Pentecostalism in China has experienced significant growth in the last 30 years, and it is crucial to gain a comprehensive understanding of its impact even for those who do not identify as Pentecostal. It also represents a significant historical perspective of ministry among minority peoples in China. The introduction to Pentecostal churches in China found in the summer issue of ChinaSource Quarterly sheds light on the historical development, theological beliefs, and social influence of this Christian movement within the Chinese context.
This growth can be attributed to factors such as evangelistic zeal, vibrant worship practices, emphasis on personal religious experience, and a perceived alignment with Chinese cultural values. Pentecostal churches in China are known for their emphasis on spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues, divine healing, and prophetic ministries. These charismatic practices have played a significant role in shaping the religious experiences of believers and have contributed to the appeal and growth of Pentecostalism, particularly among those seeking a more experiential and emotionally engaging form of Christianity.
As one who came to China 30 years ago from a Baptist tradition and with little experience with charismatic expressions of faith, I have gained an appreciation for the fervent faith and bold witness of Pentecostal cross-cultural workers and local believers with whom I have collaborated over the years in Southwest China. I have grown in sensitivity to the power of prayer and the Spirit’s power in cross-cultural evangelism and discipleship. Being exposed to humble people of faith who were expectant of God’s moving among frontier peoples and places was especially enriching to my journey of faith. One result was a new awareness and readiness for spiritual warfare and confidence in prayer to join the battle.
Based on personal observation, the larger benefit of knowing and understanding the history and ministry of the Pentecostal church in China for those who are not Pentecostal is found in the opportunity to work together in the completion of the great commission. God’s plan that all people know and worship him requires the collaboration of all who understand and seek to obey the command to make disciples of all nations. However, I can also recall that disunity and divisiveness can disrupt efforts like the Back to Jerusalem (BTJ) movement that are aimed at rallying around a common purpose.
Here are some areas where our Pentecostal brothers and sisters can encourage us all as we seek to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28: 19–20).
I can affirm an observation that Robert Menzies makes about the simple, straightforward approach to Scripture. Those whom I encountered and partnered with had a high regard for Scripture and obedience to the commands of Christ. Pentecostal leaders demonstrated the power of simplicity when studying and applying God’s Word.
By incorporating indigenous musical styles, language, and cultural expressions into their worship and practices, Pentecostalism has resonated with Chinese believers and facilitated the growth of indigenous Chinese Pentecostal leaders. This cultural adaptation has allowed Pentecostal churches to integrate into local communities and gain acceptance among Chinese Christians.
As I related to brothers and sisters who expressed their faith through the open use of spiritual gifts, I learned to work together in common ministry that did not result in friction but encouragement. And so, I was able to come away from the experience richer because of a shared commitment to extending the kingdom.
I have great respect for the leaders that I met and interacted with. I was asked to listen in on an author’s research interview of four leaders of the BTJ movement recounting the development and challenges of this movement and was enriched by their stories of faith and struggle. The obedience of grassroots people from a Yunnan minority were of equal impact as they were sent out as missionaries to other nearby minority peoples who were yet without access to the transforming power of the gospel.
The Chinese government’s regulation of religious activities and its concerns regarding potential social unrest have led to varying degrees of control and restrictions on both Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal churches. This has resulted in both official and unofficial forms of persecution, including church closures, surveillance, and occasional crackdowns on religious gatherings. However, the level of control and the government’s approach can vary across different regions of China. While there may be varying degrees of pressure exerted on churches, in recent years pressure has increased for all Christians as the government seeks to reduce any influence that is perceived as a challenge. This is another reason for the church, Pentecostal or not, to accept each other and encourage each other through opposition. I agree with Menzies when he says that we need each other to extend the kingdom and to face persecution.
Churches in China have actively engaged with various social issues, demonstrating a commitment to community development, welfare projects, and social justice. This engagement has been driven by the belief in holistic ministry and the conviction that faith should be expressed through practical acts of compassion and service. Pentecostal churches have often filled gaps in social services, particularly in marginalized areas, providing aid and support to those in need. This is another area for cooperation. The editor makes balanced conclusions of both strengths and weaknesses of the Pentecostal movement that are worthwhile. He cites the danger of being “susceptible to an unbalanced triumphalism,” and allowance for both a “theology of glory” as well as a “theology of the cross,” as he mentions in a quote from Luther. These are both common experiences of believers in China. There is no doubt that as we understand each other better we move toward the common goal of providing all peoples access to relationship with the almighty God.
Image credit: A friend of ChinaSource.
Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.