Editor’s note: This is the first post in a series by a house church pastor reflecting on the gospel and its impact on the Chinese people. The material was originally presented at the China Partnership annual conference in January 2015. Check back on Wednesday and Friday for the rest of the series.
To every pastor and every colleague, peace in our Lord. It is an honor to share with everyone here about the gospel and the souls of the Chinese people.
In 1807, a young British man by the name of Robert Morrison arrived at China. He was barely twenty-five years old and became the first Protestant missionary to China, with the goal of bringing the gospel to the Chinese souls who were still living under the dark shadow of death. The same concern for the souls of China could be felt again in the appeal of another young man, who arrived at China about fifty years later. This young man was Hudson Taylor.
Taylor once published a small pamphlet titled China's Spiritual Need and Claims, in which he described a scene: if all the Chinese people lined up and passed in front of you, walking at the speed of thirty kilometers per day, endlessly day after day, year after year, it would take seventeen years and three months for all the people to walk by. These people are all walking toward destruction because they do not know Christ. Taylor pointed out that thirty-eight thousand people die in China each day, and one million die each year; their deaths are without the salvation of Christ. Because he recognized such need, and because of his love for the souls of China, Hudson Taylor dedicated his whole life to the salvation of Chinese souls. He once spoke a quote that inspired many people, "If I had a thousand pounds [of gold] China should have it - if I had a thousand lives, China should have them."
Through the arduous work of many missionaries and Chinese Christians, in 1900 there were about one hundred thousand Christians in China. By 1949, Christians in China numbered about eight hundred thousand. The powerful hand of God was working in China, and many lost souls received salvation.
In the thirty years between 1949 and 1979, Christians in China entered into an extremely difficult period. Missionaries were forced to depart from China. Those who remained committed to their faith received ruthless persecution. They were isolated by society, denounced, tossed into prison, and some even suffered martyrdom. There was a period, the time of China's Cultural Revolution, in which one could hardly see any signs of a church surviving in China. Many Christians abroad grew very concerned: where were the Christians in China? How were they? Would the church in China continue to exist?
But in the midst of this fiery suffering and trial, God preserved his children and protected his church. He also used this opportunity to purify his church, cleansing the faith of his children. This is the testimony of many Christians who went through this period of tribulation. In the midst of trial, they recognized their own weakness and corruption, seeing the shortcomings in their faith.
But they also saw the merciful and chastising hand of God. God purifies, but he also grants revival. Even in the most difficult times, one could often witness the power of the gospel. Some people turned to the Lord through the testimonies of many ordinary Christians and evangelists. House churches began to spring up. According to a poll from 1982, the number of Christians at that time had reached about three million, three times of the number in 1949. How astonishing!
After 1979, through God's merciful hand, Chinese house churches continued to thrive. First came the revival of churches in rural villages, followed by the revival of city churches that began in 1989. The hearts of the intelligentsia, which consisted mainly of college students, were opened to God. Many of these Christians later became the backbone of city churches.
With this large historical backdrop, I will next share a few episodes that testify to how the gospel has been moving in the lives of individuals and groups, thereby bringing forgiveness and life to the souls of many Chinese people.
Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors writing and thinking critically about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.