THREE PERIODS OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN CHINA
Christianity has been in China for over a hundred years. Of course, before that time there were the Nestorians in the Tang Dynasty, which cannot be considered as part of God’s work. In the Ming Dynasty, the Catholics were here also, which also cannot be considered as part of God’s work. The coming of Protestantism began with Robert Morrison, which began only a little over a hundred years ago. During these one hundred years or so, Christianity in China can be divided into three periods.
A. The Period of the Gospel
The first period is the period of the gospel, which lasted from the Ching Dynasty to the beginning of the Chinese Republic. During this period, the Western missionaries could only do some rudimentary works in China, such as running elementary schools in the villages. What they preached was at most Jesus as the Savior, and heaven and hell.
B. The Period of Revival
From the beginning of the Chinese Republic to the end of the Second World War, there was a period of twenty to thirty years. This was the revival period. The change from the previous period to this one can be likened to a change from an elementary school to a high school. Not only was there the gospel, but there were the revivals also. Many people began to live for the Lord and to be zealous for the gospel. In both northern and southern China, many people were raised up to work for the Lord. During this period, there were Dora Yu, Ding Li-mei, John Sung, and others. These revival meetings were widely publicized. From 1922 to 1941, many people lived for the Lord and consecrated themselves. Sister Pearl Wang, who is sitting among us today, was also an evangelist in 1925. All these were God’s works. But the work of revival ceased by 1941.
Sister Pearl Wang interrupted: During 1940, I was working in Southeast Asia, and I felt something was wrong; I felt empty inside. All my past works became history behind me. Many places invited me to go at that time, but I felt that I could not meet the need. I had no assurance how I should help the believers, and I felt that I could not meet God’s demand in this age.
C. The Period of Life
Brother Lee continued: The third period is the period of life. God’s work during this period is to deal with all the human elements and to remove them from our heart through the cross. Mrs. Penn-Lewis once said that spiritual experience is of three levels. The first is the level of salvation, the second is the level of revival, and the third is the level of the way of the cross. In principle, this corresponds to the three periods of the church in China. Of course, the third period includes the things covered in the first two periods, in the same way that the university includes the things covered in the elementary school and the high school. But the elementary school and the high school are not the goal; they are there to prepare a person to get into the goal, which is the university. We are not saying that we do not need the elementary school or even the kindergarten. But it is wrong to be running a kindergarten all the time. If a student remains in the kindergarten all the time, even up to twenty or thirty years of age, there is something wrong. Today, the revival movement is no longer so prevailing. Many revivalists have been put aside, or they have died. Throughout the ages, God never repeats His own work. It does not mean that the former works were not good; it merely means that they cannot meet the demand of this age.
(Messages Given During the Resumption of Watchman Nee's Ministry (2 volume set), Chapter 26, by Watchman Nee/Witness Lee)