China detained Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church and more than 100 of the church’s members in a raid at the end of 2018. Wang Yi has vocally resisted the Chinese government requirement for all churches to be registered with the government and come under their regulations or be shut down. The purpose is to make sinicise or make all religion conform to the government ideology. Resistance to this is essential for Wang Yi. He has written: “I firmly believe this is a spiritual act of disobedience. In modern authoritarian regimes that persecute the church and oppose the gospel, spiritual disobedience is an inevitable part of the gospel movement”.
Wang Yi wrote in his defence before he was imprisoned: “I firmly believe that the Bible has not given any branch of any government the authority to run the church or to interfere with the faith of Christians. Therefore, the Bible demands that I, through peaceable means, in meek resistance and active forbearance, filled with joy, resist all administrative policies and legal measures that oppress the church and interfere with the faith of Christians”.
These arguments remind us of the principles for which the Covenanters suffered in Scotland and which may yet be needed in more countries than China. The following is from James Stewart’s classic book Naphtali, or, The wrestlings of the Church of Scotland for the kingdom of Christ (1667).
Christ is Head over His Church
Jesus Christ Himself and not the civil government is the author and fountain of Church power and government. The apostle tells us, that Christ and not the civil government is Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22 and 5:13). He not only spiritually communicates inward grace to the members, but
governmental power and direction for the outward regulation of the whole body. How then can the civil government be Head of the Church, or supreme governor in all ecclesiastical matters? Must the Church have two Heads, or a Head above a Head? Let Christ be still Head of the Church. And as such. You will find Him, and not the civil government instituting all Church ordinances for:
- administration of the Word and Sacraments (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23);
- excommunication and absolution (Matthew 18:17-18) and all other acts of government and discipline.
You will find Him and not the civil government instituting Church offices. He gave (Ephesians 4:11) and set in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28) apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers etc. And who will dare alter by adding or diminishing? You will find Him and not the civil government authorising these officers to exercise the various acts of the power of order and jurisdiction (Matthew 28:19). You will find Him and not the civil government equipping these Church officers, with gifts and graces for their work. None go on their own expenses. Can any civil government breathe the Holy Spirit as Christ did on His apostles (John 20:22)? In His name (not the name of the state) they must perform all Church acts. They must assemble (Matthew 18:20); baptise (Matthew 28:19); excommunicate (1 Corinthians 5:4); and do all in His name.
Christ, not the state makes laws absolutely and primarily obliging the Church and Church officers. He is therefore called the lawgiver (Isaiah 33:22; James 4:12). He, and not the civil government will call Church rulers to their final account. They must give an account (Hebrews 13:17) to their judge who gave them their commission (Isaiah 33:22).
they are His servants and therefore should not be pleasers of man
In recognition of all this, the apostle Paul acknowledges that the Lord Jesus, and not the civil government gives ministerial power and authority (2 Corinthians 10:8 and 2 Corinthians 13:10). And because of this, they are called the ministers of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:1) and Ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) not for the state. They are His servants and therefore should not be pleasers of man nor of the government (Galatians 1:10).
Thus, Church power and government are distinct from civil government. Jesus Christ and not the state is the author and fountain of that government. Therefore, it evidently follows that it is not subordinate to the civil government.