From The Sabbath Sentinel, www.biblesabbath.org, November-December 2000
HOUSE CHURCHES IN CHINA
By Paul Wong
Among many Sabbatarian groups, there has been much interest and discussion about Sabbath-keepers in Communist China. The following is the second human-interest article by Paul Wong, a minister in the True Jesus Church, which is a Pentecostal Sabbatarian denomination. He gives us a brief glimpse of the lives and beliefs of the Sabbatarians in China.
Editor, The Sabbath Sentinel
The house church originated at Jerusalem when Christianity was at its infancy. Right from apostolic times the gospel has spread not only through preaching at public places, but also through meetings in believer’s homes. After Pentecost, the disciples met in homes and broke bread “from house to house” (Acts 2:46). The apostle Paul wrote to the disciples in Rome to greet Priscilla and Aquila and also “the church that is in their house” (Rom. 16:3-5). House churches have been in operation throughout the centuries.
Generally there are two types of Christian churches in China. The first type consists of Chinese government approved institutionalized churches that are organized by the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). Normally these churches are also members of the China Christian Council (CCC). The second type consists of house churches that are also known as “underground churches”. These house churches operate illegally, that is without the sanction of the Chinese government.
Before the Communist takeover of China in 1949 there were three indigenous movements that worshiped in house churches. They are the True Jesus Church, Jesus Family and Little Flock. Of the three only the True Jesus Church worship on the Seventh Day Sabbath. After the takeover these churches continued their worship in house churches and operated in clandestine manner in many parts of China.
Due to lack of demographic data it is impossible to have an accurate count of the Christians in China. Most researchers agree that there were less than 1 million Christians in China in 1949, and that serious church growth did not start until the 1970s. The Amity News Service from Hong Kong that based their report presented to the Sixth National Christian Council in January 1997 gave an estimate of ten to fourteen million Protestant Christians. These figures do not include the Catholics or the Underground Church.
Researchers from the Little Flock claimed there were 30 million Christians meeting in house churches. Later estimates went higher still to 50 million and beyond. These reports are amazing because during the past 50 years the Chinese Church has undergone severe persecution, probably comparable to the ones that were experienced by the Early Christians under the Roman tyranny. Estimates of Christians that were imprisoned, tortured and killed for their faith go into the millions. In addition, virtually entire evangelical Chinese intelligentsia was destroyed or silenced. Therefore, by even the most conservative estimates, the Chinese church must be considered one of the most victorious in the world. During a fifty year period when the churches in the developed countries have not experienced any significant growth at all, and in many places have even decreased in size, the Chinese church has grown at least twenty, and perhaps fifty-fold.
It seems today that most of the ferment of growth in China is occurring, not in the Government sanctioned "Three-Self Patriotic Movement" (TSPM) churches, but in less organized and illegal house churches.
Characteristics of the House Churches in China
1. The house churches are indigenous to China
The house churches are not affiliated or associated with any organization and certainly have no formal ties with any Christian churches outside China. When the organized churches were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution, traditional forms of Christian ministry were also done away with. The dynamics of house churches, therefore, flow partly from their freedom from institutional and traditional bondage. Without any organizational structure, they are not bothered with committee meetings, agendas, reports and the power politics so common in large organized churches. They are also free from control by any central or national organization.
Without an institutional and hierarchic structure the house churches rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance. Just like the Holy Spirit gave directions to the early Christians the house churches also receive direct instructions from the Holy Spirit. While in Hong Kong I met a small group of young Christians from the True Jesus Church that had worshiped in house churches in China. All of them have wonderful testimonies of their experiences that I shall relate here. (For security and protective reasons only fictitious names are used in this article.)
2. The house churches rely on the power of the Holy Spirit
The True Jesus house churches operate through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of their members that I met in Hong Kong was Sister Su. She took out a black book and told me that was her Bible. It was filled with her own handwriting on every page. She said that after the Communist Cultural Revolution Bibles were scarce and difficult to obtain. Their house church prayed and asked the Lord Jesus Christ to give them His word. She said there was an elderly deaconess who was over eighty years old. She had totally fasted (abstention from food and water) and prayed for nineteen days. She became filled with the Holy Spirit and would sit in the middle of the house church. Everyone would sit around her. Through the unction of the Holy Spirit this sister would recite Bible verses loudly and clearly, and every one would write down the words in their books. Every word is the word of God. At the time when there were few Bibles in China God had anointed a sister with a special charismatic gift of reciting Bible verses. God feeds His people with His word if they hunger for it.
The story, which Sister Su told me, of how her family got out of China, is truly amazing. While the family was praying for guidance God spoke to them through interpretation of tongues and gave them a message. God told them they have a mission to warn all the Christians in the free world that they have to prepare themselves for the coming Great Tribulation. The Christians in the western countries will experience the same kind of sufferings and persecutions that the Christians in China went through. For the purpose of warning Christians in the free world, God would let them go out of China. He had given them a date and told them to apply for an exit permit. They obeyed God and left China on the exact date. I am passing on God’s warning message to you.
Another brother told me that the house churches meet in different homes so that the Communists could not detect their meeting places. One must remember that in China telephones were very scarce and very few homes had them. Because of wiretapping by the government it was not safe to talk about meetings on the phone. How do the Christians know where and when to attend the meetings? They had to completely rely on the Holy Spirit to direct them. The Christians would pray earnestly and asked God to show them the place to attend the meetings. It is incredible that the Holy Spirit would direct each believer to the same place of meeting at the same time.
Here is another astounding example of how the Holy Spirit protects the house churches. While the meeting was going on the preacher said the Holy Spirit had just revealed to him God was dealing with a person in the room. There were about fifty persons in attendance. Through the charismatic gift of knowledge the preacher said there was a Communist spy in the congregation. He preached the love of Jesus and showed how God loves everyone and urged the person to confess his sins and accept Jesus as his Savior. One man stood up and confessed that he was a Communist spy who had disguised himself as a believer. Nobody knew his identity and intention. He confessed he came with the intention of spying on the house church and then report to the government and get the believers arrested. Since the Holy Spirit exposed him he became fearful of God and was convicted of his sins. Praise God he accepted Jesus as his Savior. Such incidents are often reported in the house churches in China. God really protects His Church.
3. The house churches are abound with miracles, signs and wonders
I am told more than 80% of the believers in the TJC house churches in China believed in the Lord Jesus Christ because they have either seen or experienced some miracles, signs and wonders. How else can you convince atheists there is a One True God? “God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will.” (Heb. 2:4)
The main occupation of some thirty thousand people in Sun Island off the China coast is fishing. A fisherman’s family had accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior through the preaching of an itinerant preacher from the TJC. At one time when the preacher arrived on the island one of their family members had died. During the funeral service the preacher comforted the bereaved family and while everyone was praying the dead man was resurrected. This news spread throughout the island and almost all the inhabitants believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. More than two hundred cases of people resurrected from the dead have been reported in the TJC in China.
In Hong Kong I met an atheist who became a believer on his first visit to the house church in China after he received healing. Tong worked as a machinist in a government factory. There was some problem with the machine and the electric saw had accidentally cut his right thigh. He was bleeding profusely so they rushed him to the hospital. Due to lack of proper medical treatment gangrene had already set in the wound. They told him that his thigh had to be amputated the following morning. Tong was highly distresses. Chen, a colleague of Tong’s in the factory, came to visit him in the hospital. He told Tong that his leg might not need an amputation if he agreed to attend a meeting with him. That evening Chen came and placed Tong on the back of his bicycle. They came to a house that Tong could not recognize. Inside the house there were about 30 to 40 people. They placed Tong on a chair. When the meeting started Tong heard for the first time in his life everybody was praising Jesus and shouting “HalleluYah”. After singing praises they all knelt down and prayed in unison. Many were praying in the Spirit; some laid hands on him calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Within a few minutes Tong felt the pain in his right thigh was gone. The wound had healed instantly. He was released from the hospital without amputation. Brother Tong showed me the scar on his right thigh. He looked at me and smiled, “This is how I came to know Jesus. Praise God, HalleluYah!” He then picked up the phone and called long distance to a relative in Indonesia and witnessed to him about the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. The house churches receive God’s protection
One of the difficulties that the house churches of the True Jesus Church in China encounters concerns water baptism that must be administered in the “Living Water”, that is natural bodies of water that are created by God such as seas, lakes, rivers or springs. Man-made pools, cisterns and tanks are not used. In order to avoid detection by the Chinese Communist government water baptismal sites are often obscured, remote and hard to find. For security reasons the location cannot be divulged.
At one time over six hundred believers in a certain locality had to be baptized. The leaders had chosen a national holiday because they figured on that day the number of Communist military men on duty would be minimal. The baptism was to be administered at night so that the movements of the believers could be kept secret. They had chosen a river deep inside a mountainous area that could only be reached by walking through a ravine. There was only one way in and a one way out. Thank the Lord Jesus Christ over six hundred believers were baptized into Him without a hitch in the river that night. It was still dark when the believers started walking out of the baptismal site. When they almost came to the opening of the ravine the dawn was beginning to break. They saw something that perplexed them. There were many guns strewn all over the place, but no one was there. Everybody praised the Lord that the baptism was carried out successfully.
On the following day a house church brother overheard the conversation between two soldiers in the marketplace. One soldier was saying to the other: “It was weird yesterday. We received information that many Christians were inside the ravine. We were setting an ambush for them. Suddenly an army of giants appeared. They had shiny white uniforms. We did not shoot them because the gunshots would let the Christians know we were there. The giants were big and strong and they were coming straight at us with their drawn swords. Every one of us got so scared that we left our weapons and ran for our dear lives. . . .” God protects His Church. “The Angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.”(Psm. 34:7) “Do nor fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kn. 6:16) Praise the LORD.
My personal visit to a house church in China
I have heard and read a lot about the house churches in China and I had longed to visit at least one of them. I want to praise and thank our Lord Jesus Christ for making it possible for me to realize my desire in April 1987. At that time it was not easy to obtain a visas to enter China. In my application I had to write my reason for visiting China was to study Chinese religious buildings. The Chinese Consulate in Houston checked out my occupation as an architect before approving my application. I had to wait for more than six months for Brother Ling (fictitious name) a house church brother from China to get to Hong Kong to act as my guide. I had to pay for all his expenses in Hong Kong and airfare back to the mainland. There was an agonizing three days flight delay because of bad weather conditions in China. Due to the sensitive nature of the house churches in China I have to skip all the details and go straight to the description of the house church that I visited.
The house church that I visited is situated in a village hidden deep inside a mountainous terrain. I had rented a van for a week and also had another house church brother to drive it. We came to the end of the paved road and could go no further because the paths were uneven and too steep. We had to walk uphill about five miles along winding paths before sighting the village. On entering the village Brother Ling pointed to a building on the crest of the hill and said, “That is our Church.” As we approached the building I saw a prominently displayed sign-board with the Chinese characters “True Jesus Church.” I was excited and elated because I was told that church names could not be displayed in China. Brother Ling explained: “This is our village and we are separated from the outside world. We are amongst believers and friends. We can worship God the way He wants us to. The Communists don’t bother us here.” This is a house church in China that was unaffected by the Communists. My thought was that God would set up places of refuge for His people during the time of the Great Tribulation.
When it got dark I realized there was no electricity in the whole village. People were holding oil lamps on the streets. There was a Church service that evening. The chapel was on the attic floor because I could see the sloped ceilings and exposed roof trusses. As in most TJC chapels the platform was very small. Only two people could stand there. A kerosene lamp was placed on the pulpit for Bible reading. I was told there was only one Bible in the whole church. That was considered very fortunate. Most house churches do not even have a single Bible. The minister introduced me to the congregation that I estimated to be close to 150 persons. The service format was very similar to the ones that I had been used to in the outside world. After the hymn singing and prayer I was invited to speak. After my short address of encouragement the local preacher also spoke. After the sermons they had a closing prayer, then everyone stood up to sing the choruses. The service that lasted about one and half hour ended with a benediction given by the elder of the church. HalleluYah, Amen! May God bless you.
Paul Wong is a minister of the True Jesus Church (Houston), a Pentecostal Sabbatarian denomination. His ministry ARK International also serves as an architectural service company in Houston, Texas. The ARK Forum on the Internet is international and non-denominational.
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