here’s a passage that Matthew includes in his Gospel when writing about the same event.

Mt 12:30 “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

An interesting – and scary – thought, isn’t it?

Do we gather?  

Or do we scatter?

 

References   [ + ]

1. Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

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