In Kunming’s terrorist attack (a 2014 terrorist attack blamed on Uighur separatists, members of an oppressed Muslim minority group), we see how the conflict and hatred between a Rome-like empire and the barbarians it conquers make a city totter. At 4 p.m. on March 14th, 2014, there was a collective panic on Chunxi Road in Chengdu. Hundreds of people ran wildly in the streets, because a rumor had spread saying someone was killed. Perhaps someone saw a few people who looked like they came from Xinjiang (the province home to most Uighur peoples).
This panic showed us a defeated city and a divided people. In the past few decades in China, every day we hear news of defeated cities and divided peoples. But every day we preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in those defeated cities. We hear that one more city has been gathered up and taken in by the Lord himself.
Every day, in each city in China, people flee and re-gather. Meanwhile, each day, in each city in China, the Lord counts his towers, considers his ramparts, and goes through his palaces: his church in that city. Dear brothers and sisters, in the Old Testament we see that the captive Israelite people — who continuously failed in God’s grace — changed Jerusalem into a Babylon, into a Sodom and Gomorrah. But in the New Testament, we see the real Israelite people, the real sons of Abraham who are blessed with God’s promises. They came to Babylon and turned Babylon into Jerusalem.
The captive Israelite people — who continuously failed in God’s grace — changed Jerusalem into a Babylon. But the real sons of Abraham turned Babylon into Jerusalem.
We see something really exciting when the Holy Spirit arrives. On the day of Pentecost, all the VIPs of Jerusalem gathered in the city. On that day there would be sacrificial offerings, ceremonies, and celebrations in the temple. But the Holy Spirit did not come to the holy temple. He came to a group of nobodies, of Galileans. God fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 46. He is with his people on earth, through the salvation made by his son, Jesus Christ. God made his lowly people into a holy place, the city of God on earth.
The gospel itself means a city of God, which is built and expanded among the cities on earth. When you read Acts 2:9–11 about Jews from every nation under heaven gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, you find something very interesting: the huge Roman Empire appears in that list very quietly. Without the Lord’s presence, the city of Rome was accurately described according to Psalm 46 and Acts 2 as “the end of the earth” or “the desolation of the earth.” The commission of the gospel is to make the church the city set up by God, and for it to enter every city, unto the ends of the earth.
Do you have the same experience as me? I cannot always find the things I need, even in my home. Sometimes this includes very important items. I search everywhere, but cannot find them. Later, I find a pile of things. As I clear away the pile — napkins, magazines, and books — I finally find what I need. It was buried at the bottom. This sort of thing happens every few months or so. In our lives and in the church of Christ, often the last thing we find is the gospel. As we look at our relationships with our cities, we need to be renewed in the gospel.
A few weeks ago, I went to church on my electric bike. As I passed a bus stop, a bus rushed by and pushed me aside. As I fell, I knocked an old lady off the step nearby. I am a pastor, and I knocked down an old lady. That could be a very serious issue. At the time, I felt my behavior in the following ten minutes was quite good. But later, when I arrived at church, I shared about it with my fellow workers. I realized I had behaved like a Pharisee, because I only accepted exterior responsibility. I kindly raised the woman to her feet, stayed with her, told her I would provide any help she needed, asked if she needed to be sent to the hospital and where her home was.
What does it mean to be a Pharisee? It means that you take responsibility, so you can be regarded as a moral person. But in my heart, in those ten minutes, I was not focused on the Lord. My first thought was: “Something is wrong!” I was worried about myself, not about the woman: I messed up, I was in big trouble, I would miss the morning’s meeting with my fellow workers. My relationship with her was not a gospel-centered relationship, but a morality-centered one.
Morality can define our responsibilities and evaluate our performances. Based on morality, as a pastor maybe I would receive a good evaluation. But the gospel does not put boundaries on our relationships with others. I dejectedly found that when I, a pastor, knocked down an old lady on the street, the matter did not become a means of expanding and presenting the city of God in Chengdu.
Why? There was fear in my heart, which made me lose the power and mission of taking Chengdu as my parish. When I knocked down the old lady, I forgot the city of God, the city announced and prophesied in Psalm 46. I forgot Pentecost, when the city of God became present in a city on earth, when a new society appeared suddenly in the midst of an old society. In that moment, I almost did not believe the city belongs to Jesus Christ, the God of resurrection. In that moment, “though the mountains be moved,” I also moved; “though the seas shake,” I also shook.
I helped myself out of the situation through good deeds, but not by the gospel. I did not allow it to be a chance to make the city of God known in my city.
Brothers and sisters, when I examine myself seriously, I can see that when I knocked the old lady down, I faced an identity crisis. I was not acting as a pastor or as a Christian, but as a knowledgeable and cultured person, a respectable person. Although I am fat, I am still a gentleman, a glasses-wearing intellectual. That identity faced a challenge: I was a perpetrator, a troublemaker. I had to face the crisis. In the ten minutes after I knocked the lady down, I helped myself out of the situation through good deeds, but not by the gospel. I did not allow it to be a chance to make the city of God known in my city. God allowed it to happen “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28), so that I might believe the gospel more, so that his gospel might enter the city more deeply. He did not allow it to happen so I could keep up a respectable image.
Editor’s note: This post is written by Wang Yi, one of the Chinese house church’s foremost thinkers and voices. Wang Yi pastors Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu. He and his congregation have recently experienced significant persecution, but remain committed to loving and serving their city with the gospel of grace. You can read more of Wang Yi’s writings on the China Partnership blog.