China (MNN) — Tightening restrictions have landed China on the radar of many ministries concerned about the future of the Chinese Church. But according to Erik Burklin of China Partner, these aren’t new restrictions; they’re just newly enforced.
“Many Christian leaders, including those who are in the house church movement and those who are in a registered church side, reminded us as foreigners that actually, these rules and regulations… have been in their law, and have been in their books for many, many years,” Burklin says. “The difference is that they are now actually being enforced.”
So what changed? According to Burklin, the Chinese government wants to emphasize “the rule of law.” In short, they want to ensure that Chinese citizens stay Chinese first. In part, that means ensuring that laws already on the books are followed more closely. That approach is not limited to religion, but religion is one major focus.
“These are existing rules and regulations that Xi Jinping is asking all his leadership, including the Religious Affairs Bureau, to act on,” Burklin says. In response, Christians are being forced to change their approaches and operations, but they still want to continue focusing on the Gospel message. “We will continue to serve God and preach the Gospel and share the Gospel with those who do not know Christ yet and do whatever we can to be a part of God’s kingdom work in China.”
Fortunately, Burklin says, God does not work based on government policies. “Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, ‘On this rock, I will build my church,’” Burklin says. “He is the one who’s going to do the building, and it’s his church, not ours.”
So how do groups like China Partner respond? By looking to local believers for guidance as to how to move forward and continuing to focus on the Gospel. Burklin wants to “keep going and to stay faithful in our work in China, to just trust God in the midst of these seemingly new restrictions that have been imposed on China, to go along with God’s greater Kingdom work, and to stay faithful and willing to serve our people in China.”
China Partner is planning to continue training for local Bible schools, though they’ve discontinued their youth-centered programs (we covered that yesterday). In October, they’ll be working with a school that was started 10 years ago.
“We’ll be treading very carefully; we want to be respectful, of course,” Burklin says. “We’re going to have an international team with us….we’re going to be available to serve them, but we’re also going to do a lot of listening.”
Want to help? Pray. Pray that God will continue to build his Church in China. Pray for peace and hope for believers in China. Pray for Xi Jinping to experience a heart change.
“The foundation is Christ, and he is the one who’s building his Church, and he’s using his men and women in China to accomplish exactly that,” Burklin says. “For us as a foreign organization to be a part of that and to participate in this is such an amazing privilege and amazing joy. That’s why we will continue to do what God has called us to do.”
Header photo courtesy of China Partner.