Going back as far as the Tang Dynasty, this article traces the advance of the gospel in the city of Beijing over the space of more than 1000 years. Today its influence can be seen through contributions made by Christians of previous generations in areas such as medicine, economics, education, and culture, and in the exponential growth of the church since 1949. As China's most important city, Beijing plays a central role in the continued expansion of the gospel both within China and beyond China's borders. The writer is one of many Christian leaders who participated in the relief effort following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The article is from the website of Beijing City Revival Church.
In 1853 Hudson Taylor arrived in China to preach the gospel. A story is told about Taylor explaining the salvation of Christ to a Confucian scholar. The scholar was deeply moved and asked, "How long have you British known about this Jesus?" Upon hearing that the British had already known about Jesus for more than two hundred years, he asked in astonishment, "If you have known about Jesus for so long, why are you only now sharing the news with us?
In fact, it is not that God does not love the Chinese or that He loves the British more. History indicates that the gospel arrived in China long time ago. The origins of the Chinese church correspond closely with the time the gospel first appeared in the ancient capital of Beijing.
1. The Gospel Arrives in Beijing
Tang Dynasty Nestorianism
According to historical records, the gospel had already spread widely in China during the Tang Dynasty. The Nestorian Stele (781 AD.), unearthed on the outskirts of Xian indicates that Christian churches were numerous at the time. Evidently, the Nestorian Christian faith — Nestorianism — which had made its way to China from Persia, had been widely known in the Tang Dynasty for two hundred years and had spread to nearly every Chinese province. During the height of Nestorianism, China was divided into four dioceses, which were governed by bishops located in present-day Kashgar, Xian, Datong and Beijing. In fact, the Nestorian temple in the Fangshan district of Beijing is regarded as evidence that the gospel was indeed present in the capital city during the Tang Dynasty.
Yuan Dynasty Christianity
During the Yuan Dynasty, Christianity (known as Yelikewen in Mongolian) began to flourish for the first time in the capital. In 1279, Mongolian emperor Kublai Khan successfully wiped out the final remnants of the Song Dynasty and established Beijing (called Yanjing at the time) as the great capital city of the Yuan Dynasty. Among the many Mongolian aristocrats who moved to Beijing, a large number (including Kublai Khan's mother) were professing Christians. Furthermore, in 1294 the Catholic Church sent John of Montecorvino to the capital where he spent thirty-four years as a missionary, baptizing over 6,000 Christians in the first ten years of his ministry.
Ming Dynasty Catholicism
After the fall of the Yuan dynasty, Christianity entered into a period of obscurity. However, during the Ming Dynasty Catholic missionaries, this time Jesuits, once again arrived in Beijing, leaving behind numerous contributions in the course of their work. For over twenty years, the well-known missionary Matteo Ricci worked tirelessly in China to propagate the Christian faith, eventually gaining access to Beijing in 1601 where he focused his work among the city's upper class. He obtained remarkable favor with Emperor Wanli and established Beijing as his ministry base. In just seven years, followers of the Catholic faith increased from around a hundred to more than two thousand. Of the thousands who converted, many were government officials or intellectuals including several prominent figures such as Xu Guangqi, Li Zhizao and Yang Tingyun. During both the Ming and Qing Dynasties, many missionaries such as Johann Adam Schall and Ferdinand Verbiest were given positions in the imperial court; this gave them the opportunity to preach the gospel inside the palace walls. Their influence was such that even Emperor Kangxi possessed an accurate understanding of Christianity. In fact, in one poem he said, "Long time the Heavenly Gate had been to human beings closed, only through the Son of God the road of blessing opened." It clearly communicates the essentials of the gospel message.
Qing Dynasty Christianity
In 1807 Protestantism made its way to China through Robert Morrison, a member of the London Missionary Society. In 1861 the Society sent medical missionary William Lockhart, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England to begin work in the capital city of Beijing. It was the Qing government's lifting of a ban on religious propagation in 1863, however, which ushered in a steady stream of missionaries from Protestant denominations such as the Church of England, the American Presbyterian Church, the Methodist church, and the Congregationalists. After 1900 even more missionary societies, including the Assemblies of God, the Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventists, Oriental Missionary Society and the American Bible Society began sending missionaries to Beijing. Missionaries not only shared the gospel with the citizens of Beijing, but also started schools, hospitals, printing companies, institutes for the blind, and orphanages. They also actively engaged in church planting and development.
2. The Gospel in Beijing
For more than a thousand years God has sent one missionary after another to China to preach the good news of the Kingdom to the people of this land and to establish His church among the Chinese. This is a demonstration of His eternal and unchanging love. God loves the people of Beijing and holds a glorious hope and expectation for this land.
Through the seeds of the gospel sown by missionaries, this land has begun to produce groups of members of the Heavenly Kingdom who are continuing to pass the baton of the gospel to extend the Kingdom of God. These are stories of the people of God's kingdom living for Him. Furthermore, it was the work of missionaries which has established this foundation for the Chinese church and left behind a spiritual legacy. And as the gospel has spread across this land it has greatly influenced the people of this land.
Influence on the salvation of souls
"The gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe." As the gospel has gone forth in Beijing, one by one hearts of stone have been replaced with hearts of flesh, one by one lost souls have found the value of life, one by one lives held captive to sin have been freed and one by one the most lowly and base of lives have been transformed into instruments of glory. The salvation by grace that Christ accomplished on the cross has reached untold numbers in the city of Beijing. In 1949, the capital had seventy-two churches and 4891 believers. Only a half a century later, the number of Christians in Beijing has increased dozens of times over.
Influence on the view of God
For a long time, most Beijing residents were either polytheistic or atheistic. Many polytheistic beliefs were given expression in Taoist ideology. These included viewing heaven and earth as father and mother, believing in the existence of a kitchen God, believing that mountains and oceans possessed supernatural beings, and the belief in tree spirits. Confucianism in its original form did not worship any particular god, but did possess a vague concept of 'heaven.' In essence it was a kind of humanism that elevated man to the place of God. The natural outcome of such a belief was the deification of Confucius. The emergence of Buddhism in China not only failed to create a standardized view of God as it were, but rather imported a variety of Buddhist images that merely added to the existing pantheon. As time passed, the tendency to blend everything together increasedstatues of Buddha unexpectedly appeared in Taoist temples and figures of spirits and other divinities were placed in Buddhist temples. The spread of the gospel in Beijing has created a distinct and uncompromising view of God in much the same way that it did when Paul addressed the idolatry in Athens saying: "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being " (Acts 17:24-28)
The gospel has transformed the capacity of human life, purified man's sense of morality and renewed people's ability for right speech and behavior. Because of the gospel, people plagued by bitterness and hatred as well as former thieves, dishonest businessmen and adulterers have been transformed, restoring a spirit of human dignity. Furthermore, the instruction of Ephesians 4:22-24"to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."has become reality in the lives of many in Beijing.
Influence on Education
When missionaries brought the gospel to Beijing, they also placed great emphasis on education and developing individual abilities. In the late 1940's, missionaries established institutions for pastoral training such as the Beijing school of religion, the Methodist seminary and the Oriental Missionary Society's Bible Institute. They also founded secular schools such as Beijing University, Luhe Middle School, Yuying Middle school, Huiwen Middle, Chongde Middle, Chongci Girl's School, Duzhi Girl's School, and Chongshi Primary School, as well as numerous educational organizations.
During Jesus' earthly ministry, he not only preached the good news of the kingdom and instructed all in truth, but he also healed people of all kinds of disease. As a result, missionary organizations as well as the church placed great value on helping the marginalized, healing the sick and the elderly and caring for orphans. British missionary William H. Murray founded the first school for the blind in BeijingQiming Institute for the Blind. There were other medical institutions established by the church such as Xiehe Hospital, Luhe Hospital, Tongren Hospital, Daoji Hospital, Renguang Nursing School and Dachang Nursery .
The work of the gospel, besides saving souls, has also helped to raise the quality of life for the believers by gradually improving their financial conditions. John Wesley preached to miners in England and established the Methodist Church. In later years, a large number of Methodists became members of the middle or upper classes, and no longer miners. When the gospel spreads to a particular area, it creates a highly visible and universal phenomenon: those attending school get good marks, those who work become accomplished, those leading difficult lives gradually find peace and stability and those in poverty will eventually be filled. In fact, there are even some families who move continually upward from one social class to the next. This is what missiologist Donald McGavran noted as the relationship between "the gospel and social improvement." Even in the area of economic development Christians can make noteworthy contributions.
The spread of the gospel in Beijing has also created a host of opportunities for cultural exchange between China and the West. Many Western missionaries, following a period of service in China, have gone on to play a significant role in introducing Chinese culture to the West; and many Chinese Christians, through contact with the Western church, have been exposed to Western culture. Early on, many platforms for Chinese and western cultural exchange were created through bilingual families within the church. One such bilingual Chinese was Rev. Thomas Wang, a graduate of the Beijing missionary school and initiator of the Chinese World Evangelism Movement, a movement that emerged several decades ago from among the extensive cooperative networks between overseas Chinese churches and the Western church.
Geographically, Beijing is a part of China's interior. As a result the gospel was received later than coastal cities. And although the church in Beijing looks rather feeble when compared to some of these coastal areas, because of its position of centrality within China, the background of the mission societies that have come to Beijing have been remarkably comprehensive. This has been especially true following the reform and opening policy, since a great deal of mission work during this time initially began and developed in Beijing. Furthermore, as the twentieth century came to a close in the late nineties, the church in Beijing had gradually begun to increase in wealth and vitality. The process of urbanization has also helped the church grow as more Christians have moved into Beijing and signs of a flourishing and developed church appeared.
As the church in Beijing continues to move forward and develop, it cannot lose sight of its history or its present mission. The church should remember that God loves this city and He sent countless numbers of Christians in the past who have worked this land and sacrificed their all to lay a spiritual foundation for the church today. The Church must believe that God expects us to continue in the footsteps of those who came before. To first preach the gospel to Beijing's eighteen districts and counties, then to the 289 villages and towns: to testify to 17,430,000 souls of God's saving grace. Furthermore, we must possess the mindset of a debtor to the gospel to discover the Church's potential and resources to preach the gospel to those areas at home and abroad which have yet to hear the good news of the gospel.
The resources and potential of the Beijing church to spread the gospel
Following the Wenchuan earthquake of 2008, churches throughout China responded to the needs in the disaster area, sending volunteers to participate in the rebuilding effort. While I was in Chengdu as part of the short-term project called the "Chinese Christian's Compassion in Action" I met about a hundred volunteers from Beijing, Wuhan, Shanghai, Xiamen, Hangzhou, Xi'an, Guangzhou, Inner Mongolia, and Henan. What struck me most deeply was that the largest number of volunteers was from Beijing and that members of the Beijing church were serving in positions which demanded a certain degree of skill such as office directors, leaders on the frontlines, public relations personnel and logistical support. I learned first-hand from this experience the potential of the Beijing church. In fact, if looking at Beijing from the singular perspective of its concentration of talent, it has both the largest and most impressive collection. Naturally, from a manpower standpoint, the Beijing church has a decided advantage. Furthermore, the 2008 Olympics was another indication that Beijing has entered a time period of much greater closeness with the international community. The manpower of the Beijing church along with its spiritual, financial and cultural resources have the potential, when the church takes the gospel to the world, to make a valuable contribution.
The dynamic and direction of the Beijing church to spread the gospel
Over the past two years during communication with pastors from other churches in Beijing, I have joyfully discovered that Beijing churches, one after another, are beginning mission work both inland and abroad. Some are participating in missions projects in the Northwest or Southwest, and some are sending teams to other cities to begin the work of spreading the gospel. Some pastors have gone to Southeast Asia, Central Asia and even Africa to observe areas where the gospel can be preached and some teams have already started training missionaries. There are churches that have sent missionaries to Thailand, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to begin mission work. Beijing has finally matured from being a city that merely received the gospel for a thousand years to a city prepared to preach the gospel. It can be said that Beijing is the leading city in the areas of politics, economics, culture and education. It is the region that drives China and in the past it has contributed substantially to other areas of the country. May the church in Beijing rise up to be a model for churches in other cities and regions (just like the church at Thessalonica became a model of faith for the believers in Macedonia and Achaia). And may the church contribute in China and abroad to repay its debt of the gospel.
In the Bible, "the city" has always been an important topic. Human history began in a garden and will conclude in a city. There are many cities mentioned in the Bible: Ur of Chaldeans, where Abraham resided had a population of 250,000; the ancient city of Nineveh required three days by foot to go through it (Jonah 3:3); Babylon had a city wall that spanned eleven miles and an a system of aqueducts; Antioch had a sixteen mile long road lined with pillars, and Rome had a population that exceeded one million. Many of God's servants in the Bible served Him in the city: David was a king in Jerusalem, Isaiah and Jeremiah were both prophets in Jerusalem, Daniel was a leading government official in the city of Babylon, Nehemiah was a city planner, and cities were the main focus when Paul preached the gospel. Even Jesus himself completed his work of redemption in a city (because Jerusalem was the city of the most intense political and religious conflict). As the capital of China, Beijing is an important "city." I trust that within this city God has a glorious plan. I pray that in this city you will become an instrument of noble purpose of God!
Original article: 福音于北京
Image credit: Joann Pittman
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