November 03, 2015

God Wants His Glory Back in China

Post by Brittany Tedesco

Credit: Olive Leaf Chinese Christian Fellowship in Seattle, WA

Every day, somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000 people give their lives to Christ in China, a country with a population of over a billion.

A revival is taking place there. And by revival, I don't just mean an awakening—I mean a returning.

In my previous two posts, I wrote about how God is calling those living in the Middle East back to Him. Before Islam took over the region, many people worshipped Him. The descendants of the ancient Mesopotamians were some of the earliest converts to Christianity.

What if I told you that before Buddha. . .before Confucius. . .the ancient Chinese people worshipped the same God we Christians worship today?

Credit: Ethel R. Nelson and Richard E. Broadberry

For many years, our China Director, Dorothy Sun, has studied ancient Chinese characters. She's found that many of them depict the biblical account of creation in the book Genesis, as well as pointing to the worship of the one, true God. Other characters (dating well before the time of Moses, who wrote the first five books of the Bible) relay the temptation of the first man and woman, their fall into sin, and God's remedy for sin in the form of animal sacrifices.

The Bible focuses on the people of the Middle Eastern region. After the dispersion of the world's people at the Tower of Babel, we can follow the history of the Israelites (beginning with Abraham) and other people groups like the Assyrians, Babylonians, etc.

But what about the people who traveled East—the ancestors of the Chinese people? What do we know about them?

Thankfully, the ancient Chinese kept meticulous records. In fact, Chinese is the oldest continuously written language in the world, first written more than 4,500 years ago around 2500 BC.

In an article entitled "The Lamb of God hidden in the ancient Chinese characters," Kui Shin Voo and Larry Hovee explain that ancient Chinese books (specifically ShangShu, Shi Ji, Y Zing, and Shi Zing) written in the B.C. era describe God as the creator of the universe. They also describe the sequence of His creation: beginning with heaven, then moving to earth and all living things, and ending with the creation of man and woman.

Credit: Olive Leaf Chinese Christian Fellowship in Seattle, WA

The books describe God as a just and moral Being who demanded moral behavior from His people, and required animal sacrifices, which included either a bull or a sheep.

He was also described as a spirit. And as such, the making of statues depicting Him was strictly forbidden. In the 4,000 years of Chinese history, they have never fashioned an image of God, whom they call ShangDi (or ShangTi).

Credit: Ethel R. Nelson and Richard E. Broadberry

The ancient Chinese were a monotheistic people, serving only one God. In fact, the Chinese character for ShangDi combines the pictures for "emperor" and "above" (heavenly ruler).

Before and during the first three dynasties—the Hsia, Shang, and Chou, which spanned from 2205 to 255 B.C.—the Chinese people worshipped ShangDi exclusively.

Confucius was born during this period of time, in 551 B.C., and grew up believing in ShangDi (even mentioning Him in his writings). . .his followers, however, began to worship him instead of ShangDi.

Hundreds of years later, around 50 B.C., Buddhism was introduced to China from India.

Over the next 2,000 or so years, the Chinese people forgot ShangDi and adopted one of three religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, or Taoism.

But before this happened, the ancient emperors annually offered animal sacrifices to ShangDi at the "Heaven-Worshipping Altar," mirroring the practice of the Hebrew high priests, which foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ who took upon Himself the sins of the world.

Confucius witnessed these animal sacrifices.

Confucius statue in Tokyo

In their book, Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn't Solve, Ethel R. Nelson and Richard E. Broadberry describe the sacrifices: "For 40 centuries, the reigning emperors of China had traveled annually to the border of the country or imperial city. There, on an outdoor altar, they sacrificed and burned young unblemished bullocks to ShangTi, the Heavenly Ruler. The Border Sacrifice, as it came to be called, was a ceremony conducted in unbroken sequence from the legendary period of Chinese history, before the first dynastic rule which began in 2205 B.C."

The emperors, who acted as high priests, were the only ones allowed to offer to ShangDi. They fasted for several days before the ceremony. And just like the Hebrew high priests, they only sacrificed unblemished bulls and sheep.

"The emperor was very particular about the selection and preparation of the sacrificial animal in order to please ShangDi. The evening before the sacrifice was to occur, the bull, or sometimes a sheep, was thoroughly inspected and cleansed," write Voo and Hovee, in the article mentioned above.

Cheng Tang, the first king of the Shang Dynasty

Nelson and Broadberry include in their book some of the recitations made to ShangDi by the emperors during the annual sacrifice: "For ever He setteth fast the high heavens, and establisheth the solid earth. His government is everlasting. . .All the ends of the earth look up to Him. All human begins, all things on the earth, rejoice together in the Great Name."

This Answers in Genesis article includes other recitations made to ShangDi: "Of old in the beginning, there was the great chaos, without form and dark. The five elements had not begun to revolve, nor the sun and moon to shine. You, O Spiritual Sovereign, first divided the grosser parts from the purer. You made heaven. You made earth. You made man. All things with their reproducing power got their being."

Another recitation included in Nelson and Broadberry's book: "Your sovereign goodness cannot be measured. As a potter, You have made all living things."

Sound familiar? God refers to Himself, and is referred to, multiple times in the Bible as a potter. Isaiah 64:8 is one example: "Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."

I find it fascinating that this understanding of God was deeply woven into the fabric of human beings throughout the earth before the scriptures were even penned.

The first five books of the Old Testament were written by Moses around 1,400 B.C., well after this Chinese practice of animal sacrifice had begun. In another words, the Chinese weren't borrowing a Hebrew practice. They were most likely just carrying on the tradition of Noah's descendants post-flood.

But the sacrificial practice was more than just a tradition. The Chinese understood that the bull, or sheep, was an atonement for their sins. We can see this in the Chinese characters.

For instance, the character meaning "righteousness" consists of the character for sheep drawn over top of the character for "me."

The character meaning "shame" consists of a person laying their hand upon a sheep. We understand the significance of this act from scripture: "If someone brings a lamb as their sin offering, they are to bring a female without defect. They are to lay their hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered" (Leviticus 4:32-33).

Credit: Olive Leaf Chinese Christian Fellowship in Seattle, WA

Ch'in Shih Huang-ti, an emperor who came to power during the Ch'in dynasty in 246 B.C., corrupted the sacrificial system to ShangDi of the previous dynasties by building altars to several other deities.

The long tradition of sacrifice to ShangDi was lost, for more than 1,000 years, until A.D. 1369 during the Ming Dynasty. Historians discovered Ch'in Shih Huang-ti's corruption of the Chinese worship of one God, and they once again returned to this practice.

In the 15th century A.D., the ceremony was moved to southern Beijing, where it continued until 1911 when the last emperor was deposed.

Today, one can visit The Temple of Heaven in Beijing. J. Rachel Reed, who visited China with Dorothy Sun to write A Wonderful Preparation about the Liu family, three generations of whom suffered persecution for their Christian faith, visited the Temple of Heaven.

She includes her observations in her book: "This is the place where, for centuries, the Chinese emperors and the respective entourage would go to burn incense and offer prayer. The focal point of the many buildings was 'The Temple of Heaven' throne room. In the center of the room was an ornately appointed throne with a banner hanging above it. I was told by Dorothy that the banner says something to the effect of, 'For the One True God of Heaven.' Dorothy said that during the Cultural Revolution [1966 to 1976], Maoists blocked off the room from public access. . .they also blocked all light sources there. Even on the day of my visit, I could only faintly make out, through a window, the existence of a banner."

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing

In Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn't Solve, Nelson and Broadberry corroborate this account of the temple throne room: "Inside this edifice resides no idol, but a tablet on the north wall is inscribed with the characters [meaning] Heavenly Sovereign ShangTi."

Despite the influences of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and communism, the Chinese are returning to their God by the millions. His heart is for all nations, and He is drawing and gathering them to Himself throughout our world today.

Writes Reed: "Since the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the park surrounding The Temple of Heaven has become a covert meeting place for Chinese Christians. They still come today looking for fellowship with each other and most importantly, a place to commune with the 'One True God of Heaven.'"

Karen - posted November 06, 2015
I grew up in California, and had dear Chinese & Japaneses friends--the Chinese believed in Jesus! The grandparents of my Japanese friends;however,chanted to the Go'hazen (sp?) giving tiny food offerings. I definitely believe the ancient Chinese believed in the One True God--and this root and our fervent prayers may well be the foundation for the tens of thousands of Chinese coming to Adonai!!! THANK YOU for the article and my thanks to God for all the researchers who discovered these wonderful facts! All praise to YHWH & Yeshua!
Aladin - posted November 06, 2015
This research is illuminating and uplifting. God knows the time of their "calling".
Jack - posted November 05, 2015
This story is stunning! It is amazing how the Chinese characters tell the story of God the Creator and of the slaying of a sheep to cover one's self, for righteousness. Amazing! Wonderful!
Martin - posted November 05, 2015
Brittany, I appreciate your such a thoroughly research and explanation of Chinese ancient history.As a supplemental input, you might also notice that even today Chinese people still call this Land (the God's Land) literally.