Global Chinese Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity
Global Chinese Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, edited by Fenggang Yang, Joy K.C. Tong, Allan H. Anderson. Volume 22 in Global and Pentecostal Studies, edited by William K. Kay and Mark Cartledge. Boston, MA: Brill, 2017. Paper. 373 pages, including index. ISBN9789004336896.
This fine collection of essays grew out of a symposium organized by the editors titled “Global ReOrient: Chinese Pentecostal/Charismatic Movements in the Global East,” held November 1-3, 2013, at Purdue University. Most of the chapters were presented at papers though some have been added.
At the outset, I should say that Global Chinese Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity breaks new ground in our understanding of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity among Chinese around the world. It also provides valuable information and insight about large elements of Chinese Christianity that are not, strictly speaking, “Pentecostal” or even “Charismatic.” On the whole, these chapters give a pretty good overview of much Chinese Protestantism, though its focus on P/CC means that one must turn to other books, such as Surviving the State, Remaking the Church, by Li Ma and Jin Li, and China’s Urban Christians, by Brent Fulton, for fuller treatments of the new urban churches.
For an evaluation of Chinese Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, see http://www.reachingchineseworldwide.org/blog/2018/3/27/global-chinese-pentecostal-and-charismatic-christianity-a-response.
Note: At times, I shall use P/CC as an abbreviation for Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity.
Pentecostals and Charismatics among Chinese Christians: An Introduction.
Noting the dramatic rise in conversions to Christianity in China since 1950, as well as the huge growth in Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity around the world, the editors say that they intend to study ”Pentecostals and charismatics in global China, which includes not only China proper but also Chinese societies and diasporas around the glove that are closely connected in interwoven networks. We examine various cases in diverse localities in historical, contemporary, social, political, cultural, and religious contests” (1).
Difficulties hinder accurate research. One of them is just how to define the terms “Pentecostal” and “charismatic,” since both English and Chinese terms are imprecise and fluid. “As a working definition, ‘Pentecostalism’ may be considered to include churches and movements which, despite significant differences, share a family resemblance in that ll emphasize the miraculous working of the Spirit through the practice of spiritual gifts, especially healing and speaking in tongues” (4).
I disagree with that definition, since Pentecostal theology believes that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a distinct work of grace, different from and subsequent to, regeneration (conversion, being born again, etc.), with speaking in tongues as its sign. The other characteristics they name are common to both Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity.
The book tries to describe the varieties and complexities of Chinese P/CC and trace its distinctiveness within Global P/CC. Chinese P/CC has “a distinctly Chinese form that confronts sickness, misfortune, and evil spirits, and lives constantly in expectation of the miraculous. In doing so, Chinese Christianity has largely rejected the modernizing Social Gospel . . . that was the legacy of many Western missionaries . . .” On the other hand, in Wenzhou, “the so-called ‘boss Christians’ with their emphasis on God’s blessing resulting in economic success are reminiscent of the prosperity gospel present in Pentecostalism in other parts of the world” (5).
Only some Chinese Christians would identify themselves as Pentecostals. They prefer the term, ling’en pai, of the spiritual gifts movement. Even here, however, some could be called “heavy” ling-en, “which means placing some of the Spirit-gifts at the center of their belief and practice”; these can be called charismatics. Others are “light” ling-en, which means “occasionally having some of the Spirit-gifts” (6).
The light ling’en is very common among Chinese Christians, in such forms as occasional miraculous healing, occasional glossolalia, or occasional Spirit-moved crying in thanksgiving or repentance, or occasional revelation in dreams or through some other signs” (6). There are some Pentecostals, like the congregations associated with the Assemblies of God denomination founded in the United States, and the True Jesus Church.
Importantly, however, if we use Chinese terminology, many contemporary congregations are ‘charismatic’( i.e., associated with heavy ling’en), not ‘Pentecostal,” and these charismatics do not appear to be the majority of Chinese Christians” (7).
Some of the influential leaders who did not join the official church after the Communist revolution were opposed to the charismatic movement, and their position still carries weight. “In addition, many Chinese Christian intellectuals, especially those in seminaries and divinity schools, have some inclination toward Confucian sentiments that favor order, rules, rationality, and sobriety. For them, Pentecostal or charismatic practices appear to be chaotic and hard to control” (8).
Outside of China proper, some revivalists like Yuan Zhiming and Zhang Boli are open to charismatic practices, while the magazine Life Quarterly, edited near Chicago but distributed widely in China, maintains a fundamentalist, anti-Pentecostal and anti-charismatic sentiment.” Here the authors rightly say that the late Jonathan Chao tried to attract Chinese Christians to the Reformed tradition, but wrongly state that he was anti-charismatic.
Their conclusion: “Overall, . . . we may say, tentatively, there are are a few Pentecostals, a few more charismatics (but not necessarily a majority of Chinese Christians) and a growing number of Christians who do not reject certain charismatic practices” (10).
Part 1: Historical, Global, and Local Contexts
Chapter 1 - Contextualizing the Contemporary Pentecostal Movement in China, by Donald E. Miller.
“Pentecostalism is not growing in China in the same exponential way that it is exploding in many parts of the global south, and especially Africa. There are house-church movements that are Pentecostal, and, more recently, individual house churches have been influenced by Pentecostals from Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and elsewhere . . . [T]here are house churches that affirm some elements of the Pentecostal tradition, such as healing and, on occasions, speaking in tongues and deliverance from demons, but they are not overtly Pentecostal in other ways” (18).
There follows an excellent section of “observations Regarding the House-Church Movement.” All are growing except the rural congregations, who have lost members who migrated to the cities. On his visits to China, Miller was surprised by “the negative attitude toward Pentecostals . . . among many urban house church-leaders” (20). He estimates that the number of Pentecostal house-church members may be “no more than 10 percent in Shanghai and Beijing. Especially among educated professionals, Pentecostals are viewed as emotion and too noisy in their worship, and therefore give a bad name to Christianity” (20). They also believe that much P/C C has the flavor of shamanistic folk religion.
In the cities, people are looking for personal peace amidst massive social change and psychological pressure. Belonging to a close-knit Christian community helps to meet this need. Conversions and new ideas also come from students who professed faith while in the West, “but 90 percent fall away from this commitment when they return home” (21). One reason may be that they encounter more traditional worship in Chinese churches than in the West. Church splits seem to involve generational differences, with younger people preferring a livelier form of worship sometimes characterized by charismatic congregations.
His conclusion is that “What is happening in house churches in the major cities of China is new, but it does not seem to be particularly Pentecostal, nor is it being stimulated by outside missionaries to any great degree” (31). Western labels do not necessarily apply to China, where the situation is fluid and complex, and many congregations feature some things associated with PC/C but without the same emphases.
Chapter 2 - Chinese Ecstatic Millenarian Folk Religion with Pentecostal Christian Characteristics? by Daniel H. Bays.
Bays surveys the history of P/C C in China since its first introduction by Western missionaries in the early 20th century. He finds that these movements have always been a mixture of Western P/CC and local traditions, including millenarianism. This mix often results in splits, the formation of new groups, and the disruption of existing church and even social structures, as some groups combine religious fervor with an intense expectation of the coming of the end. Naturally, governments fear such ideas, since they have in the past led to rebellions like the Taiping rebellion in the 19th century.
The combination of Western Christian ideas and practices with local Chinese religious traditions and habits has resulted in a new form of P/CC, one that is hard to define with Western labels.
Chapter 3 - Pentecostalism Comes to China: Laying the Foundations for a Chinese Version of Christianity, by J. Gordon Melton
The first Pentecostal missionaries to China were Thomas J. McIntosh and the Rev. Alfred G. Garr with his wife, Lillian .Like other Pentecostal missionaries, they taught a three-stage view of Christian life: “salvation,” that is, believing in Christ; sanctification; and the baptism with the Spirit, an empowering for service. Several of them believed that when they received that “baptism with the Holy Spirit,” God had given them supernatural ability to speak in foreign tongues, including Chinese. They went to China on their own initiative, not being sent by an organized denomination.
When they arrived in China, they discovered that, in fact, they could not understand or speak the language, and came to believe that speaking in an unknown tongue was primarily for their own spiritual edification. They also discovered that most – though not all – Western missionaries were not receptive to their new teaching.
Very importantly, however, they did find a warm reception among Chinese Christians, whom they then empowered to lead local churches. Thus, Pentecostal Christianity in China became an indigenous, Chinese-led movement.
Pentecostal missionaries began arriving in force, so that by “1912, Pentecostalism was represented in all parts of China,” despite opposition from traditional missionaries and their societies,“ partly because the “Pentecostal message split the missionary team” (52). By 1914, all the Pentecostals were totally cut off and isolated from the mainstream of Chinese Protestantism” (53).
Within the movement splits soon occurred. Perhaps most significant for China was the Oneness Movement, which focused on Jesus alone as God. Through the influence of Norwegian Bernt Berntsen, this became the guiding theology of the True Jesus Church, founded by Wei Enbo and Zhang Lingsheng. The TJC “would become the cutting edge of the Pentecostal movement over the next generation and go on to become the largest Chinese Pentecostal church, indeed one of the three largest Christian bodies, in the whole of China, and take the lead in spreading through the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia and beyond. In the process, it would establish both a singularly unique version of Pentecostalism and a textbook example of what would come to be identified in China as a ‘Three-Self Church,’ a Chinese-led ecclesiastical body that was truly self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating” (60).
Chapter 4 - Elitism and Poverty: Early Pentecostalism in Hong Kong (1907-1945)
Typically, in the early years of its development in the West, professional elites did not respond as warmly to Pentecostalism as those in the lower socio-economic strata. As a result, a gap typically existed between the majority of Pentecostals and the elites in their society.
In Hong Kong, however, “a group of elites who were members of a Congregational church founded by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (BABCFM). They left their wealthy church, where their fervent faith in revivalism was unacceptable, and started the Pentecostal Mission . . . among the downtrodden in the city, provided education for women, fought for tenants oppressed by high rents, and launched missions in remote villages. They also published a Chinese Pentecostal newspaper, Pentecostal Truth . . . Although the church was founded by the elites, it was for the poor and of the poor” (63).
This chapter tells the exciting story of that unique expression of Chinese Pentecostalism.
Part 2: A Chinese Pentecostal Denomination: The True Jesus Church
Chapter 5 - Charismatic Crossings: The Transnational, Transdenominational Friendship of Bernt Berntsen and Wei Enbo, by Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye
“The closeness between Berntsen and Wei in their personal relationship and in their churches is telling because it reveals the transnational exchange that played a key role in the development of Christianity in China in the early twentieth century. . . Wei’s True Jesus Church was both authentically Chinese and authentically Pentecostal, a direct descendant of Berntsen’s congregation and of the Los Angeles revival” that helped to birth the worldwide Pentecostal movement (92).
At their first encounter, Berntsen washed Wei’s feet in a gesture of humble Christian solidarity. Their families became good friends, the two men engaged in a business partnership, and their two churches in Beijing engaged in healing and other ministries together. Their intimate friendship surpassed most of the relationships between Western missionaries and Chinese in depth and reciprocity.
They had major theological and policy disagreements: Wei refused to repay a loan Berntsen had given him, and they split over the issue of baptism, but they remained friends. Equally important was their agreement on important points of theology and practice, including baptism by immersion, foot-washing, and rites in the name of Jesus only.
The TJC developed some distinctive beliefs, however, including the conviction that the Western churches were in error and, in fact, not “true” churches at all.
What held Berntsen and Wei together was their zeal for the gospel and their hunger for direct experiences with God through visions, signs, and wonders.
Chapter 6 — Taming the Spirit by Appropriating Indigenous Culture: An Ethnographic Study of the True Jesus Christ as Confucian-Style Pentecostalism, by Ke-hsien Huang
Pentecostalism emphasizes “the free agency of individual believers.” This creates a problem in Chinese society: “How can the maintenance of religious order be tackled in a religion like Pentecostalism?” (119).
The author’s answer is that “local culture . . . can be utilized to tame the otherwise freewheeling Spirit among the laity and consolidate leadership.” Specifically, typical Pentecostal “performances” have been toned-down and “downplayed in three ways: (1) worship services have been shaped as a Confucian-style educational venue with an emphasis on silence and order; (2) the base of religious legitimacy has shifted from God-given spiritual capability to the literati-style ability to memorize canons; and (3) spiritual practices are deliberately assigned to female partners along with moral teachings” (119).
“Pentecostalism is characterized by its ability to adapt to local cultures. The appropriation of spiritual cosmologies and ritual practices from indigenous culture can be seen in many Pentecostal faiths” around the world (119). The True Jesus Church (TJC) offers a prime example of this feature of Pentecostalism in China.
Since Confucianism, with its emphasis upon ethics and civility, is still central to Chinese culture, “every religious group that hopes to be accepted by Chinese society accommodates itself to Confucianism in one way or another. Christianity is no exception” (121). This stunning statement should give everyone pause: How much of Chinese Christianity is “Christian”?
In the TJC, worship services are adapted to Confucianism by (1) the segregation of different social groups,” including men and women; (2) the presentation and interpretation of classic text,” with sermons being filled with quotations from the Bible; “(3) pedagogy; and (4) an emphasis on self-control.” Even speaking in tongues “is repetitive and not high-pitched, and has a more or less uniform style” (127).
Leadership legitimacy rests upon both spiritual gifts and the mastery or classic texts, especially the Bible but also standard TJC documents by the founder, Isaac Wei. Women play a prominent role, both in teaching and ministering to other women and in prayer for healing.
In sum, Confucianism has re-shaped traditional Pentecostal practices to make this faith acceptable to Chinese.
Chapter 7 - Glossalia and Church Identity: The Role of Sound in the Making of a Chinese Pentecostal-Charismatic Church, by Yen-zen Tsai
Despite all the variations among Pentecostal and charismatic Christians, “glossolalia or speaking in tongues [is] the trait most widely shared by these groups. It is a powerful experience that almost all charismatic Christians have recognized, and the defining feature that has congregated them into a group called Pentecostals” –or, one might add, charismatics (139).
This practice is not just an individual matter, but “a public discourse that concerns a church community.” 140 “On the communal level, this ‘expected and normative’ ritual ‘helps to unite [worshipers] emotionally and spiritually.’” Through this practice, “the members of the . . . church obtain a ‘sense of unity with God, which in turn contributes to action that sustains and nurtures community life” (141).
In the TJC, speaking in tongues is an indispensable sign that one has received the baptism with the Holy Spirit and is, therefore “saved.” “When – and when only – one speaks in tongues, one becomes a true member in and of the True Church” (145). For many, receiving this gift marked the beginning of a new life with God and the start of the transformation of character.
This one phenomenon stands at the center of TJC teaching and practice.
Part 3: Pentecostal or Non-Pentecostal: Self-Identity and Scholarly Observation
Chapter 8 - Spirituality and Spiritual Practice: Is the Local Church Pentecostal? by Jiayin Hu
Originally founded by Watchman Nee (Ni Tuosheng) the “Little Flock” and its successor movement under Witness Lee, the Local Church (LC), is “perhaps the most influential independent Chinese Christian group to originate during” the period during the same period that saw the rise of indigenous movements like the Jesus Family and the True Jesus Church, It has “transcended racial, national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries.” The movement has some features, such as “calling on the name of the Lord” and “pray-reading,” that have led people to identify it as Pentecostal, but this is not correct.
Nee “did not oppose divine healing or speaking in tongues, nor did he promote or exalt such miraculous gifts. Rather, he reminded believers to be cautious of miraculous phenomena because they could have dome form the divine Spirit as well as from the human soul.” The movement’s influence in mainland China has grown immensely since the 1980s, partly because of the smuggling of Bibles and religious literature into the hinterland.
The ‘Shouters” are an offshoot of the movement, consisting of people who “claim to be faithful to Witness Lee’s ministry but who distort Lee’s teachings and have no true relationship with the LC” (167).
The LC stands within the broader evangelical movement with its “emphasis on biblical authority, of the great mystics’ and pietists’ concern for the inner life, of the millennia-old expectation of a New Age, and of born-again, experimental religion.” They do not emphasize “signs and wonders, speaking in tongues, Spirit baptism, and miraculous healing” (168).
This excellent article includes a fine discussion of the LC teachings on baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, being filled with the Holy Spirit, as well as its distinctive practices of “calling on the name of the Lord,”pray-reading-, and prophesying.
Chapter 9 - Are Chinese Christians Pentecostal? A Catholic Reading of Pentecostal Influence on Chinese Christians, by Michel Chambon
In a wide-ranging article, the author looks at both Protestant and Roman Catholic experiences of P/CC. He shows how both local and global contexts impact the reception and growth of P/CC in each case; how overseas missionaries and other exposure to P/CC have influenced Chinese believers and even bestowed greater prestige upon their “novel” beliefs and practices; and how the ecclesiastical differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics have fostered very different forms of P/CC within each group.
P/CC experienced rapid growth after its first introduction into China in recent decades; since then, there has been a noticeable decline, though very strong elements remain; these have become an apparently permanent feature in both Protestant and Roman Catholic (RC) circles, though taking different forms. The stronger organization of the RCs restricts P/CC to recognized, and highly supervised, smaller groups. These, however, possess great vitality.
P/CC taps into not only the great interest in all things Western after about 1980 (until recently) and the existing beliefs and practices of popular pagan religion. Indeed, the author repeatedly points out the close connection between popular religion and the emotional and very pragmatic aspects of P/CC. As a result, there is a real fear of heterodoxy.
In almost every case examined by the author, the introduction of P/CC has created disputes, discord, and division.
At the same time, the warmer, more emotional style of worship; real faith in God’s willingness to hear prayer and provide healing; and, among RCs, the emphasis upon small group Bible study – have all brought renewal and fresh vitality.
Chapter 10 - “The ‘Galilee of China’: Pentecostals without Pentecostalism, by Yi Liu
This chapter begins with an introductory study of Christianity in Henan Province; after that “the author argues that Pentecostalism is more like a model for understanding the Christian revival in contemporary China, rather than a defining feature of the churches” (201). “China is too large and diverse to be treated as a single unit, so research should adopt a more local perspective” (201). This chapter focus on Nanyang Prefecture, known widely as “the next of house churches” (201).
The work of the China Inland Mission and Norwegian missionaries laid the foundation. In the early twentieth century, Jonathan Goforth and Marie Monsen “led great revivals . . . with a strong emphasis on born-again experiences, which became the seeds for revivals in the 1980s and 1990s” (202). also has the fastest-growing Christian population. Three large networks took root here and then spread across the nation: the Word of Life Church (Shengming Zhidao Jiaohui, aka the Born-Again Movement, Chongsheng Pai), the Tanghe Church (Tanghe Tuanqi, aka China Gosp[el Fellowship, Zhonghua Fuyin Tuanqi] and the Fangcheng Chruch (Fangcheng Tuanqi, aka China for Christ, Huaren Guizhu Jiaohui).
These groups briefly formed the “Sinim Fellowship” in 1994. In 1998 they issued “A United Appeal by the Various Branches of the Chinese House Church” for better relations with the government. Perhaps more importantly, they “make a sevenfold confession of their faith in the Bible, the Trinity, Christ, salvation, the Holy Spirit, the church, and the last things” (205).
All these fellowships feature some Pentecostal or charismatic characteristics, though only the Fangcheng Church (China for Christ), influenced by American Pentecostal Dennis Balcombe, ‘can be categorized as a Pentecostal or charismatic church (205). They all pray for healing, expect to have supernatural experiences of fellowship with God through the Spirit, and show a passion for evangelism. Their worship services are filled with joyful song and ardent prayer.
“A Pentecostal” [Note: the author seems to use this term to include also “charismatic” Christianity] revival is always centered on charismatic leaders. To a great extent, the leader’s presence or absence determines its ebb and flow” (205).
Due to the lasting influence of Goforth and Monsen, these churches “have a strong tradition of public confession and the born-again experience,” though with variations of expression and expectations among them (207).
The author makes a usual distinction between the Chinese terms shuling (spiritual) and ling’en (Pentecostal). Millions of Christians in Henan would identify themselves with the former term, though not the latter.
Personally, I thought that this chapter was one of several that in themselves were “worth the price of the book,” as the saying goes.
Part 4: New-Wave Charismatics in Chinese Societies
Chapter 11 - “Christianity Fever” and Unregistered Churches in China, by Selena Y.Z. Su and Allan H. Anderson
The authors have given us another survey chapter that sums up much of what we know about the rapid growth of unregistered Protestant churches in China over the past thirty years. They trace the background of these revivalistic groups to the early twentieth century Pentecostal missionaries and also to the independent movements associated with John Song.
Several observers, including Xi Lian, note that the Chinese churches that emerged after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) share some similarities the earlier revivalist movements: evangelistic zeal, biblical literalism, “charismatic ecstasies, and a fiery eschatology not occasionally tinged with nationalistic exuberance” (220). They are “revivalist (marked by ‘Pentecostal’ features like emotional prayer meetings, healing, and evangelism) and fundamentalist (marked by a conservative approach to morality, withdrawal from ‘worldly’ affairs like politics, and biblical literalism” (220).
The body of the chapter follows the history of these churches from the 1950s and the founding of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, through the “first generation” of leaders who suffered for their faith and still exercise great influence. The “second generation” “emerged in secret during the cultural revolution,” and transformed “Chinese house churches into a Chinese faith that was beyond the control of the state” (225). Some of these have accepted classic Pentecostal teaching, while all have been open to the supernatural workings of the Holy Spirit.
The “third generation,” or “third church” refers to the new urban congregations. They are better educated and less inclined to feature “Pentecostal” teaching or practices, except for singing modern songs. Some are openly anti-Pentecostal or anti-charismatic.
Very helpful discussions of the issue of registration with the government and the missionary movement among house churches conclude the chapter.
The only problem I have with this chapter is the facile way in which the term “Pentecostal” is employed to cover much of what we should term “charismatic.” It would almost appear as if the authors want to give the impression that most Chinse house churches are “Pentecostal,” though they try to provide some qualifiers that reflect the more careful statements by other authors in the volume.
Chapter 12 - China’s Patriotic Pentecostals by Karrie J. Koesel
Patriotic statements have long characterized the state-sponsored Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). This chapter, however, explores the patriotism of Pentecostal and charismatic churches, which are unregistered and “operate on the margins of the religious marketplace and outside the five official faiths; they are art independent from the patriotic associations; . . . and their clergy to not attend compulsory patriotic education course, nor are they trained in government-approved seminaries. . . . Nevertheless, patriotism is present in many Chinese Pentecostal and charismatic churches. The purpose of this chapter is to explain why” (242).
At the outset, the author says that “unregistered Pentecostal and charismatic churches strategically construct patriotic identities that emphasize devotion to their country to help navigate the risky and repressive political climate in which they operate” (243). They do this for purely pragmatic reasons.
In addition to the usual reasons for coming under government scrutiny, Pentecostal and charismatic churches attract unusual attention because they “make up a sizable portion of unregistered house churches”; they “represent some of the largest and most robust forms of associational life operating outside of the state and its institutions. They are unofficial and voluntary organizations, often with dense horizontal networks that cut across salient cleavages; they huge transnational linkages, are endowed with resources and dedicated supporters and are often led by charismatic leaders.” All this makes “them particularly good at mobilization,” which the government considers “extremely threatening” (246).
In particular, their strong ties to the global Pentecostal and charismatic movement arouse the government’s “fear that Western hostile forces may attempt to use Christianity to incite domestic instability in China” (246).
Finally, these churches also face “Indirect pressure from Protestant-affiliated with the TSPM churches as well as other (non-Pentecostal) house church leaders, all of whom tend to be critical of charismatic religious practices and organizations.” They are accused of being “poorly run organizations where a pastor’s behavior borders on rent-seeking and cult-like”; “being over-emotional and blindly pursuing gifts of the Holy Spirit at the expense of biblical teachings”; and of engaging in “expressive practices”that “are condemned as either reducing these churches to ‘low-level commercial entertainment,’ or are considered no better than folk superstitions, witchcraft, and heresy” (247).
No wonder they churches do all they can to legitimize themselves “as supportive citizens instead of subversive foreign agents!” (247).
These churches demonstrate their patriotism in various ways: Prayer for the nation during services; singing patriotic hymns; expressing patriotic sentiments on social media and websites; engaging in social outreach programs to benefit the community.
In all this, we should note several things:
Some churches led by elite businessmen promote a “prosperity ‘gospel’” message that sees China’s rise and prosperity as good for individual Christians.
Many elites see China’s rise as good for the spread of the gospel worldwide.
Nationalistic sentiments have been successfully spread by the government, so that the general populace, including Christians, believe them.
Even if Christian churches do all they can to appear patriotic, it may not be enough to prevent government restrictions and even persecution.
This last fact has become apparent in recent months.
Chapter 13 - The Catholic Charismatic Renewal in China, by Rachel Xiaohong Zhu
Compared with similar movements in Protestant churches, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) in mainland China has a shorter history, beginning only in 1994. The author traces the story and describes the major features of Chinese CCR.
Usually, a charismatic group forms after an outside speaker who has been invited. After several have received some experience, often including speaking in tongues, they form a cell group for Bible study and prayer. The laying on of heads often leads to healing. Congregants find new life in the Spirit, far more vital than the ritualistic religious routine they had previously known.
If the diocesan bishop and local priest approve, follow up teaching seminars will address “such topics as the Holy Spirit, Jesu Christ the sole savior, charismatic gifts from God, and holistic life in the Holy Spirit. The culminating point of the program is baptism in the Spirit, or ‘receiving the Holy Spirit’” (271). Many have a new sense of peace and joy; some receive physical healing;. Speaking in tongues is “a symbolic sign that a person has become a member of a Charismatic Prayer group. Sometimes people called it ‘receiving the Holy Spirit,” which is quite a confusing expression. In the Catholic tradition, after receiving the Sacraments of Initiation, namely baptism and confirmation, one has already received the Holy Spirit” (272).
We see here how Roman Catholic theology fits with a “Pentecostal” understanding of the baptism with the Spirit as an experience distinct from conversion (or regeneration, or receiving the Holy Spirit”). For a theological critique of this terminology go to http://www.reachingchineseworldwide.org/blog/2018/3/27/global-chinese-pentecostal-and-charismatic-christianity-a-response.
CCR groups have brought new vitality to congregations in China. Not only have individuals received spiritual renewal (or, perhaps, regeneration), but they have formed small communities that have, in turn, served both the larger congregation and society at large.
The chapter includes sections on challenges for the future of CCR and for researchers.
Chapter 14 - City Harvest Church of Singapore; An Ecclesial Paradigm for Pentecostalism in the Postmodern World, by Kim-kwong Chan
“This chapter examines a church that fits the following criteria: it embraces Pentecostalism, it is situated in a Chinese cultural milieu, it enjoys healthy growth, it is developing a new ecclesial paradigm, it influences local and regional ecclesial communities, it has demonstrated the ability to transplant itself cross-culturally, and it contributes to the diverse expression of Christianity” (286).
After a brief outline of the history of Pentecostalism in China, the author lists some of the challenges it faces today: It has to show that it is theologically orthodox, does not necessarily promote schism as it has in the past, justify the supernatural in a rationalistic Confucian and atheistic environment, and “harness its sensationalist or dramatic manifestations – which attract many followers – so that it will not be perceived as a threat to both the civil authorities and the existing Christian communities” (289).
CHC presents us with stark contrasts: On the one hand, it’has dozens of affiliate churches in many countries, a theological school, a college, a community service center, and an international humanitarian aid agency. “ The main worship room seats 8,000 people. A research report in 2007 said that “’The church has 15,000 youths and young adults – where the average age was 26 – has an extensive arts program, a world-class tutoring program, and a full-blown program of social ministries.” “In 2013 it ranked as the seventh largest church in Asia, with forty-seven affiliate churches in nine countries” (291).
“CHC can be categorized theologically as a progressive Pentecostalism; ecclesiastically as a proto-Episcopal structure, with the founder making the ultimate decision regarding faith matters; pastorally as a cell group ministry; and missiologically as a Lausanne Covenant-based holistic formulation” (295).
The church caters to young people, mostly through its music. The worship services resemble a pop concert, except that the leaders give an exhortation or teaching, after which people have time for group prayer and personal reflection.
More importantly, perhaps, CHC appeals to the postmodern generation with a strong emphasis upon feelings, providing a safe place to express religious emotions. Individuals are encouraged to relate to God personally, but given a surrogate family in the form of the church. Cell groups provide a secure “home” for people otherwise lost in the city. Its lack of history gives it the flexibility to explore new ways of doing “church,” including engaging in commercial enterprises to raise funds and to spread the gospel. “Its reliance on strong personal leadership. . . determines many of its ecclesial characteristics, and its emphasis on vision rather than tradition . . . enables it to experiment with nontraditional ministries and ecclesial practices” (306).
The author believes that this model holds great promise for the millions of young people in China’s cities who are looking for meaning in life.
On the other hand, the founder, Kong Hee, and five of his top staff members were convicted of criminal fraud and misuse of church funds to benefit the “music evangelism ministry” of Sun Ho in 2013; they were sentenced to prison. Hee’s wife, singer-pastor Sun Ho, took over as interim leader. Her lifestyle, racy music and sexy dancing raised eyebrows among outsiders as well as among the faithful, who were told that she was preaching the gospel through her “entertainment ministry.”
Chapter 15 - The Localization of Charismatic Christianity among the Chinese in Malaysia: A Study of Full Gospel Tabernacle, by Weng Kit Cheong and Joy K.C. Tong
Though Protestant Christianity is still regarded as a Western transplant in Malaysia, Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity “has been reckoned among the most successful varieties of Christianity in terms of its ability to inculturate itself in many countries in the global south,” including Malaysia (309).
The authors cite surveys stating that the percent of the Chinese in Malaysia are Pentecostal-charismatic; this chapter seeks to explain why this is so.
“We argue that this localization occurred in a milieu of rising Islamic nationalism that accelerated postcolonial identity pressures on the Malaysian church. This adverse context reinforced a local Christianity that retained strong phenomenological and sociological ties to Western charismatic practices. In addition, the rapid urbanization of Malaysian society in the 1960s and 1970s decoupled many young Chinese Malaysians from religious identities that were tied to territorially-grounded, traditionalist practices and freed them to embrace a charismatic faith that addressed their spiritual sensibilities in a modernist (sic) garb” (310).
At first based on the urbanized Chinese who wished to retain and even strengthen a Western identity through the use of English, P/CC in Malaysia later moved into a Sinophone phase beginning around 2000. The history of Full Gospel Tabernacle (FGT) reflects these phases.
In an otherwise helpful survey of the history of P/CC in Malaysia, the authors incorrectly, I believe, ascribe to John Sung’s revival ministry in the 1930s the conversion of Chinese Christians to a “charismatic-type Christianity.” 313 John was a fiery revivalist who saw many healings in answer to prayer, but he did not identify himself as a charismatic. He sought the fruit and fullness of the Spirit more than ecstatic experiences.
Founded in 1981, FGT reached out to youth with its charismatic worship style and popular music. It became a “spiritual family” for people feeling displaced in a big city. Young couples and professionals soon began to attend. “At its core, the spirit of FGT has always been marked by tongues-speaking, fervent prayer, prophesying, and boisterous worship. . . As a manifestation of the baptism of the Spirit, . . . tongues-speaking has a special priority in Malaysian charismatic churches, particularly FGT” (316). Pastors urge people who don’t speak in tongues to go up for prayer to receive the gift.
The authors see this as a response to “the disempowerment of English and Chinese when Bahasa Malaysia was authorized as Malaysia’s national language in the 1970s” (316). After more non-Malaysians began to speak this language, tongues-speaking declined in importance in FT, even becoming rather “ho-hum” for some.
Both the use of English and a new understanding of alternate spiritual realms helped to distance young Malaysians from traditional Chinese religions. In contrast, however, members of the Mandarin section of FGT “embraced many Chinese cultural symbols (such as the dragon)” (320). Indeed, “their new faith resonated with elements of their traditional background.” As in Taoism, they were taught that “God is here to bless you.” 320 The authors perceptively note other significant similarities between FGT and Taoism.
New technologies, such as song lyrics up on a screen, freed worshipers to be more expressive. “In the last decade, videos of lyrics and worshippers beamed onto large screens subtly induced a mass audience to sway and clap in worship.” This all seems very modern and appeals to youth (324).
As noted before, P/CC has taken root among Chinese-speaking Malaysians in recent years, as “Mandarin education became increasingly popular as the new front of urban Chinese identity,” and as P/C Christians from China and Taiwan exercised more and more influence.
FGT provides an example of how P/CC is forming beachheads among young urbanized Chinese all over the world, including mainland China.
Chapter 16 - The Feminity of Chinese Christianity: a Study of a Chinese Charismatic Church and Its Female Leadership, by Joy K.C. Tong and Fenggang Yang
This chapter describes and reflects upon the Forerunner Christian Church (FRCC) and its senior pastor, the Rev. Grace Chiang. The authors attended a conference at which Chiang was the only speaker to more than 2,500 people from almost every state in the United States and from all over the world. More than half were “male clergy with theological degrees while the main speaker, Chiang, was a female pastor with no theological training” (330).
They first survey the relatively small number of Chinese P/CC congregations in the United States. They find four types, of which one are those that “were or are still affiliated to indigenous Chinese denominations such as Lingliang Church, CXi’antang, and the Truth Jesus Church. FRCC grew out of Xi’antang in Taiwan and “its theology and ministries are still strongly influenced by Xiantang’s tradition” (332).
Many observers note the prominent role of women in P/CC from the early 20th century to the present. Among Chinese, men have exercised more leadership, however. Yang Fenggang has ascribed this to “Confucian patriarchy plus American fundamentalism,” (333) (though one would have to add that many Chinese Christians believe that the Bible calls for male leadership in the church)
Chiang was brought up in a traditional folk-religious environment in Taiwan. She was converted and disicpled through the ministry of Pearl G. Young, pastor of Xi’antang in Taiwan. Her later worldwide influence stems from her personal charisma, the example of her lifelong choice to remain single and her example of Christian dedication.
She has imparted a “feminine” flavor to her ministry and the church through an emphasis upon having an intimate spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ as the souls’ true “lover,” and the encouragement of emotional expression in religion.
Furthermore, Chiang “is popularly called by her members ‘elder sister Chiang’: and acts “as a ‘little mother’ by taking care of her younger siblings” in the faith (337). “Such an image and lifestyle,” including not taking a salary, “resonates with the typical picture of a filial-spirited eldest daughter in a big family or a chaste single mother in Chinese minds and creates empathy and a respectful emotion in them.” Not only so, but “to her male followers, Chiang is a mother figure who provides unselfish support and comforts that are much wanted in their stressful life in Silicon Valley” (337).
She uses gentle gestures, has a smiling face, and speaks “slowly and tenderly” (337). She does not shout or make a big show. She allows her own emotions to be known and comes across as a vulnerable woman who trusts in God to care for her.
At the same time she “vehemently criticizes the Chinese preoccupation with hierarchy, including the order of seniority,” intentionally reaching out to youth and encouraging them to lead. 339 By stating that the church’s purpose is to help people develop an intimate relationship with Christ, she avoids a “goal-oriented tone and redirects people’s attention inward” (339).
She holds to a traditionalist understanding of the role of women in the home and the church, and seeks to build male leaders, though she opposes traditional Confucian ideas of the “strong” man who rules in a self-righteous way.
The authors note, however, that there is a very strong “unintended resonance with Taoist tradition,” which has ideals of “maintaining ‘oneness’ with the Dao, i.e., the spirit; childlikeness;” “fluidity, mystery, and union with nature,” and especially its “positive attitude toward women or feminine qualities.” The Dao is “the mother of all things” at the opening of the Dao De Jing (342).
The entire last paragraph of the chapter is almost “worth the price of the book,” since it shows how Chinese P/CC “is strikingly similar to Daoist tradition. . . As Daoism is deeply embedded in Chinese tradition and minds, and as it still plays an important role in contemporary popular folk religion,” this may help explain “why charismatic faith resonates with Chinese Christians and appeals to them” (343).
Conclusion: Challenges, Theories, and Methods in Studying Chinese “Pentecostalism,” by Allan H. Anderson
The editor briefly reviews the historical origins and development of P/CC in China and calls for an interdisciplinary approach to researching this highly complex movement.