Asia’s Maturing Church
The world’s largest revival continues unabated despite widespread restrictions and persecution. Dr David Wang talks about why God is moving so dramatically among Asian believers at this time. David Wang is the International Director of Asian Outreach.
The traditional word ‘harvest’ no longer seems
adequate to describe what God is doing.
I would describe it as ‘the great ingathering’.
Q. Is this truly a Decade of Harvest for Asia?
A. For 25 years I have been involved in Asian evangelism and mission. I must admit that there have been times of discouragement, particularly in the latter part of the 1960s. We saw a lot of activity and effort, but not many lasting results.
However I would say that for the past 20 years we have seen a tremendous response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is happening not only in countries such as Korea and Singapore, which are enjoying phenomenal revival, but also in countries closed to traditional mission activities such as China and Vietnam. We’re now seeing the Holy Spirit moving in dramatic ways, resulting in conversions and church growth, with regular signs, wonders and miracles.
The traditional word ‘harvest’ no longer seems adequate to describe what God is doing. I would describe it as ‘the great ingathering’. This is even happening in traditionally difficult Thailand and Japan. I visited these countries very recently and both missionaries and national leaders were reporting breakthroughs of an unprecedented nature.
Q. Why is the Asian Church suddenly growing so dramatically?
A. We must give credit to the early missionaries who laboured, bled and died sowing the seed of the gospel. Some of the seeds laid dormant for many years. But they did take root. As God’s time comes upon this continent, they are now bearing fruit. Aided by signs, wonders and miracles some are bearing a hundred fold!
Secondly, we now see an explosion of the Church led by indigenous leadership. God is raising up excellent Asian leadership. Asian workers are now evangelising, sending out missionaries and bringing in a great harvest.
Thirdly, persecution and suffering inflicted by communist or atheist regimes and other religious forces have enhanced the Church’s growth even further.
But ultimately I recognise that it seems to be God’s sovereign plan. He seems to have a timetable, and now is the time for the Asian Church to experience revival, renewal, growth and expansion. It is God’s time for this continent.
Q. You mentioned persecution what specific role has it played?
A. Persecution has brought out two things in the Church of Asia. Firstly, it has brought forth Christ’s beauty in the lives of the believers. I know of Christians who have been deprived of everything that we consider important and are suffering deeply for their faith, yet they are living out a life of purity and simplicity in Christ. That kind of living has a great impact.
Secondly, persecution has returned the Church back to the basics of Christianity. It is no longer the clergy who are important. It is no longer the building that is important. What is important is having a fundamental relationship with Jesus Christ. Believers who have suffered persecution experience that Jesus is very real to them.
This return to the basics of Christianity and living a faithful life of beauty in Christ have resulted in mass conversions of people to Christianity.
Q. We read of thousands of these persecuted believers sharing a handful of Bibles and often having no pastor. How can the free world help to meet their urgent need for leadership and Bible-based teaching?
A. Without question this is the number one concern for every one of us who are involved in ministry into the Restricted Access Nations of Asia.
I think first of all we have to realise that ultimately it is God who gives the increase. He is also the author and finisher of this good work. We have to go back and trust Him and say, ‘Lord, it is your Church. It is your body. It is your vine. You take care of it.’
This seems to be a basic philosophy for Christians in the East. When you talk to leaders in the rural areas of China they say things like, ‘Another church has sprung up in that village over there. And a church of 7,000 has just exploded out of nowhere in that mountainous region.’ They give thanks to God for what He has started, and commit it to Him saying, ‘Lord, you continue to finish your work.’ I suppose we have to learn to do the same.
On the other hand, for ministries like Asian Outreach, we do need to shift more and more from pure evangelism to evangelismplusdiscipling. I would say now that at least 50% of our efforts targeted into the Restricted Access Nations are discipling and training in nature. Other ministries are also making a similar shift. In this part of the world, it has to be evangelismplusdiscipling now.
Q. What can believers in Asia’s Third World countries teach their brothers and sisters in the First World nations of the West?
A. In the West, or in the free world as a whole, I see the church identifying far more with the powerful victory of Jesus’ resurrection. They want that kind of relationship. They are keen for the success, the prosperity, the good things of the Risen King. Few partake in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering (Philippians 3:10). However I see the opposite in the Asian Church, particularly in countries where situations are confining and restrictive. These believers are more willing to fellowship with the suffering of Christ. To them that is the greater reward and privilege.
Recently one of our coworkers went to China with a large sum of money to bail out a Christian worker. She had been sentenced to five years of hard labour in a very poor province of China. A few days later my coworker returned with the money. That woman refused to be bailed out. She said, ‘Pray for me, but don’t get me out of this situation. Here is where the sinners are. Here is where the criminals are. Here is where Jesus Christ would have come. Now He has sent me. So please don’t bail me out.’
Q. Dr Paul Kauffman, the founder of Asian Outreach, has been quoted as saying, ‘For the cost of sending out one Westerner to the mission field, five Asians can be sent.’ Should we be sending more Asians?
A. Yes, and no. Looking over the last 15 years I do see the Asian Church moving from a ‘bless me’ position to a ‘bless the world’ position. They are now ready not only in attitude but also in capability. Christians in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and even Thailand or Indonesia are now in a position where they can pray, they can send, they can give and they can go. I am seeing more and more of the Asian Church changing from being missionary-receiving to becoming missionary-sending.
However, I do want to sound a warning. Third World mission is not the rising star and the answer to ushering in the return of Christ. We have our share of weaknesses and problems. We are just as culturally insensitive. We suffer our share of egocentric nationalism. We stumble over the same things that Western missionaries have stumbled over. Perhaps we are even more arrogant! I think the key is for Western and Asian churches to both send out missionaries. Together let’s cooperate in learning, teaching, sharing, caring and shouldering in a relationship of interdependence the Great Commission responsibility.
Q. Should we be sending Asian missionaries even to the West?
A. This is something we have to really work at on both ends. We, on our end, have to stop being nationalistic. Thus far I see far more Korean missionaries going to Koreans in overseas countries, or Japanese missionaries going to Japanese, or Chinese missionaries working among the Chinese diaspora. I would like to see Asian missionaries going to wherever the need and the response are the greatest, be it in the West, be it Africa, be it Latin America or be it anywhere.
It is also time for the West to realize that mission has undergone a fundamental change. It is no longer ‘from the West to the rest’. Mission is now a universal endeavour of God’s church. People of various nationalities have to learn to work side by side to spread the Gospel. So if it’s time for Asian missionaries to go to the West, well, let’s do it.
Q. Are we seeing Asian leadership with such a global view?
A. I do see Asian leadership taking more and more of a strategic role in world evangelism. Some are even holding highly recognizable positions, such as Dr Thomas Wang heading up the AD2000 Movement.
But as a whole, the Asian Church is currently producing localized leaders who are effective in their own culture, among their own people. Only a few are also gifted with multicultural flexibility and availability. However, I believe that in days to come we will see more and more Asian leaders who are bigger than their own church, or their own denomination; bigger even than their own nationalities. Because they are totally for the kingdom, they will take a vital role in Christian leadership worldwide.
Q. How will Asian leadership be different?
A. Over the last one hundred years Christian leadership has been primarily trained with a Western theology. This theology has a strong emphasis on the Gospel as the knowledge of God, and the wisdom of God. But there is a general lack of understanding and application of the Gospel as the power of God see 1 Corinthians 1:24. Thus the propagation of the Gospel has been mostly information based, and somewhat ‘powerless’ in a warfaring sense.
Now we’re seeing an influx of Asians along with Africans and Latin Americans into the overall leadership of the Church. Because of their cultural and historical backgrounds, they have a far better understanding and application of the Gospel as the power of God. Signs, wonders and power encounters are more common to their thinking and lives. I see this having a balancing effect, enabling the Church to make great advances into the world of darkness.
Q. There are some who believe that this ‘power of God’ belongs to another age. Yet we hear many stories of signs and wonders in Asia leading to mass conversions. Is God doing something different in Asia?
A. God is creative. He doesn’t have to repeat himself in any way. But I do see that He has a pattern of operation when it comes to breaking up new ground, opening up new countries.
He allows new signs, wonders and miracles to take place to create tremendous impact. Because Asian cultural influences include a traditional dominance of spiritism and spiritual activities, God has to use signs, wonders and miracles in a very, very phenomenal and outstanding manner to demonstrate that there is no other god but Himself.
I believe He also wants to demonstrate to people in the West that He is a God of power, a God of might. He is the Great Physician. Unfortunately for many, God is our last resort, and not the first and only resort. Therefore we don’t go to Him as desperately and frequently as our Asian brothers and sisters, seeking Him regularly for supernatural intervention. A Biblical principal is that the more you ask the more you receive; the more you knock, the more the doors are opened; the more you seek, the more you will find. That perhaps is one reason why we see more signs, wonders and miracles in Asia. They knock more. They seek more. They ask more.
Q. If God is raising up His Church through mass conversions and is refining it through persecution, where is God taking His people?
A. As I see the events happening all about us, I summarize the work of the Holy Spirit as ‘Immanuel and Maranatha’.
Firstly, I see God being with us. God is not only being with us in a theological way, a historical way, in a hearsay way: ‘I hear that God is doing this and this and this… wow!’ But God is with us in a very ‘Immanuel’ way: personal, current and relevant. And you know it: you sense it, you hear it, you see it, you touch it.
I am sensing that God’s Spirit is taking His people to a realization of the reality of Christ. Jesus is very real. As I fellowship with Christians in China, I don’t hear people saying, ‘We heard about,’ or ‘We read about,’ but rather ‘I experienced Him, I touched Him He touched me, He revealed Himself to me, I saw Him, and also He healed me.’ He is Immanuel in a first person, hands-on manner.
On the other hand I am seeing ‘Maranatha’. Christ is coming back very soon. I think I have never seen the world so shaken up, so disrupted, so changed to the point where everyone is in a state of confusion, flux, and uncertainty. Countries and peoples who previously were not particularly open to the Gospel are becoming receptive. With that kind of openness, the Church is presented with an unequalled opportunity: publish the good news, and proclaim the Gospel ’till He comes.
That’s where I see He’s taking His people. He is giving His people a strong sense of the reality of Immanuel. He is also giving us a strong awareness of Maranatha. Something really big is going to happen very soon.
Q. How can West and East work together to support and encourage each other?
A. In my 25 years of ministry I have seen some basic changes in the relationship between the Asian and Western Church. In the beginning there was a total reliance on the Western missionaries for personnel, provision and prayers to meet the needs in Asia. Everything seemed to be reliant on the West. Then I saw the pendulum swing to the other extreme. One general mood was ‘Missionaries, go home!’ Even missions echoed such a cry. Total dependence swung to total independence.
Now I see a new and more balanced phase: a phase of interdependence. I think both the Eastern and the Western churches have matured to accept the validity of each other, with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I see them valuing each other’s giftings. I see more and more a symbiotic relationship developing where we say, ‘You rely on me and I rely on you.’ We now recognize that we need each other to survive, to perpetuate.
I do not call this relationship a partnership. Partnership is often an arrangement of convenience. I would like to see more of a marriage relationship developing, which is not an arrangement of convenience but of mutual commitment and trust. It is a body relationship.
I have seen Asians receiving Westerners, and I pray that Westerners will increasingly receive Asians.
Q. What has been the burden of prayer upon your heart, above all else, about Asia?
A. In Asia I have seen churches grow from nothingness into, perhaps, the biggest churches in the world today, such as Yonggi Cho’s church and now the Hope of Bangkok, and several others such as the Full Gospel Assembly of Malaysia. I saw them when they were small, and now they’ve grown tremendously. As I look at this kind of phenomenon, the thing that encourages me greatly is to see the birthing and the growing up of a church. The thing that concerns me is that often the church started as an organism and ended up as an organization; started as a corporate body of believers and ended up as a corporation.
My prayer for Asia is that I want to see the basic, beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed, and a simple, pure bride of Jesus Christ prepared. That’s my prayer.
(c) Asian Report, March/April, 1992 (G.P.O. Box 3448, Hong Kong).
Used with permission.
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