The powerful videos, Transformation 1 and 2, have sold in their thousands. They speak urgently and prophetically to the church today and show the way ahead for community transformation in this new millennium. George Otis, Jr. compiled and directs these astounding programs.
Transformation 1 gives amazing reports of changed cities. These include Cali in Columbia, Almolonga in Guatemala, Kiambu in Nigeria, and Hemet in California. God answered the united prayers of his people in ways they had never seen before – drug lords removed, prisons closed, crops multiplied, communities transformed. See www.sentinelgroup.org
Transformation 2, released in 2001, gives further amazing reports of changed districts, even a whole country, again in answer to earnest, united prayer. Revival has transformed Canada’s artic region Ungava Peninsula. The Hebrides Islands in Scotland saw profound revival. Uganda welcomed in the new millennium with its president and his wife participating in a combined churches and community rally in their largest stadium at which they renounced evil and dedicated their country to God. See www.sentinelgroup.org
Informed Intercession: Transforming Your Community through Spiritual Mapping and Strategic Prayer by George Otis, Jr. (Ventura: Renewa, 1999).
Chapter 1 of this book, “Snapshots of Glory”, is the lead article in this issue No. 17 of the Renewal Journal.
Review by C. Peter Wagner, adapted from the Foreword.
God has been raising up an extraordinary group of leaders for his kingdom in this generation, including George Otis, Jr. I can say with great confidence that the Body of Christ is in good hands for the future. Through these and many others like them, the Holy Spirit has been speaking some new things to the churches. They have the “ear to hear” that Jesus spoke about in his letters to the churches in Revelation.
These things, of course, are not new to God. They are scriptural, and indeed, a few members of the Body of Christ were tuned in to them long before the rest of us began to catch on. As we in repentance began to ask God to “heal the land” (2 Chron. 7:14), we then began to realize how little we knew about stewardship of the land and about the increased spiritual authority that is released when leaders become sincerely committed to the geographical sphere to which they have been assigned
The title of this book, Informed Intercession: Transforming Your Community through Spiritual Mapping and Strategic Prayer reflects a basic premise with which I fully agree: Accurately informed intercession is a critical component in transforming entire communities for Christ.
We all know and practice this principle when, for example, we pray for a friend. If they ask for prayer, our first question is, “What do you want me to pray for?” and we go on from there. But only recently have we learned how to ask such questions to our community and get the answers we need.
George Otis, Jr. has been the pioneer of this important discipline that we now call “spiritual mapping.” As might be expected, the novelty of an activity such as spiritual mapping attracts its share of flakes. While they may be somewhat of an embarrassment to the rest of us, I do admire their zeal. Furthermore, as I have tracked some of them down and discussed this with them, I have yet to meet one who wants to be a flake. They will be the first to admit that they would love to have more role models and better instruction.
This book will meet those needs. This is a remarkable document that will raise the whole spiritual mapping movement to new levels of integrity and usefulness. I would hate to try to use a bread machine or a computer or a chain saw for the first time without an operator’s manual. I am grateful that we now have the operator’s manual for those who desire to attempt spiritual mapping.
What is spiritual mapping for? This can easily become so fascinating that it seems to be an end in itself. George Otis will have nothing of that! The goal is not just to gather information. The goal is nothing less than community transformation. Is this a high standard? It certainly is, and as you read this book you will be increasingly grateful, as I was, for the demands for excellence which persist from beginning to end. For those of us who deeply desire to serve and please the Lord of lords, nothing else would be acceptable.
We saw the Holy Spirit fall with great joy similar to what some refer to as the ‘Toronto Blessing.’ This has swept many parts of China without any teaching from the West, but in many places has been a supernatural outpouring of the Spirit.
In Asia many Pentecostal denominations are trying to be more acceptable to the denominational church world through more emphasis on theological education and degrees than prayer, fasting and the power that comes from the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The opposite is true in China, for the house churches are more than ever turning to the Pentecostal roots of our faith.
We also arranged for many other well known ministry teams to teach the leaders in several parts of China. Among them were Lester Sumrall, Ulf Ekmann of Sweden, Reinhard Bonnke of Germany, Marilyn Hickey of the US and many others. One overseas preacher was excited as he was able to preach to a crowd of 6,000 in Northeast China. There has been such a revival there that nearly 360,000 were saved in a few years time.
We took on several new full time local Chinese in the China Ministry. We have encouraged the rest of the Chinese congregation to get involved in ministry in China. Of the 1,000 plus churches in Hong Kong, ours is possibly one of the few who openly advocate and participate in ministry in mainland China. Most pastors are fearful to do so for possible repercussions against them in 1997. We have made our position very clear, and though it has caused a very few to have reservations about our stand, most of the Chinese congregation know where we stand and are prepared for whatever might happen.
Thus towards the end of the year we organized three ministry trips to Yunnan, Sichuan and Guangdong provinces, and nearly 20 local Chinese participated in each trip. They all came back burning with the fires of revival as they met with house church leaders who have been greatly used of God to perform miracles resulting in mass conversions. They also realized clearly the intense persecution against Christians in China and thus are better able to prepare for possible persecution in a year or so. Their testimonies excited so many others that the next scheduled trips around Chinese New Year are all full of applicants. Never before have local Chinese responded to the China ministry in such a positive manner.
Persecution of Christians is severe and widespread throughout China and the situation with human rights is worse than any time since China opened in 1978. The hard‑liners are firmly in control and there don’t seem to be any moderate voices. In addition to long prison sentences being given to proponents of democracy, daily scores of people are executed through China, many for what we would call ‘white collar crimes’ or corruption. In elections for the Hong Kong Legislative Council in September, the pro‑democratic parties won by a landslide. This was a great insult to China who considers these men as ‘counter‑revolutionary’ and ‘subversives’. China has vowed to dismantle the whole elected government and will not allow any of these legally elected councilors (who are like congressmen in the USA) to remain in office after 1997. They have also strongly attacked the local ‘Bill of Human Rights’ and say they are not obliged to honour human rights in any way, for they have not signed the Bill of Human Rights in the United Nations, though they are signatories to the UN Charter.
People are now extremely pessimistic about the future here and many are saying that the only ones who got it right are those who immigrated years ago. It is quite difficult to do so now at this late date, and people don’t even know if the present travel document (British Nationality Overseas passport) or the passport that will come in next year (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC) will be recognized by foreign governments. It is not certain Hong Kong people will then be able to travel overseas without difficulty. In addition to the above, the economy has started to decline and unemployment is at an all‑time high.
I continually teach the people that whatever happens we should not even consider leaving Hong Kong, for our nation will need us. But through the cell group system we are attempting to disciple everyone and prepare them for persecution, if it comes to that. Also many more people are willing to come into the ministry now than in a booming economy. We may possibly start a full time intensive Bible School in which people work together and study for preparation of ministry in China as well as Hong Kong.
In December Pastor David Kiteley of Shiloh Christian Fellowship in Oakland, visited Hong Kong and with David Wang of Asian Outreach ordained Kathy Balcombe also a ‘pastor’ in RCC. She has been operating in the capacity for many years as I am away from Hong Kong much, but this will give her more authority to make decisions when I am away and deal with other matters. The church is growing rapidly and many are finding the Lord almost weekly. The goal for this new year is ‘Revival’ and we are believing for 50% growth this year. We usually have close to 500 people actually attend on any given Sunday, but like any church there are many more who don’t always come except a few times a year. On special meetings we might have over 600. We are not only believing for more numbers, but for an increase in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and evangelism. Several sister churches have been planted by our own Chinese or missionaries working with the church.
We now have nearly 130 full time missionaries under the visa sponsorship of RCC, and many more who now have their own visas (which are given after 7 years in Hong Kong). We have set up special intensive training for all the missionaries, and hope that many more new missionaries will be granted visas to come here, which it may be impossible after the change of sovereignty. None of them plan on leaving though the laws about overseas foreign church workers after 1997 is still very ambiguous.
Lastly I would appreciate your prayers that we have sufficient funds to purchase Bibles. For nearly 15 years we received Chinese Bibles free of cost or at a discount from other organizations. However due to different philosophy in ministry, they will not provide us any Bibles at discount, so we have to pay to have them printed in Sri Lanka. The price last year was about US $1.50 per Bible, but now we can get them at $1.35 per Bible due to offerings from Norwegian Christian. It is still not safe, economical or logistically possible to print and distribute large amounts of whole Bibles in China, though many (including ourselves) have printed limited amounts of other types of materials including New Testaments. The sale of Bibles through the official channels is severely restricted as everyone knows, so the only way most of the church leaders in the rural areas can receive Bibles is through ministries like ours.
Due to the lack of funds there were a few occasions last year when our workers had no Bibles to take to China, and we were only able to provide teaching materials. However we want to keep the ratio of Bibles to teaching materials of 80% to 20%, for we are primarily providing these to Spirit filled church leaders who are actively involved in church planting all over the nation. We have direct contact and relationship with about 50 large evangelistic teams which are ministering to about 10 million believers. These are all people who are baptized in the Spirit, speak in tongues and exercise gifts of the Holy Spirit. They in turn reach out to the lost in which their ministry is confirmed by mighty gifts of the Spirit, as in the Book of Acts. They also reach out to the small percentage of non‑Spirit filled believers, for almost every Christian in China greatly desires the power that only the Holy Spirit can give.
Therefore we desperately need a large supply of Bibles to supply these growing Spirit filled congregations. We were also saddened to hear recently that a large shipment of 85,000 large study Bibles taken in by container through other organizations were confiscated by the PSB police a few weeks ago in Liaoning Province. These study bibles are very expensive and not really that necessary as most of the rural church leaders are not trained to use such comprehensive materials. They basically only need the whole Bible and a few good study books such as ‘The Shepherd’s Staff’. Rather than teach them doctrine or give them study Bibles with all kinds of exposition and sermon outlines, I personally believe it is best to teach the leaders how to study the Bible and allow them to dig out the treasures themselves. I have been amazed over the past 18 years of ministry in mainland China to see how Spirit filled leaders almost speak the same message and preach pure doctrine. The Holy Spirit will ‘lead us into all truth’.
Concerning these large operations, we have found over the years that it is very difficult for such big projects to succeed due to the restrictive situation in China. It is best to take in the Bibles in smaller amounts by several dozen people daily and maintain a continual flow of distribution throughout the nation. We have done this and met with little difficulties. In fact last year only a few bags of literature were confiscated, and this was due to spot checks of the mainland Chinese Christians on the road or train. To facilitate such a ministry, you need many workers both in Hong Kong and mainland China and a safe reliable tested method of distribution throughout the nation. We believe we are this position as we have been doing this for the past 18 years and have probably distributed over four million books in this way. However we thank the Lord for everything others are doing and don’t want to be critical when things go wrong, for we are in ‘warfare’. Even so, the need is so great and resources are so limited, it is essential such ministry is effectual and economical.
We are expecting an increase of at least 100% in ‘Donkey’s for Jesus’ workers who carry Bibles into China, and desperately need the funds to purchase the Bibles. Revival Christian Church has invested heavily in this ministry and last year purchased a floor for the China Ministry Offices at nearly US $300,000 and monthly rents a warehouse for US $1,300. Therefore please pray with us that overseas Christians will help us to purchase the Bibles. We still have not found anyone who will donate them, though several have talked about this possibility. Yes, it is possible to print Bibles in China, but it is much more expensive now as it cannot be done in large quantities for safety reasons and they don’t have the equipment or paper to print on thin bible paper, making the transportation more expensive, dangerous and difficult. Only Amity Press (associated with the Three‑Self‑Church) prints on thin paper, but their total output is severely limited by the government, as it is an official press. It still it has not been possible for house church leaders to purchase large amounts of Bibles from them.
Please pray with us that 1996 will break all records for safe and responsible distribution of hundreds of thousands of Bibles and teaching materials in conjunction with many training sessions for the house church leaders. Thank you for your prayers for the work here. I hope this information has been helpful. Below are some recent testimonies relating to the ministry we are involved in.
From 3-9 December, 1995, together with Rodney Kingstone and Ian Rowlands from England, we went to two cities in Henan Province to minister to the brothers and sisters there. They both move in the prophetic and prophesied over 180 people. They also taught on the gifts of prophecy and the Church exercised the gift right after the teaching. Below is their testimony from this trip:
Our expectation as we arrived in China was not that we had come with all the answers but that we have a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters. We wanted to encourage and release them in the area of the prophetic ministry, with the anticipation that they would do the same for us in other areas. So at all the places we ministered at, we asked them many questions and made sure that they prayed and laid hands on us!
At one of these times we were really encouraged by one of the prayers that one of the leaders prayed for us. He prayed that wherever we traveled we would take and impact the place with some of the revival power from China and that we would be partners together in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
One of the things that amazed us, during our stay, was the incredible courage and bravery of the believers ‑ risking everything for the sake of the gospel. Most of the leaders we met were on the run from the police and couldn’t live with their families ‑ some had not been back home for 20 years and had to find other ways of seeing their wives, children and relatives.
We ministered to many leaders on the subjects of prophetic ministry and intimacy with God. There were many hours of note taking while sitting on benches no wider than 3‑ 4 inches! We had the privilege of praying over everyone there and we prophesied over all but a handful as well. We received excellent feedback on the accuracy and confirmatory nature of these prophecies.
There were a lot of memorable times, here are some snippets:
In one meeting after we had prophesied over some of the leaders, Rod had a word of knowledge about some people having severe pain and discomfort in the lower back area and God wanted to heal them. After praying three sisters testified that they had been healed:
* one had suffered from back pain and not been very mobile but was now totally free.
* another had fallen down some steps while evangelising and the doctors had told her there was nothing they could do for her but God had just completely healed her.
* another had fallen out of a car and could not swing from side to side but was now able to and no longer had any pain.
At one of the 5.30 am prayer meetings one of the leaders prophesied about a river of God’s blessing followed by us both prophesying about God’s river and its effect, this was followed by us inviting God to come and meet us and us all praying. After a little while one of the sisters started laughing and crying and then most of them ended up on the floor on the top of one another and then many of the brothers also started to laugh. The prayer time finished with a great celebration of singing and dancing!
Our lasting impressions ‑ and the challenge to us ‑ was that we had portrayed to an environment that seemed close to the Book of Acts in its power, simplicity and naturalness. It really was a where the people were truly supernaturally natural.
This was evident when we asked the question. ‘Are you still seeing miracles?’
Their eyes lit up and their response was immediate. ‘Yes, every day.’ They then told us story after story of what God had done. Here are some examples:
Testimony 1 ‑ by Brother Yeung
In 1987, Pastor Dennis Balcombe came and led us into the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Since then we started to see miracles happening as we go out to preach the Gospel. Because of the miracles, many people came to know the Lord. One time other co‑workers and I went to a meeting. There was a 40 years old lady who was demon possessed who came into the meeting. She was scolding and screaming at us while I was preaching. She was disturbing the whole meeting so that I could not continue to preach. I then asked the whole congregation to kneel down and pray. As we were praying, she came to the front and continued scolding and laughing at us.
I then stood up and said, ‘In the name of Jesus shut up!’
Not only she did not shut up, but she said the same thing to me, ‘In the name of Jesus you shut up!’
I then said, ‘In the name of Jesus kneel down!’ but she said the same thing back to me.
Whatever I said she would repeat the same thing. I had never experienced that before. I didn’t know what to do but cry out to God desperately.
I prayed to God, ‘I don’t want to be defeated by the power of the devil.’ I decided that no matter how long it may take or how hard it was, I was going to continue to pray until the demon was cast out.
At that time I knew that I could not pray in the understanding for she would repeat every word I said. So I laid my hands on her and started to pray in tongues. As I continued to pray I discovered that she wasn’t saying anything and she was softening down. As she became weaker, I became stronger in the Spirit. Then the lady tied her hands together and put her head down to the floor. She cried out, ‘Please don’t pray anymore!’
I continued to pray in tongues. After a while, she felt on the floor like a dead person. Then after a few minutes, she woke up and was back to normal. Because of this miracle, many people believed in the Lord in that village.
Testimony 2 ‑ by Brother Yeung
One time we had a evangelistic meeting in a village. Many people came to the meeting to listen to the Gospel. But as my co‑worker was preaching, some gangsters came in the meeting to cause trouble. When I saw them coming in, I asked my co‑worker to sit down and I stood up to preach.
I thought to myself the reason that they were causing trouble was because they didn’t know the greatness of God. So I spoke loudly that our God is a true and a great God and He is able to perform miracles. Then I prayed to God to perform a miracle. I then asked the congregation if anyone was deaf. Then a sister brought a lady up who was deaf. As soon as I prayed for her, she was immediately healed. I then asked all who were deaf to come forward and that night they were all healed.
The gangsters were amazed as they saw the miracles happen. Some people in the meeting including the gangsters went back to their home and brought back their family members who were sick. There were eight paralyzed people who came and six of them were healed immediately. Because of the miracles, the whole village including the gangsters all believed in Jesus.
I believe the reason for such a great revival in China first is by preaching the word of God and second is by the miracles of God.
Testimony 3 ‑ by Brother Yeung
One time we had a meeting which had 600 believers and 200 non‑believers. Because the meeting was in a home Church, the house was so packed that many people had to climb up to the roof of on the trees in order to listen to the message. That night I shared on the message of healing. After I preached for about 3 hours I started to pray for the sick.
As I was praying, I saw an old lady who was praying desperately before God. I asked her what she wanted from God. She told me that her daughter who was 19 years old was blind since birth and she was asking God to heal her. Her daughter then stood up and I prayed for her in front of 800 people.
After I prayed, I asked her if she was able to see again. Then I moved my fingers to test her sight. Immediately, she was healed and the whole congregation sang Psalms 150 in praise to the Lord. That night many blind people and paralyzed people were healed, and because of the miracles, the whole village came to the Lord.
Testimony 4 ‑ by Brother Yeung
One of my co‑workers went up to Saan Xi Province to preach the Gospel. The people in that area are very superstitious and they worship many idols. He went and preached to the people saying, ‘Our God is a great God. He is the one who created the universe. He is able to cause the blind to see, the deaf to hear even the dead to raise again, but what can your God do for you?’
After he preached, a man ran to the hospital where a boy has just passed away. He told the boys parents, ‘There is a Jesus from Henan came who said he can raise people from the dead.’
So the mother took her dead child to my co‑worker saying, ‘Jesus from Henan please raise my son from the dead.’
My co‑worker was shocked when he saw the dead child for he had never raised anyone from the dead before. There was nothing he could do but just cry out to God. At first he was very worried in his heart that if nothing happened, all the people would say he’s a liar and they would not believe in Jesus. So he started to pray, but after a while, nothing happened so he prayed again and still nothing happened. Then he prayed to God, ‘Lord, I don’t mind to loose face, but I really don’t want this to cause the people mock your name and not believe in you. Please show forth your glory in this place.’
As he was praying that prayer, the mother of the child said, ‘Look, my child is alive again!’
He saw the child stand up and he ran throughout the house. Due to this miracle, many people in that area burnt all their idols and believed in Jesus.
Testimony 5 ‑ by Brother Lui (who is a Public Service Bureau officer)
I have been a Christian for two years. The reason I became a Christian is really a miracle. Two years ago, I had a strange disease in which I had a bad headache all the time and my heart was beating very quick. Not only that, I suddenly had a great fear in my heart that I was going to die. I went to see many doctors and even stayed in the hospital, but there was nothing the doctors could do.
One time after I went to see the doctor, I meet a Christian lady who was preaching the Gospel. Because I had nothing to do, I listened to what she had to say. My Aunt is a Christian, so I knew a little about Jesus. As she preached the Gospel to me, I decided to believe in Jesus. But because I was wearing my police uniform, she didn’t believe that I would really become a Christian.
That night, I felt a great peace in my heart, and I prayed to Jesus, ‘Jesus, I know that you are here and I am willing to truly believe in you.’
The next morning when I woke up, the strange diseases all left me, I knew that Jesus had healed my disease. Then I went back to the place where the sister preached the Gospel to me, tried to find her, but I did not succeed. I did not give up but went everyday to wait for her. She finally came on the fifth day and led me to her Church and baptized me. I have ever since served God with all my heart.
Testimony of one distribution of The ‘Shepherd’s Staff’
This is the testimony of how God saved us from evil while we were distributing the ‘Shepherd’s Staff’ books of Bible readings.
On 31 July, 1995, the four of us took around 300 copies of the ‘Shepherd’s Staff’ from Guangzhou to bring back to Henan. We took a train to go back.. The train that we went on was very crowed, we had no place to sit but just stood by the doorway. After riding for four hours, the train stopped in a city and some police went up the train to have an inspection. A policeman came to us and asked us why we carried so many bags. We told him that we were porters, and we were hired by a man to carry the bags to Henan. But he did not believe us and asked us to open up the bags. We told him we had no keys for the locks but he still insisted we open the bags.
When he opened up the first bag, he checked and didn’t say a word. Then he opened up other bags and found out that they were all books named the ‘Shepherd’s Staff’. He asked us what were the books for, we told him that it’s to teach people how to shepherd. He then checked the books and found out they were a Christian teaching book. He was very mad at us and told us to follow him to the restaurant on the train. At that time we knew that the situation was not good and that he was going to arrest us.
Because the train was very crowed, with all the bags that we had, we were not able to pass through all the people. So the policeman had to go in front of us to open a way for us. At that time the train started to move. As we passed through the first car, the policeman was at the other car, and we knew that that was the only chance to escape. I then told the other three brothers to leave the bags and run. Two of them ran immediately and jumped off the train from the window. Myself and the other brother also started to run, but because the train was going faster and faster, we could not jump at that time. So we just ran through one car and the other until the train approached a small station and started to slow down. We then jumped off the train from the window.
After we jumped off the train, we ran up the mountain until we reached the top. When we reached the mountain top, we knelt down and prayed to God. On one hand, we were thankful that God has protected us, but on the other hand, we were very worried about the other two brothers and were sad that we were not able to bring the ‘Shepherd’s Staff’ back to our brothers and sisters in Henan. But thank God, as we returned to our home town, we met the other two brothers. We rejoice in tears that God was with us and saved us.
This article is adapted from a Church Growth essay Barbara wrote in her M.A. studies.
The prodigious growth of the house church movement in China is one of the greatest phenomena in the 20th century. Various observers of these Chinese Christians maintain that this move of the Holy Spirit is gathering people into the kingdom of God at the rate of 35,000 daily, and 12 million yearly (Paterson 1989:23; Waugh 1993:47).
Although it is difficult to obtain accurate statistics, approximations show that, whereas in 1949 there were between 800,000 and 1 million Protestant believers in China (Paterson 1989:103; Kang 1990:79; Kauffman 1991:6) and 4.5 million Roman Catholics (McGavran 1989:1) by 1989-1991 there were possibly as many as 50 million in the house churches. Carl Lawrence, however, estimated there were 75 million and a Japanese Christian editor who spent 6 months investigating the Churches throughout China in 1989 estimated 100 million (McGavran 1989:1).
The State Statistical Bureau of China completed a 2 year survey of religious believers in 1992 and the unofficial figures indicate 63 million Protestants and 12 million Roman Catholics (Asian Report 197, 1992:9). The Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) maintained there were 5,000 official Churches and 5 million believers under its auspices in 1989 and these figures were unaltered in 1992. This means at least 50-58 million – the majority of believers – attend the house churches (Paterson 1989:71). Most of the growth has occurred in rural areas where 80% of the population lives.
These figures do not only represent quantitative growth since growth has been sustained for almost half a century and is still increasing. There must be highly significant qualitative factors operating in the Chinese Church to achieve such phenomenal growth.
My purpose is to evaluate the key principles that have contributed to the effectiveness of the house church movement in China. I will examine the historical context and the revival context which emerged from it. Both of these contexts involve dynamic theological and spiritual elements at work in the burgeoning Church.
Christianity and colonialism
The growth of the Church in China cannot be divorced from the historical and political events of the 19th and 20th centuries. Church growth in general ‘is closely conditioned by both history and anthropology’ (McGavran 1980:153).
The arrival of the Protestant missionaries of the 19th century coincided with the victories of western colonialism. ‘Missionaries and colonialism in China were inseparable, at least in the minds of the Chinese’ (Kauffman, 1975:82).
In 1869 a Chinese official retorted to the British Ambassador: ‘Take away your opium and your missionaries and you will be welcome’ (Kauffman 1975:83). The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 is an example of violent aggression against Western influence including Christianity. 189 missionaries and children were martyred as well as an even greater number of Chinese Christians (Francis 1985:23).
Therefore between 1949-1966, after almost 100 years of unwelcome foreign harassment, the Communists vigorously targeted and attacked Christianity primarily because of its identification with imperialist exploitation (Paterson 1989:40).
Not only was the timing of the introduction of Christianity into China fraught with difficulties, but the manner in which it was propagated aroused considerable discontent among the Chinese Christians. Western missionaries were challenged quite early to adopt the concept of indigenisation.
The principle of self-responsibility and self-support for mission-planted Churches was advocated in 1841 by Henry Venn, secretary of the Church Missionary Society. By 1851 the concept had been formulated as the Three Selfs: self-supporting, self-governing, self-propagating’ (Shenk 1990:29).
In 1856 John Nevius, a Presbyterian missionary, set out this plan for indigenization:
1. All Christians should work for a living and evangelize their neighbours;
2. Ecclesiastical organisation should only be developed as the Christians deemed expedient;
3. Churches must be self-supporting;
4. Churches should use local architectural designs;
5. Church buildings should only be constructed when affordable;
6. The Chinese church should both send and support its own evangelists;
7. Strong emphasis must be given to prayer and Bible training (Kauffman 1975:91).
The self-supporting, self-governing and self-propogating principles became the theme for the First General Conference of Protestant Missionaries in China, held in Shanghai in May, 1887.
The Chinese Church, too, was beginning to realise the need to be independent of the foreign missions. In 1906 the Rev. Yu Kuochen of Shanghai established a small independent Chinese Church (Shenk 1990:32). It represented a voice of protest against the strategies of the missions.
On a larger scale, the True Jesus Church, commenced in 1917 in Tientsin and Peking by Chinese pastor Paul Wei, soon gained nation-wide prominence. This Church emphasised witnessing, tithing, and local Church government. A strong belief in the supernatural power of God to heal, deliver and empower believers was also a catalyst in its expansion throughout China (Kauffman 1975:93).
The tension that existed between the two parties resulted from different interpretations of the meaning of ‘self’. The western missionaries believed in indigenous leadership, evangelism and self-support, but within the framework of western traditions, forms and structures.
On the other hand the Chinese Church leaders desired to express their faith in Jesus in Chinese cultural forms and patterns. This drive for homogeneity, the principle of establishing the gospel in every people group – panta ta ethne – without circumcising inherently good cultural practices, is a natural and spiritual desire which the Bible endorses (Matthew 24:14; 28:19; Romans 16:26).
In the imperialistic climate of China it was very important to the evangelistic thrust of the Chinese Church to be able to preach the gospel and establish people into the Body of Christ in culturally relevant ways to offset the distasteful provocation of colonialism. The Chinese Church leaders therefore expressed their disapproval in 1922 in the following statement at the National Christian Conference held in Shanghai: ‘We wish to voice the sentiment of our people that the wholesale, uncritical acceptance of the traditions, forms and organisations of the West and the slavish imitation of these are not conducive to the building of a permanent genuine Christian Church in China’ (Shenk 1990:32).
Missions and Churches subsequently made genuine attempts to affect change, and establish Chinese leadership in the Church. There were positive signs of the Church becoming indigenous. Powerful Chinese preachers and evangelists were used to win many converts. Others, such as Wang Ming-Tao ‘stood for adherence to the Scriptures and withstood heresies and false teachings’ (Paterson 1989:41).
In 1926 Watchman Nee established The Christian Assemblies, also known as The Little Flock. These were locally autonomous churches without any central organisation. Prominence was given to Bible study and teaching, and the movement produced excellent Chinese evangelists and Bible teachers (Kauffman 1975:94).
However, the period of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) brought further instability and suffering to the Chinese people, and the momentum of change was impeded in the centrally organised churches (Shenk 1990:33; Francis 1985:23). At the same time, though, conditions in the eastern provinces caused an exodus to the inland regions where the gospel increased and spread.
This was due to the timely intervention of God himself for in places such as the northern province of Shantung he was sovereignly orchestrating his church.
In the early 1930s, Shantung experienced a supernatural visitation of the Spirit of God, characterised by deep repentance and public confession of sin by both believers and new converts, accompanied by signs and wonders in healing, speaking in tongues, and casting out demons. People from all denominations were affected.
This visitation impacted the church across China, resulting in Bible conferences and a rapid increase in church membership (Kauffman 1975:92). ‘To many (in China) the churches and their faith seemed the only stable element in a distraught and changing world’ (Latourette, cited in Kauffman 1975:93). God used the suffering of the people to prepare the church for the intensity of persecution that was soon to follow.
Intervention of the Spirit of God
An excellent model of the Spirit’s preparation of the church for the onslaught of Communism is afforded in the truly indigenous group known as The Jesus Family (Ye-su Chia-ting). Under the Holy Spirit’s direction, this commune:
* Had no central control – therefore , unlike denominations under central leadership, could not be easily controlled by the Japanese or the Communists.
* Refused to accept any foreign funds, on the basis that God was their source and they should exercise faith for his provision. Churches with foreign funds were liquidated in 1949.
* Had no church buildings. The buildings they owned were used for worship, but simultaneously used to produce their agricultural products – providing the livelihood of the commune.
* Encouraged their people to allocate a separate area in their homes for worship – a marvellous preparation for the ensuing forced worship of believers in the house churches.
* Had a dynamic faith in the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit which was a normal part of the worship of the commune, and proved to be an essential expectation of the persecuted church.
This church began in 1920 under the leadership of Ching Tien-ying. He established a commune in Shantung Province using land left to him by his great grandfather. The felowship spread through the north of China and into the interior. He established agricultural policies, progressively tithing from 10-90% of the harvest annually. During the famine of 1942 the commune gave 90% of the harvest to the poor and still met their own needs. Later the Communists needed one acre per family for life support, yet The Jesus Family was able to feed 500 people from 43 acres and still give away 90% of the produce (Kauffman 1975:95-97).
Effects of initial Marxist/Communist rule
In 1950, under the leadership of Mao Tse-Tung and the Marxist/Communist regime, the Christian Manifesto called on the Christian church to expose and oppose the effects of imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism, and help promote an independent, democratic and patriotic China (Paterson 1989:54-55).
However, the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) was established in 1954 by the government to mediate between itself and the church. The name was a prostitution of the ‘Three Self’ principles espoused by the Christian missionaries of the previous 100 years, since the blatant agenda was to secure from the Christians a total commitment to Communist/Marxist policies, and therefore a united, patriotic China. Where the Bible and patriotism conflicted, loyalty to the party line was to be paramount. Chinese evangelical Christians saw the TSPM as the Party’s controlling mechanism of the church.
Since the government viewed the TSPM as the voice of the Protestant Church, pastors and churches who refused to be associated with the movement were vehemently attacked, and many were imprisoned and tortured. Wang Ming-Tao, an eminent Peking Pastor, was arrested in 1955, imprisoned, and subjected to brainwashing and mental torture. He was not released until 1978. He was typical of the fate of many devout Christians of this period who refused to compromise with the State (Paterson 1989:42). Watchman Nee was also arrested in 1952 and never released.
By 1958 all Christian meetings not authorised by the government were dissolved. Many Christians stopped attending the TSPM churches because they had become primarily centres for political indoctrination. The house church movement came out of the cauldron of this attempted politicising of the church. During this period, believers began to meet quietly in their homes for mutual encouragement, prayer, and sharing of the Lord’s Supper. These meetings were a reflection and extension of the traditional Chinese social emphasis on family life (Paterson 1989:78).
These house churches (1954-1966) became the fertile soil out of which explosive growth occurred. They provided the climate for the preservation of ‘grass roots’ evangelical Chinese Christianity, and through attention to the basics – Jesus Christ, crucified and risen again, the power of corporate prayer, and the mutual edification of the Body of Christ – laid a firm foundation for growth.
Another factor influencing the success of this movement in the early stages was its roots in the cultural basics. The Chinese church was now truly indigenous. At the same time, the Holy Spirit had been progressively teaching believers to hear and respond to his voice and minister in his power in preparation for the years of the Cultural Revolution, when the church was mercilessly and relentlessly persecuted.
Persecution: context for revival
During the decade 1966-1976, the Red Guards – representatives of the hardliners of the Communist Party – embarked on a ruthlessly cruel campaign to eradicate religion. For Christianity it meant:
* Confiscation of all Bibles and Christian literature;
* The stifling of all remaining institutionalised Christianity;
* Closure of all church buildings;
* Public humiliation of Christians through physical and emotional assault;
* Imprisonment in labour camps, factories and farms;
* Suicide of some Christians;
* A denial of faith in Christ for some;
* Betrayal of fellow Christians by some.
Yet, the gospel spread to areas without any previous witness, due to the exile of believers to remote farms and labour camps (Paterson 1989:45-46). Amazingly, even Red Guards, impressed by the lifestyle of the believers, turned to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ during this time.
Many Chinese believers testify to the fact that the church was purified in the fires of this persecution. Only those who were wholeheartedly committed to Jesus withstood such fierce opposition. One woman believer said ‘If a person joins us, we have a real Christian’ (Paterson 1989:94).
Suddenly, believers needed each other more than ever before. Meeting in small groups, mostly in homes, they learned the value of the unity of the Body of Christ, the edifying effects of fellowship with other Christians, the power of prayer, the priceless value of the Scriptures, and the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit in their midst. The lessons of the preceding years were now bearing fruit in their dire need for mutual strengthening and encouragement.
The Chinese church was developing a quality of lifestyle and attitude that many Western Christians have never experienced. As they were leaderless in many instances, they began to appreciate the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.
This is the true meaning of revival – a fresh and deepened commitment of believers to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Christians who know him in this measure have a hope that transcends all hopelessness in this life. Although it was very dangerous to witness openly to the Lord at this time, many believers did so. The church primarily grew from conversions as people observed the way Christians endured persecution, and saw their lifestyle under extreme pressure.
By 1977 a more moderate set of pragmatic policies was pursued by Deng Ziaoping in the early years of his second term in office. The more liberal faction of the Party campaigned for the Open Door policy for the West – to help foster much needed industrial reforms.
Christians were released from prison for political expediency. China wanted to boost her trade and diplomatic relations by impressing the West with a policy of religious freedom and attention to human rights issues (Paterson 1989:49-50).
During the decade 1978-1988 the house churches saw great multiplication growth (McGavran 1989:1), and initially enjoyed relative peace. Consequently, the Christians boldly evangelized, worshipped and taught in large meetings. Outstanding reports included one city where 60% of the population became Christians, and a city of 160,000 where the majority are Christians, living in 13 communes (Paterson 1989:82).
David Wang (Paterson 1989:163) reports of another situation in which the majority of the citizens of an entire county became Christians in 1988. A Pastor had been imprisoned in 1963, when there were only 170 believers in his county. When he was released in 1986, there were 5,000 believers. Two and a half years later, the church had grown to 56,000 believers.
Evangelism: the result of revival
Conversions on a huge scale are the result of aggressive evangelism, characterised by a bold proclamation of the Gospel, accompanied by signs and wonders in the power of the Holy Spirit. Believers who learned to operate in the power of the Spirit in the secret meetings of the house churches now boldly proclaim the saving, healing and delivering power of Jesus Christ.
This is specialised evangelism that works through the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit into particular situations. Itinerant evangelists devote their lives to preaching the gospel from province to province. They constantly risk imprisonment and harassment from the authorities, but they are passionate in their ministry and are seeing much fruit for the kingdom of God.
The church encourages the ministry gift of an evangelist, and also emphasises the individual’s responsibility to witness, both in word and lifestyle. Anthony Lambert (1989:8) says the house church model for effective witness in China today is the simple, apostolic proclamation of the Gospel, combined with sacrificial life-style and suffering. This … is remarkably effective in reaching the masses of the people. … The church is growing by leaps and bounds from the grass roots upwards.
Influence of radio ministry
One other form of evangelism in China deserves special mention. The Christian radio ministry has progressively impacted unbelievers all over China. During the years when the country was closed to the outside world, the Far East Broadcasting Company received virtually no feedback on the influence of their programs on the Chinese. However, after 1979, letters received from inside China reveal that Christians are being nurtured, encouraged and strengthened by the broadcasts. More than 50% of the responses are from unbelievers seeking information about the gospel.
The following figures show the increase in written responses each year between 1978 and 1988. The overall decadal growth rate is a staggering 9,000%.
The responses totalled only 177 for the entire period between 1969 and 1978, but sharply increased after China and the United States resumed diplomatic relations in 1979.
1979 – 3,000 responses.
1980-1986 – 10,000 responses a year.
1987-1988 – 16,000 responses a year.
Given the fact that there are many who still cannot respond because of the danger, the radio ministry is of immense value to the cause of the gospel (Paterson 1989:115-116).
Reasons for growth
Vital theological convictions have produced significant spiritual emphases in the house churches.
As early as 1917, Chinese believers recognised the sovereign, supernatural power of the Spirit of God to heal the sick, perform miracles, and deliver from demonic oppression. I believe it is significant that this revelation coincided with the drive of Chinese Christians to become indigenous.
Western believers presented the Gospel from a Western theological perspective – appealing to people’s rational processes. Faith was based on the message proclaimed in words. The preached word has been emphasised exclusively, and Jesus has been well presented as ‘Christ the wisdom of God’.
However, the Chinese – and other Third World peoples – are more acutely aware of the dimension of the spirit world. Therefore, ‘Christ the power of God’, acknowledged in the preaching of the Word with accompanying signs and wonders, is the way God demonstrates his supremacy over all false gods (Wang, Asian Report 194, 1992:9-10).
Chinese Christians expect the Holy Spirit to declare the Lordship of Jesus through supernatural acts as a normal occurrence. This theological absolute is the common thread evidenced throughout the house church movement. I am convinced this is the fundamental reason for its preservation and outstanding growth. Within the house church movement itself ‘most Christians still recognise signs, wonders and miracles as the number one factor resulting in church expansion’ (Wang, Asian Report 198, April, 1993:7).
2. Revelation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ
The primary priority of Chinese Christians is encouraging and maintaining a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Persecution has driven the church to the basics of the faith, and a very real experience of the presence of Jesus in their lives. Their faith is in Jesus who is present now in the believer, and is returning soon. Therefore, effecting reconciliation between him and all who desire salvation is a matter of urgency.
3. A Theology of entering into Christ’s sufferings
A theology of suffering has issued from the fires of persecution. Christ Jesus suffered for them, therefore they willingly enter into the fellowship of his sufferings (Phil.3:10), and consider it a privilege to identify with him as his representatives in situations of persecution where they can demonstrate his great love for sinners.
David Wang tells of a woman Christian worker in a poor province of China sentenced to five years hard labour who refused to be bailed out by fellow Christians. She saw imprisonment as a divinely appointed opportunity to minister the gospel in the labour camp. Her only request was that Christians would support her in prayer (Asian Report 194, April, 1992:7).
4. A belief in the power of prayer
All the activities of the house churches flow from a base of intensely fervent prayer. Intercession occupies a major portion of their church meetings. Whole congregations unashamedly weep as one before God, and the entire group of believers sustain a unity of focus, adding their passionate ‘Amen’ to the pleadings and supplications of their fellow Christians (Balcombe Video, 1993).
One Chinese pastor, returning from a conference in a western nation, said ‘Our brothers in the West know how to plan, but we know how to pray’ (Paterson 1989:189).
Persecution drove them to prayer, and now persistent corporate prayer is frequently sustained for three to four hours in any one church gathering.
5. Belief in the church as a spiritual structure
No other structures except the Body of Christ are necessary in this movement. The vast majority of house churches do not own any property, but meet in homes, old buildings, and even, in at least one instance, a cave. What is important is the spiritual membership of the group.
Inherent in this doctrine is their faith in the priesthood of all believers. Leaders do not dominate the church, but encourage all members to live pure lives, and take their rightful place in the Body of Christ (Paterson 1989:189).
6. Recognition of the Scriptures as the Word of God
The Bible is highly esteemed among Chinese Christians. They will go to any lengths to obtain a copy, sometimes travelling for days to make contact with a courier, and risking detention by the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) for obtaining ‘foreign supplied’ Bibles.
In other places, one copy is circulated among members who are responsible for hand-copying the text. The lack of sufficient Bibles, along with limited sound Biblical instruction, unfortunately leaves many places open to heresy. Pastors refuse to send their potential ministers to seminaries operated by the TSPM, because of the strong political content of the courses.
7. A responsible belief in the mission of the church
These house churches take seriously the church’s mission (Matt.28:18-20). This is attested to by the spiritual harvest they are experiencing. Every Christian is encouraged to witness, and the ministry of the evangelist is given a high profile (Paterson 1989:189).
Ensuing spiritual elements
Definitive spiritual emphases have emerged from these theological convictions in the house churches today in China. For ease of comparison, they are presented in a simple table. They represent Church Growth principles at work supernaturally.
Recognition of, and dependency on signs and wonders
* sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in evangelism* exercise of spiritual gifts
Revelation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ
* presentation of the basics of the gospel* emphasis on personal relationship with Jesus Christ for conversion growth
* commitment to personal witnessing* sustained vitality in worship
Entering into Christ’s sufferings
* selfless Christianity* boldness in witnessing* focus on eternal values
Belief in the power of prayer
* sustained, persistent, fervent prayer* total dependence on God’s miraculous intervention to preserve his testimony
The church as a spiritual structure
* supportive, caring community* every believer essential to the Body of Christ* emphasis on lay ministry* importance of corporate fellowship
Recognition of the Scriptures as the Word of God
* high view of Scripture* an insatiable hunger for God’s Word* willingness to risk personal safety to obtain Bibles
Responsible belief in the mission of the church
* personal evangelism* fearless preaching of the whole Gospel
The greatest benefit to the church in China is the unity gained from a truly indigenous church functioning in the power of the Spirit.
In addition to this principle of indigenous unity, the following phases of Church Growth advocated by Eddie Gibbs (1986:43-45) are all strongly contributing to the current growth of the church in China and are evident in the theological and spiritual elements.
1. Mobilising the witnesses.
2. Equipping the people of God for ministry. This is encouraged, but at times hampered through lack of suitable materials and teachers.
3. Creating a climate of receptivity. This has been a work of the Holy Spirit, using the persecution of the church and the expulsion of Western missionaries to focus the church on the real issues.
4. Effecting regeneration.
5. Incorporating into the Body of Christ.
6. Involvement in the ministry of Christ.
The Chinese house churches have flourished under the dynamic direction of the Holy Spirit. This growth occurs within a climate of official hostility to Christianity. The strategies of the Spirit have developed a truly Chinese church independent of any foreign control or influence, free to propagate the gospel in terms easily understood by its fellow citizens.
These churches are constrained by the present suffering to present the gospel as a matter of urgency, compelled by the love of Jesus Christ for lost sinners. The whole church seriously applies itself to evangelistic mission, and gathers the converts into a nurturing community to build them up so that they can take their rightful place in the Body of Christ.
Despite the remarkable growth of the Christian church in China, there is still much work to do. The best figures reveal there are 100 million believers in this country of 1.289 billion. When we consider that China is one fifth of the population of the world, and 33.5% of the world’s population is Christian (Barrett 1993:23), the church in China is faced with a formidable task to fulfil the Biblical mandate to preach the Gospel to every people group.
They have pressed on by the power of the Holy Spirit in the past, and will continue to do so in the future as they combine his supernatural enabling with their tenacious devotion to the task at hand. Fired by their constant knowledge of Jesus Christ present in his power they proclaim Maranatha, the Lord is coming.
Balcombe, Dennis (1993) ‘Harvest Time For China’, Video, Mount Gravatt: Garden City Christian Church.
Barrett, David B. (1993) ‘Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission: 1993’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January, 1993, pp.22-23.
Chao, Jonathan (1988) Wise as Serpents Harmless as Doves. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
Francis, Lesley (1985) Winds of Change in China. Guidelines For Effective Service. Sydney: OMF.
Gibbs, Eddie (1986) ‘Power Won’t Flow From Principles’ Global Church Growth, July/August/September, 1986, Volume xxiii, No.3. pp.43-45.
Hunter, Kent R. (1990) ‘Whatever Happened To The Homogeneous Unit Principle?’, Global Church Growth, January/February/March, 1990, Volume xxvii, No.1, pp.1,4.
Lawrence, Carl (1985) Against All Odds: The Church in China. Basingstoke: Marshall Pickering.
McGavran, Donald (1980) Understanding Church Growth (Revised). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.
——- (1989) ‘What is Happening in China?’ Global Church Growth, April/May/June, 1989, Volume xxvii, No.2. pp.1,4.
Kang, Wi Jo (1990) ‘Korean Minority Church-State Relations in the People’s Republic of China’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, April, 1990, Volume 14, No.2., pp.77-82.
Kauffman, Paul E. (1975) Confucius, Mao and Christ. Hong Kong: Asian Outreach.
——- (1991) ‘China’s Opposing Attractions’, Asian Report 190, Volume 24, No.3, May/June, pp.3-7.
Lambert, Anthony (1989) ‘The Mandate of Heaven: An Analysis of the Present Overall Situation in China’, Global Church Growth, Volume xxvi, No.2 pp.7-9.
Paterson, Ross (1989) Heartcry For China. United Kingdom: Sovereign World.
Pierson, Paul E. (1985) Historical Development of the Christian Movement – Class Syllabus. Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary.
Shenk, Wilbur R. (1990) ‘The Origins and Evolution of the Three-Selfs in Relation to China’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Volume 14, No.1, January.
Wagner, C. Peter (1976) Your Church Can Grow. Ventura: Regal.
Wang, David (1992) ‘Asia’s Maturing Church’, Asian Report 194, Vol.25, No. 2, March/April.
——- (1993) ‘China/Hong Kong: At The Crossroads’, Asian Report 198, Vol.26, No.1. March/April.
Wark, Andrew (1992) ‘Reaching and Teaching’, Asian Report 196, Vol. 25, No. 4. July/August/September.
Waugh, Geoff (1993) ‘Astounding Church Growth’, Renewal Journal, Number 2, pp. 47-57.