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Jesus, the Master Discipler

by Gordon Ferguson -- Dallas, Texas, USA 

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If you have the world's most important message and you want to get it to the most people, how do you do it? Jesus had that conviction, and he had that concern. However, most Bible readers make some very erroneous assumptions about the ministry methods of Jesus. For years I was one of those people. I was very impressed with the times the Master Teacher worked with large crowds. I thought about how great it was for him to have exercised such magnetism that he was able to attract thousands at one time. 

And yet, Jesus spoke to the crowds more as a means of training his apostles and other future evangelists (such as the seventy-two) than to "convert" the crowds. Of course, he was vitally interested in sharing God with those multitudes, but he wasn't naive enough to suppose that teaching in those large groups was going to really do the job of changing their lives. He realized that a more individualized approach was going to be necessary, and he was preparing some very special men to provide just that approach. 


How We Learn Spiritual Truths

Most of what we learn in life is learned by OJT (on-the-job-training). We watch big brother tie his shoes, and then we imitate him. We watch Dad change the tire on the car, and we quickly know far more than if we had spent a couple of hours reading the manual. Becoming a carpenter is a process: a journeyman repeatedly shows an apprentice how to do carpentry. Just about everything we learn in the early years of our lives is learned in this manner, as is most of what we learn in the later years. It is the fastest and easiest way and in many cases the only way to learn. Nowhere is this principle more important than in learning spiritual truths. Discipling is all about learning from someone else as they are following Jesus. 

As we study the Scriptures, we see that there can be no "loner" Christians. We play an absolutely essential role in each other's lives. The gospel cannot be spread effectively without the human demonstration at the heart of it, nor can those who accept it be brought to maturity without those relationships (Matthew 28:19-20). 

The Bible alone is sufficient to reveal the content of the truth to man, but to grasp its power, we must read it both in black and white (pages) and in black, white, brown, red, and yellow (people). Can you see the point here? Discipleship has not been tried and found wanting; it has simply been found difficult and not often tried. However, when it is put into practice, lives change radically, and others are drawn to that magnet of visible change. Discipling works! And it is all that works! It was and is, without question, the plan of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. 

The Plan of the Master 

Years ago, when I was first learning about discipling, I read a very helpful little book entitled The Master Plan of Evangelism. Coleman shows quite conclusively that the Master's method was men, plainly and simply. He poured his life into men, especially the Twelve, and when he returned to heaven, he left them to evangelize the world. They very effectively carried out his mission because they followed the same plan of pouring their lives into the lives of others, who repeated the same process over and over and over. 

Christ's purpose was never to personally convert the masses, for in a physical body he was limited to one place at one time. However, through his spiritual body, the church, he could be everywhere at once. The masses are converted one by one. As I shared my faith yesterday with a young couple in a restaurant, disciples all over the world were doing the same. And as I slept last night, members of Jesus' body were carrying out his mission all over the world. Yes, the plan of Jesus was certainly the master plan! 

The basics of his plan were as follows. First, he called men to follow him (Mark 1:14-18). Second, he kept men with him in order to train them and later send them out to share his message (Mark 3:14). Third, the training process included practical assignments, for we truly learn and retain only that which we practice. Finally, Jesus gave his life for what he had taught. Until we have something worth dying for, we have nothing worth living for. 

After Jesus had been resurrected from the grave, he spent forty days preparing his trained men for the coming of the kingdom and the task of spreading it all over the world. He then ascended back to heaven, leaving these few ordinary men with the extraordinary task of being (not just preaching) Jesus to the world. As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:20, "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." Jesus' method was to pour his life into men, and once they were fully trained, they would be like him (Luke 6:40). Having been thus discipled, they were able to "go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). It was a simple plan with a high price tag of a tremendous personal investment in training individuals -- but it worked. It remains the same simple plan, and the price tag is just as high. No other plan has ever worked, can ever work, will ever work. We either do it this way, or we fail miserably. 

Reprinted from The Greater Houston Church Sunday Bulletin, January 21, 2018, No. 02

Photo credit: Carpenters: KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tech. Sgt. Kalon Pang and Master Sgt. Cindy Dickson, instructors assigned to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, assemble a doorframe August 18, 2015, that will be used in a home building project. About a dozen military volunteers took part in the two-day Habitat for Humanity project here inside the organization's wood shop. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Mike R. Smith/Released)


The Power of Story to Divide or Unite Us

by Michael Burns -- Roseville, Minnesota, USA

Conversations That Can Unite or Divide

Stories are incredibly important. Every person and group has a story. Stories help to shape and craft our identities even when we don’t realize it. The grand stories that shape our self-understanding and the way we view and interact with the world are often called meta-narratives. When it comes to groups and societies, these meta-narratives are passed down from generation to generation. The impact of embracing these meta-narratives can be felt by future generations even if they have lost all or part of the meta-narrative itself.

The Grand Story and Identity of God’s People


One example of an identity forming meta-narrative comes from the biblical text. Each generation of Israelite children heard and read the incredible story of the Passover. They thrilled as their parents and grandparents recounted the events that led their ancestors to the revelation that they were God’s special people. They marveled at all that God had done as he led them out from under the enslaving hand of Pharaoh.  And this set their self-identity in stone. They were God’s people and would never again be slaves to anyone, regardless of circumstances that might seem to temporarily point to a different conclusion.

In John 8:32 Jesus challenges the identity created by the Passover meta-narrative. He implies that the children of Abraham need to be set free which elicits a series of protests and emotional responses. That response was, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone” (John 8:33). Any other group of people would likely not have taken such offense at the implication of being enslaved, especially when Jesus explains that he is speaking of the universal slavery to sin (John 8:34). But meta-narratives and their ensuing identities are powerful. These identities become deeply held and we cherish them without typically fully realizing how important they are. The Passover meta-narrative had cemented in the nation of Israel’s mind that they were God’s children. No matter what tough temporary circumstances they might face, like the occupation of their homeland by the Roman Empire, they were still God’s family and would never be slaves. Jesus challenged both of those dearly held foundational identifiers.  The pushback and vitriol were palpable. 

Conflict is Unavoidable

Whenever two people are involved relationally to any significant degree, conflict is virtually inevitable. In this context, conflict is simply the incompatibility between two or more perspectives. Conflict itself is not necessarily sinful. You can have conflict without overt sin. Conflict will happen. The difference is in how we handle that conflict. The danger, of course, is that most human conflict does lead to sin.

In fact, it will happen often in a family of churches like ours.  The more diverse a group is socially, historically, and culturally, the more opportunities there will be for conflict. We will have different perspectives, experiences, cultural expectations, history, preferences, and so on. This will be a constant challenge to our unity, especially when difficult subjects such as race and culture are being discussed.

Yes, conflict will happen. But when that conflict involves pushing up against one or more meta-narratives, that conflict can get passionate, and negatively so, rather quickly. That’s when conversations and even relationships can start to break down.


Healthy Families Talk

By way of example, let’s say that a Bible talk group sits down to discuss an incident that has been in the news involving a white police officer and a young man of color, resulting in the tragic death of the young man. As the group begins their conversation, conflict quickly erupts. Some in the group identify with the police officers and are prone to trust them and take their side without much in the way of questions. Others may or may not realize it, but somewhere deep down, they don’t trust police forces inherently. Even though we have a room full of disciples of Jesus Christ, tensions rise and before you know it there is a heated debate. Within twenty minutes, factions have formed, divisions have arisen, and hard feelings have developed.  What’s even more pronounced and problematic is that these divisions are often (though not always) along racial or ethnic lines.

In situations like this, what often happens is that an awkward fear develops in one or both groups and they determine that the best solution is simply never to talk about these matters again within the body. This is deeply problematic. Healthy families talk. In fact, healthy families can talk about virtually anything. The degree to which there are off-limits or taboo subjects is the degree to which a dysfunction is bound to develop in that family. 

Going Below the Surface

Here’s the real problem. In many situations, the different meta-narratives that we have lead to sharp disagreements. But we tend to not recognize that it is these underlying identity-forming stories that have led to our very different perspectives and resulted in severe conflict. Because of that, we stay at the level of the surface conflict and never get to the roots of it.

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Let’s go back to the Bible talk group and see how this plays out. Some probably grew up in a middle class, predominantly white environment like mine where the police force was always presented as a positive thing. Every year we would have “Officer Friendly” come to our school and spend time connecting with the students. We looked forward to seeing police officers in town because they would hand out baseball cards to the kids. We were always told that they were the good guys; they would save us and help us if we ever needed it. This is why so many defend and support police officers before they may even know the specifics of a case. They just trust them naturally. That was my meta-narrative and many of you may identify with that. It formed a specific aspect of my worldview and identity in relation to those that are given the responsibility “to protect and serve.”


My wife is African-American and grew up with a very different community meta-narrative. The roots of many police forces, especially in the deep South where her family migrated North from, were as slave patrols. After slavery, those forces morphed into police forces, but they often had the objective of keeping black community members “in their place.” The lines of justice were frequently blurred and they often intimidated, brutalized, and terrorized the black communities. So, the meta-narrative formed that policemen were not a group that could be automatically trusted. They were to be rightly feared and meta-narratives like this are powerful and do not easily go away. They are passed down as wisdom from generation to generation. Even if a group is removed from the original context, the story and worldview often remain in place. And events that might seem like unfortunate, isolated incidents to those from one meta-narrative, serve as powerful reinforcements of the negative image for those from a different meta-narrative.

It can be incredibly destructive if we are unable to get down to that level of understanding one another in our church life. When we stay at the surface level of conflict, we simply argue. We waste our breath trying to convince one another but will very rarely be able to succeed. It is like two people staring at a white wall, one with rose-colored glasses on and the other with blue glasses on, who insist on arguing about what the color of the wall is. They will never get anywhere if they focus on the wall and fail to recognize that they have on different-colored glasses. 

That’s how it is with these meta-narratives. We must go beyond the conflicts and seek to understand each other. Ask deep questions. Try to comprehend not just what a person believes or what they perceive, but why. They may not even fully grasp their own meta-narrative at first. There are many members in my wife’s family that were raised with an inherent mistrust of authority figures like the police but have little idea of why or where that fear comes from. 

This is not taking sides on an issue or any specific incident involving police. If you’re focused on that, you’ve missed the point of this article. That was simply a relevant illustration to help us understand the powerful forces at work that can weave conflict into our relationships. The next time you find yourself in conflict with a brother or sister over a serious matter of this nature, don’t stay at the surface level of the conflict. Go deeper. Ask questions. Hear one another. Find out what some of their identity forming meta-narratives are (and we all have many).  We may not ever fully agree on everything, but we can at least start to understand the different perspectives that others may hold, and we may learn a lot more about ourselves.  When we understand one another’s meta-narratives, their perspectives start to make a lot more sense and we often feel empathy and a desire to reconcile rather than pull away or continue the conflict.

Practical Steps Forward

Here are some practical steps to help us begin to discover and navigate the waters of the meta-narratives of others.  First, I have a big warning though. Don’t attempt to do this with others until you have examined your own meta-narratives and presumptions. Only then can you have a reasonable chance of understanding and empathizing with others.

1.    When a conflict occurs, don’t focus on the “what,” become curious about the “why”.

2.    Ask as many questions as you can to respectfully pull out someone’s background and story, where they might be coming from and why they see the world the way they do. Some sample questions from the above example involving responses to the police might be:

a.    Do you think you tend to automatically give the benefit of the doubt to police or official government versions? Why do you think that is?

b.    Do you think you tend to automatically mistrust police and people in authority? Why do you think that is?

c.     What has been the past experience of yours or previous generations in your family with police officers in the past? 

d.    Do you think you have had any pre-conceived notions or beliefs about those in power or the underdogs in society that might influence your thinking?

3.    Everyone’s worldview makes sense to them given their meta-narratives, so seek to understand as much as you can about a person’s views from the perspective of their meta-narratives rather than your own.

4.    Listen to other’s story without comment, objection, or rebuttal. You are trying to learn and understand not teach and educate at this moment.

5.    Try to avoid the “whats” in a conflict until you have a really solid grasp of the other person’s “whys.”

6.    Together you can examine, not the meta-narratives themselves, but the identities and presumptions that have resulted from them. Are they in sync with a kingdom worldview, a godly perspective of others and a biblical response?

7.    Together, do either of you see that perhaps some of your identities formed by your meta-narratives need to change in light of the gospel?  How do you go about that?

8.    You may have to agree to disagree at times, but at least you now hopefully can better understand the perspective of your brother or sister and respect and understand their views rather than thinking that they are just “out of their mind”.

Deep Waters

Proverbs 20:5 says that “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”  Our meta-narratives are certainly deep waters and when we take the time to learn our own and draw out those of others, we move one step closer to the kind of unity in Christ that God desires for his people.  A willingness to examine your own meta-narratives and identities and those of others, won’t solve every problem but it is a very healthy step in the right direction.


A Brief Review of STEP : Scripture Tools for Every Person

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Joey Harris  --  Augusta, Georgia, USA

The STEP Bible (STEP stands for “Scripture Tools for Every Person”) is a free digital Bible software project run by the Bible and religious book publisher, Tyndale House.  The underlying software powering the project is based on the popular open source SWORD Project, managed by The Crosswire Bible Society.  Many volunteers, publishers, Bible societies and others contribute to the STEP Bible by volunteering time and by donating translations, tools, commentaries, interlinears, dictionaries and other resources to the project. 


There is a vast array of easy-to-access tools for scholars as well as the average Bible reader like you or me.  There are dozens of English translations and commentaries, in addition to dozens of ancient language versions (great for the scholars among us).  You can easily research multiple translations in modern languages (including both the NIV and ESV as well as many others), mouse hover Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic original words behind the translations, definitions, cross references, commentaries, original language grammatical help, interlinears, and concordances in original languages as well as modern languages.  I was very impressed with how easy it was to use and with the extremely organized and well-designed user screens.  There is generous use of popups so that you remain on the screen you’re already working on as much as possible.  You can easily look up every instance of a Greek or Hebrew word in both directions (e.g., every time the word “love” is used and the different Greek and Hebrew words translated as “love” in your English translation OR every time the Greek word “agape” is used in English (even when it’s not translated into English as “love”).

All of this is available not only online (and works fairly well on a smartphone and very well on tablet browsers), but there are also free, downloadable apps available for Microsoft Windows™ and Apple Macintosh™ desktop computers.  Finally, you can download the entire project onto a thumb drive and distribute it for free to people without an Internet connection.

I highly recommend the STEP Bible for all users, from those just beginning to study the Bible to veteran students and scholars of the Bible.


An Introduction to "Crossing the Line" by Michael Burns

by Michael Burns -- Roseville, Minnesota, USA

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In 2007, my wife and I moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, with our twelve- and four-year-old sons to lead the Fox Valley Church of Christ. Despite the idyllic scenery, small town charm, and loving church family, it was not all roses; especially not for our older son. I am what society has labelled “white” and my wife is what society calls “black.”  One day our older son was confronted by another student who informed him, in “joke” form,  that the difference between a bench and a black man is that a bench can support a family. 

Not long after that, he went to sit by a friend at lunch in the cafeteria and was told by another boy that he had entered the “whites only” part of the lunchroom and needed to take his “nigger” self somewhere else. He was in a school of nearly 1,500 with fewer than ten black students and didn’t have many positive options available to him and talking to the school officials yielded little to nothing. 

In the end, nothing much happened, and our older son struggled in that environment until 2012 when we finally moved to the Twin Cities and I began to serve as the Teacher in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Church of Christ. 

What he, and to a lesser but still significant extent, my wife and younger son experienced in the community at large, was a sharp contrast to our experience in our family of churches, the International Churches of Christ. In fact, the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity was the first thing that drew us into the Milwaukee Church of Christ where we were converted.

We have continued to love the ethnic and cultural diversity in our family of churches but along the way, we learned that this beautiful diversity has its challenges. The more varied and diverse a people are, the more difficult it will be to create and maintain unity. That’s a fact. And while we heard of and experienced little dustups or complaints over the years, for the most part what we saw and felt was this amazing and manifold kingdom of God that consisted of people of every tribe, language, and nation, so to speak.  

But division is Satan’s specialty; and, like anything, cracks in our unity and diversity have started to appear over time. Not on the surface, of course. You can come any Sunday morning and see the same amazing mix of cultures. But in the day-to-day life of the community, tensions seemed to be rising. 

As my wife and I have travelled across our fellowships we have learned that most disciples love their church and they love the kingdom of God. They love the ideal of being God’s one family of all nations, and they love their brothers and sisters.

But we also found that many of our brothers and sisters of color were grieved, and a part inside of them was in mourning; not all, but a definite majority. What I heard primarily was fear. Fear that the prejudices and inequities of the world had crept into our beloved church. They were bothered by the pattern of silence in the face of incidents of racial injustice that were playing out in the media. They were concerned at the perception of a mounting lack of representation of people of color in all levels of church leadership.

As I continued to listen, I heard a growing pattern of dissatisfaction in many churches about the cultural environment. People of color, particularly African American brothers and sisters, often felt that there was a dominant white culture in the church and that their voice and culture were either allowed only token input or not heard at all (although there are a few cases where the opposite is true).  Many have expressed the feeling that they tend to feel welcome in the church as long as they “act white” and embraced expressions of white culture.  And many have confirmed that even in our beloved fellowship they have experienced cases of prejudice or bigotry. Not to the level or degree of the world, but still, it is there.

I don’t think that we can ever end ethnic and cultural divisions, and institutions like racism in the world, nor is it prudent to even try. What we can do, however, is to address these issues openly and honestly in the family of God and to stand out like a bright light in a world of division and sectarianism. 

Why talk about this? Imagine what would happen if my wife came to me today and requested that we have a heart-to-heart talk about some issues that she would like to address in our marriage.  Rather than listening to her, though, I tell her, “No, we’re not going to talk about this.” She looks a bit taken aback, but before she can respond, I continue. “We have a great marriage; things are good. Why are you trying to mess that up?”

“Think of this biblically,” I go on. “The Bible makes it clear that we were once two separate people but when we came together in marriage, we became one flesh. That’s all there is to it,” I proudly state. “Why dredge up things from the past?”

She listens to me and then calmly says, “I want to talk about something from this morning.”

“Ahh,” I quickly blurt, “that’s the past!”

“Right now we are unified,” I continue, “because we are one. It’s great to be one. I love that we are one. That’s biblical truth. Nope, no argument there. No conversations needed. I think we’re good and we should just move along and enjoy our goodness.”

It probably will not take you a long time to figure out that if this was my actual response, the rest of the week is probably not going to be a pleasant one for me.  You don’t get married, become one, and now the work is over and all that’s left is to preserve the perfect unity and oneness that you have achieved.

In the same way, imagine if a black brother or sister wanted to talk to me about what they have experienced in their multi-ethnic church, why they feel culturally marginalized at times, or the hurt they feel from what is happening in our country. What if I responded in that conversation the way I described speaking to my wife? What if I said, “Brother, why are you trying to cause division? There is just one race, the human race. The Bible is very clear on that. The only answer to racism is not to complain or see it as a boogey- man behind every bush. We are all one in Christ, so you need to repent of this divisiveness. God has already joined us together and there is no black or white.”

And imagine that, when my friend asks if it’s a conversation that we could have as a church and maybe even do some teaching on it, I respond by telling him that such conversations are pointless because they’re just going to dig up conflicting feelings and perspectives and divide our fellowship.

Yes, we are one in Christ. There is no question that there is great truth behind this and similar ideas, but if we leave it there, such beloved truths of God’s kingdom can quickly become empty platitudes.

The truth contained in those statements is that we are all one in Christ. That’s an undeniable biblical reality for those that have been immersed into his life. There is only the one, human race, say the Scriptures. But as in a marriage, this is the starting point. When God’s people seek to obey the Scriptures by being comprised of all nations and people groups, a difficult process has begun. What comes next is a lot of hard work. These little slogans that we toss out, like “There is just one race, the human race,” and “We should all be colorblind” often serve as conversation enders, not starters. If I responded to my wife with the idea that she shouldn’t bring up issues or try to work on our marriage because we are one, that would be flippant. It would twist a truth into an agent of stagnation. The same is true if we toss out platitudes when it comes to the topics of racism, race, and culture.

Here’s the rub: statements like “We are one” are true, but they only remain true if a lot of effort, honest conversation, and difficult changes are constant. The minute that that environment fades away is the moment that those statements cease to be true. Bringing up concerns and wanting to talk about them in an open and real way is not disruptive; it is the foundation for true unity and continued growth.

The fact is that being a family of all nations is central to the Gospel (Matthew 28:28-20; Galatians 3:7-9), so the idea that we won’t constantly need to address issues of racial unity and cultural inclusion is naïve at best and dangerous at worst. 

There is no question that issues of racism, race, and culture have once again taken center stage in our society. These are issues that bring out deep passion and potential conflict in the world; and because disciples live in this world, they affect us, our mission, and our unity.

If we’re not careful and don’t address these topics biblically and with great love, patience, and grace, they could wind up ripping Christians apart. Every potential problem like this, though, can be a pitfall or a platform. It can be our undoing or an amazing opportunity to put the power and wisdom of the true gospel on display. It is encouraging that these conversations are now taking place in some locations. I am under no illusion that this book is the beginning of something. It is a continuation and it is a call for learning, understanding, and, most of all, open and honest discussion.

Michael Burns is a Teacher in the Minneapolis-St. Paul church of Christ. He is a graduate of Wesley Seminary of Indiana Wesleyan University (MA). He taught high school history in the central city of Milwaukee for nearly ten years. He is a national and international biblical teacher at churches and workshops. He is the founder and director of the Ministry Development and Training Academies centered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and serves as an instructor in Ministry Training Academies in Africa. He is the author of the twelve-volume C.O.R.E. Curriculum books.  He married his wife, MyCresha, in 1997. They have two sons and reside in Roseville, Minnesota. 

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The Teaching and Practice of Submission in the Life and Ministry of Jesus

by Cynthia P. Fetherman -- Denver, Colorado, USA


"Yet you, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."—Isaiah 64:8

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Perhaps no analogy best exemplifies the spirit of submission as the molding of clay under the hands of the potter.   In this paper, the teaching and practice of submission in the life and ministry of Jesus will be discussed.  Submission will encompass several other names:  obedience, subordination, allegiance, reverence, trust and self-denial.  Submission is at the heart of discipleship.  It acknowledges the lordship of Jesus over every aspect of life.  The concept of submission involves relinquishing one’s individual rights in favor of another.  It is only through complete submission that a follower of Jesus is able to open one’s heart so the Holy Spirit may be received and dwell in it.  Partial submission is not an option for one who calls Jesus Lord.

Submission, self-denial, obedience and any other name by which this spiritual discipline is called requires progression.  Spiritual formation will be viewed through transformation—from hard clay to a vessel fit for use under the guidance of God, the potter.  As clay goes through several steps, so does the individual who yearns for the inner transformation promised by the prophet Ezekiel:

"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God." – Ezekiel 11:19-20

Upon reading this paper, I hope the reader walks away knowing that total submission is indispensable to the Christian walk.  The gift to be transformed from within is from God, as He gives the believer a new heart.  But the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission puts the believer on the path of making it possible to receive that gift.  Submission is not something obtained when someone becomes a Christian or a disciple of Jesus but a lifelong practice that paves the way for the transformation of the individual who is being changed from within-- from mere dust to a useful vessel under the hands of the Creator.  

The Teaching and Practice of Submission

"If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it." – Mark 8:34-35 (HCSB)

As a spiritual discipline, Thomas à Kempis (1955) defines submission as follows:  “…but if we desire that God be among us, we must sometimes set aside our own will (though it seem good) so that we may have love and peace with others” (p.40).

Submission is servanthood.  Submission is self-denial.  It is obedience and disregard of one’s own will in favor of another with the goal of establishing peace.  It is the pledge of allegiance to someone else.  It is the essence of discipleship to Jesus Christ.  

The word submission only occurs six times in the scriptures, yet underneath the entire story of the Bible lies the concept of submission.  The closest Hebrew root for reference is יָד yâd, (yawd), meaning “to give the hand, to pledge the fidelity of the giver.”  In the New Testament, the Greek root word of εὐλάβεια eulábeia, (yoo-lab'-i-ah), means, “reverence toward God, godly fear, piety.”  It is also used in the context of ὑποτάσσω hypotássō, (hoop-ot-as'-so), “to subordinate… be under obedience.”  Á Kempis (1955) notes:

"An old habit is not easily broken, and no man will readily be moved from his own will; but if you cling more to your own will or to your own reason than to the humble obedience of Jesus Christ, it will be long before you are a man illumined by grace" (p. 48).

Further, À Kempis (1955) speaks of Jesus’ example of obedience as:  

"I made Myself the humblest and lowest of all men, so that you would learn to overcome your pride through My humility.  Learn, therefore, you who are but ashes, to be humble for my sake; learn to break your own will and to be subject to all from the heart” (p.124).

I grew up playing with clay pots.  Not every girl in my neighborhood wanted a set.  But I did.  I remember my mother coming home one day with a clear, plastic bag in her hand filled with used newspaper.  I unwrapped them gently from the paper protecting them.  They were brown, clay pots, shiny from the glaze and painted with flowers.  They came with lids and a stove.  They were beautiful, a little girl’s treasured possession, and I showed them to anyone who would pay attention.  They eventually broke.  I outgrew them as I entered adolescence but the memories of playing with them are remembered fondly.  As I became a follower of Jesus later in life, my fascination of pottery was reignited as I read the scriptures.  Obedience to God is the ultimate act of submission.  As clay in the potter’s hands, we are to submit ourselves to the potter’s molding:

"Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" – Romans 9:21

Old Testament

From creation, God has laid before man the choice of submission—obedience or disobedience.  From the story of Adam and Eve to the nascent nation of Israel, submission has been presented as a choice between life and death.

"See, I Set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands… and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess." –Deuteronomy 30:13 (NIV)

From patriarchs to judges, kings to prophets, we see people called by God to submission.

Genesis 12:1-4—Abraham’s ready obedience testifies to his submissive spirit to God’s plans for him and his family

Judges 7:15—Gideon displays self-denial as he sets aside his fear and trusts in God’s deliverance

2 Samuel 7:18—David sets aside his plans and expresses gratitude for God’s guidance at a time in his life when he may be most tempted to assert his power as king over Israel and with the people favorably disposed towards his leadership

Isaiah 6:5-8—Isaiah surrenders to God’s plan for him despite his acknowledgement of his personal shortcomings

Jeremiah 1:4-10—Jeremiah submits to God’s appointment despite difficulty of his external circumstances

New Testament

In the New Testament, submission is practiced and taught by Jesus.  We see the radical call to submit to Jesus’ discipleship in John 12:24-26:

"Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me."

"Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."—Mark 9:35

"In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything cannot be my disciple".-Luke 14:33

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."—Luke 9:23

More than teaching about submission, subordination, allegiance and self-denial, Jesus lived it to the point of sacrificing His own life:

“'Abba, Father,'” he said, 'everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.'”—Mark 14:36

"… Christ Jesus, 'who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!'” -Philippians 2:5-11

Submission is at the heart of discipleship to Jesus.  Beyond teaching about obedience, Jesus’ lifestyle was one of submission and obedience.

F.F. Bruce (1979) notes, 

"The person who enlisted in His cause, He taught, would need to deny himself (34), i.e. abandon the attitude of self-centeredness, and take up his cross, i.e. be prepared to face martyrdom, ….  He would have thus to be willing to lose his mortal life; and all this, for Christ’s sake and for the gospel (35), i.e. for the sake of spreading abroad the good news of the kingdom of God; for only in this way would he attain the true life, that of the age to come" (p. 1167).

"During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  And he learned obedience.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered…."—Hebrews 5:7-8

We see the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission in:

John 1:30-John the Baptist makes way for Jesus and acknowledges Him as the Messiah spoken of by the prophets and awaited for by Israel.  Rather than keeping his band of followers, John the Baptist points them in Jesus’ direction.

John 3:30—John the Baptist tells his followers, “He must become greater.  I must become less.”

Mark 14:36-Jesus surrenders to God’s plan for His death and crucifixion.

Luke 23:46-Jesus surrenders His spirit to God on the cross.

Submission in the Gospels

It seems odd to pick the parable of the prodigal son to talk about submission, but the story has elements that highlight a lack of it—self-centeredness, a lack of regard for others, irreverence towards authority and allegiance to one’s interests alone.  Yet in the end, the story highlights the transformation which God is able to perform on the heart of one who takes the path of submission.

Jewish culture considered, "honoring your father and mother," a command of utmost importance.  The beginning of the parable sees this command violated as the younger son asks for his portion of the inheritance.  Moreover, Jesus’ audience was shaken from its cultural view of the younger son being the rightful heir (think: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, David and Joseph over their older brothers).  By highlighting the profligate ways of the younger son, Jesus’ audience is being asked to change their way of thinking.

As the younger son wastes away his inheritance, he reaches a point where his choice lands between starvation and going back to his father’s home, albeit in a different capacity.  His internal dialogue in vv. 17-19 shows that, while his previous actions may have been to cut off his family ties (vv. 12-13), in his time of need, he recognizes that he is still his father’s son (emphasizing the father-son relationship in vv. 17-19).  On his return journey, the son takes the path that would bring him home to his father.  The younger son recognizes the condition by which he must present himself before his father—unworthy, capable only of being a hired servant, a sinner who has dishonored and severed his allegiance to his family.  On this same path, the father meets the son and restores his position, regardless of how unworthy the son may be.  


This story teaches us about the path—how the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission paves the way for God to meet us where we are transformed, not by anything we do but by how the Father treats us.  “It’s not the disciplines themselves but God at work through them that enables us to love him and love our neighbor more and more” (Johnson, 2017, p.79).

In the practice of spiritual disciplines today, we ought to develop an awareness of our own unworthiness as we make our way back to God.  We are sinners, servants who can only do our jobs.  Yet in practicing submission and obedience, God meets us along the way and transforms us—from how we view ourselves to how He views us—as children who belong in His family, worthy of the fattened calf, of restoration to His family, regardless of how we may have mistreated Him in the past.  In God’s story, the reconciliation facilitates the transformation.  It is a story of the prodigal father more than that of the prodigal son.  It expresses the lavish, extravagant scale by which God loves us—unconditionally—the gift we receive for the price of our submission.

It is the same call throughout the scriptures—travel the path of submission.  In this calling, one is asked to relinquish his own self-interest and submit to God to find life everlasting.  As God called Israel to submission in Deuteronomy 30, so Jesus calls all nations to discipleship in Mark 8:34-35:

"Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.  For the Lord is your life…."—Deuteronomy 30:19-20

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." – Mark 8:35

Conclusion and Application

The practice of spiritual disciplines is merely a path.  On the journey to be reconciled to God, the practice of submission puts us on that path.  Submission is the physical manifestation of denying oneself, not giving in to our pride, not promoting self-reliance, but rather allowing submission to nurture hearts that would be open to being transformed into hearts of humility.  Submission allows us to take the journey back to God, to acknowledge our decisions’ shortcomings when we choose to live away from God’s family, and, recognizing our inherent need for God, to belong to His family; and that a life outside the family of God leads to spiritual starvation and death.

Calhoun (2005) lists the desired outcomes of the spiritual discipline of submission as follows: 

  1.  being free from the need to be in charge, 
  2.  teachability, 
  3.  esteeming and honoring others more than yourself, 
  4.  being free from a rebellious and autonomous spirit, 
  5.  surrendering and losing your life to find it, 
  6.  developing approachability, gentleness, humility, and 
  7.  expressing a deep regard for others and what they might have to offer (p. 118).

In the discipline of submission lies a heart of trust, obedience, self-denial, allegiance, subordination and reverence for the One who desires to reconcile all to His family.

The parable highlights the heart that God has displayed to His chosen people from the beginning—His prodigal love for Israel as He brings them out of Egypt, His prodigal promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, His prodigal love to all nations as He sends His only Son, making reconciliation possible.  It teaches that God will meet us halfway, if not more, when we submit and take the path back to be reconciled to Him.  

In the story of the prodigal son, I find myself as the younger son, concerned about myself and how I’m going to survive, how I’m going to live, and going back to my father so he can provide for me.  Like the younger son, even when I have tried to walk the path back to God, it is because I recognize that I need Him for how he can provide for my wellbeing.  What I fail to see is the extravagance of the father’s love as I have continued to love myself and looked to God to take care of me.

In St. John of the Cross’ spiritual direction, it is the internal purity of the soul—the destruction of all self-love for the love of God above all—rather than the externals of life’s action that are of paramount importance.

"For God, although he resides in the soul as a hidden God, cannot fully occupy the soul with the lustrous radiance of His love when there remains in it anything of a selfish self-love; a self-love or attachment to anything even to the slightest degree, which excludes love for Him and for His greater glory" (Kozlowski, 1998, pp. 336-337)

As I strive to get rid of all self-love in my heart and submit all of my self, relinquish all my desires and align my will to that of God’s for my life, I am reminded of similar vows I made to my husband when we got married—that all my thoughts, love and desires have been pledged to him in this life.  Comparing this allegiance to my marriage, my acknowledgement of Jesus’ lordship in my life demands that all my desires, all my love be submitted to Jesus as well.  The parable of the prodigal son reminds me of my shortcomings in my understanding of the greatest commandment:  to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.

    Like the younger son, I have walked this path.  I had pledged my allegiance to God and made Jesus Lord of my life.  At some point in my discipleship, I decided to walk away from the Father.  Living an immoral life where I took control of my choices rather than choosing to be obedient to God and continuing to be a part of His family, I made my way back to the world with the illusion of having the freedom to make my own choices.  Along the way, I broke relationships, dishonored my pledge, severed my ties with God’s family.  It was months later when I finally broke down and realized how empty my pursuit has been.  I found myself with nowhere to turn except back to God.  The heart of the younger son in vv. 17-19 resonated with me.  I resolved to go back with the heart that I had nothing to offer God but my sinful life and my broken heart.  I would ask him to take me back and face whatever consequences came my way.  It has been over 20 years since He took me back.  I have been welcomed with the fattened calf, I have partaken of the great banquet and been restored to the family of God.  Truly God is gracious:  he took my sinful life and made it beautiful.  He took my broken heart and made it whole.  The privileges I enjoy now, being married to a son of God, having a family of my own, the gift of purity in our relationship, are expressions of the extravagance of God’s love for me.  I had nothing to do with it.  I only made the decision to take the path back to God—with a heart that was willing to submit and obey.

"…whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."—Matthew 5:19

Submission has not been an easy path for me.  A single mother in a matriarchal family raised me.  When I became a disciple of Jesus, my lack of submission showed in the way I treated authority, especially male authority.  This weakness showed in my relationships.  I justified my lack of submission with scriptures like Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” or with other religious-sounding arguments or twisting of the Scriptures’ meanings.  Over the years, I have studied, sought advice and practiced what I thought were ways that helped me develop a more submissive spirit.  The study of spiritual disciplines has shown me that I have quite a way to go on this path.  As I have grown older, I have come to rely on outward practices rather than dealing with my heart.  I have been content with outward expressions of submission rather than true reverent piety towards God.  As I reflect on my life, I look back on the innumerable times God has continued to open His arms and welcome me back when I have strayed from submission.

"Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life." – Proverbs 4:23 (CSB)

I have a very humanistic approach to my relationship with God.  I tend to deal with external behaviors and evaluate my faith accordingly.  As such, I tend to work from the outside and then make my way inside.  It is self-reliant.  I have found that spiritual formation is not an easy journey.  But perhaps the easy yoke Christ speaks of in Matthew 11:28-30 is a place for me to start.  I need to look at the spiritual disciplines as the true means to taking up the ‘easy yoke.’  This can start with the practical steps recommended by Calhoun (2005):

  •  seeking God’s will (no matter where it leads) and doing it
  • allowing others to mentor, disciple, teach, correct and guide you
  • being a good follower
  • laying aside the need to be in charge
  • willing and eager obedience to God and those to whom you owe obedience
  • being an eager learner, trainable and tractable (p. 118).

"Godly submission is rooted in God’s good and loving intentions for each one of us. …  Therefore, biblical submission does not … rob them of their freedom.  Submission is a way we allow God’s kingdom agenda to shape our choices, relationships and vocations.  And it always works in conjunction with personal freedom" (Calhoun, 2005, p. 119).

Corporally, we could emphasize imitating Jesus individually more rather than organizing activities that only serve to make us look like every church in our community.  In practicing submission, our congregation could nurture relationships in the family of God that would promote healthy guidance in our “one-another relationships.”  Our emphasis on external, corporate activities tends to drive the individual away from practicing spiritual disciplines as we lack the time and direction to develop them personally.  

We are part of an increasingly-connected global environment.  Every moment of our lives can be documented or filled with entertainment at the touch of a fingertip.  Peace comes at a premium as people tend to want to go to far-flung places, secluded and away from all that civilized life offers in order to find a break from the pace of their lives.  Living in a society that moves at such a frenetic pace, the parable of the prodigal son offers the world the peace that counters the prevailing culture—freedom through submission, victory in surrender, a full life if you relinquish everything.

To help us reach the world for Christianity, I believe the story of the prodigal son helps us understand that reconciliation with God is not dependent on our transformation of ourselves.  There is nothing we can do on our own to facilitate the transformation of our hearts.  It would be exhausting work if it was left up to us.  A heavy yoke versus Jesus’ easy yoke.  In the same way, sharing with others about God is not about what people ought to ‘do’ in order to be reconciled to God.  Rather, we ought to teach of the most important decision that the younger son has taken—that of walking the path that would take him home to his father.  God will do the rest.

"Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground.  Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’…."—Isaiah 45:9

In pottery-making, kneading is a very important first step.  After taking clay, water is added to it.  Water is distributed evenly but if the clay is really hard, it needs to be soaked in water.  Only after this step does the clay become moldable.  Likewise, it is only after the believer is immersed in the waters of baptism is one’s heart ready to be transformed by God.  

Clay in the Potter's Hand2.jpg

The next step is molding.  When a potter makes something, you learn to love everything about the finished product.  You love it because you made it—every curve, every contour, every shape, every imperfection.  In this way, God already loves us even as He makes us into His finished product—every shape, every imperfection is lovingly formed.  Working with clay also produces the best result when one works daily.  Working on it inconsistently would return the clay to its harder form thus requiring more effort from the potter next time.  So it is that the spiritual practice of submission aims for consistency.

In molding, the pressure needs to be even AND gentle—not too soft, not too strong.  The good potter knows that the pressure on the inside of the clay vessel needs to be the same as the pressure on the outside.  At times, we may feel hard-pressed but God knows how much pressure to put—inside and outside—as He molds us for His use.

Once it has taken the shape that the potter intended, the pottery is now put through the heating process.  The heating process allows the clay particles to stick together.   At the end of the first heating process, the pottery is not ready for use yet.  It’s formed but brittle.  One could compare it to our younger years of discipleship as God gently forms us and molds us. 

In order to be useful, it has to go through another heating process that requires more heat.  The temperature required during the heating process depends on the purpose or intention of the potter for the vessel.  The times in our lives when we feel the most ‘heat’—of suffering, persecution, we are being molded according to God’s purpose for our lives. 

Finally, the potter applies glaze to the pottery.  Glaze is not inherent in clay.  It can only come from the artist.  This is the grace we receive from God.  It is Jesus’ blood, the sacrifice of His life that covers us so we are reconciled with God.  It is not something we can do on our own; it can only come from the Father.  

When the potter is done, the original clay is no longer visible—only the glaze.  So it is with our lives, when God, the potter, is done molding us and transforming us, it ought to be Jesus who is on display.

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."– 2 Cor. 4:7-10

It is easy to fight the process of submission, to fight the process of being transformed.  But as the clay needs to remain under the hands of the potter in order for the transformation to occur, so we should practice the spiritual discipline of submission for the inner transformation of our hearts to happen.  Let us then imitate our Lord’s attitude towards submission, as death was set before him: 

"Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour?’  No, it was for this very reason I came to his hour.  Father, glorify your name!'” – John 12:27-28




À Kempis, Thomas. (1989). The Imitation of Christ. Gardiner, Harold S.J. (Ed.) New York, NY: Image.

Bock, Darrell. (1996). Luke, Vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  Silva, Moisés (Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. (1995). The Cost of Discipleship. (Munchen, Verlag & Fuller, R.H., Trans) New York, NY: Touchstone.  Original work published 1937.

Bruce, F.F., gen. ed. (1986). The International Bible Commentary with the NIV.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. (2005).  Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.  Downers Grove, IL: IVP.

Easton, Burton Scott. (1926).  The Gospel According to St. Luke: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary.  New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Eerdmans Bible Commentary Third Edition. (1987).  Grand Rapids, MI: WM B Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Ferguson, Gordon. (1995).  The Victory of Surrender.  Woburn, MA: DPI.

Foster, Richard & Griffin, Emilie, ed. (2000) Spiritual Classics.  San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.

Foster, Richard J.  (1988). Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.  

Johnson, K.D. (2017).  Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World.  Christianity Today, 61(7), 77-79.

Kinnard, Steve G. (2006). The Way of the Heart: Spiritual Living in a Legalistic World.  Newton, MA: IPI.

Kozlowski, Joseph Paul. (1998)  Spiritual Direction & Spiritual Disciplines.  Goleta, CA: Queenship Publishing.

Levine, A. (2014).  A parable and its baggage: what the prodigal son story doesn’t mean.  The Christian Century, 131(18), 20-23.

Powell, John S.J. (1978). Unconditional Love.  Allen, TX: Argus Communications.

Rolheiser, Ronald. (2014). Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity. New York, NY: Image.

Tobkin, M.J. (1998).  The tension between justice and mercy in the parable of the prodigal son.  Journal Of Theta Alpha Kappa, 22(2), 26-43.

Willard, Dallas. (1988).  The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes

Lives. New York, NY: HarperOne.

Williams, B.J. (2010.  Brotherhood motifs in the parable of the prodigal son.  Restoration Quarterly, 56(2), 99-109.

Wirt, Sherwood, ed. (1983).  Spiritual Disciplines: Devotional Writings from The Great

Christian Leaders of the Seventeenth Century.  Westchester, IL: Crossway.

About the author, Cindy Fetherman:


I was baptized in the US territory of Guam 24 years ago.  After moving to Denver from four wonderful years in Cambodia, I started pursuing my MABT in the Rocky Mountain School of Ministry and Theology.  I recently transferred to Lincoln Christian University and hope to pursue a MA in Biblical Languages as well.  My husband and I currently serve in our youth and family ministry and we hope to use what we are learning to serve in smaller churches in the future.

"Let Each One Be Careful How He Builds"

(1 Corinthians 3:10)

A Study of the Statistical Narrative of the International Churches of Christ (ICOC)     

 -- The Initial Growth Phase --


by Andy Fleming -- Kiev, Ukraine 


Today is an important moment for the International Churches of Christ(ICOC). As the movement enters its second generation, understanding our history, our strengths and our weaknesses, has never been more vital. Although God’s word has world-transforming power and he desires for the whole world to be saved, there seems to be internal resistance impeding a gain in momentum and forward motion. I believe that part of this resistance can be attributed to lack of faith and discouragement, and self-focus rather than God-focus. At this moment, in this situation, we need the faith of Abraham as much as ever:

"Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, 'so shall your offspring be.' Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was a good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead." (Rom 4:18-19) 

That our movement has slowed in growth is a fact, but that does not change what God is able to do through our faith and faithfulness. What God wants to be done in this world, can only be done through his strength and wisdom. 

From 1979 to 2002, the ICOC grew from a single congregation of about 30 members to a worldwide fellowship of 439 congregations and 135,072 members. Although the growth was perceptibly slowing in the latter part of this period, the organizational collapse and loss of membership in 2003 were severe and largely unanticipated by the leadership. The purpose of this in-depth statistical analysis is to examine the available data of this “initial growth phase” and look for trends and patterns that might have served as indicators and warnings as to what was about to take place. Some of the most significant findings of this study can be summarized as follows:


·      1999 was the actual “tipping point” for the ICOC’s growth where the rate of members leaving began an irreversible trend (without radical or divine intervention) to outpace the rate of members joining, thereby showing the events of 2003 as the inevitable outcome;

·      1990 marked the end of global “exponential growth” and the beginning of “linear growth”;

·      Certain strategic decisions like “building mega-churches” and “church planting schedules” were made and implemented without including the means for effective evaluation and strategic redevelopment;

·      Signs of weaknesses and flaws in the church growth paradigms were showing as early as 1990, but due to the attention given to the ongoing successes of geographic expansion and the planting of new churches, these warnings and indicators were minimized or ignored, and thereby unknown to much of the membership;

·      The ICOC developed an identifiable growth pattern that manifested itself across World Sectors and churches of all sizes—these universal growth trends demonstrate that the underlying causes were fundamental and connected to shared strategies and assumptions;

·      Although the Los Angeles church was supposed to become the model and solution, it shared the same growth pattern and experienced its own crisis;

·      The 6-year plan compromised a number of the well-established “church planting” principles, and in the end multiplied weaknesses and not strengths;

·      Beyond the statistical evidence, the similarities between the Boston and Los Angeles growth narratives also demonstrate the outcome of shared strategies and assumptions;

·      The focus on numerical growth and expansion above all else, eventually created imbalanced ministry practices where the needs of the church were not the priority;

·      The first part of the Great Commission was considered more important than the second part, and so the goal of making new converts held priority over supporting and helping the already converted;

·      Some of the fundamental assumptions like “one leader,” “one congregation in a city,” and “one movement,” need to be reevaluated through examination of the Bible’s teaching and example.

This knowledge doesn’t change the facts or the past, but gaining insight into past failures and challenges can help us dream and plan more effectively as we move forward in faith. It’s time for a new generation and new growth phase for the ICOC, and the priorities are still clear: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt 6:33)

An Introduction to the New Testament Text

by Dave Pocta  --  San Antonio, Texas, USA 

Teachers' Corner BerkLOGO.jpeg [360x360] [288x288].jpg

When we open our bibles, we often take for granted what is in front of us. For centuries, scribes and scholars have meticulously unearthed ancient texts.  They have preserved, catalogued, studied and compared them to accurately provide us with God’s Word.  This paper is a very brief introduction to the languages, manuscript history, early translations, and textual criticism that laid the foundation for the blessing now known as the New Testament. 

Biblical Languages

The original twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written in Greek.  There are four major stages of the Greek language: classical, Koine, Byzantine, and modern.  The New Testament was written in Koine, which was the common, everyday language of the time. Documents in the original language are called manuscripts and copies of them are transmissions. Documents in other languages are called versions as they are translations

Languages vary in communication style, flow, and structure. We would therefore prefer to possess the earliest manuscripts in the original language to ensure accuracy and avoid the translators’ interpretation. The two extremes in translation would be “word for word” translations which tend to be more literal but often can lose the exact meaning of the text or “thought for thought” translations which attempt to capture the meaning but lose the nuances of specific words. This makes evident the difficulty in translating a translation. (I.e. Translating the New Testament from Latin into English introduces the difficulties of moving across two language barriers instead of translating from Greek directly into English.) The science of studying manuscripts to remove scribal copying errors and obtain the most likely original text is known as textual criticism. The intention of textual critics is to provide a precise original language text that can be used as a basis for translation into any language.

Manuscript History

As of the year 2005, we possessed over 5700 hand-written manuscripts that pre-date the 15th century (before the printing press). They are divided as follows:

    Papyri            116 manuscripts

    Majuscules        310 manuscripts

    Minuscules        2877 manuscripts

    Lectionaries        2432 manuscripts

Papyri were written on sheets made from the papyrus plant. They were less expensive than the other writing surfaces and were used until the 8th century. The papyri are the oldest remaining witnesses of the New Testament writings. The John Rylands fragment is a papyrus dated to around 125 A.D. and contains John 18:31-33, 37-38. If the Gospel of John was written in 85 A.D. as many suppose, this copy was written only forty years after the original! 

Papyrus Greek 458. John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK.

Papyrus Greek 458. John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK.

Codex Vaticanus, 2 Thess. 3: 11-18

Codex Vaticanus, 2 Thess. 3: 11-18

As Christianity became a legal and state-recognized religion in the 4th century, scriptoriums appear and more money became available through the churches to start copying the scriptures on parchment. Parchment was made from animal skins and vellum was the highest quality of parchment. It was from this period that we have the earliest codices, Codex Sinaiticus (4th century) and Codex Vaticanus (4th century). Codex Sinaiticus is the oldest remaining complete New Testament but the text is inferior to Codex Vaticanus due to some careless scribal errors. Vaticanus is superior in text form but is missing Hebrews 9:14 and onward. These manuscripts were written in capital letters and are called majuscules

Around the 8th century, we begin to see copyists switch from majuscules to minuscules (Greek cursive). We also see the use of lectionaries appear more frequently. Lectionaries divided scripture into passages to be read during the liturgy. Different scripture was mapped out for different worship services. The minuscules and lectionaries were often ornately decorated.

Early Translations

Early versions of the New Testament begin to appear as early as 180 A.D. and were prepared by missionaries to help carry the gospel message to people that spoke different languages. These translations bring witness to the early text (2nd and 3rd century) but are used with care as the translator didn’t always have command of the Greek language. 

We have disappointingly few early Latin manuscripts even though Tertullian often quoted the New Testament in Latin (he was believed to have translated his quotations directly from the Greek). We do know from Augustine (turn of 5th century) that many people obtaining Greek manuscripts would freely translate them into Latin, regardless of their knowledge of Greek. This provided a vast array of different Latin versions and prompted Pope Damasus in 382 A.D. to commission the church’s greatest Hebrew, Greek, and Latin scholar, Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (today known as St. Jerome) to create an authorized version for the church. He translated directly from the Hebrew to Latin for the Old Testament (putting aside the Septuagint) and compiled the most reliable Latin translations to compose the New Testament. This version became known as the Latin Vulgate.  

Scholars have identified five major versions of the Syriac. The Syrian scholars were energetic and passionate about translating the gospel into their language. Manuscripts have been found from Lebanon, Egypt, Sinai, Mesopotamia, Armenia, India, and China! Other major early translations include Coptic, Gothic, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic, and Old Slavonic.

Textual Criticism

As the Greek manuscripts were copied as the church spread for general use, no universal standard existed to protect the process. Variants were introduced almost immediately and spread as these copies were copied. Obviously the early Christians had an extremely high regard for the transmission of these manuscripts but the human factor certainly came into play.

We do see different families of manuscripts developing in different geographic areas. By the 2nd century, the Western text appeared to be the loosest textual family as some paraphrasing was introduced. At the other extreme, the Alexandrian text represents a thorough and controlled exercise in the copying of manuscripts. This is not surprising as the city of Alexandria had a scholastic reputation.  It was known for its completeness and lucid readings. When scholars look at the early manuscripts, they are often able to categorize the manuscripts based on these and other families. 

How could variants be introduced into the text? There are many possibilities. Some variants were accidental and others were very deliberate. Accidental variants could include misspelling, leaving out words, repeating words, or skipping lines with similar endings. Deliberate variants generally were an attempt of the scribe to “correct” a perceived error. Scholars would sometimes “smooth out” bumpy variants; sometimes by conflation (combining the two variant readings into one) and sometimes by harmonizing divergent parallel passages. This happened primarily in the gospels. 

The invention of the printing press reversed the increasing number of variants in the Greek text because now scholars could possess multiple manuscripts. Whenever a hand-written manuscript was copied, more opportunities for human error entered. These manuscripts were spread over thousands of miles so scholars were only able to look at a few of them at any given time. This would make it difficult to analyze them for the best reading. The printing press “froze” the text in time. Human error was no longer a factor. Manuscripts could be collected and printed so that scholars could compare many different readings. If the first 1400 years of textual transmission continued to introduce variants and weaken the text, our last 600 years have strengthened the text. Scholars have developed textual criticism to analyze variants and determine through external and internal evidence which would most likely be original. This process has brought us to a very reliable Greek text today.

Today’s Greek Bible

The first bible printed was a Latin version known as the Gutenberg bible somewhere between 1452 and 1456. In 1514, the first Greek bible was printed. In 1516, Erasmus, the great humanist of Rotterdam, published another version of the Greek text that became very famous. Unfortunately Erasmus relied on 12th and 13th century Byzantine manuscripts that had a poor text. He had earlier majuscules available to him but didn’t consult them! This version of the Greek text became known as the “Textus Receptus” or “received text.” It remained the text that scholars used for 300 years and was used to translate the King James Bible in 1611. Over the last 400 years, many significant discoveries have been made (including the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus) that have shed more light on the early Greek text of the New Testament. Today, two versions of the Greek text are used by scholars that reflect thorough textual criticism and scholarship; the 27th edition of Nestle-Aland and the 4th edition of the Greek New Testament (GNT - published by the United Bible Society and often called the UBS). The text of these is identical but the apparatus varies. The apparatus is all of the notes at the bottom of the pages that reference the various variant readings. 

Modern translators of the New Testament use these texts as the basis for their work. We are blessed to have so many scholars that have worked so diligently to bring us such an accurate Greek text!

Gutenberg Bible

Gutenberg Bible


Aland, Kurt, and Barbara Aland. The Text of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1988.

Jacoby, Douglas. How We Got the Bible. 2005.

Lightfoot, Neil R. How We Got the Bible. Third. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003.

Metzger, Bruce M., and Bart D. Ehrman. The Text of the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Photo Credits

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File:Gutenberg Bible, New York Public Library, USA. Pic 03.jpg, 



Part 2 of 2

 by Kay McKean -- Sterling, Virginia, USA


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Don’t people complain about unsalted food?
    Does anyone want the tasteless white of an egg?
My appetite disappears when I look at it;
    I gag at the thought of eating it!

(Job 6:6 – 7 New Living Translation)

The passage above is one of the oldest scriptures ever written, and what is Job’s complaint? Food without salt!

The book of Job contains a host of hypothetical questions. He was searching for a reason for his suffering, and was left unsatisfied. In this passage, the question he asks is almost humorous. But he brings it before God as an imploring complaint regarding his unanswered requests for clarity. Some take this passage to refer to the conversations that have been going on around Job, meaning that they have been insipid and meaningless. Whatever was on Job’s mind at this point, it’s absolutely accurate to say that food is not as tasty without salt. He refused to eat what had no flavor!

Certainly things haven’t changed through the centuries. Although we’ve admitted the modern dangers of overly-salty processed foods (see Part One – “Salt”), we have also acknowledged the true danger of living without a supply of salt in our bodies. We truly can’t live without it.


As we move through the centuries following the time of Job, we see further reminders of the importance of salt as a part of the covenantal relationship between God and His people:

 Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring. (Numbers 18:19 NIV)

Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings. (Leviticus 2:13 NIV)

When God gave the Israelites the instructions about sacrifice, he promised this as a covenant of salt. Salt was the emblem that represented that which was incorruptible and permanent. Therefore, this covenant was one that would last. It was a binding alliance. Salt was also used in the grain offerings to the Lord. So we see salt as the symbol of the eternal nature of God’s covenant with Israel.

God was always willing to keep His promises, but unfortunately the political turmoil that followed the Israelite nation revealed that the people weren’t always willing to keep theirs:

Abijah stood on Mount Zemaraim, in the hill country of Ephraim, and said, “Jeroboam and all Israel, listen to me! Don’t you know that the Lord, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt? Yet Jeroboam son of Nebat, an official of Solomon son of David, rebelled against his master. Some worthless scoundrels gathered around him and opposed Rehoboam son of Solomon when he was young and indecisive and not strong enough to resist them. (II Chronicles 13:4 – 7)

Abijah, the rightful king, was appealing to those who knew that the royal line of kingship should come from the line of Judah. David was from that line, and the dynasty was to remain with his descendants. When civil war broke out, Abijah, David’s great-grandson, addressed the rebels by reminding them of the “covenant of salt” – an agreement that was to last for all time. Although the rebellion began by the poor leadership of Abijah’s father, he still maintained that to resist his kingship was to resist the Lord.  The message was clear: regardless of poor leadership and the mistakes of the past, the commitment to God’s plans were to be upheld.

Salt continued to play an important role in Israel’s history as we come to the time of the prophet Elisha:

The people of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.”

“Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.

Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’” And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken. (II Kings 2:19 – 21 NIV)

Elisha was the protégé of Elijah, who had just been taken into heaven. So the incident with the water was Elisha’s first official miracle before the people. In this case, the salt was an emblem of purification. It brought about the healing of the water. While we understand that one bowlful of salt will not purify a spring, we do know that God can purify it. Elisha was clear in emphasizing that it was the Lord who healed the water.

The Jews weren’t the only ones who recognized the important nature of salt. Later in history, the Greeks exchanged salt for slaves. That’s where we get the phrase, “He isn’t worth his salt.” The Romans gave salt rations to their soldiers, calling it “Salarium Argentum”, which eventually became our word, “salary”. Even today, the traditions surrounding salt are plentiful. The British made it a point to bring salt to a newcomer’s home. Nelson Mandela made this appeal: “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”

When Jesus declared that His followers were to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), He meant it in the best possible way. Salt was one of the most valuable commodities of His time. It was crucial for survival. Jesus calls each of us to see our incredible value. He wants us to remember the eternal covenant that we have been invited into, knowing that God will keep His promise to us. His desire is for us to keep our commitment to uphold His leadership in our lives. He wants us to see that because of God, we are instruments of purification and healing among those that are in our sphere of influence.

         Hopefully, these thoughts will make you look at salt a little differently. It’s not the enemy some make it out to be! Otherwise, Jesus would never have said “Salt is GOOD!” (Luke 14:34) When you say, “pass the salt”, consider it as a reminder that you are to add flavor and hope to the world.




Mark Kurlansky, “Salt: A World History” Published by Penguin Books, 2003

What is Prayer and Why Do We Pray?

A mini-study on Prayer

by John Oakes -- San Diego, California, USA 

Let us start with two questions:

1. What is prayer to you?

2. Why do you pray?

Either write down your answers to these questions or at least take the time to voice your answers to yourself.



I. What is prayer?

Think about your prayer life.   Is your prayer talking to God or is it talking with God?

Also, what is the purpose of you praying?

For myself, as I grew up as a Christian, the model for prayer was what I saw in a public prayer.  When people are praying in public, obviously they talk.  If they stop talking, then the prayer is over.  So, to me, prayer is talking to God, or at least that is how I viewed it for many years.

But there are two problems with this. 

1. Communication is a lot more than words, and

2. Communication, by its very definition, is two-way.

Romans 8:26-27 reads,   "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will." (NIV)

Think about that moment when you communicated your deepest desires and feelings to someone whom you deeply love.  If you are a married person, it might be that look you exchanged with your spouse when the two of you first realized you were in love with each other.  That look said it all.  Words simply do not express our most profound feelings.  Prayer is not just talking.  Prayer is feeling.  Prayer is receiving a message.  The Holy Spirit helps us to express those deepest feelings to God.  And this is a two-way street. He also communicates God’s deep desire for us.  Sometimes in our prayer we need to stop talking.  We need to “be still and know that I Am God.” (Psalms 46:10).

There is a spiritual discipline that most of us have not developed, and I will add myself to the list of novices in this area.  It is meditation.  Prayer may be talking, but it is also meditation.  Meditation is not just for our Hindu friends. We need to take it back for use in Christian prayer.  David meditated, not by saying a mantra, but by contemplating God’s glory.  In Psalm 119:27 he tells us that “I will meditate on your wonders.” In Psalm 77:9, Asaph tells us, “I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”  This cannot be done while talking.  In Psalm 48:9 the Sons of Korah tell us that, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.”  Prayer that God seeks from us includes meditation.

What is prayer?  It is a lot of things.  To break it down to just one of them is a mistake, but one of those things prayer involves is communicating on the deepest possible level our feelings and desires to God and God doing the same with us.  Let us consider prayer, not just as talking, but as feeling and meditating.  Let us consider the role the Holy Spirit plays in this and let us consider being trained to be still—to stop talking and to meditate on God—on his wonders, on his works and on his unfailing love.



II. Why do we pray?

If we have a more complete understanding of what prayer is, then we will have a greater understanding of why we (hopefully) pray.  Of course, one reason we pray is that we are commanded to pray.  But consider your most valued relationships.  If these relationships are truly valued, then surely you do not communicate with those you love because you “have” to. In fact, if you have to, then that is not love.

Here are three much better reasons for you to consider as to why we pray. Our purposes in prayer include:

1. To give glory to God.

2. To align our heart with God’s will.

3. To influence God and be influenced by him through relationship.

Probably the best go-to place, both for how to pray and why to pray is found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13. Here the disciples, who have been praying their whole lives, realize that Jesus is the master prayer. Therefore, in humility, they ask him how to pray.  In his response to them, we can see all three of the points above.

First, Jesus begins his model prayer by giving glory to God.  All honor and praise belong to God and to God alone. My personal favorite example of this in the Scripture comes, not surprisingly, from the mouth of the second greatest prayer of all time—David. It is in 1 Chronicles 29:10-20.  “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor.” By this time, David is consulting his thesaurus, as he is running out of words. But he is not running out of reasons to give Glory to God.  First and foremost, the reason we pray is to give glory to the God who created us—to the God of all comfort, love, power and dominion, who deserves our eternal praise and who sits in glory in heaven, amen!

Second, we pray so that our hearts and desires can become aligned with God’s will for our own lives  and for the world as a whole.  Jesus says in his model prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Does this mean that God’s will is not always done?  I thought that God was totally sovereign.  In fact, God’s will is not always done because there are creatures who have free will, whose wills very often do not align with the will of Him who created them. In prayer, we seek to align our desires with those of our Father in heaven. We offer ourselves in submission.  We pray for things, but we expect God to give us those things only if it is according to his will, right? In 1 John 5:14-15 we are told that anything we ask that is in accord with his will we will receive. For this reason, as we pray, we are trying to align our will with his will.

The third reason we pray goes back to the first part of this lesson. The greatest purpose of prayer is to give glory to God.  In prayer we align our free wills with God’s will. Both true, but in the end, prayer is two-way communication. In prayer, God presents his deepest desire for us—his will for our lives and for the whole world.  But in prayer, we also lay bare our deepest desires to God.  It is surely one of the greatest mysteries that the Creator of the Universe wants to be influenced by puny little us. In prayer, we move the universe.  Well, it is not exactly we, moving the universe, but it is we moving God, who then moves the universe.  In his model prayer, in Matthew 6:11, Jesus prayed that God would “give us our daily bread.”  In prayer, we present our requests before the most powerful person in the universe, knowing that if it is according to his will, that he will make it happen.  “By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,” we “present our requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)  Our prayer moves the universe, and this is one reason we pray, because when we ask, we receive.  But let us remember a few things about this.


1. First, let us give glory to God.

2. Second, let us first do our very best to align our desires with God’s will.

3. Third, let us remember that our presentation to God of our desires will be greatly helped by the Holy Spirit, who speaks for us in groans that words cannot express. Let us sometimes stop talking, meditate, communicate and let us “be still and know that I am God.”



Published January 9, 2018 on www.disciplestoday.org

Permissible, Beneficial, Constructive

by Fred W. Faller -- Burlington, Masschusetts, USA

In the life of any church, there will be times when there needs to be settlement about issues that are dividing people. Typically, the division has already existed in the hearts of those dividing from one another long before it surfaces to be dealt with. In this discussion, I am assuming that both sides of the divide are composed of hearts that are good, albeit differing because of personalities or perhaps perceptions or simply have different ways of approaching the word of God. I do not intend to deal with the issue of division where the hearts are bad: selfish and stubborn. That is for another discussion.

It did not take long for the young church in the book of Acts to run squarely up against a brewing division where Gentiles were coming into the Kingdom of God and the children of Abraham were struggling, with their heritage as the old covenant people, in letting these despised outsiders in.

The first significant confrontation on a large scale takes place in Acts 15, where some of the Jewish Christians were beginning to insist that the gentile converts had to be circumcised and obey the Law in order to be part of the church. It was an "old school-new school" conflict where the old school folks were insisting on traditions and practices that no longer applied under the new covenant.

Without quoting all the significant passages, there are several things worthy of note about how this conflict was resolved:

Jerusalem city walls  

Jerusalem city walls 

1.      The elders and apostles gathered in Jerusalem. Barnabas was there also and shared, so we see that it was not exclusively the elders and apostles. One could argue that Barnabas was a teacher (Acts 14:1-5) and had earned the right to be called evangelist. There may have been other prominent contributors in the discussion. We also see that by the end of the discussion, the whole church was finally involved (verse 22) but we don't really know at what level and when they came in.

2.      Peter opened the discussion with the clear explanation that God had made it very clear that He had accepted the gentiles and had made no distinction between their salvation and that of the Jews. He basically explained the command of God that the Gospel was for everyone.

3.      Next Paul and Barnabas shared many examples of how the Gentiles had come to God and what God had done through them.

4.      Finally, James stood up to speak. His argument from the Scriptures finalized the resolution. It was a bit of a compromise: the people were to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, meat that was strangled and from blood. The implication was one of freedom from the law, but with several nods to the law in the message. This is clear from James’ final argument: "For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

5.      The BIG issue at hand, circumcision, was not even addressed. The discussion centered on a much more basic problem: that of tradition and law and how it was bound on people in the lives of the new covenant church. Circumcision was resolved by silence, that is, not saying anything about its prohibition, but only saying what should be prohibited, the silence arguing that Jews who wanted to circumcise could do so and Gentiles who did not want to do so, did not have to. If they had specifically prohibited circumcision, it would have tread on the freedom of the Jewish Christians to do so, and by assumption, would have stepped over a line that the Spirit did not want them to step over.

6.      When the letter was sent out, the wording shows an interesting sensitivity to the issue:

a)     "It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit ..." -- this was not a set of new ironclad laws like in the law of Moses.

b)     "...not to burden you with anything beyond the following ..." -- we are only recommending what we consider to be the minimum burden.

c)     After repeating the list of abstinences, the letter said, "You will do well to avoid these things." These are not laws. There is nothing hard and fast here. There really aren't any strict rules, but this would be beneficial to you -– it would be well for you to stick with this. We find later that Paul certainly allowed people to eat meat sacrificed to idols, even claiming (I Cor 8) that knowledge allowed him to do so, and in Romans 12 it is clear that he considered meat eaters "stronger" than those who refrained.

7.      Paul and Barnabas were part of the team that took the letter to Antioch.

There is no doubt that Paul's involvement in this kind of discussion was consistent with his teaching in his letters. Paul fought courageously for the Gentiles in the face of the Jewish culture that often dominated the church. Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians...nearly all Paul’s letters would deal with the freedom of being in Christ, apart from the law, and how that freedom manifested itself in the church, and multiple appeals for peace between Jew and gentile converts.

Paul recognized the differences between people: Jew, Gentile, Slave, Free, Man, Woman, New Convert and Mature Disciple. In all his letters, he addresses issues of these differences, not only culturally but developmentally. Here are a few passages that stand out in this area.

I Corinthians 6:12 "Everything is permissible for me" – but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me" – but I will not be mastered by anything. The context of this passage is Paul's assault on sexual immorality that was prevalent in the church. What is most interesting is that he is contrasting not what is right and what is wrong, but he is making his argument by saying that even if something is permissible, the challenge is whether it is beneficial. Even if something is permissible, is it something that is taking over our lives? that is mastering us? I believe that Paul is trying to make a very positive argument, refraining from laying down absolutes, even when some of these behaviors perhaps should be absolutes. Instead he is initiating an argument that says, "Even if this were permissible, it is not beneficial. Even if this were permissible, if you engage in it, it will master you and steal your soul."

Corinthian statue of goddess Aphrodite, 4th century BCE

Corinthian statue of goddess Aphrodite, 4th century BCE

This kind of thinking threads its way throughout the letter as Paul continues: In chapter 8, he addresses the issue of meat that was being sold in the marketplace that had previously been sacrificed to idols. People knew this and it was an issue in the church about whether this spiritually tainted meat should be consumed by the disciples. Look carefully at Paul's argument about knowledge:

I Corinthians 8:1ff - "Now about food sacrificed to Idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up but, love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know." There is nothing wrong with knowledge. Knowledge is permissible, but knowledge is not as beneficial as Love.

Paul goes on to describe the true knowledge about the meat that is sacrificed, how it has no spiritual portent at all. This knowledge is good and it leads to freedom. But the exercise of your freedom might not be beneficial if someone else is still struggling with their lack of knowledge. Paul goes on to say that it’s possible to do something permissible, that actually destroys another person’s faith. When this happens, we are sinning against Christ (8:12). Paul volunteers at this point to never eat meat again if it causes a brother to sin. This is a stunning attitude about the length he is willing to go to do what is beneficial, over what is permissible.

In I Corinthians 10:23ff, Paul says this yet again! "Everything is permissible" – but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good but the good of others. Paul goes on to discuss the issue of meat sacrificed to idols again. He concludes with another startling statement. After strongly suggesting that one should refrain from eating meat if another man's conscience is violated, he asks the rhetorical question:

"For why should my freedom be judged by another man's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church or God. - even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many." (I Corinthians 10:29b-33)

The answer to Paul's question is, of course, that my conscience is essentially bound up in the lives of the people around me. They cannot be separated. I lay down whatever it is I am holding onto to serve and meet the needs of others, even if it means purposely restricting my own freedom in Christ to do it.

As in many issues like this under the new covenant, Paul addresses this most thoroughly in his letter to the Romans. In Romans 12, after thoroughly vetting the many spiritual issues, he addresses the church in Rome about the practicals of life in the church. He launches into his discussion with a call for disciples to be living sacrifices, not pandering to the pattern of the world. This was particularly true of the church, that was supposed to be different.

He calls for humility (12:3) and an appreciation for the differences that exist in the church and the need to allow those differences to co-exist for the benefit of the whole, followed by a call to love, honor, service, tolerance and peace (vs 9-21). It’s all about submission, Paul seems to be saying, and he addresses the issue of our submission extending beyond the boundaries of the church in the first half of chapter 13, and then expounds on more examples of love for one another within the church. "Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, Love is the fulfillment of the Law."

All this is bound up in Paul's view that "all things are permissible – but not all things are beneficial". Even the commandments fall under the guidance of the overarching rule of Love.

In Romans 14, Paul goes into even greater detail of the need for understanding these concepts in the community of believers.

Paul starts his appeal with the simple statement: "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters." Paul acknowledges that there are people in our midst who have weaker faith, who have not matured as much and his appeal is one of acceptance. The "acceptance" is not toleration, but wholesale embracing of the person, even in their weakness. Paul is generalizing here. A few verses later, he will talk specifically about several issues, but here he gives no way of telling who is weaker, but only that there will be stronger and weaker among us.

He then appeals to the two sides differently:

·       The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not.

·       The man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does. Why? "Because God has accepted him! Who are you to judge someone else's servant?" (Romans 14:3-4)

Paul then observes that each person will stand or fall before God. I am a servant of God and as a servant, God is able to make me stand, and stand I will! Paul goes on to explain that the differences I focus on, that I get so frustrated with, will all be sorted out when I face judgement, where I will give an account for who I am and what I have done. It is God who will judge, not me, so it is not my place to pass such judgment in the church. Stop doing that!

But Paul does not stop there. He says there is an alternative that we should do! "Instead," Paul says, "Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way."  (Romans 14:13) This is a conscious activity. I look at my brother who is so, so different than me, perhaps less mature in certain ways, less knowledgeable, perhaps, and as the more mature brother, I make up my mind to not do anything that would cause him to have trouble. He brings up the foods issue again and concludes the argument with:

"If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love! Do not by your eating, destroy your brother for whom Christ died." (v 15)

This is a very strong echo from I Corinthians 10 – a very consistent message about love for your brothers, overriding your personal freedoms, convenience and conscience.

Then Paul makes a stunning statement, the first half of which I have never heard taught in the churches – ever! "Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:16-17)

Paul seems to be giving the disciple the authority to rebuke a brother who would condemn something of which he has become convinced by faith."Let us therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification." (v 19) There it is again. All things are permissible – we have huge freedoms in Christ, but the focus is on that which is edifying – that which is constructive. Don't destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All foods are permissible, but if it causes another to stumble, it is wrong, it is not beneficial. It’s better to lay aside your personal freedoms and not do anything that causes your brother to fall! Paul wraps up the whole discussion with this idea set, undoubtedly aimed at producing harmony:

·       Whatever differences you have – whatever you have come to believe, keep it between you and God.

·       The man who is un-conflicted about this is blessed.

·       The man who doubts (is conflicted) is condemned if he eats, because he is not fully convinced (he does not have faith)

·       Anything in a man that does not come from the full conviction of faith, falls short of God's desire for him and he sins.

Now, it is clear that Paul is using the example of food and who has the faith to eat what, and who is sinning if they eat or don't eat. But I think that in spite of this example, Paul is arguing a much greater cause. He heads the whole discussion with a very generalized argument. "Accept people who are weaker, without passing judgment." The undercurrent of all of it is love and how love compels us to accept without judgment –- to love unconditionally and to go the extra mile, to make up our mind, not to create stumbling blocks, to not distress our brothers with our action. This is the character of Love.

Overarching Observations:


1.      In all these passages, Paul develops a common theme, and that is that the good of my brother in my heart. I go out of my way to listen and take into account those needs and I go out of my way not to offend or cause him to stumble.

2.      The decision by the apostles, the elders and others in Acts 15 was overarching and totally minimalist. It did not even address the central issue of circumcision and left most of what they could have discussed open to the freedom of believers. When the other churches received the letter they were refreshed, possibly because it said so very little.

3.      Paul publically and specifically addressed failings in the church and called for each disciple to take responsibility to accept differences, love others unconditionally, to be fully convinced, and to accept fully the convictions of others.

4.      Paul did not leave the interpretation, enactment or enforcement of his rule of love and its implications to a small group of people who would decide for the others. The letter was written "to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints." When he wrote to the Corinthians, it was "to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, - their lord and ours." There were probably elders, evangelists and teachers in Rome, and the other churches to which Paul wrote, but these letters are not to them and there is no indication in them that there was specific jurisdiction of any individual or group of people who made such decisions. Each member was expected to grow and mature and patiently wait for others and accommodate others in that process. We know historically that these letters were read publicly as often as they could be read, for as long as people could listen, and it was read to the whole church, not digested and re-taught by an appointed minority.

5.      Paul was convinced that the church, as a collective, was mature enough to handle his directives. In Romans 15:14 he stated "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." Paul believed that the church was capable of handling his "bold points", to discuss them and respond to them appropriately. He had faith that God was able to work in individual hearts to accomplish his goals.

6.      Paul expected them to go out of their way, to make every effort, not to offend others.

Practical Matters:

The way people read the bible, the hermeneutic and the conclusions that are drawn from it, are widely varied. It is no surprise that in a large church, with members ranging from the newly baptized to those thirty-plus years in the forming, that there will be huge disparities in knowledge, maturity, love, acceptance and sacrifice. So how does this all apply? How do I fully accept others without making judgements on their faith and maturity? How does one keep what he believes between himself and God and allow all others to do the same?

This task is much easier in matters that are largely personal – clothing tastes, ways of dealing with sin, entertainment preferences, prayer habits, fasting, personal disciplines and things like these. Where it gets complicated is where personal tastes manifest themselves in a more corporate environment, for example in the assembly of the church. How are we to know when something that we are doing is offensive, hurtful or not respectful of another's faith? How do I decide when it is time to give up my preferences for the sake of others? Is it the right of the elders, teachers, and evangelists to decide this for the church? When do I know when a person is just being stubborn or has a bad heart? Does that even matter?

In Paul’s writing, he does not answer any of these questions. Why is that? It is a distinct possibility that Paul never had to answer those questions. Maybe the early church never faced them because it was different than what we have developed. Perhaps if we made more of an effort to research and restore the new covenant understandings and assemblies, then the problems of our church would be more clearly answered by the Scriptures – by Paul's writings. As it is, Paul's answers seem almost foreign to our way of life because we are not being what the church was then.

I believe the key is in what Paul taught the church: that he would gladly relinquish his right to things he knew to be permissible for the sake of one who struggled with it. He considered it not beneficial to pursue his right in that context. He considered it not constructive or edifying. I have no doubt that Paul was not opposed to healthy dialog on such issues. He opened such dialog in I Corinthians 8 where he clearly argues that his knowledge about the nothingness of idols was correct –- that eating meat sacrificed to them was permissible, but that is the same passage where he volunteers "never to eat meat again" if it is an issue that remains for someone else. If the apostle Paul lived this way and called others to do so, should not this be the standard for my fellowship also?

How would this work? Paul was pretty clear to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 14:26 – 40 (By the way, the NIV heading "Orderly Worship" was added by someone else).  Nothing in the directive of these verses claims to be or fits in the category of worship, as Paul and Jesus saw it. After giving simple instructions, Paul concludes with this authoritative statement in verse 36:

"Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored."

Why would he say this? Paul says this through the spirit of God, because we are prone to invent our own ways of doing things and rearrange what God has ordained to our own desires. We go out and find teachers who support what we want, and inject the teachings of men into our practices, rather than the teachings of God. Paul is being very strong here. He is basically pre-empting anyone who would teach otherwise and he is teaching it as the Lord's command. Is he not saying that if anyone teaches someone differently they should be ignored?

Paul did not tell the church to organize "worship leaders" and have them "lead" the congregation in some "amazing way" with "vertical worship". Since Paul's vision was that God had seated us in the heavenly realms with God, that there was no need for anyone to "lead us into the presence of God" since we were already there. There were no polished presentations with minute by minute timelines and professional speakers with a time slot, and trained song leaders, or groups of people spending hours hauling around sound equipment for displays of "talent" to entertain the people who have not been properly taught what worship is. There was no claim that this was worship at all! It consisted of saved believers, gathered together, who each had something to give and by giving it, would build the church. In their eagerness to do so, Paul gave simple instructions about respect and process so that it would be orderly, and then he gave that final warning that this was God's command.

After I have had dialog about whether I should consider these alterations to God's command to be permissible, I then have to have the discussion about whether is it beneficial or constructive. According to Paul's multiple addresses on this topic, this is determined by whether it is offensive or hurtful to another person's faith in the assembly, in which case, the mature disciple would restrain their freedoms for the sake of conscience of those they see as less mature. At the same time, they would open sincere dialog about the issues while patiently waiting for each other to mature.

My faith is simple. Although I have never actually seen this, it does not mean that it would not work and I have to believe it would work. Paul had this faith. Shouldn't I be striving for that? My Protestant history, and modern culture, particularly American culture, is driven by the paparazzi mentality, that speaks to our psyche, that we must choreograph everything, that it must be "professional", that it must be "produced" or the small-minded, sound-byte-trained audience will get distracted. We perpetuate this idea that the people are not mature enough to figure this out and we have small groups of persons who figure it out for us. This is simply not the biblical teaching nor practice and we must grow in our faith in this area. The Bible teaches that if we do what God wants, the unspiritual man will come into our midst, see what we are doing and fall on his knees and worship God saying, "God is surely among you!"

Photo Credits

Jerusalem City Walls, CC Wikipedia

Corinthian terra-cotta statue of Aphrodite

Bronze Statue by Max Pixel. Creative Commons Zero - CC0  

The Truth About Christmas

Douglas Jacoby - Marietta, Georgia, USA 


I remember the night. It was chilly, especially for Florida, and Dad had a fire burning in the hearth. Even as a seven year old, I realized that this spelled certain doom for the jolly man who later that night would squeeze down the chimney. I mustered the courage to ask Dad, 'Is there really a Santa?' I was devastated. Doubts soon began to flood my mind as to the existence of 'the Stork,' the Easter Bunny, even of God himself. In later years I learned that Santa Claus (alias Father Christmas, Saint Martin, der Weihnachtsmann, Père Noël) was merely a corruption of Saint Nicholas, a Roman Catholic bishop of the 4th century. His attributes (red suit, reindeer, residence at the North Pole) derive from a blend of pagan legends with traditions about the saints. Good heavens!

25 December?
When was Jesus born? Does anyone really know? Early Christians were unsure. Cyprian thought 28 March, Clement of Alexandria guessed 20 May, Hippolytus supposed 2 June. If these early Christian writers (3rd century), who lived close to the time of Christ, had to guess the date of his birth, how is it that we know better?


The Shepherds
According to Luke 2:8, the shepherds were 'living out in the fields' keeping watch over their flocks at night.' But what is Israel like in late December, the time traditionally assigned to 'Christmas'? It is cold. It is the rainy season (Ezra 10:9, 13; Song 2:11). The shepherds would not be found dwelling in the fields in the winter season, and certainly not at night. It is therefore unlikely that Jesus was born after Halloween! Whence then the notion that he was born on the 25th of December?

Roman History
In 274 AD the Emperor Aurelian, influenced by the Persian cult of Mithras, designated 25 December as the 'birthday' of the sun god, 'Sol Invictus' the invincible sun. (In Mithraic tradition, the deity was born 25 December, and celebrated for twelve days. Sound familiar?) In some circles worship of the sun became identified with worship of the Son (see Malachi 4:2). Then in 354, Liberius of Rome ordered Christmas celebrated. This was popular among the Romans, who had already been celebrating the Saturnalia (12-24 December) as well as the Brumalia (25 December) -- times of merrymaking and exchanging presents. Houses were decorated with greenery and festal lights. Gifts were given to children and the poor. Yes, Christmas has pagan origins. On top of all this, it is not even the actual birthday of Christ!

Teutonic History
As with the Romans, the Teutonic peoples, too, had their celebrations of the winter solstice. The idea was that the sun god was dying or dead, and that there were certain things one should do to assist it on its way, thus speeding the recovery of the world from its winter torpor. As the days lengthened after or around the 22nd of December, there was great rejoicing and partying. Thousands of years of Teutonic history make their contribution to the customs of Christmas, and these customs spread with the people into Central Europe, Gaul, and Britain. At the Yuletide, special cakes were consumed, Yule logs were burnt as an incentive to the waxing sun, fir trees were adorned with lights in honor of the tree spirits, special greetings and gifts were exchanged, many went a-wassailing, and of course there was the mistletoe, under which one stood and began (only a kiss, mind you) the headlong rush into a night of pagan revelry (1 Peter 4:3)! Remember that all of this was going on long before Christ was born.


Shopping Sprees
What would Christmas be without the frenzied shopping that characterizes our society? Listen to Libanius, a 4th century Roman writer, as he describes the scene in pre-Christian Rome:

"Everywhere may be seen 'well-laden tables'. The impulse to spend seizes everyone. He who through the whole year has taken pleasure in saving'becomes suddenly extravagant'a stream of presents pours itself out on all sides."

Yes, Christmas 'spirit,' often sustained by big business to sell merchandise, is nothing new, but rather an ancient and time-honored tradition.

Closing considerations
We have seen that 'Christmas' is essentially 100% tradition -- and non-Christian at that! Yet traditions are condemned in the Bible only if they directly contradict the word of God (Mark 7:6-8). Jesus commanded us to remember his death, yet there is no harm in commemorating his entrance into the world. As one of the few who understands the true origins of this holiday, you can now enjoy the season in a more enlightened manner. So be of good cheer!

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Merry Christmas!

Click here to listen to Douglas' ten-minute podcast on Christmas

Reposted from www.douglasjacoby.com

Photo Credits:

USA Stamp 

The Shepherds and the Angel

DC: Ye Olde Yule Log by , Wally Gobetz, December 2000



    Bringing Back the Stray

    Douglas Jacoby - Marietta, Georgia, USA


    Since the Lord restores our souls (Psalm 23), and those who are spiritual ought to restore the brother caught in sin (Galatians 6:2), bringing back the those who have strayed isn't restoration in the original sense of the word. Keep in mind:

    • To bring back the stray is Christ-like.
    • This is a process of freeing a drifting brother or sister (Hebrews 2:1) from the allure of the world and bringing him or her back to the fold. This process takes time. It is much more than simply adding someone’s name back to the membership list based on assurances of future commitment.
    • It is to be carried out gently (Galatians 6:2). This means caring for the individual, hearing him or her out, not rushing but carefully retracing steps back to the place he or she got off the narrow road. More often than not, those wishing to return to the fold already have plenty of guilt and shame. They need assurance, not an “I-told-you-so” telling off (2 Corinthians 2:6-8).
    • Not all Christians are able to bring back the stray. Maturity, experience, and spirituality are essential. This is a pastoral duty, though not necessarily limited to church leaders.
    • All Christians are “shepherds” of the flock in some sense. Many congregations contain plenty of mature Christians, and these are the ones who will be most qualified to bring the wanderers home.
    • The process itself is somewhat precarious by its very nature. The temptation to over-identify with the lapsed disciple, taking on his attitudes or championing his grievances, is more than some disciples can handle. In some cases, the sin in which the person to be restored must relinquish is still ongoing.


    • Always ask, What are the causes of the person’s leaving the church? We must make sure that we are dealing with true causes, not symptoms. Otherwise, after being welcomed back, they may slip back into the same well-worn ruts.
    • Remember that God holds the individual responsible for quitting—no matter what (Romans 2:5ff).
    • Sometimes it is largely a leader’s fault. Shepherds, through harsh leadership, can scatter the sheep (Ezekiel 34). In addition, sometimes people fall through the sin or lack of forgiveness of another (Luke 17).
    • False teaching also has a role in dragging many back to the world (2 Peter 2:1-3).
    • Spiritual “starvation” (1 Corinthians 3:2) may also be an issue. Lack of proper appetite may be a factor, but so may lack of proper diet. Milk and meat are both needed. Shallow preaching and or humanistic leadership inhibit our potential to grow. (Still, the onus is on the individual.)
    • Always speak to those who were involved in the person’s life before he lapsed. Realize, in addition, that in some cases there are “two sides” to the story (Proverbs 18:17). Make sure you are properly informed.
    • Call for additional help as required.
    • If someone is not open to returning at the moment, “leave the light on and the door open”! (The Parable of the Lost Son shows the example.) Don’t be resentful or take sinful decisions personally. This only causes us to turn a cold shoulder to them, and it prohibits them from coming back.
    • Be urgent to see the person progress, but don’t rush him. Beware of flash-in-the-pan decisions. Give them time to once again implement spiritual disciplines (personal devotional times, to begin with) and to re-integrate the church schedule into their own routine.
    • Study the Bible together. Pray together. Expect them to do the same on their own.


    • When they have true conviction, they will probably start sharing their faith with their friends again.
    • If the lapsed Christian is married, ask the spouse what he or she thinks about the change. The spouse probably has a better vantage point from which to evaluate what is going on than anyone else.
    • While not withholding gentle assistance, expect the individual to exhibit initiative. Ultimately, it is not hand-holding that will set them back on the path to the Lord’s heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18).

    In most cities around the world there are not only active Christians, but also a number of men and women who have turned back from following the Lord. We must reach these individuals to “save their souls from death and cover over multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

    Shared from www.douglasjacoby.com, originally posted March 1, 2015

    Photo Credits: Stray sheep on the railway track at Bryn-y-Felin Bridge,
    cc-by-sa/2.0 - © David Tyers 

    Bible open to Psalm, CC0 Public Domain

    A Reflection on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

    John Oakes


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    There is much interest in the Christian world on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation Movement.  Even in mostly-atheist Germany, awareness of the history of this world-changing set of events is high.   October 31, 1517, is the day when Martin Luther posted his famous 95 theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg—the starting gun for the Reformation.

    What exactly is the Protestant Reformation? What is its legacy, both positive and negative?  Are we, as Bible-believing and Bible-obeying Christians, Protestants? Perhaps most importantly, what practical lessons can we learn from the momentous events which in many ways led to the modern world?

    First of all, we should introduce ourselves to the great heroes of the Reformation. The big three are Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. And of course, there are many lesser heroes as well. Luther, Zwingli and Calvin are all complicated men, with incredible strengths, but also with fatal flaws in their character. Are they heroes of Christianity? By almost any measure the answer is yes. All three showed remarkable physical courage and gave up nearly everything in order to pave the way so that we can worship God according to our conscience, with the Bible as our only standard of faith and truth.

    Martin Luther

    Martin Luther

    Luther was a man of miraculous resolve. His zeal was for Jesus and for his church. In the face of almost certain death at the hands of the Catholic Church and the Catholic princes, he began a reform in Wittenberg which overturned centuries of dominance over Christendom by Rome and the pope. He created the first translation of the entire Bible into his native German, returning the scriptures to the people. He abolished the most egregious Catholic practices such as indulgences, the system of penances, Roman sacramentalism and reliance on works-based salvation. His discovery from the Book of Romans that salvation is by faith marked one of the greatest turning points in the history of the faith. Yet, his reform did not return Christianity to its biblical roots. His faith-alone doctrine caused him to reject the book of James, which teaches that faith without deeds is dead. His theology was that of the fifth-century theologian Augustine. He maintained a strict church-state structure. Ironically, Luther continued the practice of infant baptism, despite the obvious fact that infants cannot have faith. The Catholic Church, under the influence of 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas, taught a fairly healthy balance between the sovereignty of God and free will on our part. Luther reversed this to a strict predestination, as taught by Augustine. One can argue that although Luther made fantastic strides in restoring Christian practice, he moved theology in the wrong direction. 

    Ulrich Zwingli

    Ulrich Zwingli

    Most of those whom we would call Protestants actually trace their theology and practice to the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli  and the French theologian John Calvin. The two brought about a more radical and thorough reformation than that of Luther. Theirs is known as reformed theology. Most evangelicals are of a Reformed rather than a Lutheran faith. Zwingli headed a church/state in Zurich, Switzerland. He went beyond Luther in removing vestiges of unbiblical practice. Zwinglian worship services have been called, “four walls and a sermon.” Like Luther, he restored the Bible to the common people. Yet his Augustinian predestination was even more thorough than that of Luther. He declared that those who are predestined by God to hell give glory to God equally with those predestined to heaven. Wanting to maintain infant baptism as a means to establish citizenship in a Christian state, he created the idea that baptism is a kind of Christian circumcision—a symbol of membership in God’s kingdom. We can see where this unfortunate choice led. Zwingli was a head of state and a soldier as well. He died in battle defending the Swiss Reformation against a Catholic army.

    John Calvin

    John Calvin

    The greatest theologian and Bible scholar of the Reformation was John Calvin. He reluctantly headed a theocracy in Geneva, Switzerland. It was his Christian Institutes that solidified normative Reformed theology, doctrine and practice. His theological system, Calvinism, made Augustinian predestination standard in almost all of Protestantism. Even if they are not aware, most of our Christian friends are Calvinist, which explains their embracing the once-saved-always-saved doctrine.

    Less well known is another Reformation which burst out, beginning from within Zwingli’s movement in Zurich. This “Radical Reformation” featured a rejection of church and state. Zwingli himself initially recognized that the only correct form of baptism is by immersion of adults, but he was unable to accept the implication of rejecting infant baptism on citizenship in his Christian state. Instead, he began to violently persecute these rebaptizers who thus became known as Anabaptists. Catholic, Zwinglian and Lutheran could not agree on much, but one thing they agreed on was that this rebellious Christ-like group must be suppressed. Catholics burned them at the stake, while Lutherans and Zwinglians drowned them. For a time, preparation for baptism of brothers and sisters was really preparation for martyrdom. Literally every one of the early leaders of this movement was martyred for their faith. Christian Europe was not yet ready to accept true Christianity with Jesus as the only head of the Church.

    An Anabaptist Execution

    An Anabaptist Execution

    Are we as New Testament Christians Protestants? The simple answer is no. In the International Churches of Christ, our historical roots go back to the Restoration Movement in the United States in the 1820s and 1830s. This was a back-to-the-Bible movement which rejected denominationalism, and specifically Protestant denominationalism in order to embrace Christian unity based on the essentials of the Bible alone. Leaders such as Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone recognized their debt to the great reformers, but did not accept their unbiblical creeds.

    How, then, should we think about this, arguably the most important turning point in Christian history? First of all, despite their faults, and they were many, we need to honor and appreciate what Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and many lesser-known reformers did to restore Christian faith and practice. Their courage and zeal for God’s people is an inspiration. Even if we do not wholeheartedly accept their doctrines, we can give honor where honor is due and recognize that, without them, our Christian faith today would not be what it is. Their willingness to lose everything, including their very lives for the sake of the gospel is an upward call to all of us. Yet, although they did wonderful things to restore Christian practice and to restore the scripture to believers, the Protestant Reformation fell far short of reestablishing correct biblical doctrine and theology. These men restored orthopraxy (correct practice) but not orthodoxy (correct teaching). Rather than restoring New Testament teaching, they only went back to Augustine. To embrace a Calvinist/Augustinian predestination is to reject the truth that God loves all and that he “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Their rejection of biblical freedom and their relegation of Christian baptism to a mere symbol are teachings that we must reject as unbiblical and as a stumbling block to salvation.

    Menno Simmons, founder of the Mennonites

    Menno Simmons, founder of the Mennonites

    Of course, there is a part of the Reformation that we can enthusiastically embrace. We can be inspired by the supernatural courage of our Anabaptist brothers and sisters. The Anabaptists were not without their faults, but neither are we. Perhaps you can get into a conversation with a Hutterite, Mennonite, Brethren or Amish friend. You would perhaps be surprised how much you have in common. However, there is one weakness of this movement that we should not embrace. Under the most extreme pressure of persecution, understandably, most of the Anabaptists chose to remove themselves from the world. They rightly rejected worldliness, but took this too far, choosing instead to isolate themselves from those who hated them. Within two or three generations, these disciples virtually stopped evangelizing the lost. As we celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, let us embrace the zeal, vision, and passion of all the reformers, not just the Radical Reformation, but let us take on a renewed zeal to establish the Church that Jesus died for and let us not withdraw from the world, but rather let us make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and surely, Jesus will be with us always, to the very end of the age.


    Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1978)

    John M. Oakes The Christian Story: Finding the Church in Church History  Vol I and II (Spring, Texas, Illumination Publishers)  Volume III, covering the Reformation, will be available late 2018.

    John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III, Church History, Vol. II (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2015

    Jean Henri Merle d’Abuigne, For God and His People: Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation, trans. by Henry White (Greenville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 2000)

    Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, ed. George H. Williams and Angel M. Mergal (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1957)

    William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s, 1996)

    T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography (London; John Knox Press, 2006

    [1] Stephen J. Lawson, John Knox: Fearless Faith (Fearn, Ross-Shire, Scotland; Christian Focus Publications, 2014)

    What Should I Do To Become a Christian Teacher?

    by John Oakes 

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    I have been serving as a teacher in one way or another for more than thirty years.  It is my career, as a professor of chemistry and physics, and my avocation as well, as a teacher for churches. I have taught the hard sciences as several universities and colleges, as well as teaching for more than 150 churches in more than 70 countries.  One of my passions is to help to raise up teachers who can take on the unending task of helping both the saved and the lost to come to understand the Christian gospel.  In my travels and in my efforts to mentor teachers around the world, I have made a number of observations, both positive and negative, of what makes for an academically and spiritually well-qualified teacher which I would like to share.  I will make these comments, more or less in order as to relative importance as I see it.

    1. Humility.

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    I cannot count the number of times I have come across young believers who have passion to be Christian teachers but who have flamed out because of pride. I believe humility is the most important quality for anyone who aspires to be a teacher for God’s Church.  Generally, those who aspire to teaching in a Christian setting see themselves as smarter than the average person.  Hopefully, this is true about the expectant teacher, at least to some extent, as the gift of teaching certainly includes above-average intellectual skills!  However, the tragedy which I have seen repeatedly is that those who see themselves as smarter than others allow themselves to be know-it-alls.  Confidence becomes pride.  They wish that everyone were as smart as they and they cannot understand how the other believers could be so unwise and so uneducated in the basics of Christianity.  They cannot wait to enlighten everyone around them with regard to their ignorance.  How could anyone not realize that the teaching ministry is the most important aspect of the work of the Church?  Because I have such deep knowledge, what can these less-informed Christians teach me about anything?  I will hear what they have to say, but pass it through the filter of my superior wisdom.

    The amazing thing is that these prideful prospective teachers do not realize that others can see these symptoms of pride from a mile away.  One reason I can list these examples of prideful teacher-thinking is that I have been sorely tempted with all of these many times.  I confess that one of the comments I have received in my student evaluations as a professor are statements such as, “he is a good teacher but arrogant when I talk to him in my office.  He makes me feel stupid.”  Ouch!  Double Ouch!!  I made a decision many years ago that I will go after defeating this kind of pride with unrelenting vigor. I will leave judgment about how successful I have been in this area to those who know me.

    This prideful attitude will have two devastating results.  First of all, no one likes a know-it-all.  Certainly no one wants to be taught by a know-it-all.  More importantly, no church leader will give the “stage” to such a person.  And they should not.  The prideful teacher will cause more damage to the church than any help they can offer.  For a teacher, to not have the opportunity to use his or her gift is a great frustration.  It is also a sad waste of potential good for the Church.  Mark it down; if you have a prideful attitude about your wonderful knowledge, you will never be a respected and fruitful teacher.  You are like Nebuchadnezzar, who stood over his beloved Babylon and said to himself, “Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30)  You have forgotten the admonition of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive, and if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?”

    Second, and perhaps more importantly, the candidate for teaching who is prideful will inevitably have a hard fall.  I have seen this pattern many times.  We all know that “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)  We tell ourselves that no one appreciates our gift.  We are not respected.  This church does not deserve me.  I am going to find a place where my gift will be appreciated and used.  As a result the gift is either used toward non-Christian ends or the person will end up joining a church which does not hold to genuine Christianity.

     2. Having the spiritual gift of teaching.

    Some are teachers, but do not have the gift of teaching.  As a stop-gap measure, in a church without gifted teachers or in a small ministry or new church, this expedient may be a necessity, and that is fine in such a case.  However, ideally, the evangelist will have the gift of evangelism, the elder will have the gift of shepherding, the church board member will have the gift of dealing wisely with money and the teacher will have the gift of teaching.  This principle can be found in 1 Peter 4:10-11, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms."

    Of course, this raises the question.  Do I have the gift of teaching?  How would one know?  This is a really important question.  I do not have “the” answer to this question, but will suggest a few things to look for.  First of all, is this what you love to do?  Is this your passion (see below)?  In your attempts thus far to delve more deeply into the truths of Christianity, do you find yourself making greater strides than many others (not as a point of pride, but simply asking a realistic question)?  Is there reason to think that your intellectual gifts are well above average?  Do others agree with this assessment?

    Certain skills are necessary; otherwise the gift cannot be used effectively. If it cannot be used effectively, then it is probably not a spiritual gift.  Intelligence alone is not sufficient.  Ideally, a teacher will be a strong public speaker.  If you cannot get across what you have learned, what good is it? There are other avenues of expressing this gift.  Not having skill as a public speaker is a deficit, but is not necessarily a sine qua non.  For example, perhaps you are a really good writer or a person who can reason effectively in a one-on-one encounter.  Bottom line, in order for a supposed gift of teaching to be genuine, the person holding this gift must have the ability to pass along knowledge in a persuasive way.  If not, then this is not your gift.

    3. Having passion to teach.

    I have taught on spiritual gifts dozens of times, and have published a book on this topic (Golden Rule Membership, Illumination Publishers).  My first advice on discovering one’s gifts is to ask what you love to do.  Your gift is the thing you will do even if no one appreciates it and even if you receive no encouragement for doing it.  Passion for teaching is an absolute essential for the one who wants to teach in God’s church.  There are at least two reasons this is true.  First of all, to become a well-trained and effective teacher will require a LOT of training.  I would argue that this role in the Church may require more training than any other.  Many hours of reading, studying and preparing, well above the call of duty, are absolutely required.  Without passion, few will be able to maintain this effort over time. Unlike the first two qualities mentioned above, this quality is relatively easy to “measure.”  By our twenties we know what we love to do.  You should ask yourself a simple question.  Am I truly passionate about teaching the gospel to both believers and non-believers?

    4. Having the will and the opportunity to get the training.


    We cannot teach what we do not ourselves know.  Knowledge does not leap into our brains while we sleep.  The Holy Spirit will at times give us the words to speak when we are before rulers (Luke 12:12), but this cannot be counted on in every case. Desire alone is not enough.  Jesus did not have any degrees and he was the greatest Christian teacher who ever lived.  But we are not Jesus and almost certainly, advanced training, very likely including a post-graduate degree, will be required for the effective teacher in the twenty-first century.  It is unfortunate, but nevertheless true today, that the Christian teacher will need skill in English, because the great majority of useful resources are in English.  Knowledge of additional languages is not an absolute requirement, but it is very helpful.  Some training in history, philosophy, and the natural sciences is very helpful.  Some do not have these skills and will find difficulty acquiring them for various reasons.  Perhaps they come into the game at too advanced an age.  Perhaps they did not have access to education for cultural or other reasons.  If this is the case, then it is not likely that this person will become an effective teacher.

    5. Being willing to work in a serving position.

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    This point takes us back to the first on our list—the requirement of humility.  Here is the bottom line.  To teach is to serve.  Of course, this is true of all Christian ministry, as Jesus told us (Matthew 20:26, John 13:13-17).  But this is fundamentally true of teaching in the Church.  My experience tells me that teachers often do not see it this way.  I teach in a chemistry department.  In academia, chemistry is known as a service discipline.  What this means is that most taking my courses are there, not to be chemists but to be something else, such as a biologist or a pharmacist or a nurse or doctor.  I need to accept that nearly all of my students do not share my passion for chemistry.  I am there to serve other disciplines.

    In Ephesians 4:11-12 we are told that the evangelists, shepherds and teachers are to prepare God’s people for works of service.  The way I like to put it, teaching is not the most important thing.  It is not the second most important thing in the church.  It is not even the third most important thing.  However, it certainly is in the top ten and might just possibly be in the top five.  If you want to do the “most important thing” then you need to recognize that teaching is not that thing.  Your role as a teacher is to provide something to others.  Yours is one of the parts in putting together the whole. Teaching actuates other abilities, but it is not that most essential ability and it will not normally be the thing which will be noticed first.  The purpose of the Christian life is to know God and to be known by him.  The Christian mission is to win as many as possible to Christ.  The teaching ministry does not take an up-front role in these things, although it is important to these things.  In fact it is essential to these things in the long run, but the teacher’s role is not the most essential one in helping people to have a relationship with God and to conversion of the lost.

    Because one of my particular skills is in the area of Christian apologetics, I am blessed to have many experiences which are an exception to the rule I am stating above, but I still need to stress this fact about the teaching ministry.  Yours is a service role.  You will be tempted to think that it is the top priority, but it is not!  A church built out of people, all of whose skill is intellectual, will not be an effective church (effectiveness being defined as achieving the purpose and ministry of Christianity).  Evangelism and shepherding and taking care of the physical and spiritual needs of the lost and the saved are more essential.  They are higher up on the list.  If this is not okay with you, then perhaps you should pursue something other than teaching.

    6. Able to take the long view and to hold our tongue—not having an agenda or an axe to grind.

    The fifth quality I want to mention is a practical aspect of the humility which is the chief quality needed to be a fruit-bearing Christian teacher.  This quality can be encapsulated in one word—patience.  Anyone who is a teacher will have deeper than average insight into those qualities required for churches and individual members of churches to grow and be effective in their faith.  We notice the mistakes our preachers make.  We often cringe when we hear outlandish interpretation of the scripture, especially in public forums.  We know some church history and notice immediately why a decision is a bad one.  What will we do with this knowledge?

    Here is the bad news for the teacher.  More than ninety percent of the time, we need to hold our tongue and keep our opinion to ourselves.  This is true, both because as I already stated, no one likes a know-it-all, and also because teaching is a serving role.  I made a decision many years ago and I must remind myself on a regular basis, that I must bide my time.  There are convictions I have that I must keep under my hat for a time.  When I am invited by a Christian group to teach them, I need to remember that my role is to do what was asked, not to come with a hidden personal agenda.  I do not visit churches in order to correct all their errors.  My role is to support what the leaders are doing, even when I do not completely agree with what they are doing.

    I have seen other teachers forget this basic aspect of the teacher’s role.  They tend not to be invited back.  Their skill and their passion therefore find a reduced opportunity to be expressed.  My personal ministry as a Christian teacher is somewhat unique, as I do so much traveling and have taught for many different churches.  It makes this principle even more necessary to the effective use of my gift.  Whenever I am invited to teach for a ministry other than my own, I remind myself that I do not want to leave having created more problems than I have solved.  In almost every lesson I teach, I find myself asking whether I should make this or that point, no matter how valid.  If it will not help what the leaders in the local church are trying to do, whether or not what I am saying might be true, I must hold my tongue.  James tells us that the tongue is a fire and a world of evil that corrupts the whole body.  In the context, James is speaking this truth about teachers!

    Holy_Paraclete_Dove [422x360].jpg

    One could use the excuse that the Holy Spirit put it on one’s heart to say such and such.  Maybe so, but would the Holy Spirit have you creating havoc in the local church or in the ministry to which you are speaking?  Perhaps one time in one hundred it is true that the Holy Spirit will influence us to create a big stir.  God’s prophets certainly did this at times.  There is a role sometimes for a teacher to stir the pot and upset the apple cart, but this is rare and should be done with extreme caution and only after purposeful thought.

    One last thought on this point.  As teachers, one of the things we love is when others learn through us and grow in Christ.  Their life is changed forever. What a thrill.  This is a good thing and it is not, by itself, a sign of pride.  However, we need to take the long view here.  If you will pursue your teaching over time, you will gradually acquire a stronger voice.  What you cannot say and what cannot be heard by your audience now because you are a novice, you will be able to say in ten years.  I have been teaching for decades.  I have gained a significant amount of respect over time.  People can hear difficult teaching from me that they may not have received when I was a relatively new Christian.  Because I was willing to bide my time many years ago, I am now able to help people understand and learn from my conviction.

    The next few qualities on my list are important ones, but perhaps not absolutely essential.  These qualities can be acquired over time.

    7. Willingness to think broadly and cross-culturally.

    One of the growing problems of our world culture is that, more and more, we tend to live in an ideological bubble.  The teacher needs to be able to break out of that bubble.  He or she will be teaching singles, marrieds, campus and teens.  The teacher will most likely be crossing church cultures and likely even human culture.  It is my experience that in order to use their gift, teachers will do some traveling and will eat strange food.  A greater than average ability to think outside of the box within which one was raised will be necessary.

    8. Broad knowledge combined with one or more areas of specialized knowledge.

    As a teacher, I generally must wait to be invited to teach.  Why would I be chosen for the task rather than another?  My advice to any prospective teacher is that you must acquire two kinds of knowledge.  First, you must make yourself the expert in one or two areas.  You should choose a topic you are particularly passionate about and dig as deeply into that topic as you can to make it your own.  You should nail this topic down so that anyone who needs a lesson on the topic, whether it is a biblical book you have mastered, or a character trait you have studied out or whatever it is, you will be the one they will call on.  Maybe you will even write a book on this topic.

    The other kind of knowledge you must be prepared with is broad based.  You must have one or eventually two or three specialties, but you will also need a little knowledge in a vast array of topics.  You must be the Rennaisance man or woman who knows a little about everything.  For example, you must know the Book of Colossians backward and forward, but you must have a deeper than average knowledge of all sixty-six books in the Bible.  You must know a little history, a little Church history and a little theology.  The reason is that you will become the answer person to many and you need to be prepared to give that answer as often as possible.  Recently I was asked to do a lesson for a church in Bangladesh on the question of marriage and divorce.  I told them that this is not my expertise.  They asked me to do it anyway.  The fact is that I have studied this topic out quite a bit, actually, and it was a simple matter of taking a few hours to put my material together.  It went fairly well.  This kind of broad preparation is one thing you must move toward if you want to be a Christian teacher.

    A_home_for_old_stars [360x422].jpg

    I hope that those who have read their way all the way through this essay will find it useful.  Presumably, it is because you yourself are interested in teaching.  I want to encourage you to pursue this gift.  You will find it infinitely rewarding over time as you are able to contribute greatly to the maturing of the saints and to the winning of many more to shine like stars in the universe (Daniel 12:3).  If I can be of service to you, do not hesitate to contact me.

    John Oakes


    Reprinted with permission from Evidenceforchristianity.org



    Photo Credits:

    Jesus washes the disciples' feet. http://aathmeekaunnavu.blogspot.com/2012_09_14_archive.html

    Chemist examining a beaker at a crude oil processing lab in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo Credit: Mitchell Maher / International Food Policy Research Institute

    Graduation Hat Cartoon 

    Holy Spirit Paraklete Dove, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHoly_Paraclete_Dove.jpg

    ESA/Hubble [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

    A Brief History of Christianity in China

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    By Donald D. Downs --  Denver, Colorado, USA





    Whereas the history of Christianity, from its Jewish inception to its current status in the western world, is well attested to and has been copiously documented, its Chinese[1] course, for reasons we will soon discuss, is much less transparent. With multiple starts and stops, while often suffering periods of disenfranchisement and even open persecution and censorship, the Church in China has left less of a discernible historic trail than has its Western counterpart. Periods of severe oppression and governmental interdiction resulted in the destruction of many Christian artifacts, Church buildings and Christian writings that would have, had they not been destroyed, provided ample evidence for and verification of the origins and growth of Chinese Christianity.[2] Thus, these archeological losses as well as the necessity that Christians in China often had to operate, as best they could, under-the-radar of the watchful eye of a wary government, has contributed to the muted voice of the Chinese Christian record. Perhaps partly in light of this paucity of historical attestation to the activity of Christians in China, as well as to the Western bias which has long underestimated and even undervalued the genuineness of Chinese Christianity, there has been, until recently, quite a dismal outlook towards the future of Chinese Christianity.[3]

    My task, in the span of a few short pages, is a monumental one - in fact nearly an impossible one. I can, by no account, provide any more than a very rudimentary glance at such an enormous topic: the history of Chinese Christianity. It would be one thing simply to note or only list the historical events of such a vast subject, it is quite another to explore in any detail the cultural factors and socio-economic conditions that guided, influenced and even occasionally interrupted this story. My hope in this short paper must be by necessity, then, a very modest one: 1) to provide a very succinct sketch of the significant eras, events and prominent leaders of Christianity in China, and, 2) to consider in compendious form only a minority of the regulating elements that affected it and a few of the salient lessons and implications of its history.


    Bays, in his introduction to “A New History of Christianity in China” notes that he and other scholars have recognized that this important subject of Chinese Christianity has been a relatively understudied subject.[4] What Bays sought to do in his book was not only to document and explore what the foreign missionaries did in China but also to look more closely at the subsequent picture of the rise of the indigenous Chinese Christians as they endeavored to establish and nurture this new faith in their homeland.[5] Bays sees this process as “characterized by a persistent, overriding dynamic: the Chinese Christians were first participants, then subordinate partners of the foreign missionaries, then finally the inheritors or sole “owners” of the Chinese Church.”[6] I propose, in this paper, to provide a concise but coherent narrative that will not only acquaint the reader with the keystone elements of historical Chinese Christianity but will also point him towards some of the implications of its present outcome. It is hoped that this might not only help the reader better understand China and its Christianity, but also enhance his or her own Christian expression experience.


    Some Perspective

                Before we embark on our survey, let’s first consider what we are up against. Though not intended to sound like a dossier of China population stats, the following data will help quantify, and perhaps thereby impress upon the reader just how important the subject of Chinese Christianity really is. Some perspective will prove invaluable.

    China’s vast population, estimated to have been fifty-nine million during the Han dynasty interregnum (the beginning of the Christian era in the West), is today about one and one-third billion… China’s Christian population is five percent of the population, which places it among the top ten Christian countries of the world, with only the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Russia and the Philippines, and Nigeria having greater numbers. Each of those countries has between fifty and ninety-five percent of their populations identified as Christians.[7]


    Lodwick cites further that presently some scholars estimate the number of Christians in China at sixty-seven million. She extrapolates that, therefore, a good guess would be that throughout the entire history of Christianity in China there have been at least 100 to 200 million Christians. In 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party pronounced victory, it was estimated that there were one million Protestants and three million Catholics in China -- but by 1976, at the death of Mao Zedong, those numbers had increased to three million Protestants and three million Catholics.[8] How those numbers climbed so precipitously in such a relatively short amount of time has been amazing, and will be touched upon in the following pages of this account. However:

    To further complicate the question of how many Christians there are in China today, the Chinese government puts the number around 23 million, which Western scholars think is too low. Evangelical groups, who like to point to the growth of Christianity despite the Communist government, put the number at 100 million, which most scholars think is too high.[9]


    In any case, scholars are predicting that China’s number of Christians, by the year 2030, will surpass America’s count of 243 million. Tellingly, “China is on Course to Become the World’s Most Christian Nation Within Fifteen Years,” was the title of the April 19, 2015 British periodical, The Telegraph.[10]

    As for the number of missionaries in China, many estimates have been made comparing the missionary numbers of the past and those of the present. Even though it is believed that there have been more missionaries to China than to anywhere else in the world, fewer records have survived about China than have from most other destinations. Part of what has so radically shaped the overall landscape of the historical narrative of Christianity in China (the persecution and repression of personal liberties), is responsible also for this dearth of information and documentation. On four separate occasions missionaries were forced to flee China: at the Boxer Uprising (1900); at the time of the Northern Expedition (1927)[11]; during the early years of WW2 (1937-41); and at the time of the Communist victory in the civil war (1949). “When fleeing for one’s life, one does not think to carry along the records on the mission.”[12] Hence, Lodwick cautions that great prudence is warranted when attempting to estimate numbers such as these.[13]

                Of the major world religions to come to China, Christianity is generally held to be the second to arrive - after Buddhism and before Islam.[14]  As for the adherents of each, Stark gives the following numbers based on two large and reliable surveys[15]: Buddhism 18.1%, Christian 2.7% and Islam 0.5%.[16]  As for membership in the two other Chinese religions, expounded in all the comparative religion books as part of the major Chinese faiths, that of Taoism and Confucianists - only a combined 0.8% of Chinese belong to these two religions.[17] That leaves the remainder to be adherents of either the various Folk Religions or Atheists.


    Six Waves of Christian Influence

    As we move into an accounting of Chinese Christianity, to help digest such an expansive history, it may be helpful to conceive of seven different eras or “waves” during which the Chinese were converted to Christianity: 1.) Christian Infancy - soon after the death of Jesus and the following first few centuries, 2.) Nestorian missions - during the Tang dynasty of the 7th century, 3.) Mongol Rule and the Spread of Catholicism - during the Yuan dynasty (1206-1368), 4.) The Jesuits, Matteo Ricci, and the Spread of Catholicism - during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1636–1911) dynasties, 5.) Protestantism and Evangelicalism – missionaries, mainly from Western Europe and America, arrive and evangelize during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and 6.) Indigenous Movements – like ‘The True Jesus Church”, “The Jesus Family”, “Little Flock”, and “Local Church” which, especially after the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s, began to grow.[18] Also in this period would be included the state sponsored/state sanctioned churches as well as the unregistered churches. Regarding this timeline of Chinese Christianity, Bays points out that it wasn’t until after “two false starts,” and not until the 16th century that the Christian presence in China finally took root and became permanent.[19] In this present work, the “true start” of Christianity in China would then coincide with my “wave four” as, understandably, he does not take into account the Apostle Thomas’s possible evangelistic sojourn into China.


    Wave One – the Apostle Thomas and Christian Infancy in China

    Frankly this can hardly be claimed as a definitive wave of Christianity since evidence for this is unclear and a matter of some debate, but as a possible explanation for the origin of the first Christian presence in China, it should at least be considered. Today, some historians are inclined to link the source of Christianity in China to the Apostle Thomas. Having gone to India and taken the gospel there, it is believed that he later turned to China, preaching and teaching there, until he finally returned again to India where he later died.[20] There are several indicators, though these are by no means conclusive, nor even necessarily persuasive, in support of the Thomas in China idea. First, in the 1980’s some interesting bas-relief sculptures were found on a rock face at Kongwangshan, in Jiangsu Province, near the city of Lianyungang. For many who came to China by sea this was the first port of entry and an important city in ancient times. Archaeologists have dated the sculpture to the Mingdi emperor (57-75) and the Later Han dynasty (25-220). Depicted on the sculpture are the images of three persons. Originally they were held to be Buddhists figures but over the last five to ten years this conclusion has been drawn into question. Others now claim these figures are more likely Christian and may even represent the Apostle Thomas, Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as “a variety of candidates for the third.”[21] Also the Mar Thomas Church in India, which claims to have been started by the Apostle Thomas himself, has never questioned the alleged visit of Thomas to China. Additionally, later, the great Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci, would also encounter references, albeit ambiguous ones, to the Apostle Thomas in China. Interestingly some scholars and historians of this persuasion (including authors of a 2008 book which advocated the Thomas-in-China thesis) also claim that “rather than Buddhism setting the bar for other religions, Christianity may have influenced Buddhism, which was just in its formative stages in China at the time.” [22] In the end the evidence is far from clear and certainly not persuasive, “but it is probably safe to assume that some form of Christianity made its way across the great Eurasian landmass in the early centuries of the Christian era, with the nomadic tribes who roamed along the Silk Route, stopping at the oasis towns to trade.”[23] In keeping with Jesus’ final words to his disciples, just after his miraculous resurrection and reappearance to them, to go into the entire world and proclaim his gospel, it is quite conceivable that they or their immediate successors would have indeed gone east into China with their life-changing message.


    Wave Two - Nestorian Missions[24]

                Here, archaeology, through its discovery of a nine-foot high ancient stele unearthed in 1623 or 1625 in Xi’an, central China, has afforded us an amazing look back in time into the early history of Christianity’s story in China. This stele contains some 1,800 Chinese characters written by a Christian monk, Jingjing, who in 781, on this ancient slab, recorded the remarkable story of an earlier Nestorian monk named, Aluoben (or Alopen).[25] Aluoben, arrived in Chang’an (now modern Xi’an) in 635 with the message of Christianity. So, here on this massive stone, was “proof positive that Christianity had been firmly established in the early Tang [dynasty] more than six hundred years before the first European emissaries came in the thirteenth century.”[26] The Tang dynasty (618-907) was “young and vigorous in 635” and ruled a much larger territory than any previous Chinese authority. Peace had been re-established between Persia and China and thus international trade along the Old Silk Road, the terminus of which was Chang’an, was flourishing. Along this route, Aluoben made his way, garbed in white robes to the emperor, carrying his sacred Christian scriptures. Once translated, and after the emperor had familiarized himself with their teachings, he issued the following edict:

    The way does not have a common name and the sacred does not have a common form. Aluoben, the man of great virtue from the Da Qin Empire, came from a far land…his message is mysterious and wonderful beyond our understanding. The message is lucid and clear; the teachings will benefit all; and they shall be practiced throughout the land.[27]


                As a result of the favorable disposition of Emperor Taizong towards Christianity, not only were the Old and New Testament scriptures translated into the local dialect, the first Christian Church was also founded there in 638 by this group of Nestorian monks. In all there were twenty-one Nestorian monks in China at this time.[28] Besides this stele thousands of manuscripts, including some Nestorian documents, were found in sealed grottos that effectively preserved them until their discovery in 1005. Scholars attest that these documents show “a clearly discernable Christian core” and “not any significant deterioration of the essential dogmas of Christianity.” There is, however, a “considerable admixture of Daoist and Buddhist terms and images.”[29]

    Although we do not know a great deal about Tang Nestorian Christianity[30], we do know a broad outline of its fate. A massive internal rebellion nearly toppled the Tang dynasty in the 750’s such that native elements began to revive.[31] Confucianists and other cultural conservatives began to decry the foreign influence among them and, in turn, an anti-foreign-religion sentiment began to emerge. In 845 this culminated with an imperial edict limiting all foreign religion, including Christianity.[32] Emperor Wuzong (814-846) a zealous Taoist, decreed “all foreign religions be banned. The once accommodating court grew inward-looking and xenophobic.”[33] “The edict triggered a period of persecution, and, by the end of the Tang dynasty in 907, Christianity had all but disappeared from China.”[34] It would not be until the coming of the Mongols and their subsequent establishment of the Yuan dynasty that a significant presence of Christianity would reappear in China.[35]


    Wave Three - Mongol Rule and the Spread of Catholicism


                It was the Mongols who gave Christianity its next safe haven, at least for a time. Bays states that “just as the “pax Romana” during the first two centuries imposed sufficient security on the Mediterranean basin for the apostles to make missionary journeys far and wide, the “pax Mongolica” imposed by the Mongols made possible the first direct European Christian contacts with China.”[36] It was then that the Roman Church, in hopes of both avoiding future hostilities with the ever-advancing warring Mongols and in hopes of forming an alliance whereby they could oust the Islamic defilers of Jerusalem, began in earnest to send missionaries to China.[37] Upon their arrival, these European friars discovered among the Mongols many Nestorian Christians.[38] How is that? Prior to their arrival Nestorian Christianity had remained prevalent “in its core area of Persia and many Persian Christian merchants plied the trade routes of central Asia, where they had considerable contact with a Turko-Mongolian tribe called the Keraits.”[39] As a result, by the 13th century nearly all of the estimated 200,000 members of the Kerait tribe had converted to Nestorian Christianity. Importantly, the Keraits were an ally of the Mongol subclan, which would later produce the famous Genghis Khan (1162-1227). Genghis, through a carefully planned set of alliances, took three daughters of the Kerait royal family (each of them Christians) as wives, marrying one of them and providing wives for two of his sons with the others. It was the wife (a Kerait Christian princess) of his fourth son, who would become the mother of three emperors - one of whom in 1279 would become the founding emperor of the Yuan dynasty in China, Khubilai (1216-1294).[40]

    “Under Kublai Khan, Dyophysite[41] Christians returned to the centre (sic) of power in China. After nearly three centuries in which their presence had been scarcely perceptible, they revealed themselves from generations of outward profession of other Chinese religions, which had official favour. (sic)”[42] MacCulloch goes on to describe how, in keeping with old patterns, history repeated itself when the Yuan rulers of China began to conform themselves to the “rich and ancient culture which they had seized; and, worse still, successive Yuan monarchs showed themselves steadily more incompetent to rule.”[43] Their overthrow then, by the Ming dynasty in 1368 was inevitable, though regrettable for other reasons. The Ming’s were a “fiercely xenophobic native…dynasty” and so this was a bad blow to Christianity in the empire.[44]

    Prior to the Ming ascension the Mongol court was open to Christian missionaries and even turned over the administration of parts of northern China to Christian tribesmen from Central Asia. From Rome, as already mentioned, the pope also sent Franciscan and Dominican missionaries, in an effort to establish ties with Eastern Christians and to form an alliance with the Mongol empire. Additionally, Italian merchants founded Catholic communities in major trading centers; among them were two brothers from Venice, Niccolo and Maffeo Polo, who brought along Niccolo’s son, Marco.[45] It was Marco’s famous Description of the World, which he wrote after spending some sixteen years plus in China, to which we owe much of our knowledge concerning the distribution of Nestorian Christians in Yuan China.”[46] However, in spite of Nestorian Christianity’s impact on the Kerait tribes -- and, secondarily then, on the Mongols, upon the demise of the great Yuan dynasty --  once again, Christianity appeared to all but vanish in China.[47] Hence, China’s second period of Christian growth came to an end when the armies of the Ming dynasty expelled its protectors, the Mongols.


    Wave Four - The Jesuits, Matteo Ricci, and the Spread of Catholicism

    Here we begin to discuss the first implantation of a permanent Christian presence in China.[48] Finally, we will see Christianity begin to take root, becoming an enduring part of the Chinese religious landscape. This period will “constitute a key transition in the worldwide serial movement of the Christian faith to parts of the non-West.”[49] Even though it was Catholicism that found its start in this period, in some sense it was actually the Protestants who fueled, in a roundabout way, this influx of missionary presence in China. Back in Europe, at least in part as a response to the Protestant Reformation ignited by Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-five Theses, the Catholics had just recently mounted their Counter Reformation. Now, China was to become the benefactor of this movement. The Catholic Reformation facilitated an “unprecedented number of Christian missionaries coming to China in the late Ming and early Qing periods, and, more importantly, the creation within China, circa 1600-1900, of a surprising number of Christian communities; many of which proved quite resilient when the young Chinese Church was outlawed and persecuted in the eighteenth century.”[50] Here, Chinese Christianity starts to become part of the historical record, “visible in both Western and Chinese sources from 1600 onward.”[51]

    It was the Jesuits that were tasked by the Papacy with this missionary calling. The Jesuits (The Society of Jesus), founded in 1540 by a zealous and inspirational young priest and theologian, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), not only took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also promised, “…a special obedience to the sovereign pontiff in regard to the missions.” [52] It was Loyola’s zeal for missions that sparked a renewed European effort to bring Christianity to China. Francis Xavier, one of Loyola’s faithful disciples and a Jesuit cofounder, was assigned to the East Indies. Working first in Goa, India, he then pioneered missionary efforts into Malaysia and Japan, finally dying of disease on the small island of Shaungchuan, off the southern coast of China. It was there, frustrated by the Chinese refusal to permit permanent entry and long-term residence into Mainland China of its missionaries -- just off the coast of modern Guangzhou, that he waited in vain, and died, unable to gain passage inland.[53]

    Though Xavier did not personally see his dream realized in China, notwithstanding his earlier work that spawned immensely successful evangelistic efforts in both India and Japan, it was his prodigious decade of Asian missions that opened the door for further evangelistic missions to follow in China. It was by no means, though, a wide-open door. Much challenge lay ahead for the Catholic missionaries. Up to this point their access to Mainland China was limited to Portuguese trading ports, such as Macau, on the south coast of China. Here, the traders and missionaries, unable to relocate inland, could reside year-round and were, at least, permitted travel access to Gaungzhou (Canton) for the trading season.[54] Try as they might, though, their evangelistic efforts remained coastland bound. For a while it seemed like China was a stonewall and the missionary effort of Christianity into China, a non-starter. The breakthrough did not come until 1582-1583 when the Italian Jesuit Michele Ruggieri finally gained permission to reside permanently in China. Once there he diligently set about the task of learning the Chinese language.[55] Ruggieri fortuitously chose as a partner, the now famous Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, one of the most talented and effective missionaries in all Eastern missions’ history. Though much of the writing about Matteo appears hagiographic, that is not to say that he is not to be appreciated and admired for his hard work and great accomplishments on the mission field.[56] He was extremely successful. Ricci, the first prominent member of the Jesuits to have a place in China’s history, out of all the individual missionaries to have set foot there, is the one person whom many educated Chinese are today able to name.[57]

     Monument of Matteo Ricci in Macerata, Italy

     Monument of Matteo Ricci in Macerata, Italy

    The early Jesuits who arrived in China came to a culture of which they knew very little and understood even less. There was a clash of cultures. “Traditional Chinese society was patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal, and each person knew his or her place based on the traditional hierarchy of emperor to subject, father to son, elder brother to younger brother, husband to wife, and friend to friend, termed Confucian relationships by Western historians. Only the last relationship was based on equality, not bloodlines or marriage.”[58] Christianity, on the other hand, espoused a message of equality in relationships. Another challenge for the Chinese inquirers was the exclusivity that Christianity demanded. For the Chinese, it was common to practice whatever indigenous folk religion was common in a geographical region along with a syncretic blending-in of Buddhism and Taoism. Why couldn’t Christianity just be grafted onto the beliefs that they had been practicing for generations?[59]

    Ricci’s approach, therefore, was to try to “tie Christianity to traditional Chinese beliefs and practices by pointing out the similarities between them.”[60] Ricci and his colleges even adopted native dress, unheard of among the missionaries of his time, in order to better relate to and gain the respect of the people. He learned rapidly and made adjustments as needed. Initially, upon his arrival he adopted the dress of a Buddhist monk (bonz), only to soon learn that the bonzes were despised among certain influential people.  When this mistake was pointed out he and his fellow Jesuits accommodated, and began dressing as Confucian scholars, complete with long beards.[61] With Ricci and others at this time, a new attitude emerged among the Jesuits (which in the not so distant future would become the impetus for a great altercation, the Rites Controversy, of which we will soon speak): namely, that other world faiths might have something of value to offer and may well reflect God’s purposes, too. So, in his mind and in the practice of the Jesuits, it was worth making the effort to understand those cultures better.[62] In keeping with that spirit, Ricci put into very effective operation the policies first articulated by Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606), a fellow Jesuit, who, early on, had authority over all of Asia missions.[63]  Concisely, these policies were:

    ·      Accommodation and adaptation to Chinese culture.

    ·      Evangelization from the top down, addressing the literate elite, even the emperor if possible.

    ·      Indirect evangelism by means of science and technology to convince the elite of the high level of European civilization.

    ·      Openness to and tolerance of Chinese moral values and some ritual practices.[64]

    It was also Ricci who, early on, set his sights on Beijing and its imperial court, and who determined to gain permission to live there on a permanent basis. In 1602 he finally did so, the first missionary to accomplish this since the Mongols left China.[65] In the first few decades of their missions, the Jesuits overwhelmingly centered on urban missions, acquiring excellent language skills and striving to make converts from the elite class. This they did, converting the “three pillars” of the Church – Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), Li Zhizao (1565-1630) and Yang Tingyum (1562-1627) – all high degree-holders and officials of the late Ming dynasty.[66] It has been this work, focused on the missionary efforts of Beijing and its upper classes, as well as the elusive hope of an Emperor conversion that has been the focus of much, if not most, of historical scholarship on the Catholic mission.[67] Bays interjects, however, that though the attention of most scholars has remained fixed on the missionary activities at court, “the real action, and I would claim the real significance, was elsewhere.”[68] In the 1630’s, the Jesuit monopoly on China missions, having given way to the influx of other missionaries, including Spanish Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians, and especially those arriving as newcomers towards the later part of the seventeenth century, were no longer wedded to the now century-old strategies of Valignano and Ricci.[69] By 1700, not only were the Jesuits still working at the court and elsewhere in Beijing, but a “great many Jesuits, and virtually all of the mendicant friars, were scattered across the empire creating and maintaining local rural-based Christian communities.”[70] Soon, this harvest in the rural mission field produced a deficit of clergy leadership. More and more duties were handed over to Chinese catechists and other lay leaders as helpers. To help with this need, a few pious young Chinese men were trained overseas in Seminary and returned as priests to serve the burgeoning Church.[71]


    The Rites Controversy

    It was during this time that one of the most commonly discussed events in Chinese Christian history took place, the “rites controversy.”[72] When the Dominicans and Franciscans (among others) arrived in China, they were alarmed at what they found to be practices among the Jesuits that were not in accord with what they viewed as appropriate missionary policy and procedure. They were particularly dismayed by and violently disagreed with the Jesuits in “their attitude to the Chinese way of life, particularly traditional rites in honor of Confucius and the family; they even publically asserted that deceased emperors were burning in hell.”[73] Complaints about the “Chinese rites” were taken as far as Rome itself when a Dominican returned there from China and launched a vehement attack on Jesuit policy in the 1640’s.[74] For the next sixty years the tide of dispute would ebb and flow, favoring first one side and then the other, based on the reports of the most recent emissaries returning from China and reporting on the issue; whether this person was sympathetic to the Jesuits or their opponents.[75] After a long struggle, successive popes condemned the rites in 1704 and 1715.[76] This proved to be a “watershed in early Sino-foreign relations, not just because of the content of the decision, but also because of the Chinese emperor’s reaction to the highly counterproductive manner in which it was conveyed to China.”[77] The papal legate dispatched from Rome conveyed the decision to the missionaries, and, as it turned out, to the emperor as well. This man, the ambassador, Touron, behaved “highhandedly towards the missionaries and disrespectfully towards the emperor.”[78]

    In response, the emperor Kangxi, in 1706, decreed that all missionaries would have to undergo an examination by which it would be determined if they were in accord with the policies of Matteo Ricci. If it was determined by their responses that they were in agreement, they would be allowed to remain; all others would be immediately deported. Likewise, any who refused to take the examination were extricated as well.[79] Additionally, the emperor banished Touron to Macau, “where he languished under house arrest until he died.”[80]

    Though there were a number of missionaries deported at this time, there was nothing like a wholesale removal enacted. It was not until early in the reign of Kangxi’s son, the Yongzheng emperor, in 1724, that the legal status of Christianity was rescinded. Yongsheng, upon assuming the throne, began to tighten his control over both the state and society at large, being very alert to what he perceived as possible departures from, threats to, or disloyalty towards imperial Confucian ideology. He labeled Christianity a heterodox sect, “subversive of Chinese culture and values… and renewed the expulsion of missionaries outside Beijing, calling for all of them to be taken to Guangzhou and held under detention.”[81] Christianity would remain an “illicit religion” until the 1840’s. The rites controversy “was a deeply significant setback for Western Christianity’s first major effort to understand and accommodate itself to another culture. In light of the discourteous and even contemptuous behavior of the Church in this matter it was not surprising that the Yongzheng Emperor reacted so angrily in 1724.”[82]

    As a result of this proscription of Christianity in China, which would last nearly 120 years, and in combination with the concurrent dissolution of the Jesuit order by the Pope in 1773, it became increasingly difficult for the foreign missionaries to effectively service the priestly needs of the Christians in China. Consequentially, various Christian “orders developed plans to increase the number of Chinese clergy.”[83] Nonetheless, in spite of its classification as a heterodox ideology, this period was not one of uniform Christian persecution. On the other hand, just as is the case today, Christians remained vulnerable to various persecutions, arrests and other forms of harassment, even though they were not forthrightly barred from practicing their faith. Understandably, the foreign priests remained more vulnerable to arrests and deportations, as it was more difficult for them to hide their identity. All told, these factors worked together, with the net result that indigenous Chinese Christians, by necessity of these conditions, began to take greater leadership in the functioning of the Church; albeit with more assimilation of native traditions and cultural influences than was known prior.[84]

    Thus by the early decades of the nineteenth century the long history of Catholic missions had resulted in a small but resilient Chinese Church, which was forced by the circumstances of its illegality to do without hands-on European management. Not surprisingly, the Chinese Christian communities made their own way forward, reconciling Chinese culture with their Christian identity as instinct and practical experience lead them.[85]



    Wave Five - Protestant Missionary Efforts of the 19th and early 20th Centuries

    The rites controversy, though admittedly it had an overall negative impact on the immediate success of the growth of the Church in China, may have afforded some less than obvious benefits as well. On the negative side, strong, capable, biblically educated leadership was unexpectedly ousted and ill-will (ultimately persecution and censorship) was unnecessarily created by the response and poor handling of the whole affair by the papacy. However, on the positive side, this inadvertently called upon the indigenous Chinese to step up and take more active leadership roles in the day-to-day functioning of the Church. Additionally, the commitment of those who professed Christianity was tested and even steeled as their faith met resistance and opposition. In this way, the Chinese Church began to send spiritual roots deeper into their own culture, thus helping to ensure a more lasting spiritual legacy. Scholar and historian Lars Laamann comments on the “remarkable degree to which Christianity at the grass-roots level adapted itself to Chinese traditional culture.”[86] With the periodic expulsion of the dwindling numbers of European missionaries, “Chinese Christians more or less maintained their numbers, and developed several generations of loyalty to their Catholic communities.”[87] All over China, long standing groups of Christians, their faith “rooted in well over a century of loyalty to the Church and its marks of identity – especially baptism, marriage, and funeral rites – remained standing even without their European leadership and a small but resilient Chinese Church remained, thanks to this long history of Catholic missions.”[88]

                It was into this milieu that the first Protestant missionaries came, mostly European and American, over the first several decades of the nineteenth century. All of them, however, until after the Opium Wars[89] of 1839-42 (and 1856-60) and the treaties that subsequently followed, still remained limited in their activities, residing in Macau and utilizing the short trading season as an opportunity to travel and work in Guangzhou as well. Similar to the Catholic missionaries before them, like Ricci, they longed for the day when they would enjoy unrestricted access to all of China, but instead, in the first decades of the 1800’s, they remained cloistered in their small Macauan enclave.[90]


    Robert Morrison

    During this time and shortly thereafter, there were upwards of fifty Protestant missionaries to China. Here we will mention only a select few who played pivotal roles and had significant impact on the Protestant China mission enterprise as a whole. Scotsman Robert Morrison (1782 – 1834), sent by the London Missionary Society, arrived in Macau in 1807 and was the very first Protestant missionary to China -- and henceforth, for other good reasons as well, became one of the most well-known.

    Scotsman Robert Morrison

    Scotsman Robert Morrison

    In 1803, he began his preparations, attending the Missionary Academy at Gasport, England, and then studying under the tutelage of a Chinese language instructor for two years in London. When he arrived in China his intentions were simple, though monumental[91]; to master the Chinese language, create a dictionary, and from there to make a translation of the Scriptures that would be of value and assistance to all future missionaries.[92]In his lifetime, Morrison “was a major, if not the foremost, Sinologist of his day, and the leading interpreter of China to Western nations. He compiled, first a “systematic grammar of the Chinese, then a three-volume Chinese-English dictionary, and the Bible in Chinese” as well as numerous other publications, including an English-language newspaper in Canton.[93] Morrison himself was not especially fruitful in terms of converting the Chinese - baptizing just a few - but his seminal work paved the way for future generations and served as a prodigious contribution to the missionary effort.[94] A fitting Epitaph of Morrison carved into his gravesite marker in the Old Protestant Cemetery in Macau reads:


    Sacred to the memory of Robert Morrison DD.,

    The first protestant missionary to China,
    Where after a service of twenty-seven years,
    cheerfully spent in extending the kingdom of the blessed Redeemer
    during which period he compiled and published
    a dictionary of the Chinese language,
    founded the Anglo Chinese College at Malacca
    and for several years laboured alone on a Chinese version of
    The Holy Scriptures,
    which he was spared to see complete and widely circulated
    among those for whom it was destined,
    he sweetly slept in Jesus.
    He was born at Morpeth in Northumberland
    5 January 1782
    Was sent to China by the London Missionary Society in 1807
    Was for twenty five years Chinese translator in the employ of
    The East India Company
    and died in Canton 1 August 1834.
    Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth
    Yea saith the Spirit
    that they may rest from their labours,
    and their works do follow them.[95]


    Peter Parker, MD

    Peter Parker (1804-1888) was the first medical doctor on the China mission field. Appointed by the ecumenical American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, he arrived in 1834. Parker established the Canton Ophthalmic Hospital, China’s first modern hospital.[96] Gaining his undergraduate degree at Yale University and his Medical Degree from Yale as well, Parker was trained as an ophthalmologist in diseases of the eye. However, it became impractical, due to the overwhelming need around him, to turn away so many Chinese who came to his hospital suffering from various other maladies. As a result, over 2,000 patients were admitted, treated and preached to in his hospital during its inaugural year alone. Parker, who used Western medical techniques completely new to China, introduced Western anesthesia (in the form of sulphuric ether) to the Qing dynasty and was said to have “opened China to the gospel at the point of a lancet.”[97]

    All told, before the outbreak of the Opium War of 1839, altogether from 1807 on, a “total of about fifty Protestant missionaries had been assigned to China, but only a handful had stayed for any length of time.”[98] As for actual conversions, they were very few, totaling less than one hundred for the whole Protestant effort as of 1839. Suppressed by their status as an illicit religion, hampered by the significant challenge of learning and using the Chinese language, and restricted as they were to the Macau – Guangzhou axis, the Protestant missionaries “were certain that if they could only obtain access to the interior of China, conversions would increase dramatically.”[99] Fortunately, this opportunity was soon to come.


    The Opium Wars

    During the first few decades of the nineteenth century, the foreign trade interests of Britain and other like-minded Western powers became pitted against the national interests of the Qing government; at the crux of the matter was the opium trade.[100] Tensions grew over the increasing amount of illegal opium flowing into China from the West. This put the missionaries of China in a bit of a moral dilemma. “They recognized the immorality of the trade, but they were certain that the war was the hand of providence opening China to the gospel.”[101] After three years of struggle between 1839 and 1842, the first Opium War ended and a diplomatic settlement was reached. The Westerners called the outcome the “treaty system,” the Chinese, the “unequal treaty system” for it was in point-of-fact an inherently biased set of arrangements forced upon China by the superior military power of the Western nations, led by the British.[102] It was also the flow of opium by ship from the West that provided these missionaries with their sole form of transportation to China. Often times they travelled aboard cargo ships, which, beneath the decks in their holds, harbored huge stores of the illegal contraband. Its transport, for most of the missionaries, provided the only possible means by which they could hope to travel to China in order to evangelize them. It is quite unfortunate, to say the least, that these early missionaries, by virtue of this issue, were bound so tightly “to the nefarious opium that addicted many Chinese and made the foreigners fabulously rich.”[103]

    The East India Company iron steam ship  Nemesis , commanded by Lieutenant W. H. Hall, with boats from the  Sulphur ,  Calliope ,  Larne  and  Starling , destroying the Chinese war junks in Anson's Bay, on 7 January 1841

    The East India Company iron steam ship Nemesis, commanded by Lieutenant W. H. Hall, with boats from the SulphurCalliopeLarne and Starling, destroying the Chinese war junks in Anson's Bay, on 7 January 1841

    However, with the first Opium War ended, the treaties were enacted. The most important provisions of the first set of treaties (those enacted at the end of the first Opium War – more were to come at the conclusion of the second) were: 1) extraterritoriality (foreign citizens coming under the authority of their own consular as opposed to Chinese jurisdiction), 2) Christianity would no longer to be legally outlawed, 3) the opening up of five coastal cities for trade and residence for all foreigners as well as the right to build churches, schools, missionary residences etc. in these cities, and 4) the return of all former Church buildings to the Christians, regardless of their present status.[104] Of course this provision benefited the Catholics only as there were no Protestants, and thus no Protestant properties, in China prior to the entry of these first Protestant missionaries at the turn of the nineteenth century. With the opening of these five “treaty port” cities of Guangzhou (Canton), Xiamen (Amoy), Fuzhou (Foochow), Ningbo, and Shanghai, as well as the ceding of Hong Kong in perpetuity to Britain as a crown colony, the protestant missionaries now enjoyed a wider scope for their activities. New denominations appeared on the list of Protestant missionary societies, most of them moving their headquarters to Shanghai.[105] The missionaries now began preaching to the urban populations, training helpers and Chinese evangelists as well as engaging in extensive written communications, chronicling their efforts and results.”[106] Still, though, the missionaries remained stymied in their efforts to move beyond these few cities.[107]


    The Taiping Rebellion

    China, the greatest Asian empire, ruled by the Qing dynasty at this time, seemed only to barely escape destruction and collapse at the hands of the interfering Western powers. “The arrival of Christianity and interference by European powers identified with the Christian faith contributed to a catastrophic rebellion, and almost a century would follow before Churches could free themselves from association with imperial humiliation. The Protestant penetration into China, riding on the coattails of Western colonialization, was made possible in large part by the treaties made with the European powers as they encroached on Chinese sovereignty without chagrin.[108] “It was a contradictory mixture of popular anger and fascination with Western culture that fueled the Taiping rebellion, which broke out in 1850.”[109]

    Its first ideologue and leader, Hong Xiuquan, having failed his civil service entrance exams (indisputably essential in China for upward mobility), in a state of high anxiety and stress began reading Christian books, encouraged by a young American missionary.[110] Soon Xiuquan, convinced by visions that he had been chosen by God, as His son and Jesus’ brother, for great leadership, amassed a tremendous following among the disenfranchised of southwest China. His movement, fed by an incendiary combination of “nostalgia for the Ming dynasty, traditional rebellious zeal to end corruption,” and a concoction of various Christian concepts, especially those of an apocalyptic nature, united his followers with consequential results.[111] He eventually created his Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace creating an entire governmental structure with a sizeable army. Before it ended, the Taiping rebels controlled fifteen of the eighteen provinces of China below the Great Wall.[112] The rebellion eventually took over most of south central China, ruling over some 30 million people, and wreaked catastrophic results before it was finally subdued when imperial troops led by European officers stopped him at Shanghai.[113] It proved to be the most destructive civil war in all of history, dwarfing the contemporary American Civil War and nearly outstripping the mayhem caused by the Second World War a century later.[114] The Taiping Rebellion finally concluded having caused an estimated 20 to 30 million deaths, most of them civilians.[115]

    Even while the Taiping war raged into the late 1850’s, the Qing court was confronted with yet another military action, this time by a British-French consortium. What seemed like a natural course at the time would be viewed now with disdain and rightly labeled “imperialism” with all the negative connotations conjured up by the term today. The intervening Occidental powers hoped here to settle once and for all the issues left unsolved to their satisfaction by the treaties of 1842-1844. This war, which lasted from 1856-1860, resulted once again in a round of unequal treaties favoring the Western victors. In the signing of these treaties the missionaries finally gained more of the freedoms they had so desperately wanted and needed to help propagate their evangelistic efforts.[116] The treaties contained provisions giving the missionaries the right to work in China, to own property and to travel beyond the treaty ports.[117] As a result the missionary societies escalated their efforts with a corresponding increase in both missionaries and converts. “By 1893 there were 1,243 Western Protestant missionaries [in China] with a claimed total of 55,093 active Chinese converts.”[118] Predominantly, Great Britain and America fueled the missionary efforts of the Protestants in China. In 1877 there was a combined twenty-five different denominations with missionaries there, but by 1910 that number had risen to forty-four American and nineteen British. A total of sixty-three denominations were then active in sending and supporting missionaries to China.[119]

    During this time, from 1860 through the end of the nineteenth century, the young Chinese Protestant Church was putting down roots of community that constituted a solid foundation for the future. This period was marked by rapid growth of the foreign missionary establishment among Protestants, during which time they were becoming a more diverse spectrum of missionary establishments in China. “During these decades, several Protestant urban congregations served by Chinese pastors developed the capacity to support themselves financially and to operate on their own, without being under close missionary supervision. In fact, during these years Protestant Christianity became a true Sino-foreign endeavor, though the role of the Chinese was often in the shadows.”[120] Though Stark puts the number of Protestant converts by 1893 at approximately fifty-five thousand, Bays estimates that by 1900 there were one hundred thousand. There was growth among the Catholics as well, but due to their inherent allegiance to a foreign power, Rome, and the necessity of more strict clergy involvement, there were fewer cases of real Chinese and foreign cooperation. The airtight control of the Catholic Church also denied the Priests much of a real voice in managing their local affairs; despite the fact that their role in the growing Church was essential.[121]


    John Talmage, Hudson Taylor and the Chinese Inland Mission

    There was an immediate reaction from the west to the changes brought about by the latest treaties of 1858-1860, wherein the entire country was opened up to foreign travel as well as to the acquisition of property and subsequent erection of buildings upon these leased or owned lands. “Indeed in the years after 1860 all over China the number of Protestant Missionaries in China exploded, from barely 100 in 1860 to almost 3500 in 1905. It was an astounding increase, considering that it had taken more than 50 years from Morrison’s travel there in 1807 for the numbers to reach 100.”[122] The massive increase in Protestant missions of this time was due also, in great part, to the increasing efficiency and professionalism of the missionary societies of Europe and North America.[123] Even as the majority of missionaries continued to operate under more formalized and structured missionary society entities, there were those that took the opposite route.

    JohnTalmage (1819-1892), an American Reformed Minister, stationed in the British occupied city of Amoy, sought to learn from the mistakes of earlier Catholic successes and failures by implementing strategy whereby he determined to make foreign missionaries redundant. He and a few other like-minded colleagues created one of the earliest fully fledged Chinese churches and erected the very first Protestant Church building in all of China. Beginning from Amoy, one of the treaty ports opened up by the Nanjing Treaty of 1847, “soon his congregations, fortified by a sensible amalgamation of American and English Presbyterian foundations, were electing Chinese elders in classic Presbyterian style, struggling towards self-support and taking on themselves the founding of new congregations.” [124]

    Talmage’s strategy was put into effect on a grander and much more publicized scale by the Englishman, Hudson Taylor (1832-1905). Early on, Taylor, after thinking through various issues regarding missions-strategy, decided that a self-supporting entity, which would be beholden to no institutional powers or preferences, would best serve the purposes of evangelization among the Chinese. Subsequently he initiated a “faith based” mission in which all support would be garnered organically. Arriving earlier in Shanghai, in 1854, under the auspices of the Chinese Evangelization Society, he had experienced issues, concerns and setbacks that he was determined to circumvent in the future. After a brief return to England, he soon embarked again for China, this time as part of the largest party of missionaries ever sent to China. He returned this time as the founder and the first Chinese missionary of the China Inland Mission.[125] The CIM’s practices were both innovative and sometimes controversial:[126]

    Hudson Taylor

    Hudson Taylor

    ·      The CIM “sought no support except that of God himself,” all confidence was placed in divine provision. He was determined never to divert funds from other missions.

    ·      Taylor appointed laypersons, not clergy, as missionaries. In fact, even from the outset when he and twenty-one others arrived as the first contingency of the CIM, not one of them was ordained clergy. He did not even require any college training among his candidates.

    ·      Taylor adopted a non-urban strategy and so they developed relatively few supporting entities such as schools, hospitals, etc. Those schools that were developed were to educate their children in China and not send them back to Europe for their education, as was the universal norm.

    ·      In order to more effectively identify with the local peoples, the CIM was the first mission to adopt the practice of wearing traditional Chinese garb as a matter of policy.

    ·      The CIM was among the first missionary groups to allow large numbers of women to serve as missionaries – even to work in the countryside without male accompaniment. Many at the time saw this as scandalous.

    ·      “The power structure of the CIM evolved into the primacy of a China-based “council” or headquarters based in Shanghai, not in London or elsewhere in the West.”[127]

    Taylor was charismatic and effective in his role as leader of the CIM. Back home in England he solicited the masses for support of his grand mission in China. Starting with just his original 22 missionaries in 1866, the CIM grew to 322 in 1888, and to 825 in 1905. By then the CIM had grown to be the largest missionary society, almost three times larger than the British Church Missionary Society (CMS), the next largest group.[128] Taylor’s success was additionally elevated by the highly publicized recruitment of the “Cambridge Seven,” seven aristocratic young Cambridge graduates. This event, “one of the grand heroic gestures in nineteenth-century missions, catapulted the CIM from comparative obscurity to an almost embarrassing prominence.”[129]  Taylor also worked closely with the YMCA and YWCA, utilizing as well, significant publicity wrought by his effective publications, prime among them: the “China’s Millions.” All of this helped to fuel the stunning growth and compelling impact of the China Inland Mission.[130]


    The Boxer Uprising

                Even as the colonializational treaties opened doors for the spread of Christianity, and as the growing influx of more missionaries into China fueled the growth of the Church and its further integration into the social structure of the Chinese nation, so, too, did the imperialistic persona of the Western national and Church powers cast an ill shadow on the good work that was being accomplished. Bays elucidates the matter well:


    In the late 1890’s, even as 1) some degree of “Christian influence” was seeping in through the walls of the imperial palace in Beijing to coalesce around the emperor; 2) newly politicized, urbanized elites became alarmed at China’s weaknesses and vulnerability; and 3) those same elites took the unprecedented steps of organizing themselves and expressing opinions on government policy – two other results came into being as a result of these developments. These were the seeds of modern nationalism…identified in the activism of these elites, and a related phenomenon, the emergence of a modern public opinion.[131]


    Soon, nationalistic fever, as well as the smoldering frustration of repression among the Chinese, fomented into an uprising that came to be known as the Boxer Rebellion or the Boxer Uprising.[132] By the end of the nineteenth century the Western powers, via the Opium Wars, as well as Japan by way of the Sino-Japanese war, had enacted millions of casualties on the Chinese. In the late 1890’s this secret group, the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists (the Boxers), had begun to carry out sporadic but regular attacks on foreigners and on Chinese Christians.[133] In 1898-1900 Christianity, foreign missionaries and Chinese converts alike became targets of mass and official violence on a scale that dwarfed that of the “Tianjin Massacre” just twenty years earlier.[134] What began as seemingly low-level activities of Boxer violence perpetrated upon both missionaries and Chinese Christians escalated in the spring of 1890 culminating in the now famous siege of the Legation Quarter in Beijing not far from the Forbidden City.[135]

    Four hundred and nine poorly armed American and European embassy guards barricaded themselves in behind the Embassy walls. It was with the Empress Dowager, Cixi’s, support that imperial military forces joined the siege where, for forty-five days, the embassy guards stood firm against the onslaught of thousands of Boxers and thousands of imperial Chinese troops. The siege was broken by the arrival of a large, eight-nation expeditionary force in August of 1900.

    Outside of Beijing, the Boxers killed all foreigners and Chinese Christians within their reach. Unfortunately, by the end of the uprising, some 30,000 Chinese Christians were killed as well as 47 Catholic priests and nuns, 136 Protestant missionaries and 53 of their children. Some of these were raped before death and were killed in gruesome manners. After its suppression, the Chinese were again forced to sign a treaty. In September 1901, the Protocol of Peking (Boxer Protocol), in which major reparations were stipulated, was affirmed in writing.[136]

    The Boxer Rebellion is quite well known; the enterprise documented in lucid detail, as are the atrocities committed against the Western missionaries and Chinese Christians through its activities. What is often left out, or visited with little detail, is the ensuing sustained occupation of the foreign troops which remained in China for well over a year, as well as the vengeful retribution they enacted, making raids hundreds of miles away, sometimes destroying villages and summarily executing as many as a thousand Boxers and/or their alleged sympathizers. “However, much to the surprise of most observers, within two years of the Boxer events a new spirit of enthusiasm for reform was gripping the remodeled Manchu government…the elite class and officialdom was showing more respect for missionaries and Christian institutions than had ever been the case before.”[137] At last, felt the missionaries and Chinese Christians; China might be turning towards Christianity. In the aftermath of the Boxer Uprising tragedy we see the “beginnings of China’s “golden age” of Christian expansion and self-confidence.”[138]

    Russian cannons firing at Beijing gates during the night. August, 14, 1900

    Russian cannons firing at Beijing gates during the night. August, 14, 1900

    Ironically, the great tragedy of the Boxer Uprising ushered in a period of more than two decades during which time the foreign mission enterprise in China, as well as the Chinese Christian communities at large, seemed to flourish. In fact, when the Republic of China came into power after the toppling of the Qing dynasty in 1912, China had its first Christian (Protestant) provisional president; Sun Yat-sen.[139] Measures of raw numbers similarly document the vitality of the Protestant missions of this period. “Protestant growth between 1900 and 1915 was impressive by all indices.”[140] The number of foreign missionaries increased from 3500 in 1905 and 5500 in 1915 to 8000 in the 1920’s. The numbers of Protestants grew as well: 100,000 in 1900, with 270,000 communicants (330,000 baptized) in 1915 and 500,000 in the 1920’s – “before the storm of mass nationalism hit.”[141] Sadly though, this storm of mass nationalism was soon to come.

    Before we go on to look at the cataclysmic changes to come, wrought by the resurgence of Chinese nationalism, a comment is in order about the changing nature of the Chinese Church, which began to surface during these years of relatively unrestricted and unhindered growth. With this growth came new developments. During this time, the Chinese Protestant community was coming into its own, and developing more of a sense of autonomy, moving more and more towards independence from its foreign missionary leadership.[142] It was during this time too, reflective of this growing independence (if not divergence) that the last of the great missionary conferences, in which all groups were represented, in spite of their doctrinal differences, was to occur. Regrettably, this unity did not last much past the end of World War I. “The broadened spectrum of Christianities now available could not easily co-exist. The old consensus was already disintegrating even as preparations were being made…for the National Christians Conference of 1920.”[143] Doctrinal differences began to emerge such that genuine collaboration among the churches and among the missionary societies became increasingly difficult. Frankly, on some fronts, what began to transpire in China was representative of what would happen worldwide among Christians everywhere – the emergence of the “Fundamentalist-Modernist” controversy.[144] The divergence of theologies regarding this issue, as well as others to come, would lead in various ways to a greater diversification of the Chinese Church.



    Wave Six – The Rise of Indigenous Movements

    The True Jesus Church, The Jesus Family, Little Flock and Local Church


    It was only a matter of time, and it was in fact the missionaries’ ultimate goal, before Christianity’s roots would mature and sprout new growth: growth native to the Chinese people. After 1927 and before 1949, when the Communists were purged from China and the Chinese Communists Party (CCP) driven underground by the authority of the Nationalists, the government adopted a much less radical attitude towards foreigners and Christianity than would be the case upon their coming ascension to power.[145] With the CCP out of the way and out of the field of vision, conditions for the operation of the missionaries were much less onerous. Most of the foreign missionaries who had fled as the Nationalist party turned on the Communist, effectively ousting them, fled the country in 1926-1927 in the wake of the conflict, unsure of what the final outcome might mean. Though many returned in 1928 -1929, only about 600,000 of the previous 800,000 did so. “They did have to abide by the new Guomindang (of Nationalist) government requirement that the chief officer of every Christian school must be Chinese, that religious instruction be optional for students, and that there be Chinese patriotic political instruction under the banner of Sun Yat-sen’s “three people’s principles. But missionaries still had extraterritorial privileges, and many government officials (including Sun Yat-sen himself who was baptized a Protestant Christian in 1930) were Christians, which facilitated the work of both missionaries and Chinese.”[146]

    In the mid 1930’s, foreign and Chinese Christians were arrayed along a wide spectrum of varying types of missions, churches, Christian organizations and movements. On one end of the spectrum were the Church of Christ in China (CCC) and the National Christian Council (NCC) where nationalism and social conscience served as core motivators; further along the spectrum were the more distinctly conservative elements of mission groups and churches. This included the Chinese Inland Mission (CIM) of Hudson Taylor as well as other groups including Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, the Church of the Nazarene and the Assemblies of God. And finally, there were many “one person” faith missions scattered among the others, all of these groups stressing more the conversion and regeneration of the individual than that of society at large.[147] Finally, along the opposite end of the gambit from that of the CCC and NCC, were scores of new churches, “wholly independent and without any foreign leadership whatsoever, although each of the founders of these movements was influenced by foreign Christians at times early in its development.”[148] These Churches are not only interesting to examine, they have also become an important subject of discussion among scholars investigating the Sino-Christian field of studies.[149] Following, I will look at three of these: The True Jesus Church, The Jesus Family and the Little Flock and Local Church.


    The True Jesus Church[150]

                The True Jesus Church had its beginnings when, in 1916, founder Wei Enbo in Zhengding, Hebei Province, had hands laid on him by a Pentecostal preacher in order to heal his tuberculosis. Healed, as he thought, Wei became an impassioned Pentecostal with claims that he had received the Holy Spirit and the gift of Tongues. Soon thereafter he was “led by the Spirit” to a river outside Beijing where he heard the voice of God and was especially chosen and empowered to “kill the demons” (which he forthright did, right there at the river, chasing and destroying the demons in some otherworldly confrontation) and “correct” the Church, meaning all Christian churches.[151] Embarking on a 39-day fast, during which he encountered Jesus and the twelve Apostles and received his new name, Paul, Wei emerged ready to do God’s bidding. Soon he and his followers were visiting mission churches in and around Beijing, denouncing Western Christianity, and calling parishioners out of those churches.

                The True Jesus Church (TJC) “doctrines and practices are a unique eclectic combination of sabbatarianism…Pentecostalism…and a kind of Jesus only Unitarianism… all of this packaged in a radical egalitarianism.”[152] Additionally, Church workers were not to receive pay; worship services were to have no time constraint limits and all members must be given free rein to speak, pray and otherwise participate in the services.

                Unfortunately for Wie, he was not cured of his Tuberculosis, and so died of its complications in October 1919. His Church, though, continued to grow and even flourish. By the time of the Sino-Japanese war, the TJC was likely the second largest Protestant Church in China – second only to the Christian Church of China (CCC). It is still thriving today.


    The Jesus Family[153]

                “The Jesus family was a product of the North China Plain in Shandong Province and its alternating cycle of flood and drought.”[154]  This was a land of peasantry, a people who were constantly besieged by both the ravages of their environment as well as the lawlessness of the tens of thousands of bandits and soldiers who roamed and frequented their lands. “A partial remedy in the eyes of many was the formation of mutual-aid societies for extending credit to farmers, marketing crops or local products, and generally filling in the gaps or weaknesses in the community’s solidarity. It was in this milieu that the Jesus Family was formed.” It was a “sectarian mutual-aid community independent of mission Christianity and bound together by Pentecostalism and an ascetic pursuit of end-time Salvationism.”[155]

    The founder of the Jesus Family (JF), Jing Dianying (1890-1957), was himself not a peasant but was from a well-educated, fairly wealthy family. Bringing together a mix of experiences and teachings from Methodism, Confucian ethics, Daoist mysticism and Millenarianism, in 1921 he started a Christian silk-making cooperative, from whence would come The True Jesus Family, the name this group would soon adopt, in 1927. All who joined the JF were to give up and share all their possessions with the community, partake in productive work, and engage several times daily in periods of prayer and worship. Individual ecstatic experiences were not unusual and in fact were desired and prized among the participants. Soon more groups similar to this one sprouted up; each with a “family head” leader who exercised the same extensive control over its members as did Dianying. Though the JF had nowhere near the number of adherents as did the TJC, its egalitarian culture was attractive to many, and provided a life of simple subsistence, along with an intense religious experience for its members.


    Watchman Nee

                Born in 1903, Ni Shu-Tsu was the son of a customs official and the grandson of a “gifted Anglican preacher.”[156] While attending the Anglican Trinity College in Fuzhou, Nee was converted during a revival meeting at just seventeen years old. Only five years later, in 1925, he would change his name to Ni To-sheng, or Bell-ringer, translated into English as Watchman Nee, and found his first Church in Sitiawan.[157] The following year, he opened his second Church and in 1928 he built a three-thousand-seat assembly hall in the center of Shanghai. While there in Shanghai, Nee gave himself to extensive reading of the mystic, Jessie Penn-Lewis, and subsequently produced the lengthiest book he ever authored, the three-volume, The Spiritual Man.

    Watchman Nee, founder of 200 churches

    Watchman Nee, founder of 200 churches

    Just as most other independent Christian leaders were learning about and adopting Pentecostalism, Nee investigated it as well, “but chose a slightly different path to spiritual transcendence.”[158] Nee’s theology centered on “the mystery of the cross” or “the truth of the cross” - that is, “the realization for the Christian that, ‘I am dead with Christ,’ enabling the believer to live in victory over the world’s evils.”[159] Additionally, Nee enumerated an elaborate theology of Millenarian flavor, of an end-time cataclysm. Nee’s congregants were mostly of middle- and upper-class strata, and more urban than rural. He strongly rejected denominationalism and was adamant that he and his followers adopt no sectarian name. He refused to allow his followers to call themselves by any particular name. His emphasis on the “local Church” or ‘one Church in each city” lead to his groups being referred to as the Little Flock or the Local Church. By 1933, Nee claimed to have more than one hundred Churches spread all across China.

    When the communists rose to power, Nee felt that the Little Flock was safe in that it was an entirely Chinese entity and had never had any foreign missionary element. Though that was true, it did not protect Nee from the concerns of the Communists, who, to a great degree, were uneasy, among other things, primarily about his visibility and popularity. In April 1952, after being arrested and charged with spying, he was incarcerated in a re-education camp only to, later, in 1956, be further charged with more serious crimes.  Ultimately, Nee was tortured and finally died in prison, his Little Flock driven underground after 1949. Stark asks, “But even though driven underground, the Little Flock Movement survived and grew. How? They kept a very low profile and organized cell groups and home meetings at the grassroots level, which later formed the backbone of the Chinese House Church Movements and sowed the seeds of religious revival.”[160]


    A Brief Chronology

    Before we move into the next step of our coverage of the history of Christianity in China, specifically the precipitous rise of Nationalism, a brief review of secular Chinese history may help the reader to gather context for a more coherent grasp of the events that follow. It may help the reader to occasionally reference this list as he reads on through the remainder of this paper. Here is a basic bullet list review:[161]

    ·      1912 - Demise of the Qing, the last of the Imperial dynasties.

    ·      1912 - Republic of China (ROC), a Nationalist party comes to power in Nanjing, ruling until 1949. Nationalists. In 1949 the ROC took control of Taiwan, which is now the modern-day ROC.

    ·      1921 – Founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as both a political party and a revolutionary movement in Shanghai, China.

    ·      1924 – the CCP joins with the Nationalist Party.

    ·      1927 – Nationalist party (ROC) turns violently against the CCP, which is driven underground.

    ·      1949 – CCP establishes the People’s Republic of China (PRC) formed after a 23-year civil war fought against the ROC (1927-1949). This communist government enacted sweeping changes in the socio-political order. A strong sense of independence and nationalism was fostered. Ties were established between state and Church in order for existing churches to remain active.

    ·      1954 – Organized in 1951 but granted official government sanction in 1954, The Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) announced to help ensure national loyalty and to help make the Church distinctly Chinese. Self-governance, self-support and self-propagation were the goals.

    ·      1966 - 1976 - The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution occurred. This was a socio-political movement enacted by Chairman Mao of the Communist party, aimed at purging remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society and re-imposing Maoist thought as the dominant ideology. Between 1966 and 1968, the destruction of the Four Olds (Old Custom, Old Culture, Old Habits and Old Ideas) took place. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) (Red Army) targeted religious and educational institutions. Priests, nuns, monks, authors, professors and artists, as well as the educated elite in general, were persecuted by destruction of property, pubic humiliations, physical violence and even death.

    ·      1980 - After the chaos and destruction wrought by the Cultural Revolution, in 1980, the China Christian Council (CCC), an umbrella organization for all Chinese Protestant Churches, was established to help Chinese Churches by providing oversight as well as resources such as Bibles and other religious literature.

    ·      1982 - the Chinese Communist Party issued Document 19, a detailed description and explanation of government religious policy, essentially outlining that religious practices would be permitted, although subject to the oversight and regulation of the party-state.


    The May Fourth Movement

    Tiananmen Square and the rise of Nationalism

                Opposition to Christianity in China, at varying levels over the centuries, has been a staple part of the Christian existence there. Many traditional Chinese had protested Christianity as a foreign faith and one unsuited to Chinese culture. Then, beginning with the student protest movement that erupted in Beijing, on May 4, 1919, increasingly, the most modernized Chinese began to attack Christianity and its missionaries on multiple grounds.[162] Though the immediate concerns that prompted the protests -- that of the Chinese government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, in which Japan received territories back from Germany that were supposed to be returned to China -- did not directly involve the Christians or the missionaries, it did give occasion for Chinese nationalism to vent itself more forcefully than any could have expected. “There was little or no indication that the rippling effects of those precipitating events would soon constitute a mortal challenge for the Protestant movement in China.”[163] There was, however, a growing tide of resentment that, within a year, would crystallize and “take dead aim at Christianity and its institutions, its believers and especially the missionary movement.”[164]

    This movement, which began in Tiananmen Square with more than 3,000 students from Peking University shouting slogans of protest and defiance and even burning down a Chinese official’s residence, soon spread to students all across China. Additionally, these mass urban protests and demonstrations went well beyond just student involvement; urban merchants, white collar workers and factory workers revealed a simmering resentment through their involvement as well. Two issues have been recognized as the impetus for the intense opposition to, and subsequent persecution of Christianity at this time, 1) China’s intellectuals perceived Christianity as crass superstition “with outlandish beliefs in a virgin birth, raising of the dead”, etc. and 2) the charge against the West and its missionaries of cultural imperialism or cultural aggression.[165]


    The People’s Republic of China – A Communist Regime

                “Early leaders in China’s Communist Party, including Mao Zedong, acknowledged the May Fourth Movement as leading directly to the founding of the party in 1921. As Marxists, the Communist leaders regarded all religion as an opium of the people, and that went double for Christianity since it was a foreign intruder.”[166] Before the Chinese Communist Party was to overcome the Nationalist party in the Chinese Civil War and declare itself victor, and China the new People’s Republic of China, the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 diverted the attention, focus and resources of both factions.[167] Together they turned their attention towards defeating their foreign aggressor.

    During this time, as Japanese forces overran segments of China, the missionaries in their path, in the areas of Japanese occupation, suffered great loss. Missionary stations were destroyed, forcing many missionaries to go home. Additionally, once Pearl Harbor was bombed and America entered the war, all American and British missionaries were deemed foreign enemies and were thus placed, more than a thousand of them, into prison camps. It was in one such camp that the famous Olympian runner-come-missionary, Eric Liddell, died.[168] Once World War II ended, the Civil War in China recommenced. Ultimately, in 1949 the Chinese Communist Party won victory over the Nationalists and China was declared the People’s Republic of China – and was now under a communist regime.

    Initially the communist regime seemed not to hinder the exit from the country of those who chose to do so, as many hastily did in light of the new state of affairs. However, in part because of the entry of China into the Korean War in 1950, foreign missionaries began to be arrested under the suspicion of espionage. Incidents arose in which some missionary families were given long prison sentences and others were even killed. The Catholics, because they acknowledged allegiance to the Pope, aroused the greatest suspicion and therefore the most fervent hostility. Even before they took over control of China, in areas where they had previously exercised dominion, the communists had killed ninety-six Catholic missionaries between August 1945 and April 1948.[169] Additionally, Catholic Church properties were seized and most of their churches were forcibly closed. “By 1951, most of the remaining missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, were placed under house arrest, and by the end of 1953, all of them had been expelled.[170] Though this was a lamentable turn of events in the history of Chinese Christianity, much in the same way that the persecution suffered by the First Century Church spurred its growth (not to put it too blithely) so too these persecutions may have been just what the China Church needed at this time as well. As Stark says, “In terms of numbers, the story of Christianity in China really begins after the last missionaries left in 1953. Now, sixty years later, despite a period of intense government persecution and repression, millions of Chinese have been converted.”[171]



    Creation of The TSPM and CCC

    Persecution and Re-Emergence of (Unregistered) Churches


    1951 - The Three-Self Patriotic Movement

    For several years after coming to power in 1949, the communist party was somewhat tolerant of Christianity as long as it remained subservient to the regime and steadfastly supported its aims and principles. In spite of the fact that foreign missionaries were deported and/or imprisoned, the Protestant Churches were ostensibly ignored. Concurrent to the events of this time and in order to abate the hostility of the state towards the Church, Wu Yao-tsung, [172] a Protestant Christian leader born in Guangzhou, China, along with some other Christian leaders, formed the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in 1951.[173] (Colloquially it is known as the Three-Self Church.) It was these leaders’ publication of the Christian Manifesto, signed by 400,000 adherents, that launched the TSPM, which later, in 1954, was formally sanctioned by the Chinese government. Wu, a Congregationalist, baptized in 1918, spent some time working for the YMCA and later attended Union Theological Seminary in the United States, where he obtained a Master’s Degree in Philosophy. A proponent of the social gospel, Wu gained the reputation of a liberal-modernist among the more fundamental and conservative Christians.[174] By definition, the TSPM is not a denomination and knows no denominational distinctions within its framework. Though its statement of faith is quite orthodox in nature, its detractors charge that the TSPM serves as an instrument for the secular Chinese government.[175]

                Its “three selves” are: self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. These three principals were meant to provide assurance to the government that it would be entirely free of, and independent from, any and all foreign influence, and that it would function in full support of the communist regime and its governmental regulations.[176] The TSPM, initiated in 1951 just as the withdrawal and deportation of Western missionaries had begun, was chartered in hopes that this development would lead to a non-contentious, if not amicable relationship, between Chinese Christianity and the state powers.

    Obviously, this arrangement, though conceptually possible for the Protestants, by virtue of the Catholic Churches’ hierarchical structure and its professed allegiance to the Pope, could not feasibly come under such an arrangement. Some Catholics attempted to mirror this concordat with a corresponding Catholic organization (Church) called the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). In many respects, this attempt failed miserably. For one, the Catholic Church of Rome was, theologically, outright opposed to this arrangement; as well as were many of the Catholic Clergy in China. Essentially what resulted in the Catholic Church, and still exists today in China, is the persistence of not one but two Catholic Churches: one allegiant to the Vatican that has consequently gone underground in China, and the other, this separate-but-part-of the Catholic Church, called the CPCA. In regard to the coming persecution, however, this distinction would grant no additional protection or safety in the years to come, as both bodies would be heavily persecuted.[177]

                As already noted, the TSPM turned out to be an unacceptable option for many (probably most) Chinese Protestant leaders. Their contentions were numerous but the most disagreeable of them were: 1) the requirement to register each new congregation with the government and thereby facilitate close supervision and regulation by the state, even including regularly submitting to the state, an updated membership roster. 2) Imposed restrictions by the government on the content of the messages preached in these churches. Restrictions were imposed on preaching from the book of Revelation and on topics concerning the Second Coming of Christ. 3) These churches were barred from proselytizing minors; hence there would be no Sunday Schools among these churches.[178] Because of these and other objections most Chinese Christian leaders condemned the TSPM agreement, and, along with the Chinese Christians at large, refused to join the TSPM. As it would turn out, the TSPM agreement afforded only a debatable measure of protection to the Protestant Churches who came under its auspices until 1966. “Then all hell broke loose.”[179]


    1966-76 - The Cultural Revolution

    “The only way to explain the period of the Cultural Revolution in China in the decade between 1966 and 1976 is to say that the society went mad. It might seem impossible for a billion people to go mad, simultaneously, but similar episodes have happened elsewhere: Germany under the Nazi’s, Cambodia under Pol Pot, Iran under the ayatollahs, [and] the United States during the McCarthy era…”[180]


                In May of 1966, Mao Zedong, after the catastrophic failure of his economic program, the Great Leap Forward,[181]decided to unleash a campaign that would, by overt violence, forcibly impose the Communist ideology on China and its people. His express intention was to erase and wipe away all traces of the “Four Olds.” These were identified as old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas. According to Mao, these “had poisoned the minds of the people for thousands of years.”[182] Those called on to prosecute the order were millions of young people, especially college students, who organized themselves as the Red Guards (known formally as the People’s Liberation Army), “and with Mao’s blessing, the Red Guards ran wild.”[183]

                As these revolutionaries were unleashed upon the population, their attention turned not just towards wiping out the Four Olds, but eradicating anyone and anything that seemed “different.” Traditional Chinese values extolled being like others, being a part of the group or clan. Individualism or being different was harmful to the social order and was not tolerated.

    If one had foreign books, knew a foreign language, or had been abroad, that was enough to prove the person was not totally Chinese – thus justifying an attack by the red Guards. If one was a landowner, one automatically exploited the lower classes and that was reason to attack the person. If one were a government official, or one’s father or grandfather had been one, that too was a good enough excuse to be denounced and attacked. If a member of one’s family was a Christian, or worse yet a Christian clergy, that was reason to attack them.[184]

    A poster from the  Cultural Revolution , featuring an image of  Chairman Mao , and published by the government of the  People's Republic of China .

    A poster from the Cultural Revolution, featuring an image of Chairman Mao, and published by the government of the People's Republic of China.


                During this reign of terror, buildings were torn down, temples destroyed and traditional Chinese art was ravaged – even by breaking into homes to do so. Books, manuscripts and furniture were burned. Millions of people were persecuted and sent to “re-education” camps to be forced into slave labor. [185] Nearly two million inhabitants were murdered. Christians in particular though, it is believed, were not especially singled out, but were nonetheless easy targets. Because they followed what most Chinese considered to be a foreign religion and many spoke a foreign language or had been educated in foreign (mission) schools, they stood out quite noticeably. Most of the churches were burned down and the rest were converted for secular use. Regardless, all churches were closed and the public practice of any religion was forbidden in those years.[186] The Cultural Revolution raged for a devastatingly long decade until, finally, in 1967, upon the death of Mao Zedong, the Red Guards were dismissed.[187] “The decade of terror was over and the new party leaders relaxed their opposition to religion.”[188]

                In retrospect, Bays notes that “As cadres of student extremists, known as the Red Guards, swarmed across China, destroying all aspects of the “Four Olds” and persecuting millions, Christianity was forced into hiding, but not into hibernation.”[189] Even after the siege was lifted the majority of Christian groups were still unwilling to fully return “above ground” and register as part of the TSPM “and they still have not done so today.”[190] The decade of violent repression unleashed on them had not destroyed them; on the contrary, even while underground they continued to attract new converts and their numbers grew. Additionally, and quite ironically, as Bays says, this radical persecution of Christians may have been the single most beneficial event in the history of Chinese Christianity. By expelling the Western Missionaries, Mao and his regime “completed the transformation of Protestantism in China into an entirely Chinese movement.”[191]

                What really happened among the organic Catholic and Protestant Christian communities of those dark ten years is really a black hole in history. The details are quite scarce. There are almost no documentary sources, photographs or statistics to consult. We are left with not much more than the anecdotal stories of individual survivors of the period.[192] What we do know is that Protestants, more so than Catholics, emerged from the other side of the Cultural Revolution in a “dynamic mode, spreading rapidly and naturally.” Catholics were not so vigorous since as part of a worldwide organization (despite the CPA’s claim to the contrary that they were independent of Rome) they could not be as adaptable and creative as could the Protestants. Bays surmises “it was probably in the late 1970’s that the Protestants [even though the Catholics had at least a two- century head start] came to outnumber Catholics for the first time.”[193]


    1980 - The China Christian Council

                In the wake of the Cultural Revolution, a thaw began to set in as the Chinese leaders began to relent. China’s new leader, Den Xiaoping, admitted to the people that the revolution’s leaders, recognizing mistakes, would embark on a new course, one that would involve less restrictions on religion (and freedoms in general) and one that would focus the country on economic growth. The government intended to interfere less in people’s lives, including in their cultural and social practices, as well as religion. It was believed that these reforms would be part of the changes necessary to help stimulate an economic upturn.[194] From this point on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) expressed very little concern over the specific doctrines and theologies of the Christians – just that they respect the hegemony of the state and not work in any way to undermine or challenge it.[195]

    As part of the post-Mao reforms, the government re-established the old control systems of the 1950’s. Although more freedoms were being granted in the religious sphere, the state had no intentions of not continuing to monitor and control, albeit in a more efficacious way, the activities of its populace. The resumption of these mechanisms included the reviving of the TSPM, the CPA and the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB), all of which would now operate under the direction of China’s new United Front Work Department (UFWD).[196] Additionally, in an effort to help meet the various administrative needs of the Protestant churches, a new entity was created, also under the umbrella of the UFWD, the China Christian Council (CCC). Founded in 1980, the CCC is an umbrella organization for all Protestant churches in China. “The CCC serves to unite and provide services for churches in China by formulating Church Order, encouraging theological education through seminaries and Bible schools, such as Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, publishing Bibles and other Christian materials, and coordinating training programs for churches.”[197] The China Christian Council (CCC) and the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China (TSPM) together are often called the Lianghui (two organizations).[198]

    Following soon after the creation of the CCC, another milestone was reached, significantly affecting the state of religious affairs in China. Document 19[199], a CCP directive, was released. It repudiated “as a leftist mistake” the excesses against religion in the Cultural Revolution. “The document called for churches to be rebuilt, clergy to be educated, and believers to be protected. It did not take long for officials in high positions to declare open sympathy for religion, and by 1986 the thaw had revealed a vigorous spate of official endorsements, including subsidies for Church reconstruction projects.”[200] Caution is warranted still, for imbued throughout the document is the clear avowal of China’s intent to maintain and strengthen its communist core. The document has been seen as “Xi Jinping’s recognition of the 'sacrosanct' nature of Communist Party rule over China.”[201]



    The Church in China Today and its Future

    Repression, Persecution and Control

                The picture of continuing Christian life in China and what the future will hold is an unsettled one. In regard to the Catholic Church, because the Chinese government still insists on inserting itself into the Churches’ relationship with the West, ever vigilant for possible subversive ideologies and practices, the Church remains somewhat fettered, restrained from the expression of its faith and therefore also from the growth in its numbers that otherwise might be possible were it fully unshackled. For the Catholics, the choice is twofold: join the CCPA, a registered Church, which remains under the watchful eye of the state, and thereby forego loyalty to the Vatican, or, join the underground Catholic Church, remaining unified with the Catholic Church of the West but necessarily placing itself in greater danger before the state.

                Protestants also face a similar decision: join the TSPM, the registered Protestant Church, or go underground and worship with an illicit, unregistered Church. With the Protestants, though, the threat of interference and molestation, while ever-present, is less of a danger than for the Catholics, though still not one to be ignored. In regard to the Protestant Churches of today, Bays says, “Although the government seems to ignore these groups, they remain in violation of the law and from time to time local officials do crack down. In 2008, for example, twenty-one pastors of house churches in Shandong Province were arrested and sentenced to labor camps.”[202] Then, speaking of the Catholic churches, he goes on to say, “Probably because of the long history of conflict between the two churches [the CCPA and the Vatican], the government continues to be more hostile toward underground Catholics than toward underground Protestants.”[203] [Additionally] underground Catholics must “assume that their ranks have been infiltrated by members of the secret police or informers employed by them.” “Nevertheless, there are signs of rapprochement between the two Catholicisms, [and] despite everything, the Vatican has wisely never declared the CCPA a heresy.”[204]

                So, the ever-present threat and occasional implementation of persecution persists. Yet historically, not that, nor even intense, sustained persecution, has been able to eradicate the Church. In fact, as we have already discovered, it may have even served to strengthen it. In any case, persecutions have undoubtedly functioned to help transition, by necessity of the loss of foreign leadership, the growing Church towards a needed indigenous leadership. As a result, the Chinese Church continues to grow.


    An Optimistic Future for Christianity in China?

    Reporting on recent developments in Chinese Christianity, David Aikman, a former Time magazine Beijing bureau chief[205], offers his opinion that “China is in the process of becoming Christianized -- largely from within.”[206] He further asserts that within a few decades Christians will likely compose 20 to 30 percent of the Chinese population. Aikman also speculates that a “Christianized China might also tip the balance in the Middle East in favor of Christianity, resulting in a realignment of world order. In the post-September-11th world, Aikman conjectures that China’s Christian worldview would also predispose it to join the West in combatting terrorism.”[207]

    Bays also offers some telling statistics. He says that although only about 5% of Chinese were Christians in 2007 (60 million members), that number has undoubtedly, significantly increased today. Even still that is a huge number of Christians in China. In South Korea the number is 36%, Hong Kong, 22%, Singapore 18%, Taiwan 7% and Japan 3%. By any standard, Bays says the recent growth of Christianity in China has been meteoric. Even as a persecuted Church it grew rapidly, and by 2007 there were as many Christians in China as members of the Communist party, and by 2014 the Christians have come to far outnumber them.[208] Finally, Bays offers an estimation based on past and current growth trends (measuring the growth rate since 1980 at 7% per year during a 27-year period), that if these trends were to continue over the next fifteen years, by 2030 there would be 294.6 million Chinese Christians – more than any other nation in the world.

    Unregistered Chinese church in Beijing; April 2017

    Unregistered Chinese church in Beijing; April 2017

    A Precarious Balance

                The Christian faith is indeed growing in China, and the prospect of a future world in which more Christians reside in China than anywhere else is a real one. But China is still a communist country ruled by Marxist and socialist ideals at its core. Christianity has made remarkable headway but only under the watchful eye and vicarious control of the state powers under which, for now, it must remain.

    Following a century of violent anti-religious campaigns, China is now filled with temples, churches and mosques – as well as cults and sects, all of which the state continues to strive to contain and control. As opposed to the discarded, Maoist, heavy-handed approach of its previous administrations, since the assumption of Deng Ziaoping to the role of Paramount Leader of China, “in the field of religion and faith…the government has tried harder to co-opt groups than to crush them.”[209] In this way the government has sought to loosely harness the practice of religion towards its own economic ends.

    According to Johnson, author of The Souls of China, The Return of Religion After Mao, “When Mao died and moderates took over in the late 1970s, they tried to rebuild credibility among the population by loosening control. Their goal was to push economic development and let people do as they pleased as long as they did not challenge party rule.”[210] In a period of great optimism – the reform era (as Johnson terms it) – continued in fits and starts such that observers began to hope, perhaps for too much: that this governmental relaxation might continue indefinitely. Commentators and analysts dared to anticipate the emergence of an ever-freer society in China, and perhaps it is still not too late for such aspirations. “In the wake of the Cold War it seemed societies were moving inexorably toward freedom and democracy…[with] economic reforms and technology result[ing] in an opening of society. Indeed during much of this period society was increasingly free.”[211] It appeared that governmental leaders, learning from the collapse of the former Soviet Union, concluded that reforms and openness, greater freedom, not more suppression, could actually serve to “strengthen control by creating more prosperity and thus dampening opposition.”[212]

                “But then the government has changed course. Perhaps because leaders felt that further liberalizations would challenge their rule, policy changed. Moderate critics have been locked up, the Internet brought to heel, and social movements told to obey the government or face suppression. A period of stasis has taken hold.”[213] A short excerpt from Wikipedia, on an entry regarding Xi Jinping, sectioned under a heading titled “Censorship,” serves to depict well this tightening of control, particularly under this head, China’s current preeminent leader, the Paramount Leader of China:


    Xi's administration has also overseen more Internet restrictions imposed in China, and is described as being "stricter across the board" on speech than previous administrations. Xi's term has resulted in a further suppression of dissent from civil society. Xi's term has seen the arrest and imprisonment of activists such as Xu Zhiyong, as well as numerous others who identified with the New Citizens' Movement. Prominent legal activist Pu Zhiqiang of the Weiquan movement was also arrested and detained. The situation for users of Weibo has been described as a change from fearing that individual posts would be deleted, or at worst one's account, to fear of arrest. A law enacted in September 2013 authorized a three-year prison term for bloggers who shared more than 500 times any content considered "defamatory". A group of influential bloggers were summoned by the State Internet Information Department to a seminar instructing them to avoid writing about politics, the Communist Party, or making statements contradicting official narratives. Many bloggers stopped writing about controversial topics, and Weibo went into decline, with much of its readership shifting to WeChat users speaking to very limited social circles.[214]


    So it would appear that an unfettered religious climate is not yet on China’s horizon. Looking forward, Johnson sees a future in which China’s traditional religions (as opposed to those of Western origin), Daoism, Buddhism and folk religion, will be granted more relative religious space, seeing them as easier to manage. “Like the dynasties of the past, [China] will continue to push acceptable forms of faith as a way to strengthen its position as the arbiter of the nation’s moral and spiritual values.”[215] However, this growing state support, albeit contrived to guide and control the country’s moral life for its own purposes, now wrestles with a clash of trends. One trend finds the state favoring its burgeoning religious growth, as this affords it greater contact with peoples and nations overseas, thus enhancing its global influence and power. Juxtaposed, however, is its antagonistic bias towards religious suppression, aimed at reigning in and managing all movements, religious or otherwise. Therefore, China must work hard to strike a delicate balance in which it can steer religion without alienating its followers.[216]

    Alone among China’s major religions, Protestant Christianity is growing quickly among the Chinese majority, and also has extensive foreign ties. This has led the government to try sporadic efforts at control. A key question is whether the government will allow it to continue to grow or if—in its hubris and newfound wealth—it will look to achieve complete control.[217]


                Johnson, though he doubts China will ever fully disencumber its religions, evidenced by its recent campaign from 2014 to 2016 to remove crosses from the tops of unregistered churches in Zhejang Province, still expects it to show a good measure of temperance.[218] Though “we can expect more feints and thrusts from the government and growing debate among officials about how to handle religion in the new era”, China has learned that to suppress with force the inclination of its people towards religious expression – the Cultural Revolution, for example – and other such oppressive actions, may actually undermine their goal and encourage real faith.[219]

    The question that now remains is how long the devout and the party-state can maintain this precarious balance. The party has granted religions that play by the rules a considerable amount of leeway, but will that be enough to satisfy those in search of a fulfilling spiritual life? When hundreds of millions of people seek fulfillment in religion after failing to find it in economic growth and the material affluence it brings -- it could be that no number of documents will be enough to keep them under the party’s thumb.

    If the population of believers in China continues to grow, will the ruling party remain content with the rules of engagement as set out in Document 19, or will it want to take a greater role in directing the interior lives of its citizens? In fact, will the day come when it will hardly have a say at all? No matter what its designs, great or small, will it have the ability to accomplish them? “The challenge to the state power comes from something subtler that it is helping to create: a reawakened national conscience. Religion provides a morality and frames of reference for universal aspirations – like justice, fairness, and decency – that are higher than any government’s agenda.”[220] Johnson encapsulates well both the arduous journey that religion in China has travelled and the lessons wrought for all of us through its victories and defeats. All of us, as individuals and as corporate groups, be they religious or secular, will go through challenges and struggle. That is a given. The greater tragedy, though, would be to survive them but not to learn from them.

    Out of this is coming a China that is more than the hyper-mercantilist, fragile superpower that we know. It is a country engaging in a global conversation that affects all of us: how to restore solidarity and values to societies that have made economics the basis of most decisions. Perhaps because Chinese traditions were so savagely attacked over the past decades, and then replaced with such a naked form of capitalism, China might actually be at the forefront of this worldwide search for values. These are universal aspirations, and like people elsewhere in the world Chinese people feel that these hopes are supported by something more than a particular government or law. They are supported by heaven.[221]



    Concluding Thoughts

    May the Chinese people find that they do have a reason to hope and that there is a place in which those hopes can rest secure. It is not here, under heaven, where neither they nor we will find solace for our searching and for our deepest longings. It is in heaven. We are made for more. In fact, we are more – much more than we now know. This world is not our home. All of us reach for heaven though some of us may not know what our outstretched hands are really grasping for.

    Reaching for heaven, reaching for God -- that innate desire has been in us from the beginning, for we were made in His image. We were made by Him and for Him. As Blasé Pascal said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”[222]

    From within our God-shaped vacuum we reach for God, eyes clenched-closed in a sort of fearful anticipation, only to find, when we open our eyes, that he’s already reaching for us. Before we’ve been able to grab his hand he’s already caressed us in a deep embrace. Thankfully that deep embrace is not reserved for me or for you alone. Jesus is not for America, he’s not for the Middle East, and he's not for China – he's for everyone. Jesus is the answer to our deepest needs, no matter who we are or where or when we live. Whether we know it or not, He is what we were created for, He is what we are destined for. And one day, when our lives are over, when our nations have fallen and our world has breathed its last, we will stand before him; all of us, each of us. Is the fate of Christianity in China certain? No. Is Christianity’s fate anywhere certain? No. But is the message of Jesus what America needs, is it what China needs, is it what the world needs? Yes. Will that message work, does it apply, does it appease, does it satisfy, and does it fulfill? Yes, and more! All of us, one and all, are foreigners to the Christian message and the Christian heart…until we are converted. Then we find our real home, we find our souls’ ultimate rest.

    For now, we each must satisfy ourselves with a brief and limited sojourn into Christianity. Our personal Christian history will be fraught with pain, weakness, sin, shortfalls and failures. But on into eternity our “Christianity” will be perfect; it will be flawless, impeccable. And our Christian history, individually and corporately, will be otherworldly. It will be a history created and sustained by Almighty God, and it will have no end.

    Now that’s a history I don’t just want to read about -- I want to experience!







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    Stacey Bieler and Carol Lee Hamrin. "Christianity Fever." Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-98/Christianity-fever.html.


    Stark, Rodney, and Xiuhua Wang. A Star in the East the Rise of Christianity in China. West Conshohocken. Pa.: Templeton Press, 2015.


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    [1] Although connotations of “Chinese Christianity” vs. “”Christianity in China” appear divergent, I intend to use these two terms interchangeably and by using one or the other designation I do not intend to infer a different shade of meaning.  “Chinese Christianity” might lead one to think more of Christianity as understood and practiced by people of Chinese national origin no matter where they reside whereas “Christianity in China” intimates Christianity as understood and practiced by anyone within the borders of the nation of China. This author has no such designs of distinction.


    [2] Rodney Stark and Xiuhua Wang, A Star in the East the Rise of Christianity in China (West Conshohocken. Pa.: Templeton Press, 2015), 47. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 was one such period, among others, when regrettably, pointless, rampant, widespread destruction of valuable historical artifacts occurred.


    [3] Stark and Wang, A Star in the East,1. Stark further states, “When, in 1934, Edgar Snow [An American journalist known for his books and articles on Communism in China and the Chinese Communist revolution. "Edgar Snow," Wikipedia, May 02, 2017, accessed May 11, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Snow.] quipped that ‘in Russia, religion is the opium of the people, but in China, opium is the religion of the people,’ many academic and media ‘experts’ chuckled in agreement and dismissed the several million Chinese claimed as converts by Christian missionaries as nothing but ‘rice Christians’ – cynical souls who had frequented the missions for the benefits they provided.”


    [4] Daniel H. Bays, A New History of Christianity in China (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 1.


    [5] Ibid.


    [6] Ibid.

    [7] Kathleen L. Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China: A Brief History (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 9.


    [8] Ibid.

    [9] Ibid., 10. Lodwick goes on to say, regarding her sources, “This author has visited more than twenty mission archives in the United States and Great Britain. Those that have been used most extensively are at the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia; Yale Divinity School, New Haven; at the Widener Library, Harvard University, Cambridge; and at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies Archives, London.” Ibid., 13.


    [10] Ibid., 11.


    [11] The Northern Expedition was a Kuomintang (KMT) military campaign, led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, from 1926–28. Its main objective was to unify China under its own control by ending the rule of the Beiyang government as well as the local warlords. It led to the end of the Warlord Era, the reunification of China in 1928 and the establishment of the Nanjing government. "Northern Expedition," Wikipedia, May 16, 2017, section goes here, accessed May 21, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Expedition.


    [12] Ibid., 13.


    [13] Ibid.,10.


    [14] Annie Wu, "Christianity in China," China Highlights, September 5, 2015, accessed May 11, 2017, http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/Christianity.htm. However, it must be noted that this assumption dismisses the possibility that the Apostle Thomas came to China and introduced Christianity to the mainland during his lifetime, the first century AD.


    [15] Stark and Wang, A Star In The East, 3. Stark used two extensive surveys, the first was conducted by the Research Center for Contemporary China, Peking China in 2001 as part of the World Values Surveys. The data was gathered in face-to-face interviews of 1,000 persons between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five. The data is part of the public domain. The second survey, conducted by Horizon Lt., China’s largest and most respected polling firm was done in 2007. It too was conducted face-to-face and was comprised of a sample of 7,021 Chinese over the age of sixteen.


    [16] Ibid., 7. According to Stark, very important to these estimates is the factor of underreporting by those surveyed. Stark believes, and with good indication, that because most Chinese seem to define religion as belonging to an organized religious group as opposed to consisting of practices and beliefs that one adheres to – some Chinese end up admitting they believe in Jesus Christ and yet deny that they are Christians even though they may practice their faith apart from an organized group. Stark also points to multiple other factors that may skew these numbers towards a lower count than what may reflect reality: 1) the reticence of those surveyed to speak openly about their faith to strangers, as well as 2) the somewhat antireligious stance of the government towards Christianity, influencing those polled to conceal their faith. Ibid., 4-9.


    [17] Ibid., 7.

    [18] These six categories were borrowed generally from Wu, Christianity in China, accessed May 11, 2017.


    [19] The false starts were that of the Nestorians and that of the Mongol period. Bays does not include my “Wave 1” of Christian Infancy in his conclusion.

    [20] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 5.


    [21] Ibid.


    [22] Ibid., 5-6.

    [23] Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 1.


    [24] Nestorius, in 428, was patriarch of Constantinople, capital of the Roman Byzantine Empire. Nestorian and his adherents declared that in Jesus there were “two natures and two persons” and from this came the first real lasting schism in the history of Christianity. Ultimately “some in the Church, mostly those in Syria and Persia, insisted on a clear distinction between the divine and the human in Christ, and were eventually called Nestorians.” Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Volume 1 The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York, NY: HarperOne/HarperCollins, 2010), 298-9, 302.


    [25] Serene Fang, "A Brief History of Christianity in China," PBS, accessed May 11, 2017, http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/China_705/history/China.html. Also, it should be noted that the Nestorians were condemned as heretics by the Church due to their unorthodox positions regarding the Trinity, particularly Jesus.


    [26] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 7.

    [27] Ibid.,9.


    [28] Ibid.


    [29] Ibid,.10.


    [30] Marco Polo, in the last part of the 13th Century spent seventeen years in China. During this time he made observations attesting to the presence of the early Nestorian Christians. Wu, "Christianity in China," China Highlights, September 5, 2015, accessed May 11, 2017. Additionally, the ethnic heritage of the practitioners of Nestorianism is still not known with certainty. The Han Chinese, at this time in the eighth century, did not have permanent control of Central Asia and so rather than being comprised of indigenous peoples it may be that the Nestorians were “sojourners who came overland, in the case of the Jews who settled in Kaifeng, Henan, and by sea, in the case of the Muslims, who had a mosque at the southern city of Guangzhou, Guangdong.” Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China: A Brief History, 19.


    [31] Ibid.


    [32] Ibid.


    [33] "History of Christianity in China," Christians In China, accessed May 11, 2017, http://www.christiansinchina.com/history-of-Christianity-in-China/.


    [34] Fang, "A Brief History of Christianity in China."


    [35] Ibid.


    [36] Bayes, A New History of Christianity in China, 11.

    [37] Ibid.,12,14.


    [38] Ibid.,11.


    [39] Ibid.


    [40] Ibid.,12.


    [41] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York: Viking, 2010), 271.

    Here Dyophysite, as used by MacCulloch, can be used interchangeable with Nestorian, used by Bays.


    [42] MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 271.

    [43] Ibid.


    [44] Ibid.


    [45] Fang, "A Brief History of Christianity in China."


    [46] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 13.


    [47] Ibid., 14. Part of this explanation appears to be that “the elements of Christianity present seem to have been so closely tied to the foreign prescience that there was almost no influence on indigenous persons and institutions”… and “though the demise of the Yuan dynasty in 1368 did not necessarily have to entail an end to the faith in China, though it did create severe restrictions on missionaries… as the Mongols were their primary source of protection and funding,” there were additional factors at play. Back home the Black Death in 1348, internal friction and strife among the Franciscans as well as the Papacy’s abandonment of its original strategic goal of a Mongol alliance – all contributed to the decline in China missions of this period. Ibid., 14-5.


    [48] Because here we have the origins of a permanent Chinese Christian presence into which the next “wave” of Christianity, the Protestant missionaries, will be forced to contend, and from which will eventually rise the indigenous Chinese Church, we will detail these events a bit more closely than the previous sections. Again, however, this will be little more than a brief sketch of the events of this period.


    [49] Ibid., 18.


    [50] Ibid.,19.


    [51] Ibid.

    [52] Fang, "A Brief History of Christianity in China."


    [53] Ibid.


    [54] Bays., A New History of Christianity in China, 20.

    [55] Ibid., 21.


    [56] Ibid.


    [57] Ibid.


    [58] Lodwick, How Christianity Came To China, 25.

    [59] Ibid.


    [60] Ibid., 24.


    [61] MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 706.


    [62] Ibid., 705.


    [63] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 21.

    [64] Ibid., 21-22.


    [65] Ibid., 22.


    [66] Ibid.


    [67] Ibid., 21.


    [68] Ibid., 22.

    [69] Ibid, 23.


    [70] Ibid.


    [71] Ibid.,24.


    [72] Bays, 29, enumerates the specific issues encompassed by the rites controversy: “1) whether certain established Chinese terms, for example those that might be used to translate the name of God, the soul, and so forth, should be used or new ones coined… Ricci and the Jesuits had no problem in using thee terms. 2) The essentially civic or essentially religious nature of ceremonies performed…in honor of Confucius and their own families ancestors…Should these acts be considered religious observances or civic duty. And should Chinese Christians be permitted or forbidden to participate? The Jesuits considered them civic functions and permitted them. 3) Could mass be said for the souls of Christians’ non-Christian ancestors? The Jesuits…basically said yes…”


    [73] McCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 707.


    [74] Bays, 29.


    [75] Ibid. Additionally Bays writes “In the 1960’s, ironically just after the Kangxi emperor’s 1962 toleration decree for all Christians, the Pope became increasingly involved, and both the critics’ attacks and the Jesuits’ defense became increasingly strident.”


    [76] MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 707.


    [77] Bays, A New History of Christianity, 29.


    [78] Ibid.

    [79] Ibid., 30.


    [80] Ibid.


    [81] Ibid.


    [82] MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 707.


    [83] Bays, A New History of Christianity, 31.

    [84] Ibid, 35.


    [85] Ibid, 36-7.

    [86] Ibid, 32.


    [87] Ibid, 35.


    [88] Ibid, 36. Also, Stark, 13, calls the Catholic missionary efforts “remarkably successful” in the early 1700’s, resulting in as many as 200,000 or more Chinese converts.


    [89] The Opium Wars were two armed conflicts in China in the mid-19th century between the forces of Western countries and of the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 to 1911/12. The first Opium War (1839–42) was fought between China and Britain. The second Opium War (1856–60), also known as the Arrow War or the Anglo-French War in China, was fought by Britain and France against China. In each case the foreign powers were victorious and gained commercial privileges and legal and territorial concessions in China. The conflicts marked the start of the era of unequal treaties and other inroads on Qing sovereignty that helped weaken and ultimately topple the dynasty in favor of republican China in the early 20th century. Kenneth Pletcher, "Opium Wars," Encyclopedia Britannica, March 09, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Opium-Wars.

    [90] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 37,41.


    [91] Ibid., 43. Morrison was representative of the wave of Protestant missionaries that were to come to China. He was of the working-class and had only a modest education. This makes his contribution all the more astounding.


    [92] Ibid., 43-4.


    [93] Ibid., 44.

    [94] Indeed, at this time open propagation of the Christian faith was still prohibited under Qing law. Ibid.


    [95] "Robert Morrison (missionary)," Wikipedia, May 19, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Morrison_(missionary).

    [96] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 46.


    [97] "Peter Parker (physician)," Wikipedia, April 12, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Parker_(physician).


    [98] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 46.


    [99] Ibid.

    [100] Although opium was declared illegal in China in 1727 for its profits there were always people willing to risk smuggling and selling it. Lodwick, 44, further states, “It is impossible to know when opium first reached China, but the fact that only Chinese smoked the drug, as opposed to Westerners who injected it in the form of morphine and Indians who ate it, the best guess is that it was introduced by traders in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, along with tobacco from the New World.”


    [101] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 57.


    [102] Ibid, 48.


    [103] Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 43.

    [104] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 48.


    [105] Ibid.


    [106] Ibid,49-50. As one of the major focuses of their writing tasks, it was during this time, 1842-1860 (before the second set of treaties enacted at the conclusion of the second Opium War), that the translation of the bible into English was renewed in earnest. Though Robert Morrison’s pioneer translation was monumental it was not scholarly. A translation project aimed at creating a version of the scriptures that would be easily accessible for the modestly educated but still acceptable to the better educated was begun in 1890. Through this effort the “Union Version” of the Bible was completed in 1919. This version, even today, is “the standard translation used by Christians in China and in overseas Chinese communities.” Ibid, 50.


    [107] Ibid., 49. The treaties allowed the missionaries to travel in the immediate suburbs of these cities, just a half day’s journey as they had to return the same day. Ibid.

    [108] MacCulloch, The First Three Thousand Years, 895-6.


    [109] Ibid, 896.


    [110] Interestingly, Lodwick, 34, states that Xiuquan was a Hakka (literally, guest), one of the five major ethnic groups living in China. The Hakka were the object of Chinese discrimination such that even in regards to the official examinations there were quotas set limiting the number of Hakka who could pass. It was at the examination grounds where Christians sometimes handed out Christians pamphlets hoping to converts scholars on their way home from the examinations. Xiuquan, having failed his civil examination four times, was indeed in great distress when after taking his exam for the fourth time was handed one of these Christian pamphlets.


    [111] MacCulloch, The First Three Thousand Years, 896.

    [112] Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 38.


    [113] Stark, 17. Not only was there the immense cost of lost lives but also “The Qing dynasty was so weakened by the rebellion that it never again was able to establish an effective hold over the country. Both the Chinese communists and the Chinese Nationalists trace their origin to the Taipings.” The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, "Taiping Rebellion," Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed May 20, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/event/Taiping-Rebellion.


    [114] MacCulloch, The First Three Thousand Years, 897.


    [115] Stark, A Star in the East,18. Lodwick, 38 sites a recent scholar, Cao Shuju, who puts the death toll at over 73 million. For perspective she reminds her reader, that the American Civil War, which occurred at about the same time, is estimated to have killed seven hundred fifty thousand people. This “pseudo-Christian uprising was the biggest rebellion in the history of the world that did not topple a government. One can also term it the largest misunderstanding of Christianity ever.”

    [116] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 56.


    [117] Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 38.


    [118] Stark, A Star in the East,18.


    [119] Ibid.


    [120] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 67.

    [121] Ibid. A long standing problem in the Catholic Church was twofold: The Chinese Catholic Church was often at odds with the Western Catholic Church to an extent that there was almost two entities. The Chinese Catholic Church, at times, appointed and ordained its own Priests, contrary to the designs of the Western Church back home. This apparent disregard for the authority of the papacy created significant friction between the two. Additionally, the Chinese Catholic Church had to operate much more underground than did the Protestant Church even during times of relative freedom due to their ties and allegiance to its “foreign interests” the Catholic Church hierarchical leadership structure of the West. Ibid.


    [122] Ibid, 68.


    [123] Ibid.

    [124] MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 898.


    [125] Tim Dowley, Introduction to the History of Christianity (Oxford: Lion, 2014), 574.


    [126] These bullet points were graciously borrowed via a commixture of information from the following: Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 68, MacCulloch, Christinaity : The First Three Thousand Years, 899 and Dowley, Introduction to the History of Christianity, 574.

    [127] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 68.

    [128] Ibid., 69.


    [129] Ibid.


    [130] Ibid.

    [131] Ibid., 84.


    [132] Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 40-1. The Boxers were practitioners of various martial art forms and from this style of training, along with their name, came the appellation, “The Boxers.” Interestingly the Boxers, early on embraced a supernatural belief that they were immune to the bullets of their enemies. They soon found that not to be true. Stark, A Star in the East, 22.


    [133] History.com Staff, "Boxer Rebellion," History.com, 2009, accessed May 20, 2017, http://www.history.com/topics/boxer-rebellion.


    [134] Bayer 84. The Tianjin Massacre was “one of the most important missionary incidents of the late Qing dynasty, involving attacks on French Catholic Priests and nuns… and armed foreign intervention. The riot only ended after a number of Catholic institutions and foreign buildings, including the Tientsin Cathedral and four British and American churches, were burned down. As well as the two French Consular officials, two Lazarist priests, and approximately 40 Chinese Christians were killed, as were three Russian traders assumed by the mob to be French. Ten nuns of the Daughters of Charity were raped and mutilated by the crowd before being killed. The final death toll of the riot was given at around 60.” "Tianjin Massacre," Wikipedia, April 30, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tianjin_Massacre.


    [135] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 85.

    [136] Details of the Boxer Uprising were gratefully gleaned for this paper from both Stark, A Star in the East, 22-3 and Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 85-6.


    [137] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 87.

    [138] Ibid. Of particular Historical importance is the traditional, widely held understanding that it was anti-Christian and xenophobic sentiments among the Chinese that instigated the events of the Boxer Uprising. Lodwick relates recent scholarship (and Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 85, corroborates the same) that implicates the mass flooding-drought cycles and subsequent migration of peoples onto marginal uplands (creating famine and other social stresses) that were prime factors in setting the stage for such civil unrest. Lodwick says, “The Boxers were not anti-Qing or anti-foreign, but they became both as the occasion demanded…most of the Westerners living in China were missionaries, and they became the victim of violence because they were easy targets…” Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 44.


    [139] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 95.


    [140] Ibid, 94.


    [141] Ibid., 94.

    [142] Ibid., 96-7.


    [143] Ibid, 106. Three previous National Christina Conferences such as this one had already taken place in 1877, 1890, and 1907.


    [144] Bays reports that in China, as elsewhere, “acrimonious disputes over biblical authority, higher criticism, evolution, and the like” broke out among many of the missionaries. Some visiting theologians from the US came home appalled, reporting great dismay at the prevalence of “modernist” views of the Bible that they encountered there. Ibid.

    [145] Ibid., 124.


    [146] Ibid., 124-5.

    [147] Ibid., 128.


    [148] Ibid., 129.


    [149] Ibid.


    [150] Ibid., 129-30. Bays, A New History of Christianity in China provided in full my assemblage of this section.

    [151] The reader will see in these beginnings, origins similar to that of the Taiping founder, Hong Xiuquan.


    [152] Ibid., 130.


    [153] Ibid., 130-2. Bays, A New History of Christianity in China provided in full my assemblage of this section.


    [154] Ibid., 130.

    [155] Ibid., 131.


    [156] Stark, A Star in the East, 58.

    [157] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 59.


    [158] Ibid., 133.


    [159] Ibid.

    [160] Stark, A Star in the East, 59-60.


    [161] These dates were variously gathered from Wikipedia.com, BritannicaOnline.com and Encyclopedia.com.

    [162] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 28.


    [163] Ibid., 107.


    [164] Ibid.


    [165] Hays, A New History of Christianity in China, 208.


    [166] Stark, A Star in the East, 29.


    [167] For a few years, from 1924 to 1927, the Nationalist party and the Communist party had joined together. However, in 1927 the Nationalist party turned on the Communist party and drove it underground. In 1937 the two parties joined forces for a united front to confront the invading Japanese. "Communist Party of China," Wikipedia, May 18, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Party_of_China.


    [168] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 125.


    [169] Stark, A Star in the East, 39.


    [170] Ibid.


    [171] Ibid., 41.

    [172] "Y. T. Wu," Wikipedia, April 30, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y._T._Wu.


    [173] "Three-Self Patriotic Movement," Wikipedia, May 16, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Self_Patriotic_Movement.


    [174] "Y. T. Wu," Wikipedia, April 30, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017.


    [175] Here, to acquaint the reader with the tenets of faith as espoused by the TSPM, I have included the following Statement of Faith: “The Chinese Church takes the contents of the entire Bible, the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed as the foundation of our faith, the main points of which are as follows: 1.Ours is a Triune God, everlasting and eternal. 2. God is Spirit. God is loving, just, holy, and trustworthy. God is almighty Father, the Lord who creates and sustains the cosmos and all that is in it, who keeps and cares for the whole world. - Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, born of the Holy Spirit, the Word made flesh, wholly God and wholly human. He came into the world to save humankind, to witness to God the Father, to preach the gospel; he was crucified, died, and was buried. He rose again and ascended into heaven. He will come again to judge the world. 3. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, who enables people to know their sinfulness and to repent, who bestows wisdom and ability and every grace, leading us to know God and to enter into the truth, enabling people to live holy lives, and to give beautiful witness to Christ. 4. The Church is the body of Christ and Christ is its Head. The Church is apostolic, one, holy, and catholic. The visible Church is called by God to be a fellowship of those who believe in Jesus Christ. The apostles established it as Jesus instructed them. The mission of the Church is to preach the gospel, to administer the Sacraments, to teach and nurture believers, to do good works, and to bear witness to the Lord. The Church is both universal and particular. The Chinese Church must build itself up in love and be one in Christ. 5. The Bible has been revealed by God and written down by human beings through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the highest authority in matters of faith and the standard of life for believers. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, people in different times have gained new light in the Bible. The Bible should be interpreted in accordance with the principle of rightly explaining the word of truth. It should not be interpreted arbitrarily or out of context. 6. Human beings are made in the image of God, but cannot become gods. God has given humanity dominion over all God's creation. Because of sin, human beings have diminished God's glory, yet through faith and the grace of Jesus Christ, human beings are redeemed and saved, and are granted resurrection and everlasting life. 7. Christ will come again. According to the teachings of the Bible, no one knows the day of his coming, and any method to determine when Christ will come again violates the teachings of the Bible. 8. A Christian's faith and works are one. Christians must live out Christ in the world, glorifying God and benefiting people. "Three-Self Patriotic Movement," Wikipedia, May 16, 2017.


    [176] Stark, A Star in the East, 44.


    [177] Ibid., 44-6.


    [178] Ibid., 46.


    [179] Stark 47.


    [180] Lodwick, How Christianity Came To China, 65.

    [181] The Great Leap Forward was to be an economic stimulus by which both agricultural and industrial production would be prodigiously increased from its current levels. The implementation of this plan would lead to the deaths of twenty to forty-three million people, most of them by starvation. His plan was an utter failure and the Great Leap Forward, in the end, essentially constituted genocide. "Mao and The Great Leap Forward," Rutgers–Newark Colleges of Arts & Sciences, accessed May 20, 2017, https://www.ncas.rutgers.edu/mao-and-great-leap-forward.

    [182] Stark, A Star in the East, 47.


    [183] Stark, 47. The Red Guard was formally known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).


    [184] Lodwick, How Christianity Came To China, 66. Lodwick goes on to argue that Christians were not targeted necessarily more than anyone else, specifically because of their adherence to their religion, but rather that because they were easily distinguished as foreigners by virtue of the various expression and evidences of their faith, they were, in fact, quite heavily persecuted.

    [185] Stark, A Star in the East, 47.


    [186] Lodwick, How Christianity Came To China, 66.


    [187] “Dismissing the Red Guards” is a bit of a misnomer as some of the most militant units required violent suppression by the regular army. Stark, A Star in the East, 48.


    [188] Ibid.


    [189] Ibid., 44.


    [190] Ibid., 48.

    [191] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 44.


    [192] Ibid., 185.


    [193] Ibid., 187.


    [194] Ibid., 187-8.


    [195] Ibid., 188.


    [196] Ibid. Let the reader recall these organizations as discussed earlier: TSPM (Three Self Patriotic Movement), the CPA (or CPCA: Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, i.e. the Catholic Church of China).


    [197] "China Christian Council," Wikipedia, May 05, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Christian_Council.

    [198] "China Christian Council," Wikipedia, May 05, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Christian_Council.


    [199] Taken from the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture, the following provides a précis of Document 19. “Document 19, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) directive from the Central Committee to its CCP and government cadres promulgated in 1982, is a comprehensive religious policy that was part of Deng Xiaoping’s ‘reform and opening’ (gaige kaifang). Document 19 resulted in the revival of many religious traditions in China through the gradual rehabilitation or release of many religious specialists of recognized religions (Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestant Christianity) from prisons, the return of seized property to recognized religious organizations, and the reopening of monasteries, convents and seminaries. Although it has been further refined and adjusted by succeeding CCP directives (such as Articles 144 and 145 from the PRC State Council, promulgated by Li Peng in 1994), it remains the most comprehensive official review of past CCP religious policy and the guiding strategy for contemporary CCP religious policy—the administrative cooptation of recognized religious organizations into various state structures, the role of religion in attaining CCP goals of modernization and the building of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, and the official ambivalence towards foreign religious organizations and leaders. "Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture," Google Books, accessed May 20, 2017, https://books.google.com/books/about/Encyclopedia_of_Contemporary_Chinese_Cul.html?id=U2cO7tjYIK0C.


    [200] Lamin Sanneh, "Prospects for Post-Western Christianity in Asia and Elsewhere," Brown Journal of World Affairs 12, no. 2 (2005): 122, accessed May 10, 2017, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=21199435&site=ehost-live.


    [201] Because of the importance of this document I have included the following short excerpt from Wikipedia, taken from the page on Xi Jinping, China’s current “Paramount Leader.” The "Document No. 9" is a confidential internal document widely circulated within the Communist Party of China in 2013 by the party's General Office. The document was first published in July 2012. The document warns of seven dangerous Western values: constitutional democracy, universal values of human rights, civil society, pro-market neo-liberalism, media independence, historical nihilism [criticisms of past errors], and questioning Reform and Opening. Coverage of these topics in educational materials is forbidden. The release of this internal document, which has introduced new topics that were previously not 'off-limits', was seen as Xi's recognition of the 'sacrosanct' nature of Communist Party rule over China. "Xi Jinping," Wikipedia, May 17, 2017, section goes here, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xi_Jinping.


    [202] Stark, A Star in the East, 70.


    [203] Ibid., 70-1.


    [204] Ibid.,71.


    [205] Aikman graduated from Oxford University’s Worcester College in 1965 and gained a PhD from the University of Washington in Russian and Chinese history in 1979. "David Aikman," Wikipedia, May 11, 2017, section goes here, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Aikman.

    [206] Sanneh, "Prospects for Post-Western Christianity in Asia and Elsewhere," 125.


    [207] Ibid., 126.


    [208] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 113.

    [209] Ian Johnson, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion after Mao&nb