The following is a written interview I conducted with Paul Hattaway–author of several books including one of my favorites: The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun. Paul is the
founder and director of Asia Harvest and a prolific researcher and author.
This is the first portion of our four-part interview:
The Chinese Underground Church
with Paul Hattaway
(Art) How do church meetings in China differ from those typically found in America?
(Paul) Firstly, thank you for the opportunity to share with you some of the things we have learned over the years from the Church in China. There are many different kinds of church structures in China, from large cathedrals to tiny illegal gatherings of believers who meet together in caves or in the woods.
We primarily work with the house churches in China, and their meetings are typically in homes, as the name suggests. The meetings are intimate and real, in that everyone is welcome to share, pray, ask questions, etc. Everyone is there to contribute, and not to be a spectator. There is also a deep and effective and healthy mutual accountability in such settings, as participants are interconnected in a powerful way. Numerous Christians in different parts of the world have told us how they long and are desperate to experience this kind of close, genuine fellowship with other Christians. They are frustrated by the kind of church meetings they experience.
The dynamics of house church meetings in China cause the believers to grow stronger than in many other parts of the world, where a pastor usually dominates the service and everyone else sits there watching and listening. Such a structure is very dangerous for the spiritual life of the believer and the corporate Body of Christ. Christianity was never meant to be a spectator sport!
(Art) I like to say that America’s “Freedom of Religion” is often experienced as nothing more than the freedom to be religious. In other words, we can serve empty religion and have no real relationship with God, whereas Christians in nations like China don’t have that luxury. It’s all or nothing for them. Would you say that this is a fair assessment? (How does this affect the way they live?)
(Paul) Let me begin answering this question by acknowledging there are many genuine believers in America who love Jesus as much as they do in China. They need encouragement and not condemnation. They are the beloved Bride of Christ. I have been privileged to meet many wonderful believers during my travels to the U.S., and have many American friends on the mission field who have been powerfully used by the Lord.
I think those Chinese house church leaders I know would struggle to answer this question about freedom of religion simply because they wouldn’t understand what you mean. Freedom does not come from any government or man. It comes from God alone. Therefore the believers in China have freedom of religion too, because Jesus has set them free! They do not sit around worried they might get arrested or imprisoned. They are full of joy and life, and they travel everywhere sharing that life with people who have yet to hear the Gospel. Freedom of religion comes when your heart is free.
If the Chinese believers happen to get arrested along the way, they don’t moan that their country doesn’t have “religious freedom.” Rather, they believe God allowed them to be arrested so they can share the Gospel with those in prison. Such an attitude makes them a headache for the devil. What I am saying is that Christians shouldn’t focus on whether the laws of their nation allow this or allow that.If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!(John 8:38). You are completely free if Christ has set you free. The kingdom of God triumphs over the will of man! If the Church in America has fallen asleep after years of “religious freedom,” perhaps the answer to awakening their spiritual lives will be found outside the political process.
(Art) How dependant would you say the Chinese believers are on the Holy Spirit? (please share some stories as examples)
(Paul) The Chinese believe all of God’s children must hear and obey the voice of the Good Shepherd. It is a daily thing, where they grow in relationship with the Lord and He speaks to them through His Word and occasionally through rhema words of direction. It is not something that is forced or hyper-emotional; it is completely natural. That doesn’t mean the Chinese have no struggles, nor does it mean their lives are so finely tuned to the Holy Spirit that they never make mistakes or find their flesh battling for attention. But generally the Chinese house church believers have learned to rely greatly on the Holy Spirit.
There are numerous stories to illustrate this. One that comes to mind is of a house church in a major city in China. The authorities infiltrated the meetings by sending a secret agent posing as a new believer. The Christians immediately knew he was a danger, and prayed about what to do. The Lord gave them a plan. From that point on they had their meetings at different homes each week, and the leaders of the meeting never told the other believers where it would be! Each one had to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the meeting place to them if He wanted them to attend. The next Sunday about 40 believers turned up at the same time at a location none of them had been informed of except by God. The secret agent wasn’t there!
This pattern continued weekly and the church grew. Not only did it help the different Christians learn to hear God’s voice, it was also a safeguard for the church overall, as they could be confident that only those people the Lord wanted to attend would come.
Another story that comes to mind was told by the late veteran missionary Paul Kauffman. He grew up in China in the 1930s and 40s, the son of missionary parents. In the early 1950s the family was expelled from China by the Communists, and for about 30 years Kauffman was unable to visit China as the doors to the country were slammed shut. Finally, in the early 1980s, Kauffman returned to China and decided to visit the village in Gansu Province where his family had lived and ministered three decades earlier. He didn’t know if any Christians had survived in the village, and had no way of letting anyone there know of his intended visit.
Kauffman hired a vehicle and went into the mountains where he had grown up. It was late at night, and he expected everyone to be asleep when he arrived. When the vehicle reached its destination, Kauffman was shocked to find that not only were there hundreds of Christians in the village, but they had gathered together to welcome him! Kauffman was confused and asked the believers how they knew he was coming. They explained that while they were praying that morning, the Lord had spoken to several of them at the same time, saying, “Get ready because the son of the missionaries is returning tonight.” In faith they all waited up, worshipping the Lord until Kauffman duly arrived after an absence of 30 years!
(Art) What is your current understanding of the progress of the Church in China?
(Paul) The Church continues to grow numerically, even though in recent years there has been a stronger emphasis on consolidation–that is, discipling and establishing the millions of new believers in the faith. The Chinese Church is focused on the harvest. Not only are they working hard to bring in new believers every day, but they also realize they must look after the harvest that has come in already, lest it spoil.
I believe there are approximately 100 million Christians in China today, the majority of whom worship in unregistered (illegal) house church meetings. There are also many genuine Christians who worship in the state-sanctioned Three-Self churches. God is no respecter or persons and He has been moving among His children in those churches as well.
One hundred million believers in China is extraordinary, especially considering there were less than one million Protestants when the Communists came to power in 1949. Their aim was to obliterate religion once and for all, but the Church has grown 100 fold under their rule! On the other hand, China is a massive nation, and 100 million is only 7% of the population. Instead of sitting around admiring the work that has been done, the Chinese Christian leaders I know are focused on the 93% of people in China who are lost. One even told me he felt like they were failing because the rate of those being born-again every day is still lower than the natural birth-rate. This means there are more lost people in China by the end of each day than there were at the beginning.
We have conducted the most thorough survey of Christians in China that is currently available, researching how many believers live in each of China’s 2,371 cities and counties. This study, plus information on how we arrived at these figures, is available at “The Church in China” link of our website: http://www.asiaharvest.org/
Overall the Church in China is continuing to grow in grace and in number, and also in vision as they lift up their eyes to see the ripe harvest fields both within their own country and outside the borders of China. The revival fires in China seem to be burning brightest in those areas historically with few Christians, such as Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Xinjiang and Qinghai provinces. Tens of thousands of people in Sichuan have also been brought into relationship with Jesus in the aftermath of the horrific earthquake in 2008. Thousands of Chinese and foreign Christians were at the front of the relief efforts, and a combination of their loving assistance and bold witness has proven irresistible to many people whose lives were devastated by the quake. This area had previously been considered one of the more resistant to the Gospel in all of China.
My thanks to Paul Hattaway for taking the time to answer these questions!
- Tomorrow, you’ll read about Brother Yun–including a testimony that has never before been published.
- On the 18th, we’ll talk about Preparing for Persecution.
- And on the 19th, our topic will be “Reaching the 10-40 Window.”
If you would like these interviews delivered directly to your e-mail, please join the free e-mail list.