The story of Wang Ming-dao, one of twentieth century’s most famous Chinese Christians who suffered for his faith, is full of powerful victories and devastating defeats. He was a contemporary of John Sung and Watchman Nee, and had an outstanding ministry as a pastor and evangelist. He developed his theology midst strong resistance, persecution, and suffering. He wrote a series of sermons from which an elementary theology of persecution emerges.
Wang’s book of sermons, A Call to the Church, clearly articulates what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Like Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, Wang also had a clear understanding of what true discipleship entailed and in both cases, Bonhoeffer and Wang were tested on the ideas they wrote about.
Obey God or Man?
The major question which occupied Wang’s mind and set the tone for the series of sermons was “Should Christians obey God or man?” The answer is that under normal circumstances Christians should obey both. The primary obedience is to God while obedience to man’s laws and regulations is perfectly proper as long as they do not conflict with God’s commands and precepts. If, however, the human laws do conflict then we have no alternative than to disobey these laws. Christians should obey these laws, not out of fear for man but out of fear for God who has commanded us to obey those in authority (24). Yet, Wang writes, “anyone who works for God should make an irrevocable decision whether to please God or to please man” (68).
Obviously it is not always “either/or.” Wang says that Christians should be exemplary in obedience to human laws and regulations (25), respecting all authority “conscientiously” (25). But sometimes disobedience is required. Under certain circumstances Christians should not submit to man, if human systems or laws conflict with God’s commandments and principles (26-27).
In the case of authorities, no one should interfere with the Christian who is witnessing or preaching the gospel. Preaching the gospel is commanded by the Lord and it is a mandate Christians cannot ignore so therefore no one in authority should interfere with the preaching of the gospel. Christians need not be afraid of authorities because God is with us (27, 105).
Old Testament Prophets Suffered for Being Obedient
Wang uses the prophet Micaiah as an example of one who was called by God to speak on God’s behalf who suffered for it. Micaiah was determined to be faithful to God and to not please men if it meant being unfaithful to God (56). He writes: “Because he was so faithful, courageous and fearless that he would not bow under the authority of King Ahab, nor seek to please men, he spoke what the Lord wanted him to speak” (35). He knowingly took the risk of displeasing King Ahab in order to please God (34).
Wang defines determination, the hallmark of all who suffer for doing God’s will, as follows: “to obey God’s will at any cost, asking nothing about the future” (80). These courageous and determined servants of God fill the pages of the Old and New Testaments.
The Courageous Apostles
In the Book of Acts, the story is told of apostles who were imprisoned but were led out of prison by an angel. Even though they were now free and able to run to a secret hiding place, they were told by an angel to go to the temple and preach the gospel. They had been explicitly told not to do this by the High Priest as he scolded them in a public forum but they responded by saying that they ought to obey God rather than man. They had no fear of the High Priest and did not hesitate to do what God told them to do (98).
Wang says that the path the church today should take should be the same path the apostles took. They were courageous, did not hold life dear, were not afraid of authorities, and were faithful unto death (27).
The Apostle Peter, who denied Christ, was not, according to Wang, “armed with the spirit of suffering.” But after he received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost he was then “armed with the spirit of suffering” which made him a bold spokesman for God (30). He was ready to suffer and did not try to avoid danger (30). Peter writes about those who have suffered having ceased from sin. Wang interprets this as showing that God allows suffering for our own good (30).
The same is true of Paul and Barnabas who risked their lives for the Lord Jesus Christ. Neither Paul not his co-workers seemed to count their lives as having any value (131).
Opportunity for Martyrdom
Not many believers actually have the circumstances that allow them to experience martyrdom. Yet, remarks Wang, “every Christian can be like these valiant, victorious men” so that even if they don’t have the opportunity for martyrdom, they can receive the same glory and rewards of the saints who did have the opportunity (139).
In reality, it depends upon the will of God. If he wishes for us to suffer for his name’s sake or to die a martyr, he will engineer the circumstances. It is not a matter of our doing or even seeking martyrdom (32). Generally speaking, as the Day of our Lord’s return draws closer and closer, Christians will suffer for their faith more intensely, says Wang (73). While some Christians, when facing persecution, will all they can to escape and will become afraid to confess Jesus’ name, they have no comprehension how noble and great in his name. They do not understand that to suffer for his name is a truly glorious thing (103). Wang says: “…nothing can compare with being put to death for the sake of the Lord’s name and word—which is much more beautiful, glorious and admirable” (137).
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.