The Church in China
This moving story is an epochal book, it marks the end of one age and the beginning ofanother. It tells ofa dramatic new power available for world evangelization.
Until the past twenty years. the spread of the Christian faith was done primarily by the spoken word. As Christians have witnessed to their faith by word and deed, proclaimed Christ. preached the Good News, and persuaded men and women to become Christ's disciples and responsible members of His church. congregations have multiplied in country aftercountry.
This process has been speeded up by a second means, the written.'printed 'cord. As men have read portions of the Bible, tracts, and otherChristian literature, they have become followers of Jesus Christ our Lord.
During the past twenty years, however, in China these two means of spreading the gospel have been greatly assisted by radio broadcasts. Christians outside China have beamed many hours at the Good News in all its various forms into China through Haven of Rest. Far East Broadcasting Company, TransWorld Radio, and many other missionary radio camps.
A new epoch in world evangelism had dawned. To be sure, many questioned whether it would be effective. By itself it might not have been. But since there,,,, in China four or five million Christians. and several hundred thousand oftheae were ardent believing Christians, and since the Word of God could he copied by hand and circulated, radio began greatly to extend the of' effectiveness of the primary and secondary method. Furthermore as new believers and new bands of believers arose, they spoke to an ever expanding number of friends These also listened in secret, and some of them, too, became ardent believers.
The process was helped by the fact that Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forward turned out to he a great leap backward, and millions ofChinese came to the bitter conclusion that communism 'c'as bankrupt. It was not delivering what it promised. It could not be the truth, Standing in this vacuum, the listeners heard the gospel over the air with receptive minds.
Readers of this book may sometimes wonder where Carl Lawrence got the detailed Information, the facts, and the personal experiences which have made this such a convincing volume. The answer is.simple. During the past five years, tens of thousands of Chinese living outside mainland China have been permitted to go hack, visit their relatives and see the villages and countryside in which they were horn. These visitors talking to then Families 5 he,, no one ito listening have heard surprising accounts. They have been amazed at the spread of the Christian faith. They have talked to old Christians and to many new Christians. They have found groups of believers where none existed before. They have found that sometimes a tenth of a commune. Sometimes a third, sometimes a half, and occasionally a whole commune have become Christian. Groups of believers, some small and same large were meeting in homes. in gardens, to cemeteries, in forests and fields tostudy God's Word and worship the Lord.
Furthermore, a few men and women, including the author. have his n sent to China to novel widely supposedly to gather information about the genera) state of affairs These have with great discretion weight out house church leaders and have made inquiries on a rather large scale. They have reported many of the facts, incidents, and case histories which Carl Lawrence reports.
Many other evidences make me believe that this vuleime is credhle A remarkable growth ofthe church in China has been and is occurring. How big it is no one ran say Some responsible macarchers say that there are 20 million adherents of house churches in China. Some say 50 million, some say 75 million, and sumesay 100 million. White theetact number is impoe.sihle to determine, there can he no doubt that a very large number of Christians now exist.
To be sure, few olthese followers of the Christ and believers in the Bible would fit exactly any of the denominational patterns in North America, They are certainly not Lutherans. Roman Catholics, Wesleyans. or Presbyterians But they are Christians These groups of believers are a praying, believing, witnessing church.
Read this epochal book with rejoicing Praise God for the great victories was in mainland China Indeed, God has been doings mighty work in our great sister nation China. And press forward with world evangelization with new ho in your hearts.
Donald McGavran Dean Emeritus School of Church Growth Fuller Theological Seminary
It would be a tragedy if we simply read about the church in China and then failed to apply those lessons to our own lives, to our own fellowship of believers, to our own communities.
That is why it is so important to stop and listen to the message from the arena and then ask ourselves: “What are the lessons that we can learn from what has happened in China during the past decades?”
The lessons are many, but a few stand out as a primer for further study.
Things not Transferable
In discussions about the church in China, one of the first responses is either, “That could never happen here,” or “Let’s make it happen in our country”. Either response is a warning to take a closer look at what really did happen in China, and realize that the Lord does not always do things the same way twice Though His principles never change, the effecting of those principles in the lives of people does change.
The first thing that is different in China from, say the United States, Canada, or other countries that are predominately capitalistic, is that the battle in China is rather easily defined. The purifying agents used in China was/is MarxismlMsoissn/Leninism. Maoism is a synthetic form of Marxism, an economic policy devised of state ownership, combined with the revolutionary anarchy of Lenin.
Marxism/Leninism is basically a perversion of Christianity. Hence, the point of tension in China is rather easy to define. It is the person of,Jesus Christ, true Christianity, versus Maoisnv Marxism/Leninism, the perversion of Christianity. Spreading the gospel in China in the face of this perversion cannot be transferred to so called Christian lands. There the problem and the perversion are entirely different.
The problem in the West is an erosion of biblical authority leading 0 the belief that man, not God, is the ultimate authority in the universe. This perversion of essential Christianity is the great problem in the West.
Another point should be made here, and that is related to the question, "Do we all have to undergo the persecution imposed by a Marxism regime?"
The answer is no, at least not in the same form. There are two reasons for this.
First, persecution comes basically in two forms: physical and mental. Perhaps we are under greater persecution today in the developed countries than we realize. The persecution is not physical, but rather mental. Take a look around you today and ask the question, "How many happy Christians do I really know in America, or Canada, or other Western countries?"
Second, as one house church member pointed out, 'If every country was like China, who would plant the seed? Our country is in the midst of a revival today because a country where you have great freedom sent men and women to plant the seed. Had that seed not been planted, we would not have a revival in China today."
God Uses the Wrath of Man to Praise Him
We got our first hint of this in 1980, when the prestigious Far East Economic Review (Aug. 15, 1980) did a cover story entitled "Back to the Basics." It dealt with the revival of religion in China, and in one section headed "Checking the Fervor of Born Again Christians," it stated, That drive to wipe out religion in China failed.
The article (in the PEER) then went on to explain the effect that the early missionaries had on this "born again" revival in Chins:
"At the same time, a little recognized phenomenon in Chinese Marxism has been of considerable importance to the development of China's post revolutionary society. That is the influence of missionary Christianity in shaping some of the fundamental assumptions of Mao and other historic leaders.
"The importance of confession, self examination, honesty before one's god/party, compassion, ideological rectitude" is necessary.
Some of these traits did not exist to any degree until Mao enforced them. It is something that might have taken several generations of missionaries to do.
Mao, also by his leadership, created in China the best possible climate in which to influence people; for example, painful uneasiness or anxiety; feeling of separation from a group, or the rest of the world; feeling of pointlessness, that there is really no future, so why bother, let's either burn the place down or leave.
But that is not all. Veteran missionary Paul Kauffman tells of his father who went to Tibet in 1907 From the end of the last public transportation, the trip required 40 days by mule. Many missionaries never completed the rough journey. They died and their moles went on alone. Thanks to Mao, there is now the famous Qinghag Tibet line, the first railway to penetrate Tibet, and you can ride in either a soft seated car or a sleeper. In 1949, there were about 75,000 kilometers of serviceable roads in Chins. Today, there are over 890,000 kilometers of roads for transportation.Thanks to Mao, the country is wired for radio.
In 1949, China had 300 main languages and many minor dialects. Today, thanks to Mao, there is one major language: Mandarin.
What the Romans and Greeks did for the New Testament church, Mao did for the twentieth-century church in China.
The Messiah Complex
Robert Lifton, in his book on Mao and the Cultural Revolution,' points out that ". . .the activist response to symbolic death or to what might be called commented death anxietyis a quest for rebirth."
The Cultural Revolution was Mao's bid for "rebirth" for"immortality," He had his Bible the "little red book." He had people bowing and giving thanks before meals for their "great leader's provision." His speeches were laced with woods like 'demons, devils,' and he was vying against supernatural enemies, He saw himself as master of the universe.
This is always the danger when a man who is used to having absolute power begins to lose some of that control through the natural aging process. When a man places himself above all others, he begins to actually believe that he is "immortal." He doesn't want to die, but if he should, he wants to leave something that will be immortal, a memorial to his greatness. The last thing he wants is to be forgotten.
The Messiah Complex can be a deadly disease that is not limited to the People's Republic of China, or even to that system which is a perversion of Christianity.
Lessons on Forgiveness
Much Scripture is devoted to the matter of a loving and forgiving God. Forgiveness is the visible attribute of love, and how visible it is in the house church in China.
During the early da's of the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards dragged away a husband and a father, leaving behind a wife and a son. Later they would kill the son, and the father would die in prison.
Some years later that young Red Guard, now a cadre, who was responsible for the death of the father and on, had a son of his own, an only son. One must remember how important a son is in today's society in China not only the importance of an heir, but also in light of the one¬child per family policy.
This lady, whose husband and only son had been killed under the direction of the cadre, heard that his only son was critically ill. She had some experience in nursing people back to health. She went to the cadre's house with her meager supply of medicine, but a heart full of forgiveness. For three nights and two days she sat at the bedside of that son, whose father had dealt such devastation to her family, and nursed him back to health There was no hate; she did it because "that is what Christ did for me." This actual event illustrates what has happened again and again all across China.) How many problems in this world would be solved today if we learned well this lesson of forgiveness.
Another lesson is the importance of the Word. The Word hidden in the heart is the one thing that keeps one from sinning against Him. Time and time again, Chinese believers testified est. how those who had memorized much Scripture, and during the times of persecution would rest on that Word. One reported: "Those who have a good knowlege of the Word of God and could repeat it back to the Lord during the difficult times survived even the most terrible persecution. Inevitably those who had little knowledge of His Word would give up their faith, and in many cases commit suicide."
A Final Testimony
Perhaps all of these lessons are best summarized in an interview with a Christian in China who spent twenty three years and ten months in prison because of his faith in Jesus Christ. He called it "a great university where he learned many, many great lessons."
Q: Did you have any Bibles in prison that you could read?
A: No, not a single Bible in the twenty three years and ten months that I was there. I never saw a Bible even once during my imprisonment.
Q: Did you memorize the Bible?
A: Yes, 1 memorized many passages from the Scripture. I would not consider myself as one who knew his Bible well. I have trained myself to memorize Scriptures in long passages consisting of many verses, which I could readily recall during my imprisonment.
Q: Did you sing hymns while in prison?
A: Yes, but I would only sing in a low voice, atone, not wanting to disturb others. .1 would walk around the courtyard and sing in a low voice to myself.
Q: What has kept your faith going all these years? Are there special verses which kept your faith strong as the days went by?
A: There are many passages from Scripture which helped me. Actually I can recite many passages from Scripture.
Q: What are the special verses that you like most?
A: A passage from Micah 7: "Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, 0 mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because! have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness . .......Q: What was the most blessed time you had while you were in prison?
A: The more often I was tried and attacked, the more abun' tartly I received His grace. The words of Scripture became my strength after I had fallen; God through His Word enabled me to stand up again. Peter fell for one day only, but I fell for several years. Thanks be unto God, Peter was forgiven after he had bitterly cried in repentance. I did not shed tears, but in my heart there was severe pain. I confessed my sins and [repented and my Lord also forgave me. So like Peter, though! had failed miserably, yet I was able to rise up again Peter's case gave me great comfort. It shows that, as a man falls, he comes to know his greatest weakness, and the Lord is able to change his weak. ness into strength.
Q: During all these years, didyou have any word from other believers?
A: I did not receive any news, not a single letter from anyone except letters from my wife and son. But even they could not say much. Neither could I write much, and if I did, it would not be sent So! was totally cut off from outside news.
Q: Were you ever physically beaten while you were in prison?
A: I am sorry. I cannot talk about this. Here I don't want to let the world know about that aspect. God knows everything. Now since the government is turning toward the good, I will not mention anything of the past. I don't want the world to have a bad impression of our government. Since the govern. mantis turning to the good, who am I that! should recall past things?
We have the lessons. Will we now be worthy students?
Adapted and reprinted by permission from THE CHURCH IN CHINA by Carl Lawrence, published and copyright 1985, Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55438.