11 Strengths of Chinese House Churches

In China: The Church’s Long March (1985), David Adeney documents strengths of the Chinese house churches. Later, Paul Hattaway, in Back To Jerusalem (2003, pp. 14-15), listed, “some of the most important of these [Adeney’s documented] strengths.” The following text is taken verbatim from Hattaway’s list (may the Lord teach us through this):

  1. The house churches are indigenous.

They have cast off the trappings of the West and have developed their own forms of ministry. The dynamics flow from their freedom from institutional and traditional bondage.

  1. The house churches are rooted in family units.

They have become part of the Chinese social structure. The believing community is built up of little clusters of Christian families.

  1. The house churches are stripped of nonessentials.

Much that we associate with Christianity is not found in Chinese house churches today. Thus they are extremely flexible. One believer remarked, “In the past we blew trumpets and had large evangelistic campaigns. Some believed, but not great numbers. Now we have very little equipment…and many are coming to the Lord.”

  1. The house churches emphasize the lordship of Christ.

Because Jesus is the head of his body, the church must place obedience to him above every other loyalty; it cannot accept control by any outside organization. The word of God is obeyed and every attempt to force unscriptural practices on the church is resisted.

  1. The house churches have confidence in the sovereignty of God.

When there was no hope from a human point of view, Christians in China saw God revealing his power and overruling in the history of their day.

  1. The house churches love the word of God.

They appreciate the value of the Scriptures and have sacrificed in order to obtain copies of the Bible. Their knowledge of the Lord has deepened as they have memorized and copied the word of God.

  1. The house churches are praying churches.

With no human support and surrounded by those seeking to destroy them, Christians were cast on God, and in simple faith expected God to hear their cry. Prayer was not only communion with God but also a way to share in the spiritual conflict.

  1. The house churches are caring and sharing churches.

A house church is a caring community in which Christians show love for one another and for their fellow countrymen. Such love creates a tremendous force for spontaneous evangelism.

  1. The house churches depend on lay leadership.

Because so many Chinese pastors were put into prison or labor camps, the house churches have had to depend on lay leaders. The leadership consists of people from various walks of life who spend much time going from church to church teaching and building up the faith of others.

  1. The house churches have been purified by suffering.

The church in China has learned firsthand that suffering is part of God’s purpose in building his church. Suffering in the church has worked to purify it. Nominal Christianity could not have survived the tests of the Cultural Revolution. Because those who joined the church were aware that it was likely to mean suffering, their motivation was a genuine desire to know Jesus Christ.

  1. The house churches are zealous in evangelism.

No public preaching was allowed. People came to know Christ through the humble service of believers and through intimate contact between friends and family members. The main method of witness in China today is the personal lifestyle and behavior of Christains, accompanied by their proclamation of the gospel, often at great personal risk.

Jesus' Genealogy: Matthew 1 & Luke 3

As Christmas nears, you might find yourself reading the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke. However, if you compare Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1 with that of Luke 3, you will quickly see some discrepancy.

Luke 3 traces Jesus’ lineage backwards, all the way to Adam. Matthew 1 traces it ahead, starting with Abraham.

They both agree quite nicely from Abraham until David. But after David they seem to go different trajectories, only later coming back around to Joseph (Jesus’ adoptive father) and then to Jesus.

At first glance this may seem an irreconcilable contradiction. But if we allow that, at times, people could be listed in the genealogy in the place of biological ancestors, then the problem seems less daunting (for instance, even today if someone adopts a child, it is not always so clear who you’d list as the father). And, in truth, all must concede this at least with Joseph, for Matthew and Luke both list Joseph as Jesus’ father in their genealogies while simultaneously maintaining that Joseph was not his biological father elsewhere in their gospels.

Now, though multiple plausible harmonizations exist for this particular problem, the one I find the most compelling is the notion that Matthew traced Jesus’ lineage from his father (Joseph), while Luke traces it from his mother (Mary).

I favor the Matthew-Joseph and Luke-Mary explanation because:

  • It is simple, and according to Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation often is the true one.
  • Luke 3:23 says, “Jesus…being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli”. Calling Jesus the “as was supposed,” son of Joseph has a tone that seems a bit clunky and may suggest this lineage is not traced through Joseph’s line. Even more, genealogies written during that time period may have had to attribute Joseph’s name, even if it was going through Mary, and thus the “as was supposed” may suggest that the line is not being traced through Joseph.
  • Matthew uses the Greek word “gennao” (meaning: to procreate; fig. to regenerate:- bear, beget, bring forth, conceive, be delivered of), that is translated “begot” in the New King James Version, for the lineage. This word means to physically procreate (to have sex and produce), and seems less likely to be attributed to an adopted son or daughter. Whereas, Luke uses the word, “son” (Greek: “huios”) in “Joseph, the son of Heli”. “Huios” does not need to mean a biological descendant, and in fact would be in the correct context if Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli (who was the biological father of Mary).
  • Adding on to the above point, Joseph would have gained the right to become Heli’s pronounced son through his marriage with Mary.
  • Luke’s narrative is focused on Mary leading into the lineage, and thus, it would be very natural for him to provide Mary’s lineage, instead of Joseph’s.
  • THE BEST REASON OF ALL: The genealogy given in Matthew (presumably Joseph’s lineage) is traced through the Davidic king’s line (of which Jesus had to descend from): “David the king begot Solomon…” (Matt. 1:6). This kingship traces from David to Jeconiah, but according to Jeremiah 22:30, all of Jeconiah’s physical descendants could not become king. Therefore, if this was Mary’s lineage, Jesus (as a biological ancestor of Jeconiah) would be disqualified from inheriting the Davidic kingship, and thus, could not be the Christ. But, if Matthew recorded Joseph’s lineage, this would prove that Jesus had the legal right to the Davidic throne, as the eldest son of Joseph – a descendant of the kingly line of Jeconiah (the cursed king). Jesus’ birth from a virgin who was not part of Jeconiah’s line made it so he did not have the curse of Jeconiah, yet since he was the adopted son of Joseph, he gained the rights to the throne of David. If Matthew recorded Joseph’s lineage (which seems probable), it shows that Joseph, the father of Jesus, was one of a relatively small group of people who Jesus could have come through as an adopted (but not biological) son in order to inherit David’s throne!
  • Along with the evidence stated above, numerous prophecies in the Old Testament tell us that Jesus must be the biological descendant of different ancestors, and thus Mary’s ancestry would match with Judah and David, for instance, as listed in Luke 3 (see Gen. 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Isaiah 11:1ff for evidence that Messiah would be a descendant of Judah and David).
  • Further, Luke indicates elsewhere that both Joseph (Luke 1:27) and Mary (Luke 1:32) descended from David, even as both genealogies find commonality at David.

These reasons do not prove that Matthew recorded Joseph’s lineage while Luke recorded Mary’s, but they show that such a proposition is possible, nicely fits what we see predicted in the Old Testament of Messiah, and maintains the integrity of the entirety of God’s word (including Matthew 1 and Luke 3).

Brian

Should Bible Believers Kill Sinners?

If you pick up your Bible and open to the Old Testament, you’ll read things like:

  • “For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 20:9)
  • “That [false] prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God” (Deut. 13:5)

And so forth. Definitely not light reading.

Rightly Interpreting

I do hold that such verses are truly God’s word, and so should any who claim to follow Christ (for He taught that the whole Bible, including such passages, are part of God’s word).

What I see is this in such Old Testament passages:

  1. Someone offends God (i.e. sins)
  2. They must be fairly judged
  3. If charged as guilty, they were killed

Now open your Bibles to the New Testament (the part that was written after Jesus died on the cross, taking on God’s judgment for sins [hint, hint]). And go to Romans 1 (or similar passages). What do you read?

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness…they are full of…deceit…they disobey their parents…Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death

Romans 1:18-32

This passage lists a litany of sins (and, sadly, every human can identify with at least one of them, and likely many more than one). However, I just pulled out 2 sins: (1) deceit, (2) disobeying parents. Simply because those are the 2 Old Testament verses listed above as deserving of death.

But if you look at the Old Testament passages deserving death, I’m pretty sure you can find it listed in Romans 1.

And, in fact, at the end of Romans 1 we read that, indeed, these sins do deserve death.

This passage tells us:

  • people offend God for such things as dishonoring parents and deceiving others
  • they will be judged by God
  • When found guilty, they will be killed [and, even more alarming, die eternally in their sins]

So far, there is no difference between what the Old Testament says and the New Testament.

Jesus’ Sacrifice

However, something happens between God’s wrath bringing death to sinners in Romans 1, and God saying: “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (in Romans 8:1).

Between the wrath of God on sinners in Romans 1 and the forgiveness to sinners later in Romans, we have the sacrifice of Christ spelled out. Namely, Jesus as righteous died in place of us sinners. So God’s decree was fulfilled: our sins deserved death (as shown in O.T. and N.T.) and Christ paid that death. Everything spelled out in the Old Testament as deserving of death was paid at the cross by Christ.

However, for those who refuse to repent and believe Christ and his sacrifice as paying for their sins, they will (in the future) receive death and eternal death (suffering in hell) for their disobedience (as the Old Testament spells out should happen).

Essentially, you get to choose:

  1. Repent and trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection as paying for your sins
  2. Face God on your own and receive eternal death for your sins

Passover Feast

Let’s illustrate this in another way. In Exodus 12 we read about the Passover feast. In this feast, all those in Egypt would be judged at midnight for sin. If you killed a spotless lamb, then presented the blood of this lamb at your door, the judgment was finished for your house. However, sadly, if you were not covered by the death of the spotless lamb, then your firstborn would die instead. So come midnight, every house had death in it. Sin always ends in death, and every house had death. Either you had:

  1. A dead lamb
  2. A dead human

As you may already realize, Jesus is the conclusion and fulfillment of that spotless lamb (see 1 Cor. 5:7). He died for our sins, so on judgment day, if we plead His death on our behalf, God won’t kill us for our sins. The death penalty was already paid. If we don’t, we must incur the judgment of death we deserve.

The Point

The point of all this is that God has never changed his mind on what our sins deserve. In the Old Testament they deserve death. And in the New Testament they deserve death.

The main difference in the New Testament is:

Jesus paid the full penalty of death for our sins, so we now point people to Jesus’ sacrifice to bring sinners to death; we don’t kill them with our hands.

What if they don’t repent and believe the gospel?

So far, this is all well and good for the sinner who repents and believes the gospel. But what about those who don’t? Is there a place for Old Testament type of judgment where there is unrepentance this side of Jesus’ cross?

There are a couple other differences this side of the cross in thinking through this:

  1. Some of the prescribed judgment in the Old Testament is meant for Israel-as-government, and not for individuals to take on themselves. In Romans 13 (and 1 Peter 2), similarly, we are told the government is a delegated authority of God and they don’t bear the sword in vain. In other words, there may be arguments for capital punishment in gross delinquencies, but this is at the discretion of the government, not the church or individual Christian.
  2. Further, Christians are told in 1 Cor. 5 that they are “not to judge” the unbeliever – God Himself will judge them. We preach Christ to the unbeliever and lovingly explain God’s judgment to come, but we are not to mete out any judgment to them who continue resisting Christ in this life. This is no different than the Old Testament where Israel was to judge the sins of fellow Israelites, and not those of other nations.
  3. For professing Christians who persist in disobedience, however, the church is commanded to “judge” in the sense of confront the sin. In fact, one passage that spells this out is 1 Corinthians 5. And at the very end of that chapter, in making the case that the church is to judge Christians who live in sin (i.e. deal with and discipline the offender), Paul writes: “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?…’Purge the evil person from among you.'” (1 Cor. 5:12-13). Here he is quoting from the Old Testament. If you take your Bibles and go to Deuteronomy 17:6-7 you’ll see that it uses the same phrase in reference to judging and killing offenders in the Old Testament. Paul is clearly showing that the principle of judging unrighteousness remains, but the application of actually killing them is no longer active in light of Christ’s sacrifice. Instead, in 1 Peter 2, Christians are called “living stones”, so there is a different sort of stoning that happens when Christians confront sin in their midst. This sort of confrontation is meant to put to death the sinful self (i.e. the “flesh” and “old nature”), and certainly not bring the physical death prescribed in the Old Testament. As it says in 1 Cor. 15, “first the natural, then the spiritual”. In other words, God set forth a natural example of killing sin in the Old Testament that is ultimately fulfilled spiritually by Christians confronting (and putting to death) sin (but not the sinner) today.

Christ already took care of putting the sinner to death when He was crucified. And that includes all of us being spared that penalty.

Glory be to God!

Brian