Monday, April 14, 2014

RLPB 256. Persecuted because of the Cross

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 256 | Wed 16 Apr 2014

PERSECUTED BECAUSE OF THE CROSS

By Elizabeth Kendal

To those who believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a mere man, the Cross is a symbol of Christian foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). 'Jesus was executed,' they scoff, 'and it is ridiculous to suggest that a dead man would rise.'

To Muslims, who believe that Jesus was a mere prophet of Allah, the Cross is a symbol of Christian blasphemy. 'Jesus was never crucified,' they object, 'and it is blasphemous to suggest that Allah would permit such a thing.' (Qur'an, Sura 4:157-159)

To Satan, who knows exactly who Christ is, the Cross is a symbol of his defeat. 'It must not be seen,' he demands, 'and it must not be heard, lest people come to understand what it means.'

To Christians, who believe that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah), the Cross is a symbol of everything we believe about sin, judgment, justice, redemption, salvation, hope . . . and most of all, love.  'It is in the Cross that God shows his love for us,' we say, 'because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.' (Romans 5:8)

On 4 November 2013, as part of Australia's 'Festival of Dangerous Ideas', an episode of the ABC program 'Q&A' was broadcast from the Sydney Opera House. [Click here for video and transcript.] Peter Hitchens, the lone conservative and Christian amongst a panel and audience of 'progressives', was laughed at, mocked and pilloried for an hour. Finally the panellists were asked: 'Which so-called dangerous idea do you each think would have the greatest potential to change the world for the better if it were implemented?'

Peter Hitchens responded, 'The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the dead and that is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter.'

The panel and audience laughed and cheered until they realised that something must be wrong if they were agreeing with Peter Hitchens! At that point, confusion took over and Peter was asked to explain. 'Because,' he said, 'it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject it, it alters us all as well. It is incredibly dangerous. It's why so many people turn against it.'

To fallen humanity, the Cross represents a truly dangerous idea, a dangerous choice. For some the Cross represents a threat to their personal sovereignty, sexual freedom and status in the world. For those in hostile environments the Cross represents a threat to their family, liberty and even life. Across the world, including Kosovo, Egypt, Raqqa (Syria) and Zhejiang (China), crosses have been pulled down and smashed, sending a loud message to the Church and the local population that 'Christianity is not welcome here'.

The Cross will always be a symbol of persecution at the hands of a hostile world that wants to be rid of Christ. But for those who understand and believe, the Cross will always be wondrous, a symbol of divine love, hope and life in all its fullness.

WE THANK YOU LORD
for your amazing love, which led you to the Cross for us.

WE PRAISE YOU LORD
for your perfection, which meant death could not hold you and now cannot hold any who are 'in Christ'.

MAY WE never be ashamed of the Cross of Christ our Saviour.

MAY WE never be ashamed of those who are persecuted because of the Cross of Christ.

LORD GIVE US boldness and faith to exalt your Cross at all times so that peoples and nations might see, hear, understand and believe.

AMEN


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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The Cross of Christ is the most obvious and enduring of all Christian symbols. Satan cannot abide the Cross for it symbolises his defeat. Fallen humanity hates the Cross because it threatens personal autonomy, sexual freedom, power and all that fallen humanity holds dear. In many parts of the world today the Cross is under attack and Christians are suffering persecution because of the Cross of Christ. In Kosovo, Egypt, Raqqa (Syria), Wenzhou (China) and beyond, crosses have been pulled down and smashed to send a loud message to the Church and the local population that 'Christianity is not welcome here'. But for Christians, the Cross will remain a symbol of all we believe and hold dear. The spiritual battle continues -- please pray for the persecuted Church this Easter.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

RLPB 255. The Chinese Communist Party and the Cross over Zhejiang

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 255 | Wed 09 Apr 2014

CHINA: THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY AND THE CROSS
By Elizabeth Kendal

With a population of some 10 million, Wenzhou, in China's eastern Zhejiang Province, is one of China's great coastal megacities. A 480km drive south of Shanghai on the East China Sea, Wenzhou is often referred to as 'China's Jerusalem' as it is believed to have the largest Christian population of any city in China -- possibly as high as 30 percent. Wenzhou is a business hub known for its many successful Christian entrepreneurs who actively promote Christianity in their workplaces. Whilst the Christian entrepreneurs do strive to maintain good relations with local authorities, that they hold considerable economic power in Wenzhou is doubtless one reason why the churches seem able to be quite active. According to China expert, Dr Kurt Selles, Wenzhou has some 1800 churches which operate openly despite most not being registered with the government. For more than a decade, the success of Wenzhou's Christianity-infused businesses has aroused government interest in the link between Protestant Christianity and successful capitalism. [See below for related articles.] This demonstrable link has created a dilemma for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which is keen to exploit any business model that generates wealth, yet believes it must rein in and control Christianity lest it undermine Communist Party authority. 

On 8 January 2014 Zhejiang's Communist Party secretary, Xia Baolong, was conducting an inspection in Zhoushan (north-east Zhejiang) and was shocked by the proliferation of large churches. While passing a church in Baiquan town, Xia reportedly objected that the cross atop the church was 'too conspicuous', and demanded that the local Religious Affairs Bureau 'rectify' the problem by removing it. The CCP might want to reap the benefits of Christianity, but it certainly does not want the Church to grow! And so began a campaign to de-Christianise the landscapes and skylines of Zhejiang.

On 27 February officials from the Zhoushan Religious Affairs Bureau demanded that believers at the government sanctioned church in Baiquan, Zhoushan, help tear down the cross on top of their building. The Christians refused and a stand-off ensued.
The cross on a government sanctioned church in the Yuhang Disctict of Hangzhou (Zhejiang's provincial capital) was forcibly removed on the same day after the authorities deemed it 'too conspicuous'. Two other local churches reportedly had their crosses forcibly removed also that day. Believers told ChinaAid that forced cross removals were also taking place in neighbouring Anhui Province as well.  (Photos: China Aid Association)

At eight storeys tall and covering 1000 square metres, Sanjiang church in Wenzhou's Ou Bei township is large by any standards. The building includes spaces for worship, teaching and accommodating the elderly. The church is registered with the authorities and is part of the government-controlled Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). The members, along with many relatives working overseas, raised the US$4.8 million for the construction. Everything was approved by the Wenzhou municipal government, which designated the church a 'model project' in September 2013. When the Christians refused to remove the cross and several spires from the rooftop, the authorities responded by threatening to demolish the entire building, falsely accusing the church of adding illegal structures in violation of building codes that rendered it structurally unsound. Meanwhile, demolition notices were reportedly also sent to churches in Taishun, Wencheng and Ruian townships. A church in Yongjia County also is understood to have been ordered to remove its cross and the top floor of the church. 

On 25 March members of Sanjiang church commenced a protest and on 3 April the pastors were notified that the church would be demolished within 15 days: i.e. by 18 April (Good Friday). Since then some 5000 local Christians have been participating in round-the-clock prayer vigils and sit-ins, praying that the church might be saved from demolition. He Hongying (81) said she would stay in the church day and night for as long as necessary. 'We feel at peace,' she said, 'and fearless when we are with our God'.

The struggle for Sanjiang church has come to represent the struggle between Chinese Christians who are unashamed of the transformative power of the Gospel, and abusive CCP officials who love money and despise the Cross.

Remember: 'we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.' (Ephesians 6:12-13 ESV)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* use the crisis at the Sanjiang church to open the eyes and ears of multitudes of Chinese, locally, nationally and inside the CCP; may they believe what the Church has been showing -- that Christianity is good not only for business, but for families and all of society, because Jesus cleanses from sin, the Holy Spirit enables righteousness, and God's wisdom is truth!

* raise up voices for justice across Wenzhou and throughout Zhejiang, so that CCP officials will be forced to relent and stop abusing their power to attack the churches.

* protect and bless all those believers who are risking their security and liberty to stand for their right to lift up the Cross of Christ as the hope of the nation; may the Lord hear their prayers and bring revival to Zhejiang.

Remember: 'my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY AND THE CROSS


Wenzhou, in China's eastern Zhejiang Province, is a coastal megacity of some 10 million residents. Known as 'China's Jerusalem', it is home to as many as three million Christians. They include many Christian entrepreneurs. Objecting to the 'conspicuous' nature of large crosses atop many large churches, Zhejiang's Communist Party secretary recently demanded that authorities 'rectify' the situation by removing the crosses. The campaign to de-Christianise landscapes and skylines across Zhejiang is coming to a head in Wenzhou where a major stand-off is under way at the eight-storey, 1000 square metre Sanjiang church. When the church refused to remove its cross and spires, authorities ordered the church's demolition. Some 5000 local Christians are participating in prayer vigils and sit-ins, day and night, to prevent demolition. Please join them in prayer.

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1) A few related articles:

Groundbreaking article by Chinese economist Zhao Xiao, published in 2002.
Market Economies With Churches and Market Economies Without Churches.

PBS: Interview with Zhao Xiao

Christian faith plus Chinese productivity
By Christopher Landau BBC News, Wenzhou, China. 27 Aug 2010

China's 'Come to Jesus' Moment: How Beijing Got Religion
by Eric Fish, Foreign Policy, 15 Feb 2012

Scholar: China Notices Link Between Christianity, U.S. Economic Success
By Michelle A. Vu, Christian Post Reporter, 18 May 2011

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)