On Dec. 30, 2019, The Guardian reported that Wang Yi, leader of Early Rain Covenant in China, was sentenced to prison for nine years for inciting subversion through his unsanctioned church. The New York Times reported on Yi’s imprisonment, “As part of his sentence, he will also be stripped of his political rights for three years and have 50,000 renminbi, or almost $7,200, of his assets seized, according to the statement.”
Yi’s imprisonment is the most recent story of religious persecution in China, which is a growing global concern and extends beyond Christian groups in China to include Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners as well.
There are approximately 116 million Christians in mainland China, and their presence makes the Chinese Communist Party feel threatened. China’s authoritarian leader, President Xi Jinping, tries to silence the voices of any who have worldviews that are antithetical to his leadership and governance. Thomas Kidd suggested that it was likely not only the presence of the unregistered house churches that landed Yi in jail but his evangelistic work without government approval and “his criticism of China’s increasingly authoritarian ruler.”
There is no subtle irony in the accusation that the Chinese government brought against Yi and his church. In some important ways, Yi and his congregation were and will continue to “incite subversion” in Communist China by their very existence. This is what the gospel of the risen Christ does in the midst of totalitarian government. The idea that an embassy of Christ’s Kingdom would have to “register and submit to government oversight” is diametrically opposed to the Lordship of Christ over his churches.
Even though Yi and the members of Early Rain Covenant are being persecuted by the Chinese government, the gospel is not chained.
The only registry that the church of Christ requires is to be “safely hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3-4). Yi and the many other Christians in China recognized this reality and rightly defied a government that had confused its role in the world. The government in China is supposed to “punish evil and praise good” as part of their God-ordained purpose in the world (Rom. 13:1-7).
In a Facebook post, containing a personal message from Pastor Yi, he shares passionately about how he views his imprisonment and what his prayer is while he’s there.
Those who lock me up will one day be locked up by angels. Those who interrogate me will finally be questioned and judged by Christ. When I think of this, the Lord fills me with a natural compassion and grief toward those who are attempting to and actively imprisoning me. Pray that the Lord would use me, that he would grant me patience and wisdom, that I might take the gospel to them.
Separate me from my wife and children, ruin my reputation, destroy my life and my family – the authorities are capable of doing all of these things. However, no one in this world can force me to renounce my faith; no one can make me change my life; and no one can raise me from the dead.
Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever. I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.
Even though Yi and the members of Early Rain Covenant are being persecuted by the Chinese government, the gospel is not chained. As the Apostle Paul encourages Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:8-10, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”
And while Xi Jinping is setting himself up to be the supreme leader, he is no match for the living, reigning, and soon-returning Lord who is jealous for his bride in China. When Christ determines to build his Church, he does not ask for permission or building permits. Thus, while hell may threaten to build gates around the message of the gospel in China, they will not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18-20).
Secretary of State Pompeo has expressed alarm and urged for Pastor Yi’s release: “I am alarmed that Pastor Wang Yi, leader of Chengdu’s Early Rain house church, was tried in secret and sentenced to nine years in prison on trumped-up charges. Beijing must release him and end its intensifying repression of Christians and members of all other religious groups.”
We, too, should advocate for Pastor Yi’s release and urge China to cease it’s persecution of religions. We should also pray for the release from prison for those who are persecuted, perseverance during the trial, and the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ.