A Chinese illustration of the gospel of grace

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Of recent times I have tried to read as widely as possible. I have just come across a book of sermons from leaders of the underground church in China which was published in 2021.

Grace to the City: Studies in the Gospel from China eBook : Nation, Hannah, Wang, S.E.: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

One of the sermons is by Wang Yi who is introduced as follows.

Wang Yi was a well-known constitutional law scholar at Chengdu University for many years, and one of the top scholars in the liberal wing of a movement that tried to bring constitutionalism and rule of law to China. Then he was converted to Christianity. As a writer, he has been moving from approaching everything as a political leader to approaching things as a pastor. The dominating consideration for him today is the eschatological centrality and importance of the church, and a main thrust in his thinking is the theology of the cross. He is a passionate visionary and a humble learner. Wang Yi was arrested in December 2018 under the Chinese government’s new religious regulations; his “unregistered” house church, Early Rain Covenant Church, had hundreds of members and was meeting openly in the city of Chengdu. As of this writing he is in prison serving a term of 9 years.


Wang gives a great illustration of the gospel of grace.

Let us take an example from the secular world: amnesty is greater than a guilty verdict. Forgiving someone and judging someone are contradictory, for one says to kill him, the other says not to kill him. If you hold both documents in the same hand, the amnesty to forgive is more effective than the verdict to kill. This is what royal grace means; free grace is not like the trespass.


Forgiveness comes from the king, and the command to forgive can come even before the command to judge. In the Water Margin, one of the four classic Chinese novels, there is a man named Chai Jin whose family holds a death-exemption medal bestowed by the emperor. If he commits a crime punishable by death, he can take out this medal and be exonerated. That is to say, there is an amnesty granted to the descendants of his family even before they commit crime, and this amnesty is more effective than any judgment. I read the Water Margin when I was a child, and my most ridiculous, unrealistic daydream was to have a death-exemption medal so that whatever felonies I committed in the future, I would be protected my whole life long.


When I got married I was not yet a believer. I had an agreement with my wife that if she ever felt that I treated her well and thus deserved her lifelong kindness, she would give me a death-exemption medal. If I then got in trouble and she was angry with me, I could pull out this death-exemption medal, and she would have to forego the right to judge and punish me. She would have to forgive me. And vice versa.


One time we got into a huge fight, almost to the point of getting a divorce. At that time, I still had in my hand two death-exemption medals from her, and she had three from me. But our death-exemption certificates were all worthless papers, because they were not issued by the king who was nailed to the cross. They were issued by us. At the time, I did not know that sin and death reigned over us. Sinners are not able to preemptively forgive the offenses and harms of others. It was in that year, shortly after our death-exemption medals lost effect with each other, that Christ’s death-exemption came to us. Christ’s cross fulfilled my childhood daydream.


The law is the verdict; grace is the death-exemption medal. The law cannot take away sin because sin existed before the law. Therefore, Luther summarizes that the law cannot give us life. For as Paul says, “The law came in to increase the trespass.”


Luther quotes Augustine again, saying the law will reveal that those who think they can fulfill the law by their own efforts will be more enslaved by the chains of sin. Why? There is a type of rope that grows tighter the more you try to escape from it. In a different classical Chinese novel, Journey to the West, the crown on the Monkey King’s brow is a perfect example of this ethical shackling. 1 Luther gives another example: if a doctor comes to visit a patient and gives him a prognosis, saying he is terminally ill and there is no treatment, we can say that the doctor’s presence actually increases the patient’s hopelessness and despair, thereby aggravating his condition. Sometimes the patient hates the doctor because the doctor delivers the worse possible news.


Judgementalism verses discernment

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In my sermon on what was causing disunity within the churches in Galatia I mentioned the need to avoid being judgemental whilst being discerning. However, I didn’t clearly identify the difference which in hindsight was a mistake. To rectify this, I offer up this quote from R.C. Sproul which I think explains the difference very well.

Jesus was the most loving person that ever lived and would say “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” He did not judge in the condemnatory sense but He certainly made a judgment of discernment. And that’s where we get confused. When the Bible tells us not to be judgmental, it means we are not to have a spirit of condemnation towards fallen people. We are to love them, be concerned for them, pray for them—all of that. But we are still supposed to have discernment—to be able to distinguish between what is righteous and what is unrighteous.

Find the link to the original sermon below.

Sermons – Hope Church Luton

A coming change of season for me

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There are many seasons in life, things never stay the same even if we would want them to. Personally, I am aware of an approaching change of season in my life, which I have been preparing and planning for over the last year or so. Last Sunday I shared these thoughts with the whole church and wanted share to make those thoughts more widely available.

I am approaching 65 and am aware of reducing energy levels, even if my enthusiasm stays the same. In response to this throughout 2022 I worked and was paid 80% and took extended time off, mostly outside of Luton. This has worked well.

This year, 2023, I will be paid by Hope Church 60% of my previous salary but will still be working 80%. I will be working less for Hope Church and getting involved in other activities in preparation for the future. When I get a state pension in 2024 I will continue to work but will be unsalaried. How much I do within Hope Church, how much outside the church and how much time off I have is still to be identified.

Importantly in 2023 I am looking to do less in Hope, and we are working through as team what this looks like. I will be preaching less, but also need to step back from other things. This will allow me to serve more widely across the church in Luton as well as produce a training course on church planting and to start writing a book.

This will give more space for others to step up within Hope. The expectation is that at some stage in this process I will hand over the senior leadership within Hope Church to Jonathan Adams.

I have no intention of leaving Luton or Hope Church. However, I am aware that a change in season is approaching, not that I will be retiring, but that my focus should transition from leading Hope Church to other things that will serve the Kingdom of God.

Do pray for me and for us as a church in this change of season.

Pastoral Care (by Rob Lightowler)

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Pastoral Lead

As Christians we are all called to care for one another but some of us also do pastoral care in a group setting as group leaders. Pastoral care can be a gift or it can be a learnt skill. The pastoral lead equips and empowers pastoral care, in its many settings. He is particularly involved with supporting the leadership and those who are in a pastoral care role. Shepherding is often used to describe pastoral care.

So what do I see as the role of Pastoral Lead?

I’ve been asked if I would expand on this brief statement to introduce myself and my role. Essentially the Pastoral Lead supports the eldership and others in their caring roles, under the authority of the elders. The pastoral model at Hope is an eldership of 3 men (in which Tony is the Pastor) and a wider leadership team. I see my role as assisting and supporting the eldership and the leadership team. How might that look?  I imagine it could involve some fellowshipping/working alongside; there might be some teaching or coaching, and generally mucking in where wanted. I expect it is likely to be varied from being available for a chat to organising training seminars, with no necessity to be on the leadership team but being available as a sounding board. We aim to have 3 Sunday messages a year that are pastoral and input to leadership group meetings.

A little of my background

  • Top of the list – married to Sue for 45 years, 5 children, 8 grand children and (as a wider family) 4 dogs!
  • 15 years in teaching
  • 40 years pastoral work (home group leader, elder, pastor) in 4 different churches
  • Youth leader, preparing the children’s and youth work for Bible weeks, leading the musicians and choir
  • Taking part in a Leadership Training Course in England and Ireland.
  • Over 15 years in prison (as a Chaplain!)
  • Serious Illnesses/challenges. I believe suffering has played a major part in my training and shaping
  • A love of creativity – painting, wood carving etc, music and country walks


The resources we have as a community for pastoral care are mainly in the people who care and/or have a caring role. Firstly, the Life Group leaders who have a pastoral role and inspire the care within their group. Then there is care given by many others in different settings inside and outside the church community, such as Open House or Language groups. There are support groups such as ‘Freedom In Christ’, Alpha, Trauma Action Group (TAG) and PTSD/PTG seminars, Marriage support or grief and loss of a child support. We also are aware of local organisations and charities.  But the first line of pastoral care for most is found in the Life Groups which meet at different times in the week. The pastoral lead, with the leadership team, supports these group leaders.

I thank God to be part of a church who has its heart in Jesus, its hands out to one another and both its feet in the community in a variety of ways. We often say that no church is perfect. We know that we are not(!), and enjoy doing what the Lord has given us to do by His strength. For some that is pastoral care, alongside us all who are called to care for one another (Gal. 6:2, 1Pet.1:22, Eph.4:32).


Robert Lightowler

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