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'The Heavenly Man'
A Case Study of Persecution

The Heavenly Man is the autobiography of Brother Yun, a Chinese Christian who was brutally tortured and persecuted with four terms in prison for his Saviour, Jesus Christ. During the first decade of his commitment to Christ, his main concern was to be faithful and not betray his Lord, and to help his fellow prisoners to accept Christ and know the freedom that Christ brings. To avoid giving away his name during one interrogation session, he told them "I am a heavenly man, I come from gospel village." He gives graphic accounts not only of the tortures he suffered but also how the Holy Spirit helped him, as his wife put it "to fly in the spirit". At one point he says [p.53] "From that day I clearly understood that the kingdom of God can never mix with politics."

But how does this relate to our new view in theology, which emphasizes our responsibility to the rest of creation, and recognises politics as part of the kingdom of God? Yun's courage, faithfulness, love, fortitude are amazing, and one almost feels it sacrilegious to suggest he lacks anything. Yet he himself - humble servant of God that he is - clearly sets out times when he disobeyed God, and he also shows how his views developed and became richer than this. We are justified in seeing that he wrote from a particular situation and history.

First, we must recognise that in such extreme situations as torture and persecution, it is not always given to such Christians to debate the finer point of this new view - or any other theology. It is for those who have come through it and thereby gained wisdom to do so.

Second, his reference to politics [p.53] is to that practised in Communist China in the 1970s and 1980s, where politics had been absolutized and a particular form of it at that. It is this distorted, idolatrous politics that the kingdom of God cannot mix with. But there is a good, biblical politics.

Third, I am encouraged that Yun, in the second half of his book, shows a development of his thinking. From a narrow "I must remain faithful to Christ" he first finds himself offering Christ to others. Out of prison, he then sees the need to consider structure of the house churches and training. He later broadens his view to recognise the important of families over 'ministry', yet both under God. He also broadens his view to recognise the need to regain unity among the house churches. He recognises that the disunity occurred because of input from the West:

"They [Western Christians] gave money, cameras, and other things they felt were necessary to help us serve the Lord more effectively. I clearly remember how this caused division among the leaders. In our evil hearts we asked, 'Who god the most books?' or 'Why was that brother given more money than me?' It was a real mess. Within a year or two the house churches in China had split into ten or twelve fragments." [p.233]

Finally, he shows how the Chinese house churches, though still persecuted, began to look outwards, not only to other areas of China, but with a concern to bring the light of Christ to Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic cultures. He recognises that focusing solely on keeping faithful to Christ or evangelising my own patch is not as healthy spiritually as looking outwards.

All this shows a man who grew (and still grows?) in wisdom and in understanding of the heart and cosmic purposes of God in Christ. This looking outward gives the Chinese house church Christians a richer purpose in their salvation than merely to 'remain faithful and await heaven'. Yun remarked on the number of pastors and their children who lost their first love and returned to the world.

So I have no hesitation is suggesting one further broadening of the view of the house churches in China to this new view: our responsibility to be shepherds of the rest of creation, representing God to it.

Think:

How they influence their nation will depend on their theology, i.e. what they believe to be most important in their relationship with Christ. Currently, those under intense persecution, have a theology of "What I must do for Christ is remain faithful." But this could develop either into "What I must do for Christ is worship him, enjoy him, and use as many resources as possible to serve him" or into "What I must do for Christ is to represent him to the rest of creation, including the rest of the people around me, so they will experience something of Christ through me." The first follows the West's theology (especially that of the USA in 2005) and dishonours God; the second brings honour to God in the eyes of many, and turns many to him.

Brother Yun's expanded view, of bringing Christ to the Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic nations could develop either way. It could develop into "Well, we need huge resources if we are to do this massive task. Never mind how much we damage the earth, let us use our cars as much as possible 'for the kingdom'." But that is far from Brother Yun's vision. He speaks of groups of poor Christians walking from where they are to the next village, and bring Christ there by living there, not of massive car-borne battalions. But what's to prevent Yun's vision being corrupted into car-borne battalions? Only if it has at its centre this new view, that we are here to bless and care for the rest of creation, not just use it for resources. In moving from village to village, we must show this care while speaking of Christ. Otherwise our testimony will not be believed.

Therefore, it is important that debate is started within the Chinese house churches about our human mandate to bless the rest of creation and how those who are saved by Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit are to be those whom the rest of creation are eager to experience.

Even during our persecution, just as we have the strength to be loving to others, so we have the strength to be loving to the non-human creation. Persecution does not invalidate this new view after all.

Finally, we must be careful: Brother Yun speaks about Western ideas impinging on the Chinese Christians and causing division. I do not want this new view to do this. No! The Chinese Christians themselves must debate it. They themselves must pick it up, prayerfully consider it, critique it, refine it, adapt it to their own situation, and so on - in short, make it their own. They might seek to fellowship with us Westerners in so doing, but that is for them to ask. All I want to do at this stage is offer this new view to the Chinese Christians, especially of the house churches, for their consideration. They have shown they are eminently able to take on board very complex theological and practical issues even under conditions of persecution, so they are well able to consider this new view.

See page discussing the relevance to Chinese Christians.


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Created: 7 August 2005. Last updated: