As a young teenager I remember inviting friends to the Pentecostal church where my dad was the pastor. If I’m honest, a big fear I had on those Sundays was that someone would burst out in tongues or a prophetic utterance. It was just easier not to have to explain that to a wide-eyed buddy. Holy Spirit experience and Pentecostalism seem to have that effect. Avoidance can be a typical response to a topic that is simultaneously wonderful, confusing, powerful, and messy. That is why I am so happy that ChinaSource “went there” and decided to do a deep dive into the topic in the summer 2023 issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly. As I read through the various submissions, I realized that the topic of the Pentecostal church in China cannot be ignored, should be explored, and could be instructive.
Cannot Be Ignored
Whether the Chinese church is examined through an old China/new China, rural/urban or indigenous/missionary lens, the impact and influence of Pentecostal theology and practice cannot be ignored or extracted from its history. I appreciated the walk through that history and growth provided by Dennis Balcombe in his two-part contribution, “Pentecost in China.” He details historical accounts that are often overlooked because of theological bias, given that “most of the publishers of books on Chinese church history are evangelicals, and many of their associated denominations hold to cessationism.” If Balcombe was merely picking a theological bone and had no China experience, a comment like that could be reduced to resentful speculation, But Balcombe is no China outsider. His brief historical summary is greatly enhanced because of his own unique experience as a pioneer and practitioner on the ground in China for so many years.
Also beneficial to understanding the scope of Pentecostalism in the Chinese church was Evan Lui’s adapted two-part article, “Spirit Empowered Chinese House Churches.” His article displays the evident impact of the Holy Spirit in both the rural and urban revival movements in China. Through personal anecdotes, first-hand interactions, and historical records, each of the contributors of the Quarterly attest to the fact that no matter how you parse the history of the Chinese church, the influence of Pentecostal theology and practice is powerfully present.
Should Be Explored
The factual presence of Pentecostal influence on the Chinese church then obligates the serious learner to examine the topic with focused energy and an open mind. This is not something that can be disregarded. To do so would most certainly deliver an incomplete understanding of the Chinese church. The thread of Pentecostalism, woven throughout Chinese church history, deserves a fair hearing, and that is what has been provided in depth throughout the Quarterly. Furthermore, it is a wonderful first step for the body of Christ in general, one that I hope leads to dialogue and eventually greater understanding and respect. The article titled “Learning from the Larger Story” is clearly the spirit in which the Quarterly was composed, as guest editor Robert Menzies writes,
First, I believe that the Pentecostal churches in China have an important contribution to make to the larger, global body of Christ. Secondly, I also firmly believe that the Pentecostal movement, both in China and globally, desperately need the larger body of Christ.
Could Be Instructive
There are often comparisons made between the church in China and the early church in the book of Acts. The explosive growth and spread of Christianity in both certainly bears witness to the resemblance. So too does the response to persecution and hardship, the complete dependence on God, the uncomplicated understanding of Scripture and how it applies to life, and the experience of the supernatural. If there is something to be learned from the early church, then there is also something to be learned from the modern iteration that we see in China. And if Pentecostal belief and practice has anything to do with that, then we had better take notice and learn what we can.
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