Friday, 14 May 2021

Twentieth-Century Pentecostalism

As a young Christian I remember reading about things such as the gifts of tongues, healing and prophecy in the New Testament and wondering why they were not practiced in the church to which I belonged.  There have been two ways evangelical Christians have dealt with this discrepancy between the time of the apostles and today—there are those who say that such gifts were for then but not now (cessationists) and those who believe the such gifts should be pursued today (continuists).  This evening I am going to look at the waves of the continuist movement in the twentieth-century.    

Azusa Street Revival—Pentecostalism (1906-1915)

In a time of racial prejudice, a tiny group of poor, black and mostly women met with a pastor who had been thrown out of his church because of his claim that his people should be speaking with the gift of tongues.  It was Los Angeles, America’s fastest growing city at the time, and one that had a great mix of people unburdened by old church establishment.  It was 1906.

On the night of April 9th, 1906, the preacher, an African-American called William J. Seymour and seven other men were waiting on God ‘when suddenly, as though hit by a bolt of lightning, they were knocked from their chairs to the floor,’ the other seven men began speaking in unknown tongues and shouting out loud praises to God.

Crowds came to see what was happening.  A few days later Seymour too began speaking in tongues.  Meetings were moved outdoors to accommodate the numbers, and people fell down under the power of God as they approached.  There were claims of healing, and people came to a living relationship with Jesus.  The meetings took place every day, starting at ten in the morning and lasted until late into the night. There was not much in the way of formal preaching but a heavy emphasis on testimony.  People regularly fell to the ground.

To accommodate the growing numbers the meeting moved to a depilated African Methodist Episcopal building on Azusa Street.  In this humble building a three-year revival took place that became known around the world.  The Azusa Street was multiracial, but black led, which was extremely unusual in America of that time.

Outside the building the words ‘Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission’ marked the building.  Inside the building people sat on planks balanced on empty kegs or brought their own chairs.  The room swarmed with flies.  In the corner there was a discreet offering box, because Seymour did not want people pressurized by the passing of an offering plate.  Around the box were wordless testimonies of transformed lives: abandoned pipes, bottles of liquor and crutches.

This revival is considered by historians to be the primary catalyst for the spread of Pentecostalism in the twentieth-century.  As money came in they refused to prettify the building but spent the money on mission.  Daughter churches were created who also refused to sink their funds into fixed assets, renting locations.  By the nineteen-twenties the movement had splintered into a number of denominations.  Seymour himself fell out with much of the community in 1911-1912 and was frozen out of the movement that was becoming increasingly white-led.  He died in obscurity in 1922.

Criticisms of the movement is that tongues were regularly been spoken without interpretation, a practice that the apostle Paul forbade (1 Corinthians 14:28).  Pentecostalism sees baptism of the Spirit as a secondary experience that occurs after conversion.  Groups descending from the Azusa Street revival believed that speaking in tongues was an infallible sign of being baptized in the Spirit.  Non-Pentecostals have always argued against this and it continues to be a debating point in Pentecostalism.  Seymour himself eventually rejected the idea that only those who have spoken in tongues could have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.     

As the movement spread there were reports of people speaking in known languages.  Sadly, sometimes people thought that they were speaking in a known language and went ill-equipped to the mission field in the anticipation of being able to speak to those they were trying to reach.  Some of these unprepared missionaries died destitute on the mission field.  However, in India one Marathi girl with no previous knowledge of English suddenly prayed in English.  Similarly, Sophia Hanson, a missionary in China, claimed to be given the Chinese language, though only for preaching.

The Charismatic Renewal

Less than twenty miles from the Azusa Street Mission almost sixty years later is Van Nuys.  While many see Azusa Street as the beginning of modern Pentecostalism (it is a little more diverse in origins than that) many see Van Nuys as starting place of the Charismatic Renewal. 

Dennis Bennet was the minister of saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys.  He had been considering spiritual growth with a small group.  Not all in the church agreed with the direction that he was taking.  Tensions grew on Easter Sunday 1960 when he declared that he had received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The news was not well received and Bennet later resigned.

In the wake of Bennett’s resignation, the bishop in Seattle assigned him to the floundering parish of Saint Luke’s in Seattle.  His ministry grew there and the church became a training ground for charismatics.

The emphasis on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit began to spread quickly through the mainline denominations throughout the 1960s and 1970s.  While many of the beliefs of this movement were in line with Pentecostalism, for cultural and theological reasons they avoided the label Pentecostal.  This charismatic movement impacted post-Vatican 2 Roman Catholicism, including in Ireland.

Charismatics in mainstream churches tended to be evangelical in belief.  As mainstream Protestant churches adopted more liberal views they tended not to fit in as well.  Many, but not all, left their churches to form independent churches.

What is the difference between been Pentecostal and charismatic?  They have different roots and slightly different emphasises.  The Pentecostals were associated with their own denominations, whereas the Charismatic Renewal was a movement that very much began in already existing denominations.  The Pentecostals put a big emphasis on calling people to faith and revival, and the charismatics emphasised the spiritual renewal in people already Christians (and using you gifts in the service of others, which led to an emphasis on every member ministry).   

The Third Wave—Signs and Wonders

Two of the key people with regards what is called the third wave are Peter Wagner and John Wimber.  Wagner was Professor of Church Growth at the Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Missions in California.  Wagner wrote a book entitled ‘The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit’ in which he explained this third wave as a gradual opening of mainline evangelical churches to the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit without the participants becoming either Pentecostals of Charismatics.  Wagner pointed out that the techniques of the church growth movement are not sufficient in themselves to bring growth, for the rocket needs fuel.

Wagner teamed up with John Wimber (who had been a part of The Righteous Brothers) and they launched a seminary course entitled, ‘Signs, Wonders and Church Growth.’  The principle of Fuller described this as the most popular and disruptive course in the seminary.

Third wave teachers do not believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit is an experience secondary to conversion, but they do believe that all of the spiritual gifts are for today.  The Vineyard Movement would be associated with this third wave, but the third wave goes well beyond any denominational label.  The third wave is sometimes referred to as the sign and wonders movement.


Dramatic experiences of the Holy Spirit were not new to the twentieth century.  There was a reason why Quakers were called Quakers!  The radical Presbyterians of early seventeenth century Scotland and Ulster told tales of healings, resurrections, strange lights and preachers being moved to deliver sermons that they later could not remember.  There was also some tongue speaking in the holiness movements of the late 1900s.  But while the more dramatic gifts of the Holy Spirit were not new to the twentieth-century, an emphasis on such gifts as tongues, healing and prophecy is among the most notable features of twentieth-century Christianity.      



Thursday, 6 May 2021

China Crisis–Opposition to the church in China

In October 2018 Pastor Wang Yi (46) asked the congregation of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu if their city would miss them if they suddenly disappeared. He was challenging them with the question, ‘would people notice?’  ‘Do we make an impact on our city?’

Sadly, his words seem prophetic.  For three months later Pastor Wang and his wife were taken into detention, more than a hundred members were arrested, many had to go into hiding, and others were expelled from the city.  Pastor Wang remains in prison.

Pastor Wang had a high profile.  In 2004, he was listed among the 50 most influential public intellectuals in China.  In 2006, he met President George W. Bush at the White House.  He and his church were willing to criticise the communist government.  His church annually commemorated the Tiananmen Square Rising of 1989.  Not all evangelical churches were seen as been so political.

Experts say that the church in China is experiencing its worst crackdown since Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76).  Let’s begin at the beginning and see how things came to this.

The History of Christianity in China

Christianity seems to have first appeared in China in the seventh century.  However, it did not take root until the sixteenth century.  Then it was reached by Jesuit missionary called Matteo Ricci who established a mission in 1601.  For more than a hundred years the Jesuits were tolerated by the emperors and even welcomed to the imperial court to show their western technology and artistic knowledge.  Then, following a series of papal edicts in the late eighteenth century that banned many Chinese customs, the Qing emperors banned Christianity and introduced the death penalty for anyone found sharing their faith. 

The man who founded Chinese Protestantism was a British missionary named Robert Morrison.  He arrived in China in 1807.  He began translating the learning Chinese and translating the Bible, activities that were punishable by death.  Morrison was also a translator for the British East India Company.  After the Opium Wars (1839-1842) the British signed a series of treaties with the Chinese whereby they exerted influence in China.  Included in these were provisions made for missionaries to be able to reach the Chinese.  Yet after twenty-seven years of missionary work Morrison could only count twenty-five converts.  Even by 1900, after a century of missionary effort by thousands of missionaries the numbers of evangelicals in China was barely a hundred thousand.

When communism took over in 1949 there were about eight hundred thousand evangelicals and three million Catholics (in a country of 540 million).  Karl Marx, the founder of Communism called religion the opium of the people.  Mao Zedong was a revolutionary leader who became Chairman of the Communist Party.  He sought to eradicate religion.  In particular there was a crackdown in Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ (1966-76).

After Mao’s death there was an easing of restrictions on religion.  Since the 1980s, China’s constitution claims to grant religious freedom to five religions—Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism.  This constitutional freedom is freedom of belief but not of practice.  Though these five religions are officially tolerated, they are heavily restricted and monitored.   

Christianity in China

There is no common word for Christianity in Chinese.  Protestantism is referred to a ‘New Christianity’.  It is also called the religion of Jesus.  Catholicism is called the religion of the God of heaven.  They are treated as two separate religions.

The Chinese Catholic Church is forced to operate independently from Rome.  It is controlled by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which answers directly to the Communist Party.  There are also underground Catholic churches.

Protestantism is divided between the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement (Three-Self Church) and the independent ‘House Churches’.  In the current crackdown even Three-Self Churches are being closed. 

The Three-Self Patriotic Church is patriotic in the fact that its first allegiance is to the People’s Republic of China.  The three selves are self-governance, self-funding and self-propagation.  In other words, it is not connected to foreign influence.  In the past the Three-Self Patriotic Church has banned books like Revelation and parts of Daniel whose apocalyptic portions could be taken in a political manner.   

In recent decades the house churches (which meet in a variety of buildings) were tolerated, but this has changed under the Xi government.  Over the past few years local governments have closed down hundreds of the unofficial congregations.  Authorities have removed crosses from buildings, forced churches to fly the Chinese flag, barred children from attending and mandated the singing of patriotic songs.  In Beijing the 1,500-member, Zion Church, was banned when the refused to install CCTV that would have led to government monitoring.

In the larger cities there are also some international churches.  People are typically asked to show their passports at the door to ensure that no local Chinese can attend.  These international churches often meet in the buildings of a Three-Self Patriotic Church.  There are also international churches that meet secretly.

Crackdown under President Xi

Chu Yanquin is a pastor at the Zhongyuan house church.  This church started in a hotel on the outskirts of Beijing in 2004.  The churches two dozen members are mostly political activists who experience constant harassment and surveillance by the authorities.  Chu had been a protestor in the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy rallies.  The experience had left him disillusioned and traumatised.  This contributed to his turning to Christianity in 2003.  He is an example of the sort of convert that particularly concerns the Xi government.

Until recent decades the sort of people who were becoming Christians were not seen as a political threat.  In the 1980s, 8 out of 10 Christians lived in rural areas.  The converts tended to be predominantly uneducated, poor, elderly women.  However, nowadays new Christians tend to be based in the growing cities and are increasingly well-educated and influential men and women.  This sort of person tends to demand their human rights and freedom.  They are also the type of person the modern Communist Party relies on.  Christianity is China is a great response to the western understanding, which believes that as countries modernise they become less religious.

Whereas Mao wanted to eradicate religion, President Xi wants to control it.  The government pursues ‘thought reform’ to show that the Bible’s teaching actually teaches socialism.  He wants to turn Christianity into a domesticated religion that would support the Communist Party.

The destruction of the building of a registered church in Wenzhou in 2016 stands at the beginning of the latest crackdown.  A former missionary explained that while house churches in the area had been harassed for years and suffered persecutions and restrictions, this was the first time that a registered church in the area had been affected.  The local government claimed that this demolition was due to the building not having proper planning permission.  A sign on the way into the town reads, ‘Demolition with fairness, demolition with righteousness, illegal structures must be demolished.’  Apparently, it was not just the building’s size that had concerned the communist party secretary in the area, but the cross on the building.  Other churches in the area have been told to lower or remove their crosses.

Christian offshoots

Falun Gong has received a lot of attention in recent years.  It is not a Christian offshoot but has its roots in Buddhism and Taoism.  It’s leader now lives in the USA.  It was banned as in 1999.

In 2013 Zhang Fan (29) and her father Zhang Lidong (55) were sentenced to death for the brutal murder of a woman in a McDonalds outlet in eastern China after the woman refused to join them in worshipping with the ‘Church of Almighty God.’  This is an apocalyptic group that goes by the name ‘Eastern Lightening’.  It has millions of followers who believe that Jesus has already come back to earth as a Chinese woman and lived in central China until recently.  The group also considers the communist party, which it calls the ‘Great Red Dragon’, to be its mortal enemy, and tells its followers to fight and slay the demons.

China has a long history with Christian offshoots.  The Taiping rebellion (1850-1864) remains one of the bloodiest civil wars in history, leaving more that twenty-five million people dead (a recent study suggests that this number might have been as many as seventy million).  This rebellion against the Qing dynasty was led by Hong Xiuquan, who claimed to be a Heavenly King and younger brother of Jesus Christ.           


Despite all the difficulties facing the church in China, a Professor Yang of Purdue University says, ‘the current suppression and the campaign of demolishing churches, pulling down crosses and throwing people in prison won’t significantly slow down the growth in believers.  If anything, it actually adds fuel to the fire of Christian revival in China.’

Note:  For life stories of missionaries in China it would be worth looking at Hudson Taylor and Lottie Moon.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Is Jesus Racist? (Matthew 15:21-28)

On first reading this passage is one of the most disturbing things ever written about Jesus.  It sounds like Jesus is rude and uncaring.  It seems like Jesus is being racist.  Could that be true?  Is Jesus a racist?

Jesus goes on mission to the Gentiles

The first reason why Jesus cannot be racist is that he has gone on mission to that region.  I love he is going to minister to them.

He begins his time in Tyre and Sidon by getting some rest.  Mark tells us that he went to a house and hoped that no one would discover where he was.  Remember that while Jesus is fully God, he is also fully human.  He was tired.  He needed time out from ministry.  There is nothing godly about overwork.  In fact, workaholism ruins families the same way alcoholism does. 

But Jesus had not simply gone to that region to get spiritually and physical refreshed.  He was resting before he would launch into ministry in that place.  In just a few days we will see him feed four thousand men and many women and children.  One friend told explained to Caroline, ‘we are to work from a place of rest, rather than rest from a place of work.’  His rest is preparing him to care for these people.  He loves these people.  Before he feeds the four thousand, he tells the disciples, ‘I have compassion on them.’

Jesus commends the faith of a gentile

The second reason we know that Jesus is not being racist in this passage is that he will commend the faith of the woman.  In fact, in the gospel he never actually commends the faith of his own people, the Jews, but he does commend the faith of some gentiles (non-Jews)-like this woman and the Roman centurion. 

The woman was a Canaanite.  Now in the Old Testament, Canaanites were known as the enemies of God’s people who were immoral, cruel and idolatrous.  This person’s cultural background is nothing to be proud of.  But then all cultures are composed of sinners and show plenty evidence of sin.  This island has been stained by sectarian hatred.  Our most famous saint, Patrick, was a British man who was brought here because we took him as a slave.  There is a place to be grateful for how God has been good to our cultures and there is a place to be humble and accept that our cultures have failed God in many ways.

Matthew records her calling Jesus ‘Lord’ three times.  She calls him, ‘Lord. Son of David.’  She knows that this is long awaited Messiah who would come from the Jews.  She gets who Jesus is far more than the Pharisees at the start of this chapter do.  She is more insightful that the disciples are at this stage in Jesus’ ministry.  She understands who Jesus is far more clearly that the Jewish crowd who had been fed in the feeding of the five thousand men. 

This is not the first time that a woman in this region has been held up as an example of faith.  Centuries before, in the same region, a Canaanite woman had said to Elijah, ‘as the Lord your God lives, do this for me’ (1 Kings 17:12).

Remember that spiritual insight and faith are gifts of God, and in love God has given this woman the faith which so impresses Jesus.

A Canaanite teaches us how to pray

So, this woman, in a society that looked down on women, who is a Canaanite, from a people known for their sin, teaches us how to pray.  She goes to Jesus about her daughter who has an unclean spirit.

Her child has an unclean spirit.  She literally cries, ‘my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.’  Tim Keller says that a good parent is never happier than their saddest child.  Think of the torture this mother and daughter endured.  The constant torment.  The terrifying night.  What mother won’t move heaven and earth to find help.

She is helpless.  I heard someone say that asking Jesus for things is actually an act of worship because it recognises that he is the only one who has the power to change our situation.  She falls down before Jesus acknowledging her unworthiness before him.  She persists in prayer, even when Jesus is silent and his words seem to be pushing her away.  I love what the godly English bishop, J. C. Ryle, says about the little girl in this story: ‘hopeless and desperate as her case appeared, she had a praying mother, and where there is a praying mother there is always hope.’

Sometimes all we can do for our children is pray, but praying is the most important thing that we can do for our children.

Jesus is not racist because he answers her prayer

Jesus is not racist because he has gone to that region in a mission of love.  He is not racist because he commends this woman's faith.  And he is not racist because he answers her prayer. 

There has been lots of ink spilled over the fact that Jesus says that he has come only to the lost sheep of Israel and then calls the gentiles dogs.  It is true that the focus of Jesus’ earthly ministry was first to the Jews, but it was never to be limited to the Jews.  In fact, this gospel will end with Jesus sending the disciples out to the end of the world.  It has been pointed out that the word used for dog was not the same word that the Jews normally used to insult the gentiles (which described stray scavengers), but an affectionate word that described the family pet.  It has been suggested that he said these words with a smile, to say that he did not really mean them.  It has been suggested that he is looking at the disciples and simply putting their thoughts in his mouth—four hundred years ago the Geneva Version explained this with the words, ‘according to the Jews.’  It has been said that he is testing her faith.

I am not sure that we can be absolutely sure what Jesus means here, although we can be absolutely sure that Jesus is not a racist and that he is not uncaring towards the needs of this or any desperate person.  He is certainly impressed with her faith.  Indeed, he heals the woman’s daughter instantly.  I can’t imagine anyone in our cancel culture persisting in prayer like this when Jesus’ initial response seems so unpromising.


While Jesus’ words may leave us scratching our heads a little, but remember that while God initiated his mission with the people of Abraham, he always intended that they would be a blessing to the world.  Matthew will finish this gospel sending the disciples out to every nation of earth.

Listen to the words of Psalm 87: “I will record Rahab [a Canaanite prostitute] and Babylon [a symbol of oppression] among those who acknowledge me—Philistia too, and Tyre [in the region where our passage is set], along with Cush [Sudan and Ethiopia]—and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion’ (verse 4).  Whatever our cultural background we are equals in the kingdom of God.  Love your culture but be humble about its past failings.

I think we need to reflect that equality in reminding ourselves that this is not an Irish church, this is a church in Ireland.  There is a different.  To say that we are an Irish church would mean that we are saying that somehow our Irish culture has certain rights over the way our church works.  It is the sort of attitude that says ‘now that you live in Ireland you must do things our way, including in ours churches.’  But our church is made up of people from over twenty different nations and I don’t see why any one of those nationalities should have rights over another.  We are a church in Ireland, because we are located in Ireland, but we are an international family of equally loved sons and daughters of God.  We were once foreigners and strangers to the things of God, we are all from gentile cultures, but through Jesus we have access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18).

In London I met a man from Pakistan who grew up Muslim, yet he was intrigued by Jesus' command to 'love our enemies' and he came to know Jesus.  He is from a different background and has a different colour skin, but he and I are equally adopted by the Father.  On a Saturday night a Romanian church use our building.  God has been doing great things in the Romanian community in Ireland-they are our brothers and sisters and are equally a part of the church of God.  A friend of mine, Mucky, was a loyalist paramilitary who came to faith while in prison on remand-he is one with us nationalist Christians.  Jesus truly is the Saviour of the world.  

Friday, 30 April 2021

Revival Growth in Korea

The numbers of evangelicals in Asia has been small and mission work has been slow.  But there are two exceptions: Korea and China.  I am going to look at Korea now.

The first recorded evangelical convert to be baptised in Korea was in 1879.  One hundred years later the evangelicals numbered 10 million in South Korea, about 20% of the population.  South Korea has become one of the great sending countries for missions, with South Korean missionaries working in over 170 countries in the world (they are second only to the United States of America in terms of numbers being sent).  Seoul is home to the largest church in the world, a church with a congregation of around 600,000 (who meet in seven consecutive services in a 31,000-seater auditorium).

Early Missionary efforts

Until 1905 Korea was frequently described as a hermit kingdom for the fact that it was so closed to outsiders.  This inhibited missionary attempts to reach the country.

In 1884, when missionaries were still banned from Korea, Horace Allen arrived in the country as an American diplomat.  Allan was a medical doctor.  He hoped to begin missionary work under cover.  His success in treating a court official opened up attitudes.  Missionaries were permitted to establish hospitals in Seoul (1 Presbyterian and 3 Methodist) and schools (2 Presbyterian and 2 Methodist).  They charged little or nothing for these services and began to establish a good reputation for Christianity.

Another unusual event helped boost the favourable reputation of the missionaries.  When the king came under Japanese control an American diplomate with the aid of a couple of missionaries were involved in a plot to rescue him.  Unfortunately, one of the missionaries had let slip what was to take place and the Japanese were ready.  However, when the diplomate and missionaries went to rescue the king he clung on to them knowing that the Japanese would not want a diplomatic incident.  Neither did the Americans.  The diplomate was reprimanded.  This event helped show that the missionaries were friends of Korea.

By 1890 the Presbyterians claimed 100 converts and the Methodists only 9.  Not only were the numbers small but the missionaries feared that some of these were ‘Rice Christians’ attracted by the hope of receiving charity and money.  One missionary, John Nevius, came up with a strategy to test the sincerity of the converts—in order to become a member of the church you had to bring a new convert with you.  This caused Koreans to reach out to their fellow Koreans.   

The missionaries had a particular interest in the rights of Korean women.  Half the mission schools opened before 1910 were girls’ schools.  They objected to the caste system and opposed Confucianism.

In 1905 Japan secured control over Korea, and they established direct rule in 1910.  The Japanese closed newspapers and banned public associations.  Tens of thousands were detained without trial, and many of these were tortured.

Revival through confession

In 1903 R. A. Hardie, a Canadian Methodist who had been wrestling with discouragement had a special experience of God’s grace.  This spread to his congregation and people started coming to pray and study the Bible.  After 1905 the evangelical church began to see significant growth.  In 1907 a ten-day-conference was planned for Korea’s second city, Pyongyang.  Five hundred men attended on 6th January (and women had separate meetings).  ‘Man after man would rise, confess his sin, break down and weep, and then throw himself on the floor and beat the floor with his fists in agony of conviction …  They would break out into uncontrollable weeping and we would all weep together.  We couldn’t help it.’  This revival began to spread across the country.  Thirty thousand Koreans applied for baptism that year.  These revivals accelerated the transfer of control for missionaries to Korean leadership.  One practice that remains to this date that began in 1907 is that of ‘Union Prayer’, where everyone present in the meeting prays aloud at the same time.

Christianity and nationalism

Evangelicals assured the Japanese authorities that they were not political.  This meant that they were exempted from a 1907 ban of all Korean associations or organisations.  However, preachers started teaching that Japan was the Anti-Christ and the story of David and Goliath was used so often in Korean sermons to illustrate Korea and Japanese that the authorities banned it as subversive.  This being said the numbers of Christians was still small.  By 1918 they numbered around two percent of the population—around 300,000.  Interestingly, in a world dominated by colonisation, while Christianity was generally the religion of the conquerors, in Korea it was associated with the resistance.

After World War 1 the victorious forces, including Japan, met in Paris to shape the new world.  Korean’s stirred by the American president, Woodrow Wilson, with the vision of national self-determination and an end to imperialism.  Plans were quietly spread through the churches and on 1st March a declaration of independence was published, signed by thirty-three Korean leaders including sixteen Protestants.  This was accompanied by peaceful protests.  The protesters sang Christian hymns like, ‘Stand up, stand up for Jesus’, and ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’ 

In response to these protests tens of thousands were arrested, hundreds were shot and religious gatherings were forbidden.  Japanese soldiers committed atrocities like the crucifixion of church leaders and shooting at protesting and singing hymns and songs of national independence.  Independence did not come from the Paris talks and many felt disillusioned.

The link between nationalism and Christianity was criticised by one Christian journalist who wrote, ‘one who loves the nation more than Christ is not fit for Christ … One who loves society more than Christ is not fit for Christ.’ 

Japanese Oppression

In 1932, a new Japanese governor-general began to require Koreans to participate in Shinto rites.  In 1937 the Japanese took full control of Korea and banned the use of the Korean language.  By then, Shinto rites had been forced on Christian schools.  The Methodists and Catholics reluctantly accepted this, but the Presbyterians decided that they would rather close their churches than comply.  This led to Japanese efforts to control the Presbyterian church.  In 1938 the Japanese compelled the Presbyterian moderator to approve the Shinto rites.  The delegates dared not protest and the motion was passed.  In 1939 the Japanese took full control of the Presbyterian church.  The Christian churches experienced rapid decline between 1937-1943.  Churches were no longer allowed referred to the ‘kingdom’ of God and the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation were banned.  In a gesture to the Nazi allies, the Japanese banned the entire Old Testament in 1943.  Shinto shrines were built in Christian buildings.  In 1945 the Methodist and Presbyterian churches were forcibly merged.

There were some examples of resistance.  In 1935 a Pyongyang seminary a pastor preached a sermon entitled ‘Dare to Die’ against Shinto rites.  He died in a prison in 1944.  Sadly though, many were compliant and by the end of the Second World War there were examples of martyrs and also plenty examples of compromise.       

North and South

Following the War, the country was divided in two along the 38th parallel.  The Soviet Union occupied the north and Americans the south.  The Republic of Korea was set up in 1948 in the south.  In the North Kim Il Sung came to rule in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Kim Il Sung had actually been raised as a Christian and even taught in a Methodist Sunday school.

In 1950, North Korea launched a surprise attack and quickly took most of the peninsula.  Seoul was occupied for three months.  Christians were targeted—many churches were destroyed and pastors imprisoned.  The American-led United Nations force recaptured Seoul and briefly looked to take the whole peninsula.  Then the Chinese intervened.  There was a three were war, which ended with the original border.

After the war the south was impoverished.  The nation’s first dictator, Rhee Syngman was actually a Methodist elder.  A student-led revolution toppled the government on 1960 and then in 1961 there was a military coup.    Park Chung-hee, the coup leader made himself President in 1963.  Park Chung-hee did it’s best to recruit the support of the church.  On one occasion he even attended a prayer breakfast hosted by sympathetic pastors.  To understand their support of this leader we need to remember that communism was thought to be a real threat, with North Korea just thirty miles from Seoul.  He was assasinated in 1979 but the military remained ion power.  First genuinely free election 1987, and the first civilian President was in 1992.

Evangelicalism grew massively in the years between 1960 and 1990.  Evangelicals made up less than 2.5 percent of South Korea in 1960 and 27 percent (just under 12 million people) in 1990.  This coincided with a time of unparalleled economic growth.

Full Gospels

In 1907, during the Pyongyang revival, the newly founded Holiness Church (an offshoot of Methodism) coined the word sunbogeum (Full/Pure gospel).  The Full Gospel movement emphasised personal salvation, the Lord’s return and miracles. 

In 1958 Cho Yonggi and Choe Ja-Sil founded a tent church in Seoul.  Cho was a convert from Buddhism who had come to faith after a healing from tuberculosis, although that healing was not complete and he struggled with his health.  Cho, who was twenty, was half the age of Choe, and married her daughter.  The thing that set their church apart was their emphasis on prayer.  Choe developed the idea of ‘triple prayer’—combining prayer in tongues, with prayer and fasting and all-night prayer vigils.

Cho emphasised ‘specific’ prayer.  The story is told that early in his ministry he prayed for a bicycle, and a desk and chair for his office.  But God called him to be more specific.  So, he prayed for a desk made out of Philippine mahogany, a chair with steel frame and little wheels on the bottom and a bicycle made in the USA.  He also prayed for worldly wealth for his congregation.  However, he did not want his hearers to be materialistic or covetous but prosper and have enough money to give to others.  He also emphasised the need to pray expecting that you will receive.  The church emphasises growth, reaching 100,000 in 1979, 200,000 in 1981 and 500,000 in 1985. 

Cho has not been without controversy, being given a suspended sentence for tax evasion in 2014.  While some of his teaching may have lacked balance, he has generally not strayed far from orthodoxy, unlike come of the cults that developed in Korea.

Christian offshoots

There have a number of sects founded in Korea.

For example, Hwang Gukju, in the 1920s claimed that Jesus had been grafted into his neck.

The Inside Belly Movement was begun in the 1930s.  It’s founder, Heo Ho-bin, interpreted her own drawn out phantom pregnancy as a sign of Christ’s return.  She believed that the poverty that Jesus experienced in his first coming should not be repeated and so set about making beautiful clothes for his return.  Unfortunately, her church was based in what became North Korea.  The communists rounded up her followers, executed her and burned the large stockpile of clothing that had been made.

Another northerner Moon Sun-Myung escaped during the Korean war.  He set up the Unification Church (the Moonies).  He claimed to be the Messiah, set to complete the work that Jesus’ untimely death had left undone.  He has an emphasis of changing the world through ‘pure’ weddings blessed by Moon.

North Korea

North Korea regularly tops the chart for persecution of Christians.  The regime claims that there is religious freedom but there is not.  There were a few pro-communist minsters who were permitted, including one who was vice-president from 1972-1982.  It is claimed that Christians can open churches, but Christians prefer to meet in house churches.  These churches are heavily monitored.  It is claimed that there were around 10,000 Christians in these house churches in the mid-1980s.

In 1988 one Catholic and one Protestant church building were built in Pyongyang.  A second Protestant church building was built in 1992.  These were highly regulated. 

A person found with a Bible can have their extended family ‘sent to the mountains’ (that is prison camps).  It is normal for three generations of a family to be imprisoned together. 

South Korean missionaries help North Koreans escape through China.


There has been something of a stagnation in the growth of evangelicalism in South Korea.  That may be to do with the numbing effects of prosperity and respectability (see Proverbs 30:7-9).  Alec Ryrie, from whom I got most of the information for this talk, related growth of the church to the growth on the economy during their ‘tiger’ years.  I think that he underestimates the role of prayer and an openness to the Holy Spirit.  I would seem that the churches that grow are those who remain faithful to the teaching of the Bible and are open to the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Monday, 26 April 2021

Two African giants of the early church

Before the invention of modern transport, it was actually quicker to travel by sea than by land.  Although the Romans did build great roads, shipping was the main means of transporting goods.  So, while by road, northern Africa man seem far from Rome, by sea it is much closer.

Northern Africa was a Roman province known simply as Africa, and Carthage (located now in Tunisia) was the main city.  Northern African Christianity was strong until just before the 8th century when the region was overthrown by the Arabs.

The earliest writing (around A.D. 180) we have from the church in north Africa is of a church that is suffering persecution.  We see in these writing that the north Africans were wrestling to form a theology of persecution.  They concluded that persecution is to be welcomed.  They saw persecution as a sign of faithfulness.

But what do you do about the many people who fall under persecution?  These people were regarded as a problem in north Africa in a way that they were not in other places.  The northern African church is known for its strictness.  One of the answers given to those who had ‘lapsed’ under persecution was, ‘if you really want to show us that you are sincere, then next time persecution comes along, go out and get yourself martyred.’

This strict line towards those who ‘lapsed’ is known as the ‘rigorist’ view.  One of these rigorists was a man called Tertullian.

Tertullian (A.D. 155-240)

Tertullian was the most significant theologian of the second and third centuries in northern Africa, but as we will see his views were far from what we would consider evangelical theology.

Tertullian had a sharp tongue and could be cutting in his writings.  He also had a very clever turn of phrase and some of his sayings have lasted to our time.  It was Tertullian who said that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’

Tertullian was very strict.  He believed that Christians should cut themselves off from the world.  He wrote against Christians partaking in or watching sports.  He told soldiers that they should not salute the emperor (as such a salute was acknowledging the emperors claim to be the son of god).  In fact, he didn’t think Christians should be in the army.  He also thought that Christians didn’t think that Christians should be involved in politics.

Tertullian developed a three-fold view of virginity.  The first virginity was what we were born with.  The second virginity was what we commit to when we become a Christian (we commit to seeking to be sexually pure).  But the third virginity, that he thought to be the best of all, was virginity in marriage—he advocated getting married, but not having sex with your spouse.  He thought married virginity this was most commended because it involved constantly resisting temptation.

He believed that the persecution that the church was experiencing was a sign that Jesus was very close to returning.  For that reason, he believed it was very important that his wife should not get pregnant, for he believed that if she was pregnant when Jesus returned then she would be pregnant for all eternity.

Why did Tertullian have such strange views?

I was listening to a lecture about Tertullian, where I got the material for this talk, and one of the students asked, ‘did he read his Bible at all?’  The answer was that he was an avid reader of the Bible, but he came to the Bible with certain wrong assumptions.

For example, he was influenced by Stoic philosophy that believed that the spiritual was actually a highly developed form of mater.  This is seen in his understanding of baptism.  Tertullian believed that what happened at baptism was that when a priest blessed the waters the Holy Spirit entered the water.  Then waters of baptism then penetrated the pores of the person being baptised and cleansed them from their sin.  As a result of such thinking about baptism he argued against infant baptism—for if you baptised a baby then the chances are that the baby will later commit some serious sin and lose their chance of salvation.  Their only hope then would be to be saved through martyrdom.  He argued that people should not be baptised until they are around thirty because then they will have done all the sinning that they want to (as if!).  In fact, this belief that it is baptism that saves you, with no clear understanding of how to be forgiven for sin after baptism, led to the later practice of death-bed baptisms.  This idea of needing some rite of cleansing at the end of one’s life is still seen in the Roman Catholic teaching of ‘extreme unction’ (the last rites).

Tertullian believed that the Old Testament was that it was not strict enough.  He believed that was why the Law of Moses could not save you.  He felt that Christ came to give us a stricter law.  His thinking can find some justification in Jesus’ teaching on divorce and marriage.  Moses had allowed for divorce in many circumstances, but Jesus now limit divorce to situations of adultery.  He explained that Moses’ more liberal view on divorce was a concession to the hardness of the people’s hearts (Matthew 19:8).  Tertullian actually went further than Jesus’ words in the gospel and allowed for no divorce—he argued that Jesus’ words were a concession that was in place until the gospel was fully established in the church.  This is part of the reason why the Roman Catholic church does not allow divorce in any circumstances even though Jesus allowed it in the case of adultery.

Tertullian also began the idea that a saint was not every ordinary Christian (as it is in the New Testament) but that saints were an elite class of Christian.  Tertullian was not made a saint by the church, probably because he was later associated with the Montanist sect.

While I have highlighted the unusual nature of Tertullian’s teaching it should be noted that he made a significant contribution to our understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.  Although the concepts behind the Trinity are clearly taught in the Bible, they are not formulated into a systematic theology there and the term trinity is not used.  Tertullian leaned on his training in law and explained that God exists in one substance, or essence, and yet God is three persons.  He is also credited as the first of the church fathers to use the term trinity.

Augustine (354-430)

If you are only going to read one book from the church fathers, you would probably do no better than Augustine’s Confessions.  His ‘Confessions’ is the story of how Augustine became a Christian, and also has some chapters of his thoughts on some issues.  Its opening passage contains the immortal words, ‘you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’  Augustine is a champion of God’s grace.  The book is written in the form of a prayer that we are invited to listen in to.

Augustine was born in what is now modern Algeria in 354.  His father was Patrick and his mother Monica.  He had a very close relationship with his mother, although it could be stormy.  Monica was a Christian, but Patrick was not.  Augustine rejected the faith of his mother.

Patrick’s mother also lived with the family and Monica did not always find this easy.  However, Monica was a wonderful witness, and Patrick and her mother-in-law did come to faith.  Augustine explains that she won them through her gentleness, courtesy and love.  Monica prayed very hard for her son’s conversion.  He would not come to faith until he was thirty-two, a year before Monica died.

As Augustine looks back on his life in ‘Confessions’, he sees a story that is all about his sin and God’s grace.  He agrees with the doctrine of the sinful nature and how we are sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5).  He tells of how he enjoyed stealing pears from his neighbour’s orchard, not because he was hungry, but because of the enjoyment of sin.  He would though the pears away once he had them.  He comments of his childhood, ‘such tiny a child, yet so great a sinner.’

At the age of sixteen, Augustine moved to Cartage to study rhetoric.  He became someone who lived in lustful pleasure.  Of arriving in Cartage, he says, ‘I came to Cartage and all around me hissed a cauldron of illicit loves.’  He was deeply sexual and yet struggled with his conscience.  He famously prayed, ‘Lord, make me chaste [sexually pure] but not yet.’  He had a concubine with whom he had a son.

He was searching, but he went down some dead paths.  He became involved in a cult called Manicheism.  The main issue that Manichaeism addressed was where does evil come from.  Like other groups influenced by Gnosticism, they saw the material world as evil.  Their concept of a god was something that was detached from his creation. 

Augustine asked the local Manichean leaders questions, but they could not answer him.  They told him that the main leader was coming to visit, and that he would be able to deal with Augustine’s questions.  However, Augustine was not satisfied with his answers and left the group.  He became sceptical and began to lose hope that truth could be found.  But he did not give up looking.

When he was twenty-nine Augustine decided that if he wanted to reach the pinnacle of his career in rhetoric he would need to go to a more influential city.  Monica was heart-broken when she heard his plans.  It was bad enough that he was away in Cartage, but so much worse that he would be even further away in Rome.  She feared that she would lose influence over him and that it would be less likely that he would become a Christian.

He told her that he was going and then he changed his mind and said that he would not go.  This went on for a while until he eventually slipped away on a boat before she knew about it.  While this may have seemed a disaster to Monica, it was actually a part of God’s bringing Augustine to himself.  Augustine writes, ‘by her flood of tears, what she was begging of you, my God, was that you would not allow me to sail.  Yet in your deep counsel you heard the simple point of her longing.’  God goes deeper than our words as we pray and answers the heart cry that prompts those words.

Milan was actually a more significant city than Rome at that time, so Augustine went from Rome to Milan.  There he met someone who would be used very influentially in his life—Ambrose the bishop of Milan.  He writes, ‘all unknowing I was brought by you to him, that knowing I should be brought by him to you.’

Augustine had looked down his nose at the Bible.  He felt that the language of the Bible was not sophisticated enough.  He did, however, start attending church in order to hear Ambrose.  It was not to hear the truth but to listen to Ambrose, who he had heard was a wonderful communicator.  ‘My pleasure was in the charm of his language.’  He also began to be moved by the music in the church.

Ambrose befriended Augustine.  Again, it was not truth that attracted Augustine to Ambrose but the fact that Ambrose was kind.  ‘I began to like him as a human being who was kind to me.’

His attitude to the Bible was changing and it was when he was outside in the garden of a friend in Milan that he was brought to faith.  There he heard a child repeatedly say ‘tolle lege’ (meaning ‘take and read’).  He wondered if this chant was a part of some game, but he could not think what game it could be.  He took it as a word for himself and opened the book of Romans at random.  What he read changed his life: ‘Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy’ (Romans 13:13).  He was thirty-two.  He regretted that he took so long to come to faith, writing, ‘I have learned to love late.’

He would return to north Africa and become bishop of Hippo (in modern Algeria).  Later, when he was dying, he had the words of the Psalms of confession posted on the walls of his room, where he would spend his time confessing his sin and thanking God for his great grace.

While Augustine had a great concept of the God of grace, there are some areas of our thinking where we may want to disagree with him, for example, Augustine believed in purgatory and praying for the dead.

Pelagius verses Augustine

One of the debates that will occur right throughout the history of the church relates to the nature of the human will after the fall of Adam.  In particular, in what sense is our will free and to what sense are we slaves to our sinful nature.  Two of the first figures to debate this issue were Augustine and Pelagius.

It is not entirely sure where Pelagius originates from.  Jerome thought that he was Irish, saying that he was stuffed with Irish porridge—he was tall and heavy.  He became better known when he moved to Rome. 

Pelagius argued that the sin of Adam, called original sin, was not passed down or imputed to the rest of humankind.  He said that Adam and Eve simply provided the bad example that was followed by their offspring.  Because he believed that the will on humankind was completely free, Pelagius believed that grace simply helped humans to know what to do to live holy lives and that human beings were by nature capable of following God’s commands.

On the other hand, Augustine, argued that the sin of Adam affected the will of every human being that followed, and that by nature we are incapable of loving God or following his commands.  Therefore, grace not only shows us the truth but enables us to follow the truth.

Pelagius’s thinking also meant that he believed that Jesus did not come to pay the price of our guilt on the cross, but simply to set a moral example for us to follow.   This meant that human beings were responsible for their own salvation.

Pelagius’s views were condemned in a number of church councils.

Augustine believed that salvation depended on God rather than humankind.  Augustine believed the whole debate hinged on Pelagius’s rejection of original sin.  If humankind is free for sin’s grip, then grace would never be necessary.  Augustine argued from Psalm 51 and Romans 5 and pointed out that the results of Adam’s sin is that ‘there is none who seek after God’ (Romans 3:11).

Augustine explained the effect of the fall and redemption with the following Latin phrases:

Posse peccare—before the Fall humankind had the ability to sin.

Posse non peccare—before the Fall humankind had the ability not to sin.

Non posse non peccare—after the Fall humankind is not able not to sin.

Augustine’s understanding of grace was that God took the initiative to save people.  It is not just that humankind cannot choose to obey God, humankind will not.  Humankind is responsible for their evil because in doing wrong we are doing what we want to do.  We will not choose him unless he gives us faith.  Augustine spoke of a captive free will (liberum arbitrium captivatum).  It is only by grace we can have a liberated free will (liberum arbitrium liberatum).  Grace works in the depraved nature to bring about a new nature.