Back to Jerusalem as an Example for the Future of a More United Church in the World
God’s desire for a united church
Jesus’ church is composed of such a diversity of people who come together within a multitude of families, churches, and organizations across the world. We’ve had 2000 years to splinter into a countless number of parts, and, so far, how are we doing?
God is righteous, and so He desires things to be right in the body of Christ, for which Jesus died: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit… God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 24-27)
As the body of Christ, we are His ambassadors in His stead (2 Corinthians 5:20), and the Spirit of God walks in us (Galatians 5:25) and talks through us (Luke 12:12).
Do you prefer it that your eyes and ears and hands and feet work together well?
Of course! I’m sure it is also Christ’s desire for His body to function well together to accomplish the Father’s will. It is Jesus’ prayer that we may become perfectly one, sent into the world so that the world will know the love of God (John 17:23).
From Scripture, we also know that God is pleased to work in powerful ways when His people become united (Acts 4:29-33)
Do you desire to see God work in more powerful ways?
God is calling His church back to unity! How will God bring us to a point of unity? How can you join Him in this work? What should we encourage the churches and parachurch ministries we serve to do?
What successful examples in today’s world may we follow?
Back to Jerusalem as an example
It just so happens that the Chinese underground church network, as understood through the Back to Jerusalem (BTJ) movement, has shown itself as an example for this kind of unified, functioning body, and church organizations around the world are starting to take notice. For example, in the United States, some notice has been taken by parachurch organizations including the Underground Network, based out of Tampa, FL, and Secret Church, based out of Birmingham, AL, which have aimed to replicate some aspects of the underground church.
It’s important to recognize that any particular model that God develops in one place, say a closed county, is not to be replicated exactly in another place, e.g., a country open to the gospel. After all, God desires unity, not uniformity. He creates and He loves diversity. Additionally, God does not submerge or destroy individuality; instead, He brings out the qualities of God in it–changing it, energizing it, and enlarging it.
Even so, there is much for us throughout the world to learn from what God has developed in the BTJ example.
Lay-led. The BTJ movement is mostly lay-led, as many of the leaders have jobs. Building the church and loving people is what they do outside of work. The BTJ body is not a head without functioning parts. Instead, it’s an army of soldiers for Christ, a fully functioning body, embracing leadership contributions from willing women and willing men.
Could the church in your country benefit from more lay leadership?
Doing. Jesus said that His family “are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). The believers in the BTJ part of God’s family are an excellent example of doers of God’s word. Their focus is on doing God’s word rather than holding to particular details of God’s word, i.e., a particular doctrinal focus. While a focus on upholding and protecting particular doctrines of a denomination can stovepipe a church and result in division, a focus on obeying Jesus’ commands to His disciples does not. Back to Jerusalem is a young, growing body—growing because lives are being changed (a phrase I borrowed from Pastor Jacob of BTJ). Starting in the early 2000s, it has sent out hundreds of missionaries into the 10/40 window and is training thousands more. Just as in the human body, multiplication is essential in the body of Christ; the renewal of cells either happens or the body is dying. Outside of its obedience to the Great Commission, BTJ is also meeting the needs of people wherever it is, just as the church is called to do. It is supposed to meet the needs of the world.
Does your church need to focus more on doing God’s word after having heard it? What about the churches in your country?
Strategy. BTJ is an example of an organization that is strategic at a level above that of individual churches. While discipling of missionaries is done within particular house churches, there is also training conducted outside of China. This training consists of a strong practical mission focus and hands-on evangelism experience. Outside of training missionaries, there are also parts of BTJ that support its main mission. Other parts of the BTJ body include the brilliant additions of business as mission, hackers, and technology developers. Training in business enables the missionaries to go into all the world, where they are welcomed. Presumably, the hackers support the ability of the church to communicate securely. Other technology developers allow for means to spread the word of God in remarkable ways. As an engineer myself, I have to say that BTJ’s Pill-Sized Hologram Bible is just awesome. Everything considered, the organization is militant in the pursuit of its purpose to take the gospel to the unreached world.
Could the church in your country become more strategic in the way it goes about accomplishing God’s will, carrying out His purposes, plans, and objectives?
Communication. Communication is necessary for the coordination of the body of Christ, just as the brain needs to communicate through the nervous system to allow for the proper function of a human body. There are clearly some secure communication channels that allow BTJ to function within China and across its full domain. On the open side of things, DingDash, a social media platform designed by BTJ staff, is also a means by which BTJ and those who want to support God’s mission in the world can communicate, learn from each other, and coordinate their efforts.
As churches move toward more lay participation and lay leadership in the future, such a platform could be used for inter-church, parachurch ministry, and non-profit coordination in local areas.
Would the implementation of better communication modalities improve the development and functioning of the body of Christ in your country? In your local area?
Cooperation. In August 2020, Eugene wrote an article, asking whether Back to Jerusalem was large enough to meet all the needs of the Chinese people. The answer is no, and he recommended 10 amazing organizations that could be supported as well including YWAM, Samaritan’s Purse and the International Mission Board. Even considering the mission in China, BTJ sees itself as part of a larger team. Christ’s body is composed of teams that God has put together to function as parts of the body, and it’s important that we see ourselves as part of the larger body, cooperating to carry out the Great Commission and to meet needs.
How may you and your church better cooperate with BTJ and existing missions organizations to join God’s work in the 10/40 window?
Determination. Any significant opposition that we experience to God’s purposes and plans being carried out brings unity and determination to the church, just as it did to the early church in Jerusalem. The early church had no “rocking chair Christians.” In Acts 4, we see that their suffering for the gospel just brought more determination. BTJ has experienced this in very significant ways as it operates in closed nations. In his letter from Xihua Prison, Pastor Zhang Rongliang, leader of the Fengcheng house church network, wrote “Without suffering, how is it possible to taste the depths of the goodness of the Lord? After tasting of it, how can one be obsessed with worldly desires? …Oh suffering, did not the apostles welcome you?…Without you, life has lost its struggle…You are the oxygen of the saints.” For those of us not undergoing such struggle, we should remember the suffering of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who go about doing the word of God. As the family of God, we can share in their determination to be about doing God’s work in the world.
How may we show more determination in carrying out God’s purposes in the places God has put us?
When it comes to seeking the unity that God loves, let us seek to allow Jesus to have the preeminence. The more He is held up, the deeper people will get in love with Him and drop everything else. Let us earnestly present our petitions before the throne of grace– that the power of Satan which divides may be broken, that nothing may hinder the work of the Lord, that all may be united in a bond of love.
Parts of this article make reference to information from Back to Jerusalem: The 30 Day Devotional.