Friday, August 10, 2007

The Back to Jerusalem Movement and Unity

A couple of months ago on a post called Chinese Church DNA, I linked to a 7-minute video clip and the website of the Back to Jerusalem movement, which is the vision of Chinese believers to send out missionaries to “preach the gospel and establish fellowships of believers in all the countries, cities, towns and ethnic groups between China and Jerusalem,” including the majority of the most unreached countries and people groups in the world, located within the 10-40 window. After that time, when I was in Northern Ireland for an IMB-sponsored marriage retreat, I happened to see a copy of the Back to Jerusalem book (not to be confused with Ray Register’s recent release with the same title) in a Christian bookstore there. After reading through it, I believe it is must reading for anyone seriously interested in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

While we continue to pray urgently for our Korean brothers and sisters held as hostages in Afghanistan, I think it is enlightening to consider the following Back to Jerusalem quote from Brother Yun, imprisoned himself on four different occasions, and a victim of prolonged suffering and torture:
Don’t pray for the persecution to stop! We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure! Then the world will see that God is with us, empowering us to live in a way that reflects his love and power.

Back to Jerusalem (p. 69)
Most assuredly, the perspective of our brothers and sisters in places like China is a bit different from ours in the United States. I have actually heard that believers in China are praying that God would allow us in the West to experience persecution, in order for him to refine us, and teach us some of the same lessons He has taught them. I myself could not even begin to speak with the same authority of experience of knowing what it means to suffer for sake of the gospel as these dear brothers in Christ. And, by no means am I suggesting that we should not continue to pray for the deliverance of our Korean brothers and sisters. However, I think it is important we listen to people like Brother Yun, and try to learn from them what God is teaching them. In this light, I think the following paragraphs on the Back to Jerusalem movement and unity from house church leader Peter Xu Yongze are especially signficant:
In the 1970s and early 1980s, we were all one church. There were no significant theological differences between us and no blockages to our fellowship. We had all been deeply touched by God’s Spirit. We went to prison together, were beaten together, and bled together. We also preached the gospel together.

But by the early 1990s many leaders who were once close brothers in the work of the gospel had become critical of each other. We had always stated that we in China would never form denominations like those in the Western church, yet we had all gone different ways and built walls between us. The Back to Jerusalem vision had been present for many years, but the house churches were not yet ready to fulfill this call. The Lord knew we could never be effective in our witness to Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus while we remained weak and divided.

God used Brother Yun to bring unity among the leaders of various house church networks. This was no easy task for years of silence between us had created unseen walls of bitterness and hostility. Many house church leaders believed their group possessed the truth and that other groups had gone astray and drifted into error. When Brother Yun first spoke to us about unity, he got a cold reception.

But God performed a series of miracles that led to a meeting of the leaders of several house church networks in 1996. It was the first time many of us had seen each other for years. At that first meeting the Lord broke through our stubbornness and pride and there were many tears of repentance. We all confessed our bitterness to each other and asked for forgiveness.

I stood up in the first unity meeting and said, “We don’t want to follow our own pet doctrines any more. We want to learn from one another’s strengths and change in whatever way the Lord wants us to change in order to make us stronger and closer to Jesus.”

Although not all differences were ironed out, the leaders came to appreciate their fellow leaders and saw they had far more in common than they had reasons to remain separate. They also found that their theological differences centred on things that weren’t essential to the faith.

Each group clearly heard how God was moving in wonderful ways among the other groups represented in the meeting and gave glory to God. We decided to speak in each other’s churches and to share Bibles and resources between us so that one or two groups would not end up receiving the majority of the help from overseas Christians, while other groups got nothing.

On the second day, all the leaders took communion together. It was the first time in more than fifty years that the leaders of China’s church had taken the Lord’s Supper in unity.

I believe that meeting in 1996, and the ones that followed, were some of the most important events in the history of Christianity in China, because the Back to Jerusalem movement would never have got off the ground while the house churches remained divided. It was no coincidence that it was after 1996 that the details of the Back to Jerusalem vision began to fall into place.

"How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head,running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore." (Ps. 133:1-3)

When we talk of this unity, it needs to be understood that the reason we came together was not for the sake of unity in itself. It was unity for the sake of fulfilling the common vision God had given us – the vision of taking the gospel back to Jerusalem, thus completing the Great Commission and hastening the return of our Lord! That is why we started our unified gatherings. Although the various house churches still have different interpretations of some Scriptures and different practices, we recognize that we all share the common goal of sharing the good news with every person inside China and beyond.

When believers are united around a common goal, we can head there together, putting aside our petty differences. When we lose sight of our common vision, we stop looking forward and begin to look at each other. Soon we see each other’s weaknesses and faults, and instead of fighting for the kingdom of God we start fighting each other.

It’s quite simple to tell a strong church from a weak one. A strong church is one that is a spiritual baby-making centre. Souls are being saved and discipled around the clock and the church is a hive of activity. There is no time for believers to sit around and argue with each other. They are too busy just trying to clean up all the mess these newborn babies make while simultaneously trying to prepare more bottles of milk to keep them fed! As the father of two small children, I well know what a struggle this can be!

Some churches are full of people who think it is their calling to keep other people in line so that they don’t get polluted by the world. This may sound like spiritual activity, and the people who make the most noise about it may look pious, but if their words produce no spiritual life, it is all a waste of time. It is far better for us to concentrate on preaching the gospel and let God police his church.

(Back to Jerusalem, pp. 76-79)

6 comments:

Joe Kennedy said...

David, Back to Jerusalem was required reading for one of the classes David Platt (now pastor of Brook Hills) taught at NOBTS. I read it the summer before Katrina, and I'm with you- it's definitely required reading for us. I've blogged about it in the past, and Brother Yun's quote that you mentioned strikes me in 2007 just as much as it did in 2005. Great post. I pray that we'd all read it and remember the lessons of our Chinese brothers and sisters.

David Rogers said...

Joe,

Thanks for the encouragement. Could you possibly help me find your old post about Back to Jerusalem? I would love to read it, if you can tell me where to look.

Bryan Riley said...

FANTASTIC STUFF, David. It's hard to be blessed with time and an internet cafe simultaneously, so I haven't even been to your blog or many others in weeks, but it is nice to open up your site and find this post. God bless!!! We are having a fantastic outreach to the people of Mindanao!

Joe Kennedy said...

David, this seems to be the only mention I can find. I think I did post more at one point, but it may have been lost in the translation from blogger to this current incarnation of wordpress I'm using. But you're making me want to go back and read it over again.

JUNN REE MONTILLA said...

i read bro yun's true story. it really captivated me. the story is somehow a modern version of the book of acts in the bible. i pray that we'd all have a copy of it so that many will know and believe that the risen christ is alive!

JUNN REE MONTILLA said...

i read bro yun's true story. it really captivated me. the story is somehow a modern version of the book of acts in the bible. i pray that we'd all have a copy of it so that many will know and believe that the risen christ is alive!