By Chris, Missionary Serving in East Asia
The Great Leap Forward resulted in one of the most deadly mass killings in human history. Under the leadership of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China, soldiers scoured the country’s vast landscape, confiscating all of the land and placing it in the hands of the government. Millions of people died as they fought to keep their stead and tens of millions died by the ensuing famine and fallout. There was not a tread of sod left untouched by this great tragedy.
After assuming ownership of all land, the government gathered the country’s inhabitants into communes. In each commune, every individual and family had to give up the rights to their own possessions. Everything became owned by the “collective whole.” While Mao was able to get the majority of the population organized into such communes, there were pockets where this was not as successful. Resistance was most strongly maintained among the tribal peoples who refused to give up the lands they had been cultivating for centuries. They were resolved to stand firm, in part, because of the history and heritage they shared on that sod. Where such strongholds remained, the government eventually made concessions with those peoples by allowing them to maintain limited autonomy over their native territories.
While the victory of resistance is still shared among many of China’s minorities, the stories and memories of all that happened in that dark period of their history are still alive and active. A couple of years ago, I was in a meeting where a local pastor was addressing a small church. He was speaking to them about how to share the resurrection of Jesus Christ with their village. He reminded them of the aforementioned battles their grandparents fought to keep their lands, climaxing with a battle cry they were all familiar with, “We were there when the unspoken boundaries were drawn!” “We were there,” he paused, “We were there when Jesus died. We were there when he was placed in the tomb. We were there when he rose from the dead!” “We were there,” he said, “that is how we should share about the resurrection.”
I will never forget the way that pastor’s words collided with the Spirit within me. The ethnic people group these brothers and sisters were from are the original inhabitants of their land. They believe their ancestors settled there several thousand years prior. Yet, they still claim, “We were there …” That same strong identity shared with their physical ancestors is now shared among the descendants of the people of God. My spiritual heritage became more near and concrete to me that day. I became more finely tuned to what Peter was saying in 1 Peter 2:9–10:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.”
Here, Peter was talking about a chosen people from a remnant of all peoples throughout all generations, a royal priesthood made up of all tribes spanning all ages, a holy nation crossing all global geographic and ethnic barriers. As far chronologically removed as we may be from the events recorded in the history of the early church, as the people of God, we were there.
Aside from learning a great and new practical perspective for sharing the gospel, I’ve drawn a couple of practical implications from this:
First, the more we understand our Christian heritage, the more we can identify with those who went before us—and with the doctrinal battles they fought. This should embolden us not to concede our doctrinal foundations, but rather to persevere in resisting theological compromise. So, we should have an action plan—to learn our history. We should learn our biblical, church, denominational, and local church histories:
Biblical History: This is the story of what it means to be the people of God. “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26). “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps 139:16).
Church History: Every generation comes up with new ways to express the same ancient theological errors. The firm doctrinal foundations laid by our spiritual predecessors serve as theological moorings to help keep us from drifting into dangerous theological waters.
Denominational History: We should know the tenets on which our denomination was founded. With healthy local bodies of regenerate believers joining together, our churches serving as missionaries can confidently take the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Local Church History: God has hardwired the world in such a way that each local body should serve as a luminary in our immediate community and beyond. We should seek to know our beginnings and set our course so that each successive generation can see how we are part of God’s plan in bringing the nations to dwell with and enjoy him forever.
Second, an understanding of our history should make us increasingly aware of the need to dispatch larger regiments of soldiers as the Kingdom marches on. So here, also, we need a plan of action: i.e., to train up, and then disperse, our local fellowship of believers:
Evangelism and Basic Discipleship: Outside of normal times of corporate worship, all members should have access to good theological training provided by the local church.
Discipleship for Life: God’s main means for the sanctification of every believer is for us to grow up into maturity through the local church.
Elder Training: A local church should always be striving to train up men as a means of both providing a succession plan for existing leaders, and for the development of new leaders.
Church Planting and Missions: As the local church equips and trains disciples in the previous three areas, it then disperses them into new areas for the advancement of the kingdom. Once a new church is planted, it should implement the same type of training and dispersing paradigm so that all church plants strive to produce church-planting churches.
Thanks for reading so far. We’ll continue this series, Lord willing, next week.