Fire in China, Ashes in America


God's torch is passing to Asia, and he is performing many miracles in China.
—American missionary David Lin

Diane over a Crossroads is starting a series looking at the underground Chinese Church. I'll be quoting liberally from her blog, Chinese Girl with Her Biblebut as always, it pays great dividends to read her post.

Every Godblogger I know tries to tell it like it is, but inevitably the vast majority of us are English-speakers of American and British extraction. No matter what we might think of ourselves, most of us are not that much different in how we reflect a Western Church philosophy with roots in Reformation Europe. Acculturated as we are within Evangelicalism (mostly), we also take on the sheen of our wealthy American and U.K. culture. Especially for those of us in the United States, our models for how to live out the Christian walk are inextricably linked to American Manifest Destiny, the American Dream, Rugged Individualism, and a "What's in it for me?" attitude.

Yet not every Christian in the world thinks or acts like we do. I know it's hard to believe, but we are not the measure of all things Christian.

Yesterday, I posted that our Western roots and over-reliance on Greek thought have led us into a pit of division, where sides must be chosen, for some have even wondered which hemisphere of our brains is more godly. While we seem to be obsessed with drawing dividing lines wherever we can stick our straight-edge, the non-Western world shows us a Christianity far less at odds with itself—or with the Gospel.

Take the simple act of prayer. Ask most Americans about prayer and they'll say they wholeheartedly believe in it, even if they don't do all that much of it daily. The Chinese underground Church takes a different stance. Not only are the leaders of those churches praying several hours each day, but they have older saints who are devoting themselves to prayer all day and most of the night.

A couple years ago I posted a comment to TheOoze Web site stating that I did not believe that the Church in America would ever see any kind of revival unless people started praying a minimum of two hours a day. The response was that two hours of daily time dedicated to nothing but prayer was too much to ask. TheOoze is an Emerging Church site, so I was not surprised by that reaction from the mostly sub-35 crowd there. But what has been eye-opening to me is that Emerging Church foes in the Traditional Church largely have the same response: two hours solely devoted to prayer is unreasonable given most people's circumstances.

If one assumes that we continue to follow the societal structures we've created in our "every man for himself" society hellbent on fifty hour work weeks, two hour commutes, and family quality time, then maybe two hours is too much to ask. But persecuted Chinese Christians are pulling it off. They seem to be loaded with praying people, but where are our Western prayer warriors? If we wonder why Christianity in the U.S. is in the doldrums, I think we should look no further than the woeful prayer lives that most of us have, from the newest believer up to the most senior pastor. What kind of vital faith do we expect to see when we try to squeeze by on a handful of minutes tossed heaven's way while we rush around like headless chickens?

I don't hear American Christians talk about breakthroughs in the Spirit the way the Chinese do, either. We tend to timidly toss in the towel when confronted with a mountain-sized challenge—or else we resort to the following:

  • Traditional Church – Form a committee to examine the challenge. Form another one when the original disbands because of in-fighting.
  • Emerging Church – Walk a labyrinth to clear our heads so we can think deep, spiritual thoughts about the challenge while asking, "What would Thomas Merton do?"
  • Seeker-Sensitive Church – Commission a demographic study to examine what most people think of the challenge, then design new programming that makes talking about the challenge culturally relevant.
  • Charismatic Church – Bring in a band of traveling prophets to have them scry the meaning of the challenge in terms of battle plans for Joel's Last Days Army.

What do Chinese house churches do? They fast and pray for as long as it takes for God to resolve the challenge. As one Chinese Church leader says it:

When there is a real resistance, the teams do not try to push the Gospel. They just go on their knees and wait on the Lord to hear His voice for direction on what to do. They just keep silent and continue to fast and pray. This is a very practical part of their lives.

Is that how our churches today—no matter what kind they might be—do anything?

Our Western tendency to compartmentalize the Faith is strange to Asian believers. They have a far more holistic view of the Gospel and how it plays out in everyday life. From Diane's post:

Brother Denny (an American missionary interviewer): How do the Acts of the Apostles compare to the Chinese church? What does the Chinese church believe about the Book of Acts?

Brother Paul (Chinese): They would say, "We are there. It is our normal Christian life." They believe that Acts is a demonstration of the normal Christian life. It is a testimony of the resurrected Christ, and He is still the same today. They do not believe that miracles have passed away.

Brother Ren (Chinese): We have to understand that the Gospel that is preached in China, is a little bit different. The emphasis is not only intellectual and mental messages. It is fifty percent preaching, fifty percent showing the power of the Gospel. There is always an expectation and readiness for miracles. It is normal that anytime when the message of the Gospel is pronounced, there is going to be a demonstration of the power of God in that situation. People can see clearly that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is the Savior of the world. The church of China is not praying for miracles, but they are living in miracles. It is like [Brother] Paul said: it is the normal Christian life.

While we continually argue the theological points of our own little factions, the Chinese Church is living the whole Gospel, not just the parts they like. The result is that God is growing the Chinese Church exponentially, while we American Christians bicker about one topic or another as fewer people care to listen to what we have to say.

Here is a Church that has none of the material available to them that we have. They have no money, no political standing, no cleverly-devised programs, no conventions, and nowhere near the dogmatic factionalism that we have. But what they do have is a faith that moves mountains and may very well topple the atheistic Communist regime in their country of 1.3 billion souls.

And what of the persecuted Chinese Church's view of evangelism? Well, they believe that the Great Commission comes first. What is unusual to Westerners is how they go about it.

In many cases, Christians are sent out to towns that have no Christian witness and the first thing they ask is, "What is the greatest problem in this village?" When they hear what it is, they immediately begin fasting and praying that Jesus Christ would prove Himself greater than the problem. Diane quotes the Chinese Christians (from the quote above) saying that two young women went into a town and were told that a demon-possessed man had the townspeople under his thumb. They confronted the man in the name of Jesus, cast out his demons, and led him to Christ. Then that same man joined the two women as they spoke to the entire village about Jesus. All three hundred in that village repented and gave their lives to the Lord.

Does that model seem familiar? We saw it in Jesus' ministry and the ministry of the apostles in Acts. In fact, the Lord Himself advocated this type of ministry when He said:

And proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
—Matthew 10:7-22 ESV

Should we be surprised at the quote that opened this post? We out-thought the Lord here in America. We told His Spirit that we can do it all in our own cleverness or we told Him that He could not work that way anymore. Either way, we seem to have lost Him here in America. He took His fire to China.

I can't read Diane's post and not get excited. Unfortunately, I'm excited for China and not for America. We can't seem to see what we've done to ourselves because of our overt anti-supernaturalism and our reliance on our own human reasoning. Meanwhile, the Chinese Church is receiving the blessing of God while they live out the whole Gospel, or as they say, "The normal Christian life."

I don't know about you, but I want that same kind of "normal Christian life" here in America. What has happened to the Church here is criminal, but we brought it on ourselves. It will take the Holy Spirit of God to bring His torch back our way, but He'll only do that if we are ready.

Lord Jesus, make us all ready.

Tags: China, America, Revival, Holy Spirit, Evangelism, Church, Faith, Christianity, Jesus, God

16 thoughts on “Fire in China, Ashes in America

  1. Thanks, Dan. I can’t think of a better way to raise the bar in the blogosphere than to highlight some exciting things happening elsewhere, especially when they remind us powerfully that our faith is, first and foremost, a relationship with a powerful and holy God.

  2. JohnB52

    Wow – great post Dan!

    I remember hearing someone (Tozer I think) say that if you took the Holy Spirit out of the early church, nothing would have gotten done. But if you take the Holy Spirit out of the American church, we would still be able to do 90% of what we normally do. So much reliance on our cleverness, so little on the Spirit.

    The whole debate over cessationism illustrates this. We Westerners have put the Holy Spirit in a nice little box, labeled the box and put it on a shelf alongside our other boxes.

    Thank God that folks in China are not cessationists. Imagine… expecting miracles! The audacity!

  3. Ray

    Dan — I recently preached this (at IDOP). Almost the exact same message, and I was as convicted as anyone in the pews.

    How little time we devote to actually doing the things of God’s Kingdom, and how much time we spend straining the gnats out of our collective groups…

    I am all for spirited discussion; but it is wonderful to remember that God is moving powerfully in places that practice the age-old disciplines of prayer and Bible reading, and have less concern for the things that seem to eat up our time..

  4. Ronni

    WOW. Dan, I have GOT to meet you soon… God is raising up a prayer house in Dayton. We were just talking about this, and how we want to be an Acts church… most of us came out of a church of cleverness and programs and didn’t need God in the middle of all of it (unless it was convenient and in their own preconcieved box). We are pushing forward… I’ve sold over half of my possessions and given away even more to prepare this house and the time is coming… The Miami Valley will know God. If we have to spend days on our knees and months on our face…

    What a timely message Dan. Thank you.

  5. When I posted on an emergent blog that the Church needs to provide full services for more than the Sunday morning and Wednesday night crowds, some thought it was a good idea (since it would reach out to those on off-hour work schedules). But the time issue, like what you faced about prayer, came out. Few want to devote the time and money (or lose money because they devote the time) to what it will take for revival in America.

    But Western-American materialism is what the average person wants. I have met enough immigrants to know this. They want the political stability, physical security, economic and educational opportunities, and leisure activities America provides. Most are willing to break the law and sacrifice their spiritual lives to get it if they must. So it is a human condition, not a cultural one. America has what the carnal man wants. Transplant most Chinese Christians to here, and you would probably see the same effects.

    The other reason I think most are not willing to do what it takes to see revival is that they want to be seen. They want to be the next exciting movement so they can quit their jobs, write the books, tour America’s churches, and go on mission junkets paid for by overworked American Christians. Most real revivals will not have these sideshows. We can have every bit as much of an underground church and revival in America if we are willing not to be recognized for our spirituality, our numbers, or our good works.

  6. cwv warrior

    Thanks for this honest look at the churches. I can’t help wonder though, since God is speaking to the remnant about this release of self, is Aslan on the move here too. Indeed, keep prayin.

  7. Dire Dan: “�every man for himself” society hellbent on fifty hour work weeks, two hour commutes�”

    If you have any realistic suggestions on how one breadwinner can support a family nowadays without “fifty hour work weeks, two hour commutes”, then I am all ears.

    But you know something, Dan, I’ve have heard this same basic storyline for decades now: all the great stuff is happening, but it’s always overseas. Astonishing miracles are happening, but it’s always in some faraway land where few of us can go. Mighty revivals are taking place, but it’s always somewhere in Timbuctoo or Shangri-La. But nothing ever can happen here in America because, for reasons X, Y, and Z, we just can’t seem to get over the hump. We are permanently stuck in reverse gear because of our TVs, our jobs, our mortgages, the high price of gasoline, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, the Demorepublicratican Pary running the government, the abortion industy, the porn industry, globalism, the trade deficit, Medicare, Social Security, the high cost of drugs, AM talk shows, Gangsta Rap, Britney Spears, Pat Robertson, Brokeback Mountain, etc., etc., etc.

    Now, America back around the period after the first world war was probably about as decadent and materialistic as things are now. Yet, somehow, some remarkable things still managaged to happen. Just one example�if anyone cares to study it without prejudice�was the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson from around 1918 to the early 1920s. When I was reading up on her biography, I found it to be amazing in many respects. (But, of course, I am sure some self-appointed precisionist will come around to dispute that.) And despite being what some people might call “flaky”, and not seminary trained, and a woman to boot, she managed to have a remarkable ministry. Why is this?

    I don’t know the answers. But I do know I am getting tired of everyone beating a dead horse. And I am sorry that things are so rotten in Ohio for you.

  8. daniel

    Dan, I am convinced that in a fractured society like ours door to door may be they way to go. Yes there will be great resistance, but I think if it is coupled with prayer there is a supernatural God with a grat harvest in the waiting in this country. Persecution would almost surely result from a persistent knocking and prayer. So what if we are confused with Mormons or JWs. What would happen if we just went door to door and said, “Hi, I’m a Christian what do you need me to do?” Would that be losing your life. Is this how Paul did it? Would it be just another fad? One more question, would a concerted public preaching of the gopspel be honored by God? What if every church appointed a lay preacher to go to the park and just start preaching law and gospel every sunday during the morning service and people were also appointed to pray for him or her. And this was done nation wide with no publicity or fanfare? Blogs could get this started and report the evidences witnessed.

  9. Well, after giving your posting some thought, Dan, here’s my solution for starting the Chinese-style revival here in America. It’s really very simple. All we need to do from now on is keep voting for the Death Eater Party. (I leave it as an exercise as to which party I mean here). Here is why: By putting them in absolute and complete control of Congress, the Presidency, and the Courts, they will eventually accomplish the following:

    (1) They will eventually tax us all to poverty. That way we can be as poor as the xtians in China.

    (2) Aided by their allies in the Universities, the Courts, and the Big Media, xtians will be entirely ostracised from the public square and the larger society. Any pretensions of social advancement anywhere will be proscribed for xitans. Admittance to colleges or universities, necessary for having a decent paying job, will be disallowed for xtians (just as the UC system is already beginning to do). That way we can begin to feel some genuine oppression, just like they do in China, as we work only in low-paying menial jobs, in competition with hordes of illegal immigrants.

    (3) Eventually they will pass laws requiring everyone to take the a Super Tolerant Multiculti Loyalty Test. One of the requirements is to avow a belief in America’s Offical Ideology, Materialistic Naturalism, recently decreed by the courts; and furthermore, one must sign up for a perpetual subscription to Scientific American magazine. Anyone refusing to take the Test will be forced to wear a big yellow cross having the words “Fundie” in big red letters on the crossbeam. This way we can feel complete exclusion and rejection by the larger society, just like they do in China.

    (4) Xtian educating their children in the Bible will be arrested immediately because doing so is a form of child abuse and indoctrination in hate and bigotry, or so it will be claimed. This way we can experience having our children taken from us and placed in the foster care of state welfare agencies, where they will be properly educated in atheism and liberating sexuality.

    (5) Since xtians will be eventually deemed to be incorrigible social deviants, they all will be rounded up and deported to special isolation camps situated on the cold, wind-swept prairies of North Dakota. That way we can experience forced slave labor, back-breaking hardship, barbed wire, hanging, gas chambers, and other delights. Anyone dying will be recycled for organ transplants. It will be a humbling experience and very good for us all. It will also have the added benefit of helping with obesity since living on 150 calories per day is a sure-fire weight loss program.

    So, Dan, if we just keep voting the right way, I think we can bring about the above circumstances which will be very conducive to intense prayer, fasting, and revival.

    (By the way, is there any way you can lighten up your blog, say, by cutting some of the book advertisements? Not all of us have high-speed connections.

  10. Oengus,

    I think that fin-de-siecle America was a whole ‘nother entity than today. German higher criticism hadn’t blown away most of our seminaries, yet. Nor had we fully swallowed “science as savior” like we do today.

    When it comes down to it, I think that ultra-rationalism is the greatest reason that we see fewer miracles here than Timbuktu. I was just reading out of Matthew a couple hours ago, the “a prophet is not without honor except in his own country” passage and I’ve got to believe it applies to us. We don’t believe miracles anymore, so we don’t see them.

    Jesus called down woe on Capernaum and a couple other cities for seeing the miracles and not repenting, too. At one time I do believe we saw more miracles, but we did not believe, nor did we repent.

    As for Southern Ohio, it’s not like the Bay Area where we’d been before for a few years. That place was whacked. But the churches in our area have their own sets of problems because they seem to be so easily swayed by what someone else is doing. Too many churches here want to be like that “one big church” that seems to be growing like gangbusters, even if the Gospel went out the door with the growth. To the Bay Area’s credit, at least they didn’t have that issue!

    I go to a small independent Pentecostal church now. It’s nice, but I’m shocked by some of the disappointing things I see here, too. No church is perfect. But that does not mean we can’t be better than we are right now.

    I hope to have a new version of the blog up sometime in the first half of this year. The redesign should speed things up.

  11. Dan,

    I feel so convicted by our churches in the west, fighting for our democratic right to not watch a tv show, or whether we can say a prayer at our children’s school; when the reality of Christianity is being lost daily through “increased relevance” and diminishing godliness substituted by more talk and less action in the name of Christ.

    The book that opened my eyes to the Church in China was Randy Alcorn’s, “Safely Home”, (see for more info). This story led me to sharing stories of persecution in the Chinese Churches with my bible study group, most of whom knew nothing, or very little about it at all.

    The truth of faith under persecution is revealing, particularly with all the comforts we as the western church have surrounded ourselves with.

  12. Anonymous

    IN our community, a young pastor said he would go into the sanctary at 3 AM sometimes and shout praises.There was good preaching and(gasp) contemporary music. But there was also a fervency of christian men for Jesus and not superficial businessmen looking at numbers. The Holy Spirit was moving and about to really break loose.

    But two things happened. The Holy Spirit was grieved. A local criminal who always cozies up to clergy when in serious trouble made his presence public. This man had committed murder but was released on a technicality. Also as numbers grew so did the pastor’s ego. He talked endlessly about numbers and big plans for big church.

    The past five years have been bad. The great spiritual giants are gone from that church and no news of good things are coming out.

    Ego, riff-raff from Satan, backbiting of the congregation, which also led to major problems at the Smithton Outpouring, will kill a revival before it starts. We’re just not ready. And who talks about fasting? There are too many distractions, many of which you have covered.

    Bob Pinto

  13. Anonymous

    Dan –

    Someone recently pointed me to your blog, and I think it’s an interesting read. But, you often fall into using “Chinese Church” and “Chinese house church” interchangeably in your post, and it is important to distinguish the difference between them.

    Chinese church could mean any of:

    * The official government (3-self) church
    * The unofficial house church (illegal in the eyes of the govt)
    * The registered house church
    * Ethnic churches outside of China

    Each of these churches can look very different depending on where they are located. Yes, there are fantastic things going on in the different churches in China, and we can learn from them. But, we have to be careful of creating the incorrect stereotype that every Chinese Christian is a 2-hour a day prayer warrior.


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