Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection
18th March 2021
Monday 22nd March
‘Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection’. (Watchman Nee)
Watchman Nee was a Chinese church leader and Christian teacher who worked in China during the 20th century. He established churches, published books on Christian teachings and trained church workers. However, following the Communist Revolution with its doctrine of state atheism, he was persecuted and imprisoned for his faith and spent the last twenty years of his life in prison.
Watchman Nee’s life history ended with the cross but for many Chinese Christians this has not been the end of his influence. While the Communist party remains officially atheist and most churches are kept under state control , Christianity has grown rapidly, reaching 67 million people. And for Chinese Christians it is a sign of Christ’s resurrection and a new page of history in the life of the church.
People of faith around the world have long faced times of persecution, particularly if their beliefs are not reflected in the dominant culture, or their religious values make them call into question the actions of the government. And of course most people of faith would say that first and foremost they have allegiance to an authority beyond any worldly authority, which in particular does not sit easily with totalitarian regimes or dictatorships.
Two Christian individuals who I teach about, have certainly taken up the cross through challenging the authorities of their time, but in doing so have opened a new chapter in history and embodied the resurrection hope.
First of all, Dietrich Bonhoeffer whose Christian faith led him to oppose Nazi totalitarianism during WW2. While the state church fell in line with state ideology, Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognised that the Nazi ideology was diametrically opposed to Christianity. Absolute allegiance to one leader, one people and one nation ran counter to commitment to God and the universality of love for all peoples and nations. It was the strength of his Christian faith which led him to challenge fascism when many did not, and he paid with his life through execution in prison. Yet his legacy is the current church in Germany, which acts as an important moral compass on the actions of the secular state.
My second individual who took up the cross to challenge the prevailing laws and prejudices of the time, lived not in a totalitarian state but in a democracy. It is Martin Luther King. And its important to recognise that his faith was not incidental but fundamental to the actions he took. His Christian faith led him to understand that all are made in the ‘image of God’ and that agapeic love was the law by which all should live their lives. This led to his championing of Civil Rights for all people of all colours in a divided nation. And he paid with his life through assassination. Yet his words and actions continue to inspire as people seek to embody the dreams he dreamed.
Old history may indeed end with sacrifice, the cross. But the Christian story of Easter reminds us that it can be followed by a new history, the resurrection. And while many of us have sacrificed a great deal over the past year, let’s hope we are now starting a new page in our history.
Happy Easter everyone.