Pentecostal Christians in many nations will tell you how Pentecost came to their nation in the first years of the twentieth century. Americans talk about the Azusa Street Revival in 1906, and people living in the UK speak of the early Welsh revival. At the same time great revivals took place in Ireland, South Africa, Pyongyang, Korea, and the Khasi Hills in India. But many have not heard that Pentecost also came to China in the beginning of the twentieth century.
William Wallace Simpson
William Wallace Simpson (no relation to A. B. Simpson) was sent out by the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) and began his ministry in Lhasa, Tibet in the late nineteenth century (1892).1 To his knowledge no Christian had entered the city to bring the message of Christ, though other European explorers and travelers had previously reached the city.
One of the head lamas had gotten the word that Simpson and his entourage would enter Lhasa to bring the Christian religion. Thus, he stood outside the city and proclaimed that if this missionary dared to enter the city to preach his foreign religion, he would be struck dead by the Tibetan gods. After prayer and knowing he was being led by the Spirit, Simpson entered the city and began to prepare for ministry. However, before he could do anything, the lama who opposed him, for some unknown reason, died suddenly. This was one of the first examples of “power evangelism” in China, a term that later became popular under John Wimber of the Vineyard Movement in the second half of the twentieth century.
The superstitious people in Lhasa revered Simpson as a “god” with power. Of course, he denied he was a god, but this allowed him to preach Christ to them, and reportedly he made some converts. Later they gave him gifts of many of their precious temple artifacts (not realizing their archeological value), which he took back to the US and sold to a museum in Chicago. Through this he was able to finance his missionary work in China for several decades.
Around the turn of the century, Simpson was led by the Spirit to go to Beijing (then known as Beiping “northern peace”) to pioneer a Chinese church. During prayer, many in his congregation began to speak in tongues, an experience at that time known by them only through reading the book of Acts and 1 Corinthians 12–14. The result was a revival in the church with many supernatural healings including one individual who was raised from the dead during a meeting. The year was 1900.
A few years later, the CMA denomination in America took a stand against speaking in tongues and other Pentecostal gifts.2 Since the CMA leaders knew Simpson’s church in Beiping was now Pentecostal, they ordered Simpson to cease teaching Pentecostal doctrines, including speaking in tongues and spiritual gifts, or they would cut off his financial support. Simpson wrote back, “I am now the pastor of this church, and they are totally supporting me. I don’t care if you cut off my support, but I will not compromise on my beliefs.” True to their warning, the CMA leaders cut him off. Years later, after the formation of the Assemblies of God, he joined this Pentecostal denomination in 1918 and continued to plant churches and preach the Pentecostal message. Simpson remained in China until 1949, when he returned to the US.3
After the Pentecostal revivals at Azusa Street and in the UK, many Pentecostal missionaries went to China and preached the Full Gospel4 message. Significant Pentecostal revivals came to the Scandinavian nations, and many Pentecostal missionaries from Norway, Sweden, and Finland travelled to the interior of China taking the Pentecostal message.
One of these early Scandinavian missionaries was Marie Monsen (1878–1962). Some considered her the “mother of the house church.” Due to her Pentecostal beliefs, she was denounced as a heretic by other evangelical missionaries; however, her ministry impacted the churches in Henan.5
Many of these early Pentecostal missionaries were single young women who, at great cost and in the face of much opposition, spread the Pentecostal message throughout China. Serene Løland was among this group. She was from Norway and spent 50 years in China. The last years of her missionary life were spent in Hong Kong. I was privileged to work with her there in the early 1970s.
Sister Løland was the first Norwegian Methodist missionary in China, landing in Fuzhou (then spelled Foo-chow) in 1921. She later worked with the famous Spirit-filled Chinese evangelist, John Sung, who is reported to have led over 100,000 to the Lord through his powerful evangelical ministry, which was marked by signs and wonders. These converts were not only in China, but many nations throughout Southeast Asia.
Sister Løland also spent time in Shanghai where she helped many leading clergymen receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit during the great charismatic revival around 1948. At the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Shanghai more than 50 of the theological students, along with their president, Chia Yu Ming, came to her meetings and received the baptism of the Spirit.6 Chia’s writings were the most popular theological books in China, even more than those penned by Watchman Nee, whose books were only read by members of his church, the Little Flock.
Sister Løland worked closely with the most renowned men of God during that period: John Sung; Watchman Nee; Wang Mingdao; Andrew Gi; and Markus Cheng. At one time, she was a member of Watchman Nee’s congregation. Sister Løland told me she prayed with Nee, and he received the baptism of the Spirit. But Watchman Nee never claimed to be charismatic.
After most missionaries were forced out of China, Sister Løland remained two more years and eventually, in March 1951, came to Hong Kong. She was greatly used of the Lord to promote the Pentecostal movement throughout Hong Kong, especially among the Pentecostal holiness churches. She left Hong Kong to return home to Norway in 1972. Her powerful testimony is related in her autobiography, God in China (now out of print).
Adullam Rescue Mission
H. A. Baker, author of Visions beyond the Veil, (1920) ministered in Tibet from 1911 to 1919 and later in Yunnan, China from 1919 until 1950 when all missionaries were forced to leave China. In 1955 he went to Miaoli County, Taiwan, where he served until his death in 1971.
With his wife Josephine, Baker started a mission for street children living in village areas in Yunnan province called Adullam Rescue Mission. The children, aged six to eighteen, were uneducated and few had any knowledge of the Bible and Christianity. However, Baker led them to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, and they saw a series of visions of angels, Jesus, heaven, and hell, which were later confirmed to them as they read the Bible. This was part of a significant Pentecostal revival in that part of China. Many of these children grew up serving the Lord, and many were later pastors of both house churches and Three-Self Patriotic Movement churches in Yunnan.
This amazing book, Visions beyond the Veil, documenting the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these children, is available as a free PDF download.7
Early Pentecostal Revivals
Also unknown to many are the great Pentecostal revivals that swept China, starting in the 1930s right up to the establishment of the PRC in 1949. My close friend, Reverend Moses Yu (1920–2010), told me that the indigenous Chinese Pentecostal revivals from the late 1920s through 1949 were powerful and widespread resulting in hundreds of thousands of conversions. However, few if any books giving testimonies to these revivals are available in bookstores. The reason is most of the publishers of books on Chinese church history are evangelicals, and many of their associated denominations hold to cessationism. This belief, which is adhered to by many even today, teaches that all supernatural gifts of the Spirit, including speaking in tongues and miraculous healing, ended in the second century with the death of the apostles. Thus, Rev. Yu was invited to Hong Kong to conduct a week-long seminar at the Assembly of God Bible Seminary in which he documented in detail the great Pentecostal revivals in indigenous Chinese churches. They can be found today in the Ecclesia Theological Seminary archives in Hong Kong. Space will only allow me to briefly mention three.
The Great Shandong Revival (1927–1937). Probably the most significant revival was the Great Shandong Revival which began in 1927 in Shandong province.8 Rev. Yu, also my coworker, born and raised in Shandong, was only 12 years old when this great revival swept Northeast China. He could personally recount many events in this revival and had associated with the great men of God during that period: Rev. John Song; Wang Mingdao; Andrew Gih; Chia Yu-ming; Watchman Nee; Allan Yuan; and others. The missionaries and pastors associated with this revival were from the Southern Baptist church in the United States.9 It was one of the great revivals recorded in church history.10 Anyone visiting the house churches, and even official churches, in Shandong province today will realize much of the present church leadership are descendants of this great revival. In fact, this great Pentecostal revival spread throughout Northeast China.
A Baptist missionary, Mary Crawford, published a book, The Shantung Revival, in 1932. Again, since the manifestations of the Spirit in that revival go against the theological position of the Baptist church, it is not available from Baptist Press.11 However, the copyright period expired, and the charismatic leader, Randy Clark, republished this book which is available today on Amazon.12
The Jesus Family. Directly related to the Shandong Revival, the Jesus Family movement was established in 1921 by Jing Dianying in the rural village of Mazhuang, Taian county of Shandong province.13 This was a unique, Pentecostal communitarian church. The adherents lived in “Christian communes” in which resources were pooled and needs of the poorer in the community were met. In rural and semi-rural areas, members of the Jesus Family were formed into small communes of up to a few hundred with the believers working and living together and holding property in common under the direction of the family head. There were well over one hundred Jesus Family communities by 1949 with a total of several thousand members. All were run entirely by Chinese believers under the leader Jing Dianying (1890–1957).14
The Jesus Family was strongly millenarian, anticipating the imminent return of Christ, and it was very Pentecostal, basing its worship and behavior on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. All the Jesus Family communities were disbanded in 1953, but even today many former adherents or their children are active members and leaders in the Chinese Christian community. In the 1980s, some Jesus Family groups reappeared, but they are technically illegal and subject to persecution by the authorities.
I was privileged to meet many of the leaders of the Jesus Family when China opened in the 1980s and several years ago visited some of the local Shandong house churches whose roots can be traced to the Jesus Family. They would all rehearse testimonies of miracles, healings, and gifts of the Spirit that even today are in operation in their local churches.
The True Jesus Church. Another indigenous Pentecostal movement is the True Jesus Church. It was started in 1917 by Paul Wei, Barnabas Zhang, and others. It is a powerful Pentecostal church with many gifts of the Spirit, healings, and miracles. However, they are considered a “Oneness Church” and do not believe in the Trinity. They also meet on Saturday as they believe they must keep the Sabbath.
The True Jesus Church is currently one of the largest Christian groups in China and Taiwan, as well as one of the largest independent Chinese churches in the world.15 A few years ago, on a visit to Wuchang, the head leader of the Three-Self church took me to visit one of the True Jesus churches. They had a huge building that could seat several thousand. He told me that one-third of all the Christians in the Wuhan area went to churches associated with the True Jesus Church. He said that since they are considered a local, indigenous Chinese, grassroots movement with no connection with the West, they are not persecuted in the same manner that denominational churches related to the West are. There are many large True Jesus congregations in Hong Kong and parts of England.
This brief historical survey,16 based largely on personal conversations that I have had over the years, brings us to the brink of the post-1949 “New China” era and the emergence of the house church movement in China, which is the focus of my next article, “Church Growth in the ‘New China’ Era.”
- In the 1970s, Richard Simpson, a former street evangelist who was a part of my home church in Oakland, California, told me the testimony of his grandfather, a missionary to China.
- See William Menzies, Anointed to Serve: The Story of the Assemblies of God (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1971), 72 and G. B. McGee, “Simpson, William Wallace,” in International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. Stanley Burgess (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 1070-71 on this matter and other aspects of Simpson’s life.
- McGee, “Simpson, William Wallace,” 1070–71.
- The Full Gospel is often understood as including all four elements of the Fourfold Gospel: Jesus is Savior; Healer; Baptizer in the Spirit; and Coming King.
- Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway, The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun (Grand Rapids: Monarch Books, 2002), 15-22. In addition to Brother Yun’s glowing remarks concerning Monsen’s impact, C. Douglas Weaver also describes Monsen’s influence on Baptist missionaries serving in China in Baptists and the Holy Spirit: The Contested History with Holiness-Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2019), 266-67.
- Serene Løland, God in China (1973), 56. This book is now out of print.
- H. A. Baker, Visions Beyond the Veil (Faith, Hope, Prayer, 1920) Free PDF, accessed on May 15, 2023, https://www.hopefaithprayer.com/visions-beyond-the-veil-free-book-h-a-baker/.
- See “The Shantung Revival (1927-1937),” Beautiful Feet, accessed on May 15, 2023, https://romans1015.com/shantung-revival/.
- See the fascinating and informative interview with C. Douglas Weaver of Baylor University on Pentecostal Baptists. “Dr. Weaver discusses a seldom acknowledged 1930 Baptist ‘Pentecostal’ Revival in China” and emphasizes that there have been and still are many Pentecostal Baptists.” See “1930 Baptist ‘Pentecostal’ Revival in China” Asian Center for Pentecostal Theology, January 6, 2023, accessed on May 15, 2023, https://pentecost.asia/blog/1930-baptist-pentecostal-revival-in-china/.
- C. Douglas Weaver, Baptists and the Holy Spirit, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2019). 267, 326.
- Weaver, Baptists and the Holy Spirit, 326, quoting Randy Clark, There Is More!, (Minneapolis, MN: Chosen-Baker Publishing Group, 2013) 187: “Clark then lamented that ‘unfortunately, most Sothern Baptists are not aware of what happened during their greatest revival because several years ago Crawford’s book was reprinted with almost all of the phenomena of the Holy Spirit edited out.’”
- Mary Crawford, The Shantung Revival: The Greatest Revival in Baptist Church History (Global Awakening, 2005).
- Daniel H. Bays, “The Growth of Independent Christianity in China, 1900–1937,” in Christianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present, ed. Daniel H. Bays (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 312.
- D. Vaughan Rees, The “Jesus Family” in Communist China (Exeter: Pasternoster, 1964).
- “Today, the TJC has a membership exceeding 1.5 million, the majority of whom live in China. It…has now reached fifty-eight countries on six continents.” See Yen-zen Tsai, “Glossolalia and Church Identity: The Role of Sound in the Making of a Chinese Pentecostal-Charismatic Church,” in Global Chinese Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity,eds. Fanggang Yang, Joy Tong, & Allan Anderson (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 141.
- For more on this history, see Robert Menzies, “Pentecostals in China,” in Global Renewal Christianity: Spirit-Empowered Movements Past, Present, and Future, Vol. I: Asia and Oceania, eds. Vinson Synan and Amos Yong (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House Publishers, 2015), 67-90.
Dennis Balcombe, an American who has served in Hong Kong and mainland China for 54 years, has a vision to provide a Bible to every Chinese desiring one, and that all Chinese Christians will experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He planted the Revival Christian Church in Hong Kong …View Full Bio