From the east coast to the west coast
The wind of the Holy Spirit will blow everywhere,
From the east to the west
The glory of the Holy Spirit will be released.
Good news comes from heaven,
Good news rings in the ear
Causing dry bones to become moist
Frail bones to become strong.
Full of the Holy Spirit, we will not turn back,
Step by step we go to distant places,
The lame skipping,
The mute singing,
The fire of the Holy Spirit
The longer it burns the brighter it gets.1
The common thread that unites Pentecostals in China with other Pentecostals around the world is their sense of connection with the apostolic church as reflected in the book of Acts. Chinese Pentecostals pray for the sick, worship with joyful abandonment, speak in tongues, and seek the enabling of the Spirit for bold witness in the face of persecution because they find all these experiences described in the New Testament. The message and methods of the early church are models for their lives and ministry.
Although Pentecostals are thoroughly evangelical,2 they typically affirm three distinctive doctrinal convictions. Pentecostals believe (1) the New Testament serves as a model for contemporary Christian life and ministry (thus, gifts of the Spirit are relevant for the church today); (2) the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) is a post-conversion enabling for ministry; and (3) (not all but many affirm) that speaking in tongues marks this “baptism in the Spirit” experience.3
This issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly (CSQ) seeks to illuminate the origins, characteristics, and continuing influence of Pentecostal churches in China. While the contributors to this issue have studied widely and taught in a variety of academic institutions, they were asked to contribute to this issue because they are practicing Pentecostals and have ministered broadly in Pentecostal and charismatic churches in China. The contributors are not simply academicians who in a detached manner (and from a distance!) study about Pentecostals; rather, they are Pentecostal practitioners who have made significant contributions to the Pentecostal movement in China.
Dennis Balcombe planted the Revival Christian Church in Hong Kong and pastored this church for many years. However, his vision for China always included the millions who populate the mainland. In 1978 he began his ministry on the mainland and continues to bless churches there to this day. Balcombe’s humble bearing and Pentecostal message resonated with house church believers. Indeed, he has fanned the flame of Pentecostal revival in the Chinese house churches more than any other foreign Christian worker. So, it is a great joy to include Balcombe’s personal observations and reflections on the origins and growth of the Pentecostal movement in China.
I first met Evan Liu in China in 2002. A young man at that time, we met at a house church Christmas celebration. Little did I know that we would eventually meet again in this same city but a dozen years later. Since then, our friendship has grown, and our ministry interests have converged. Dr. Liu’s journey of faith led him to pursue New Testament studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he earned a PhD. He is the founder of the China Servant Leadership Center and ministers widely in China. Dr. Liu’s involvement in planting churches in China led him to embrace the Pentecostal experience and a charismatic approach to church ministry. He offers an informative, first-hand account of the charismatic character of the rural house churches and of the more recent emergence of large, urban house churches that combine Reformed theology with charismatic practice. The former is viewed through the lens of the “Back to Jerusalem” (BTJ) movement; the latter, through the lens of the “Mission China 2030” (MC 2030) movement.4
Zhang Li has pastored several house churches in China, served as a faculty member at a house church Bible school for the past twelve years, and now teaches at the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in the Philippines. He is a dedicated and gifted ministerial colleague as well as a Christian brother and trusted friend.
The story of Pentecost in China is indeed remarkable, and these colleagues tell it well. The story begins with ordinary people like William Simpson and Serene Løland who were caught up in the fire of Pentecostal revival. The spark they released ignited into a flame that swept through the indigenous churches, groups like the True Jesus Church and the Jesus Family, which in turn shaped the ethos of the dynamic house church movement that has registered explosive growth in the face of intense opposition.
Now, as China is undergoing rapid and massive transformation, Pentecostals in China face new and significant challenges. But we may find that these challenges represent fresh opportunities. If the last seven decades in China have taught us anything, they have surely taught us never to underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit. I am confident that you will be encouraged as you read these eye-witness accounts of the story of Pentecost in China.
- Author’s translation of song 747, “The Wind of the Holy Spirit Will Blow Everywhere,” found in Lu Xiaomin, Xin Ling Zhi Sheng [Sounds of the Heart] (unregistered house church publication, 2003), 806.
- Pentecostals represent the majority of evangelical believers in many countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
- Although the early charismatics, such as Dennis Bennett, were thoroughly Pentecostal, the term “charismatic” is now often used to speak of a broader group, Christians who emphasize the power and gifts of the Spirit (essentially points 1 and 2 above) but are more flexible with respect to the relationship between tongues and Spirit baptism (point 3). For more on Pentecostal identity and theology, see Robert Menzies, “Pentecostal Theology and the Chinese Church,” ChinaSource Blog, January 21, 2015, accessed March 27, 2023, https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/blog-entries/pentecostal-theology-and-the-chinese-church/ and Pentecost: This Story Is Our Story (Springfield, MO: GPH, 2013). A Chinese translation of this book is also available.
- For more on urban and rural Pentecostal churches seeRobert Menzies. “Urban Churches in China: A Pentecostal Case Study.” ChinaSource Quarterly, ChinaSource, Summer 2015, https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/urban-churches-in-china/, and Robert Menzies, “A Strong Foundation: Pentecostal Revival in Yunnan Province,” ChinaSource Blog,ChinaSource, April 18, 2022. https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/blog-entries/a-strong-foundation-pentecostal-revival-in-yunnan-province/.
Robert Menzies, (Ph.D. University of Aberdeen) is an adjunct professor at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in the Philippines. He has taught at Bible schools and seminaries in the Philippines, Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Russia, Holland, Korea, and the United States. Dr. Menzies has authored several books on the work of …View Full Bio