A Biblical Basis for the Friends of the Church in China

‘I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.’Romans 1.8

Paul had never been to Rome and never met the Christians there. Yet he is able to thank God for them, because of the reports that he had heard of their faith. We can say in the same way that we thank God for the Christians in China. Their faith and their stupendous numerical growth is the talk of the Christian world.

What Paul has heard of the Christians in Rome impels him first to pray for them: ‘God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times’ (vv. 9-10a). And then to want to visit them: ‘and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you’ (v. 10b).

Why does he want to visit them? To pass the time of day? To see the sights of Rome? No, ‘I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong’ (v. 11)—but then he corrects himself—‘that is, that you and I might be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith’ (v. 12).

In these five verses we have in a nutshell the essentials of the relationship between Christians in different parts of the world: gratitude for each other, prayer for each other, readiness to give and to receive spiritual gifts. The Friends of the Church in China exists in order to enable Christians in these islands to thank God for the faith of the Christians of China, to pray for them, and to develop the sort of deep relationship with them which enables mutual sharing.

The sharing may be of material as well as spiritual benefits. Later in his letter Paul tells the Roman Christians that those in Greece have made a collection to help the poor of the Jerusalem church, and before he visits them, he must take this money to Jerusalem (he was only to make his visit to Rome in the end as a prisoner): ‘I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings’ (Romans 15.25-27. Paul writes at length about this collection in 2 Corinthians 8-9.)

This caring for each other over great distances in the early Church is a model for how we care for each other in the Church today. We support the Chinese Christians in their material weakness and their delicate relationship with the state; they encourage us in our spiritual weakness by their strong faith and untiring zeal to serve; and we all share with each other our joys and sorrows, our hopes and fears, and the visions and convictions given us by the Holy Spirit.