The Bible Institutes and Missionary Training Centers of China

August 10, 2011

Robert Morrison went out from England in 1807 as the first evangelical missionary to China. Thousands more followed him during the next 142 years; then the Communists took over and put them all out in 1949. Marxism-Maoism became the equivalent of a state religion.

Churches started by foreign missionaries in China tended to follow the free enterprise business model. There were Canadian Presbyterians, Australian Presbyterians, Presbyterians U.S. and Presbyterians USA. There were Lutherans of the Missouri Synod and Lutherans of other synods. Also American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Conservative Baptists, Bible Baptists, Independent Baptists and still more brands of Baptists. Every foreign denomination followed the colonial pattern of establishing branch churches bearing the name of their foreign parents. Independent and interdenominational missions also established namesake branches which added yet more denominations to the colonial mix.

Almost all of the foreign branch churches conducted Sunday “services” patterned after those held by foreign parents in their respective countries. First, there had to be a church building where a duly ordained, paid clergyman would orchestrate the ceremony: Opening hymn, prayer, Scripture reading, another hymn, offering, special music, sermon, closing hymn and benediction. New believers in China compared going to church with attending a theater.

Beginning Around 1935 some Chinese Christians who had grown to spiritual maturity began to teach that a church congregation should be like a heavenly family in their locality, and that a church meeting should be a family gathering in someone´s home where all adult believers were encouraged to take part. A book entitled Concerning our Missions was written on this subject by Nee To-sheng (Watchman Nee) and published in Chinese in 1937. An English translation was published in 1938, and republished in 1962 by Christian Aid under the title The Normal Christian Church Life. Disciples of Watchman Nee and others like him started hundreds of “house church” gatherings all over China.

Christian Aid China Director, Freddie Sun, is invited to teach in many of the Bible Institutes he visits during his trips throughout China every year.

When the Communists gained control over all of China in 1949, they rounded up most of the ordained ministers and sent them to labor camps. Church buildings were converted to public use as store-houses or Maoist indoctrination centers. Without clergy or buildings, the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and other Protestants could no longer hold “church services.” As a result, many of them began to flow into the house churches, even though most of the foreign missionaries had been sharply critical of these nonconformist bodies of believers.

Branch churches of foreign denominations died out in China after 1949, but attendance in the house churches doubled within the first year, then doubled again, even though many of their leaders were imprisoned by the Maoists. Watchman Nee died in prison after being confined for 25 years. Foreign missionaries were said to be spies sent by the CIA, and many Christians who had been associated with them suffered as a result.

The Communists took China in 1949 largely by propaganda which promised an economic utopia for the population. When it failed to materialize, the rising generation sought other alternatives to give meaning and purpose to their lives. Faith in Christ and identification with His heavenly family suddenly appealed to millions, especially young people who were disillusioned with political socialism. Beginning around 1990, an explosion of growth began among the house churches all over China. Suddenly, their greatest need was for teachers who believed and understood the Bible.

And God had a plan It began with an 18 year old girl named Dorothy Chang. Her father was a church pastor who had studied in the USA. The Communists put her in prison and demanded that Dorothy accuse him of being a spy working for the CIA. She refused, and was put into slave labor prisons for 20 years. When released, she married Dr. Freddie Sun, a university professor who had been imprisoned for 10 years following his involvement with house churches in Shanghai and Beijing.

Dorothy came to the USA as a foreign student in 1984, and was miraculously introduced to Christian Aid. She joined the staff in 1987 and her husband came a year later. Christian Aid sent them back to China in 1990 to find out how we could best help the house church movement. They found the answer, and thus began a new chapter in the history of the kingdom of God in China.

Graduates from China Bible Institutes lead discipleship training centers in their homes. Here Dorothy shares at a training center in Henan Province.

While visiting house churches throughout China, Freddie and Dorothy realized that the greatest need was for Bible institutes where the rising generation of house church leaders could be taught the Word of God. Christian Aid responded by sharing the need with God´s people in America. Contributions were received to cover costs of facilities, teacher support and food for the students enrolled away from their homes. Hundred of thousands of dollars were collected by Christian Aid and sent to China to make more and more Bible institutes possible.

Freddie and Dorthy maintained a residence in Beijing and continued to travel an average of 25,000 to 30,000 miles throughout all of China each year. With funds sent by Christian Aid several new Bible institutes were formed every year. Financial support was also distributed to those previously established to cover their costs of operation. With as much as $500,000 being distributed in a single year, the millions of dollars sent to China over 20 years made possible the formation and operation of 151 Bible institutes by 2011.

Many house churches are packed to capacity and the congregation overflows to the outside.

All told, the Bible institutes initiated and supported by Christian Aid have trained and sent out over 60,000 native missionaries, some to every province of China, including Tibet. God has used them to plant hundreds of thousands of new house churches through which millions of souls have come to Christ. The total number of Christians in China is now said to be over 100 million, almost 10 percent of the population.

When Bob Finley went to China as a missionary in 1948, his goal was to establish a Bible institute there during his lifetime. When he had to leave in 1949, never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined that 60 years later God would have used him, as founder and President of Christian Aid, to establish 151 Bible institutes which have prepared and sent out more native missionaries to plant more new churches than all foreign missionaries combined who worked in China from 1807 to 1949.

The house churches in China are self-supporting, but each of the 151 Bible institutes needs an average of $6,000 per year for their operational expenses. They can´t go out and raise funds the way Bible schools do in America; if they did so the Communists might put their leaders in jail and close them down. So Christian Aid staff are praying that God will lead Christians in America to contribute $906,000 each year which can be sent to China for the continued support of those 151 Bible institutes.