In this article from Gospel Times, Wu Zhonyi gives an in-depth look into the reopening of the Three-Self Church he attends. Wu highlights five areas in which church staff and believers have demonstrated their enthusiasm for reopening churches.
Because of the length, we divided the original article into two parts. Part one is here; this is part two.
Viewing the Fiery Faith of the Church: Five Highs
IV. High Commitment to Ministry
When church services resumed, pastors and preachers were mobilized and gave everything they had. In some churches, from the chairmen and presidents of the China Christian Council, to the clergy and teachers, from deacons and church committees, to team leaders and fellowship leaders, all of them, except in special circumstances, served on the “front line” of the services.
The pastors of these reopened churches are cautious and prudent about resuming services. They have met many times to study, plan, and arrange meticulously, thus putting every procedure of church reopening in place. Some churches have even rehearsed and prepared emergency plans and isolation rooms beforehand to make sure that nothing goes wrong.
To quote one senior pastor, “We have to ensure that our church will not cause any problems. We cannot get in the way of the reopening of the churches in the whole city.”
I noticed that some senior pastors stand at the front door of the church early in the morning with their ministry staff to welcome believers coming to the service. Some elderly brothers and sisters greeted the pastor with warm handshakes, hugs, and greetings as if they were relatives whom they have not seen for a long time.
Some presidents of the local Christian Council lead and direct the reopening work in person and assist elderly believers to step into the church at their church square. Some pastors help believers who are in wheelchairs enter churches.
During the reopening, the pastoral staff of the church worked collaboratively with the ministry staff. Because everyone wears masks, you cannot tell who’s the pastor and who are staff, but you can see that everyone is serving in a passionate and orderly manner.
Some churches have resumed the sacraments such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. One church leader told me that at the moment they were celebrating the baptism, a halo and rainbow appeared over the church! And someone filmed the miraculous moment.
One younger person happily told me, “Thank the Lord! Let me tell you some good news. Three members of our family have been baptized. The pastor of the church enthusiastically administered water baptism for us! Thank you, pastor!”
A pastor wore sacred garments and stepped up to the altar solemnly when he preached at the service. He couldn’t contain his enthusiasm and told the congregation frankly, “I was so excited last night that I didn’t sleep well. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to walk up to the pulpit and preach, and I’m very excited. I thank the Lord for the wonderful time we had with the congregation!”
Some churches have been conducting a 24-hour “Holiness-Honesty” prayer vigil for eight months—from the beginning of the year to the present—led by the president of the city’s Christian Council and senior pastors. Each preacher and almost all the members of the church have participated in this holy work.
Overall, every church I know about, from the pastors to all the preachers, have an unchanging zeal for the gospel—some, in order to strengthen the cohesion of the church, to make a clear-cut stand against and fight heresy, and to serve with all their heart, soul and strength.
V. High Awareness Regarding Discipline and Order
While the believers were eager to attend the services, the reopened churches were able to be truly orderly and quiet, and there were no problems or conflicts in the process of lining up, code scanning, or temperature measurement.
From what I have seen, although some believers were unable to attend services due to incomplete information, they left in obedience, not arguing. Yet, my heart still feels troubled when I see elderly sisters who have to leave the church because they do not have health and travel codes.
Some church members spontaneously reminded each other in their WeChat group to bring their ID cards, smartphones, masks, etc., and take personal precautions. Others, in order to streamline the process, have written down the phone numbers, ID numbers, and names required for church services in one registration form.
Believers have been considerate towards each other as they lined up to enter the church, and some helped the old, sick, or disabled brothers and sisters to scan and register. During the waiting process, the congregation was quiet, patient, and orderly, keeping distance as required.
In case some elderly brothers and sisters cannot scan the code because they do not have a smart phone, some churches adopted a manual registration system to solve the issue. Some ministry staff were too busy to help, and the younger believers volunteered to help the elderly register.
According to government procedures, upon entering the church, believers showed their health codes, trip codes, and ID cards, and offered their wrists to take their temperature. When some believers forgot to put on their masks, other believers would remind them, or gave spare masks to members who, in their haste, forgot to wear them.
After entering the church and being seated as requested, there was no noise, little “chatter,” but rather quiet Bible reading, prayer and praise—creating a calm, peaceful, and warm atmosphere.
A leader of a church from a suburban town told me that their local church has about 200 believers. The believers were eagerly waiting to resume services. When they heard that the “big church” in the city had resumed meetings, they were very excited and motivated to meet up at church.
The church’s preacher advised everyone to be patient saying: “Don’t be in a hurry. There is not yet a notice for the resumption of services. Please wait patiently for the notice at home.” The brothers and sisters who came to the “meeting” cooperated with the arrangement, and after the meeting was dismissed, they went home separately.
Two elderly sisters who were visiting their children in Dalian are going back home after the pandemic control lifted there. Their children asked why they were in such a hurry. They said, “We should go home as soon as possible. It looks like our church will meet soon. We will go back and wait for the church’s notice so that we can attend the services. It’s been so long. We have been waiting for this!”
Waiting in expectation and being obedient in church services—these are our beloved brothers and sisters. Our believers’ character of faith, such as keeping discipline and order, and following procedures is apparent at this time.
Of course, the above list is limited to some of the churches and believers in my area, and is not necessarily comprehensive, as it varies from area to area.
As far as I am concerned, after the pandemic has entered the phase of normalized prevention, our church was faced with the need to “gather” the hearts of the believers as soon as possible—strengthen cohesion, prevent heresy from “taking hold” and infiltrating the sheep—and at the same time reviewing and reflecting on the previous phase when services were suspended and pastoral ministry was on the internet. This known as “learning from experience, using advantages gained to fight again and keep going deeper and improving.”
Some of the churches that have resumed services have also resumed their non-Sunday activities on Wednesdays and Fridays, such as Bible study, devotionals, prayer meetings, praise services, choir rehearsals, etc. Others are limited to Sunday services with other activities still suspended.
Moreover, online pastoral care and worship services have not ceased. There are “two lines” running parallel between real life and the internet. The alleged problem of and concern for a massive loss of believers has not been objectively observed.
And in this regard, I am optimistic. Since Protestant Christianity entered China, has not the number of believers increased year by year, and haven’t churches become more revived? Is there anything too hard for God to do? Believe firmly that “Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17)
One of the senior pastors said as much with great emotion: “Thank you Lord! We’ve been able to bring together over 1,300 members of the church in three WeChat groups since the pandemic started—an unprecedented, positive thing. How can we lose believers in large numbers when we have connections both online and offline, daily devotions, Bible studies, sermons, praise services, etc.?”
It is faster and easier to respond to things on the internet than to give notice face to face. This is exactly what we are asking for our churches. Our pastors should do their best in pastoral ministry under special circumstances, without waiting, without watching, without pessimism.
At present, reopened churches are still “tightly guarded,” with staff on duty to keep watch. Believers or outsiders who do not come according to the rules and requirements are not allowed to enter the churches at will. Those who enter the churches are still in a “semi-closed” state of “strict readiness,” with many processes such as temperature testing, registration, and code scanning in place.
We sincerely ask the Lord to watch over the house of God, to keep safe the churches that have resumed meeting, and to guard the churches that have not yet reopened to meet together to reopen soon!
God! May “your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place.” (2 Chronicles 6:20)
Original Article: 从复堂的教会“五高”看信仰的火热 by 福音时代 (WeChat ID: gospeltimes)
Translated, edited, and reposted with permission.
Header image credit: A friend of ChinaSource.
Text image credits: Gospel Times (福音时代)
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