In the early 1930s, in spite of a growing threat of invasion, there was in many parts of China a powerful surge of evangelistic activity. God had given to the churches several preachers and leaders of outstanding spiritual calibre, Dr John Sung, for instance, was described by Leslie Lyall in his biography as ‘the greatest evangelist China has ever known’. Then there was the Lord’s servant Wong Ming-Dao who had the oversight of the flourishing church which he had founded in what is now Beijing. In his stand for the truth, and against the rising tide of liberalism, he and his wife stood like a rock. The time would come when they would both suffer more than twenty years’ imprisonment, simply because the church they represented refused to join a federation of predominantly liberal churches as required by the government of the day. In his autobiographical writings Mr. Wong covers the fifty years prior to his imprisonment, the English translation being entitled A stone made smooth (Mayflower Christian Books). Lesser known but equally faithful preachers were scattered all over China by the Holy Spirit preparing the churches, as we now realize, for the fiery trials ahead.
The 1930s were also a period of revival. Among missionaries there was growing spiritual hunger, among many churches, however, there was a different emphasis and revival meetings were increasingly characterized by the quest for spiritual gifts. It was here, regrettably, that the movement was more and more marked by excesses.
As early as 1933 in fact true spiritual concern seems to have been hijacked in some areas by phenomena similar to those now characteristic of the so-called Toronto Blessing. A glance at the map shows that the northeastern province of Shandong, where excesses seem to have been particularly rampant, is within easy reach of Beijing. It is not surprising, therefore, that the ripples of this turbulence were reaching the churches in the capital and Mr. Wong Ming-Dao found himself facing questions about these unusual manifestations. He did not immediately express himself one way or the other, but being a man of the Book he set himself to examine the Scriptures. His findings were published in a booklet entitled The spiritual gifts movement in the light of the Scriptures. Mr. Wong dealt successively with such phenomena as dreams, visions, tongues, healing, dancing, prostrations and trances.
Although the booklet was written in 1933 it has only recently been published in English. The publishers (Mayflower Christian Books, Southampton) make the following comment: ‘Although, interestingly, his studies did not lead him to a cessationist position as such, he brings out clearly the intended temporary nature of the spiritual gifts. He shows, too, how their exercise so readily degenerates …’ When translating Wong Ming-Dao’s booklet the translator inserted a glimpse of background information from a contemporary article in The China Christian Year Book 1932-33 by Dr Paul A. Abbott, Chairman of the Shandong field of the American Presbyterian Mission (North). Here is part of the quotation:
‘There has grown up an elaborate technique in which the steps are clearly marked out. The steps are confession, jerks, dancing, rolling, tongues, trances, visions and direct revelation. What started as simultaneous prayer has degenerated into a ritual of chaos and a liturgy of disorder. Dancing, jumping and unrestrained actions in church are practiced without check. The meetings are pandemonium. The gatherings glorify noise; cacophonous praying splits the ear; wild wailing tears, worked up in similar fashion to wailing at the graves, rob the services of all reverence. Carried on often until the small hours of the morning, they degenerate into exhibitions of emotional debauchery. The bodies strained with fasting and loss of sleep react with jerks and the vocal organs with gibbering. Hysterical laughter makes the gathering uncanny. Many go into religious swoons and remain in such for long periods, sometimes indeed for twenty-four hours. Not a few have lost their reason.’
Mr. Wong concludes his message as follows:
‘Within the Spiritual gifts movement there are many who blindly follow others. Yet there are also those who are spiritually hungry. Many sincerely love the Lord. They are our brothers and sisters, and we ought to love them … It follows that because we love them we cannot do other than speak out about the ways in which they have gone astray. Our purpose on the one hand is to help believers who have fallen into these errors to come to their senses and to break away from them. On the other hand, our purpose is to alert those who have not yet fallen into these errors so that they do not follow blindly those who have gone astray.’