We Are No Pagans
Chinese language contains numerous four-character idioms. They are concise and meaningful expressions that have been in usage for thousands of years. Most of them have an historical origin. One can understand them correctly only by learning the stories behind them.
Walking Leisurely As If Riding In a Carriage
Here’s an example. On the surface, this idiom means “to consider walking leisurely as if riding in a carriage.” But it actually conveys and advocates a lifestyle, not an activity. The following tells how it came about.
During the Chinese Warring States period (c. 475-221 B.C.), there were seven states. This story involves the State of Qi.
One day, the king of Qi summoned a hermit called Yan Chu to see him because he had heard that Yan Chu was a wise man. Sitting on his throne, the king called Yan Chu to come forward. But Yan Chu didn’t budge. Instead, he insisted that the king should come down to him. Outraged by Yan Chu’s impertinence, the king and his ministers rebuked his daredevil behavior. But Yan Chu calmly responded, “If I come forward, I would ingratiate myself to the one who has power over me. If you come down to me, on the other hand, it would demonstrate that the king condescends himself and treats wise but lowly men with courtesy.”
This further infuriated the king who asked, “Who has honor, a king or a wise man?” Without losing his composure, Yan Chu answered, “Of course, a wise man has. Look at all the outstanding kings in history. They all respect and listen to counselors who have neither power nor status. An accomplished king never considers himself as in no need of others’ opinions.”
After pausing for a few seconds, the king decided that Yan Chu was right. He then appointed Yan Chu as his advisor and promised to provide him with delicacies and a carriage. But Yan Chu declined the king’s offer, stating,
Once a crude jade from a mountain is carved and polished into a utensil, it would lose its original beauty. I, a country bumpkin, remaining in this prestigious position, would surely lose my purity and sincerity. Therefore, I’d rather return to the countryside and continue my hermitic life, eating only when I’m hungry. To an empty stomach, plain and simple food tastes better than delicacies. Walking leisurely as if riding in a carriage, I would have an ease of mind, away from contamination of evil, preserving my purity, minding my own business and living a peaceful life. That is a good life.
He then swiftly left.
A Simple, Secluded Lifestyle
Clearly, the idiom, “to consider walking leisurely as if riding a carriage,” is not about the benefit of walking in a relaxed manner. Rather, it promotes a lifestyle, simple, secluded and away from temptation and corruption. It is about cultivating one’s moral character and temperament in an isolated environment. To a certain extent, this is the quintessential character of a righteous man in Chinese culture.
More significantly, as this story demonstrates, the concept of the value and rights of a commoner had long existed in Chinese history. This is in agreement with what Paul argues in Romans that Gentiles also know God’s moral laws because He has written them on their hearts. In Chinese thought, there has always been a vague awareness of individual value and rights derived from the image of the Creator. But this has never developed into a mature understanding. Unlike the West, China has never embraced the notion of freedom and human rights. Instead, it has produced countless righteous men like Yan Chu who dealt with oppression and evil by avoiding them.
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At first glance, Yan Chu’s approach looks desirable, preserving one’s purity by avoiding wallowing in the mire with sin. However, this lifestyle may reveal more than it intends to convey. China with a long history and civilization has had a profound moral understanding. But the Chinese seldom view their morality as absolute truth that has compelling power and is worth laying down one’s life for. Consequently, a righteous Chinese, who holds a lofty moral standard and is indignant towards wickedness and injustice in the culture, usually does not see the obligation to go against prevalent immoral practices by implementing changes through personal involvement, especially when it becomes costly.
Perhaps implementing truth takes much more than just knowing right from wrong. It also requires courage moved by fervent conviction rooted in absolute truth. Little wonder righteous Chinese choose to retreat and separate themselves from the evil world. This way, they are able to demonstrate their noble and chaste character without paying the cost of any personal sacrifice, albeit masked with novel sagacious expressions as demonstrated so profoundly by Yan Chu.
Courage Moved By Fervent Conviction
In contrast, the first century Christians courageously lived out a life that was extremely precarious and costly because of its countercultural nature. By inference, their lives must have been transformed by an extraordinary event that provided the base for their bravery. It was the resurrection of Christ. It authenticated their faith and offered them the irrefutable evidence of their future hope. Thus, they knew beyond a shadow of doubt that what they believed was absolute truth.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they demonstrated extraordinary boldness. In a world where humans had no value, they took home abandoned infants, a downright foolish act in the eyes of their pagan neighbors. In a culture filled with gods, they refused to act like a good citizen worshiping false gods, demonstrating uttermost allegiance to their Lord. They chose to be persecuted to the point of death. They rejoiced when punished.
The world soon recognized their remarkable courage and was drawn to them. As a small minority, they had disproportionally impacted their world. Wherever Christianity becomes an influence in a society, the culture became more humane and virtuous, and with it, human rights and freedom.
Growing up in the culture that honors people like Yan Chu has helped me recognize the fact that knowledge alone does not produce courage. In the case of the first century Christians, it was the resurrection of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that gave rise to their remarkable bravery. I had always thought that should Christianity begin to decline, the first sign would be the believer’s losing courage and avoiding confronting evil like Yan Chu.
But I also believed that all genuine Christians’ lives are marked by the resurrection power given by the Holy Spirit. That’s normal Christianity. Even when I heard criticism about the complacency of the American church, I believed that one day when our faith is tested, surely, we would demonstrate the same courage manifested in the lives of the first century Christians.
Allegiance to Our Lord and Savior is Tried and Challenged
In the past few years, especially since the pandemic started, our faith has indeed been tested. Aside from all the draconian measures and lies from the authorities and their accomplices, we have been confronted with brutal spiritual battles.
God’s creative design is maliciously assaulted. Same-sex marriage has gained preemptive power over traditional marriage constituted by God. Any voice calling out the gay lifestyle as immoral has been censored and subject to persecution by the government and its powerful collaborators. To express biblical teaching on this subject is viewed as hate and inevitably a hate crime. Now there are more than 80 genders. It is politically incorrect to question them. Transgenderism is viewed as a norm and used as a touchstone to separate good people from evil ones. The institution of the family has also become a target. Children are given more rights than their parents as a way to dismantle the family structure. All who dare to question the woke status quo are viewed as enemies of the people, the bad ones in the society, deserving to be crushed without mercy.
The first century Christians dauntlessly refused to worship gods. While we have no gods in the form of statues in a temple, all the challenges we face today are the equivalent of pagan gods in the first century temples. Though invisible unlike the physical idols, they pose the same challenge, vying against the Creator. What we are confronted with is beyond preserving our freedom and rights. Our allegiance to our Lord and Savior, the one true God is tried and challenged.
Where Is Our Courage?
Regrettably, it turned out that we have shown more resemblance to Yan Chu than to the first century Christians. Refusing to engage the battle, we watch the incense in the pagan temples burning day and night. Have our lives been transformed by the resurrection? Do we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Where’s our courage?
This is especially chilling and sobering in light of the fact that God has put us in this exceptional nation, a constitutional republic. Unlike the first century Christians, we have rights and can do for righteousness through our system what Nero could do for evil through his authority. We should have long ago stood up and used our rights to prevent the culture from marching down this evil path. But only a handful of us have tried.
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Like Yan Chu who views preserving his reputation as more important than confronting evil, we genuinely believe that the institution of the church is too noble to be entangled with petty politics. We are too good for this. We retreat, keeping to ourselves certain biblical teachings that contradict the prevailing culture. We say, “we just want to teach the gospel and help others get saved.” Instead of tackling the cultural war, we keep away from politically incorrect subjects, focusing on generic biblical teachings that will not get us in trouble, while being content to cultivate our character and temperament and maintaining peace in a turbulent time.
Also like Yan Chu, we have theological justifications to camouflage our cowardice. We say, “No matter how bad things become, God is in control” implying “I have faith to believe who God is rather than who we are.” We demonstrate our faith by not engaging in the battles, and masquerading as “waiting on God.” We say, “God is sovereign” meaning God can do whatever He wants without help from me. The less we get involved in messy politics, the more faith we exemplify.
But the truth is that when God’s created order is challenged by the gods, He expects us to fight on His behalf. God is a jealous God who demands us to demonstrate our loyalty by loving Him more than fearing the gods who can neither see, hear nor walk.
Much Has Been Given, Much Is Required
God will hold us accountable when we confuse what He can do with what we’re required to do, even with “brilliant” justification to be passive. All those who call themselves believers and keep silent watching the incense burning in the pagan temple will be judged, for judgment starts with the house of God. This is especially true for the shepherds who have been given much and much is required from them. It takes a tremendous amount of mental acrobatic twists to convince oneself that we can get away with this.
You may say that our situation has not been bad enough to require our action. When preaching the gospel is forbidden, then we will stand up. How do you know? You didn’t stand up when they closed your church, why would you act differently this time? When the gods look less formidable, and you are afraid to stand up, what makes you believe that you can suddenly rise to the occasion when the terror of the gods is in full display?
China has never lacked persons like Yan Chu. Retreating from evil is all that a pagan righteous man can do. But we are no pagans! Our lives have been transformed by the power of the resurrection and empowered by the Holy Spirit. If we want to avoid the judgment, there is only one way out. Repent!
Chenyuan Snider was raised in Communist China and majored in Chinese language and literature in college. After immigrating to the U.S. and having studied at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and Duke Divinity School, she became a professor and taught at Christian colleges and seminary. After March of this year, she sensed God was leading her to use her unique voice to provide a warning about various kinds of Marxist influences in our society. She lives in northern California with her husband and has two grown children.