Why we need the global Church

Jan 8, 2019 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” said Nathanael to Philip. Do we have anything to gain from associating with those like Jesus from an insignificant backwater? Can we learn anything from disadvantaged people like his mother?

Nathanael’s perhaps jesting but dismissive question is recorded by John. In Luke’s Gospel, we see that God has answered it even before Jesus appears. According to Mary’s prophetic word, God brings down the proud, but lifts up the humble and hungry.

It is extraordinary that at a time when churchgoing numbers are in rapid decline in this country, and even the most successful churches struggle to reach more than handfuls of people with the gospel; when spiritual life is often lukewarm, and our national church is divided, we still tend to believe that we only have expertise and resources to give, and nothing to receive from the global church. And yet it is well known that it is in the ‘global south’, particularly the places where there is poverty, persecution and conflict, that the church not only survives but most remarkably, thrives. What is their secret?

If we take a tour round three nations with huge populations, we see seemingly intractable problems, but also remarkable faith and courageous action.

I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014, and have kept in touch with Anglican leaders there. Just before Christmas they were due to hold a general election (result not confirmed at the time of writing). There were a number of incidents of serious violence leading up to the poll between supporters of rival political parties, but this was just an addition to the ongoing murderous conflicts between government and various rebel factions in the north-east of the vast country.

A Bishop who attended Gafcon told me that in some parts of his Diocese there is not even the basic security required to plant and harvest crops and carry out normal business; clergy are sometimes ministering to transient congregations as they have fled their villages. But this year, according to the Provincial Secretary, the Anglican Church in the Congo has taken a number of initiatives for prayer and pastoral ministry,  and in training clergy and lay leaders in peace-building. They need our financial help, but we can surely learn from their courage and persistence in a dangerous situation?

Then, what about China, which has seen huge growth in the number of Christians over the past 40 years? The week before Christmas I saw an article posted on The Gospel Coalition website, about a pastor called Wang Yi who faces 15 years in jail for “subversion of state power”, a charge often handed to those associated with unregistered churches. While this is not surprising, Wang Yi has received international attention because of a powerful and moving “Declaration of Faithful Disobedience”, published by his church after his arrest.

In language reminiscent of Bonhoeffer in 1930’s Germany, Pastor Wang reflects on the legitimacy of the Chinese government under God; when Christians have a duty to obey and to disobey. The purpose of the Church, he says, is to testify to the Lordship of Christ, to his call to repent and receive forgiveness of sins, to the reality of heaven and hell. But as part of this calling, the wickedness of the Communist regime’s persecution of God’s people, and its idolatrous ideology, must be denounced openly, yet with love and “the olive branch of peace”. This is not to be seen as “fighting for rights” as if changing the political system is the goal, but rather “to testify about another world”.

This is a profound challenge to Christian leaders in the West, who are tempted to compromise with the secular powers for the sake of short term comfort or personal gain, or who may think that social and political change is the gospel.

A third Christian community to learn from is Pakistan. As an impoverished female labourer unfairly imprisoned for her faith but whose case has made world headline news, Asia Bibi is another contemporary example of how God speaks through those oppressed and silenced by the powerful. While we still wait for news of her situation following release from prison, we can praise God for the amazing courage of the Pakistani Church. Following Asia’s acquittal, furious gangs were terrorizing Christians, and yet during that time the church has continued with its worship and ministry, even hosting conferences on evangelism.

In the West we have got used to affluence and worldly measures of success, and so fear of getting on the wrong side of secular authorities and lobby groups can prevent the church from fulfilling its calling. At some point we need to admit our weakness, and turn to the church in the global south for inspirational lessons, help and prayer.

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