China: leaders distance themselves from 'the heavenly man'

While the Lord has indeed brought millions of people to Christ in China over recent years, the character and some of the claims of ?Brother Yun? ? whose story is told in the book The Heavenly Man ? are being called into question by indigenous Chinese house church leaders.

Samuel Lamb (Lin Xiangao) has strongly attacked the ?heavenly man? (Brother Yun) in a pamphlet issued in August. The two most respected house church leaders in Beijing, Moses Xie and Allen Yuan, have also come out strongly against him and Peter Xu. Allen Yuan, who is himself from a Pentecostal background, has said that they are ?black sheep disturbing the church?.

In early April the key leaders of the large rural Sinim Fellowship house churches met in Shanghai and all distanced themselves from Brother Yun and Peter Xu, whom they regard as heterodox, as they come from the ?Born Again? movement which is widely regarded by most house church leaders in China as extreme, if not downright heretical. Moses Xie has written an article in which he describes how the Born Again evangelists split existing churches with their extreme teaching.

The Born Again movement has fragmented into some five different factions. Some people estimate that Peter Xu and Brother Yun still represent a few tens of thousands of believers in China ? not the 50+ million they often claim.

Brother Yun has been overseas now for some seven years, as has Peter Xu. House church leaders in China do not regard them as representative and are unhappy with their activities overseas.

The rights and wrongs of the people involved are difficult to discern. However, what is clear is:

? The ?unity movement? among the house churches has been shattered;
? The majority of the most respected rural and urban house church leaders have distanced themselves from both Brother Yun and Peter Xu.

Back to Jerusalem

Claims are often made that ?100,000? (or even more) evangelists are in training or posed to go out to the Middle East. The most reliable China ministries with many years of experience inside China estimate that a few hundred may be in some kind of training ? estimates vary from about 250-500.

A quotation from Asian Report magazine of Asian Outreach (which is charismatic in outlook) said: ?Leaders of the five streams of China?s house church movement were all concerned with the exaggerated claims in the West by recent escapees from China [i.e. Yun and Xu] that the house church is targeting to send out 100,000 or even 500,000 Back to Jerusalem missionaries. This is, first of all, totally untrue! ?We may be able to train 100 or 200 in the next few years. But nothing like these grossly exaggerated numbers?, the leaders clarified? (Asian Report, May/June 2004).

OMF, in its September 2004 China Prayer News, cautions: ?The number of those who have begun actual training in earnest is still quite small. One China ministry publicly stated recently that the total number across China of those receiving serious training for Back to Jerusalem is about 200 people. We believe this to be an accurate estimate. Taking into consideration that the picture is constantly changing and developing, it is possible the number could be somewhat higher, in the region of 200-500.

The impression that some Christians overseas have that 100,000 evangelists are poised to leave China does not tally with the present reality. The rural house churches find it difficult to train evangelists for their general gospel ministry to the Han Chinese... According to very reliable figures for 2003-04, four of the major house church ?streams? which claim millions of members have a total of 130 general training schools. Of these 100 are one-year training schools which lack even the barest essentials. These groups have a handful of more specialised training schools for outreach to the national minorities and Back to Jerusalem. For example, the China Gospel Fellowship claims two million members and has one school for BTJ with 50 young people in training... Some house church leaders are unhappy with the level of publicity and sensationalism overseas about BTJ?.

Ross Paterson of the Chinese Church Support Ministries in his China Challenge, Summer 2004, said: ?I do at the same time have a very deep concern for the way in which his [Yun?s] ministry is being presented in Western churches. Essentially the message seems to be only that of the ?Back to Jerusalem? challenge... It is important that believers in the West understand that this is not the vision and work of one group or of Brother Yun himself. It is a vision in the hearts of many Chinese believers, many of whom have never heard of his name or work... I am therefore concerned about our attitude to China today. If this ?Back to Jerusalem? vision is all that the believers flocking to the meetings in various lands outside of China hear, then there is a very real danger that they finish with a seriously reduced view of the huge challenge of China. Yes, China is sending out missionaries. But at the same time China urgently needs an army of Christian workers from overseas to go not just to the countries on the way to Jerusalem but to China itself. Most of China?s 1.3 billion people are still in need of the gospel; most of her believers urgently need building up and teaching?.

Making sense

It makes little sense to call for 100,000 peasant evangelists to leave China when millions of peasants (including Christians) are pouring from the villages into the cities, causing a dearth of trained leadership in the rural house churches ? in some villages already 90% of the young Christians have left seeking work in the cities. Also most Chinese cities are under 1% Christian. There are, too, 100 million minority and tribal peoples in China unreached by the gospel. There are 20 million Muslims in China virtually untouched by the gospel of Christ. It makes sense for house church people to train for the difficult task of reaching Muslims by reaching out to the Muslims in their own country first to gain experience, rather than going directly to the Middle East.

Response

EN asked Monarch, publishers of The Heavenly Man, to comment on the situation.

They produced a press release with the title ?The Heavenly Man ? still a target for persecution?. In it Gordon Hickson, co-ordinator of the Back To Jerusalem Foundation in the United Kingdom, said: ?I have been working closely with Brother Yun and Back to Jerusalem now for several years... For those people who know Yun, and how his meetings are organised this accusation that he misuses finances would be totally laughable if it wasn?t so serious.

The truth is that Brother Yun does not handle a cent of any money that comes in from his meetings anywhere in the world. This has always been the case. He never emphasises donations at all, and has never asked a single person for anything except their prayers.

?The Back To Jerusalem Foundation was set up as a registered charity in the UK. Accordingly BTJ operates according to UK law. We have a board of respected Christian leaders and are constantly seeking to network with all the major missions agencies that are involved in China. The BTJ Foundation is totally accountable and our finances are audited annually... The vast majority of funds end up being used back in China to print Bibles, books, operate training centres, support evangelists and missionaries, etc.?

In the same document Paul Hattaway, who co-authored The Heavenly Man and Back To Jerusalem books, explained: ?I have read the recent attacks on Brother Yun and some of his co-workers with a measure of sadness. Parts of Yun?s story, especially his 74-day fast in prison in 1984 and his miraculous escape from prison in 1997, have been declared to be lies by some. As a researcher, I often find it instructive to listen to any conflicting testimony in order to have a more accurate understanding of what is true. The trouble with the present accusations ... is that it isn?t testimony and it neglects positive evidence of reliable witnesses. The accusers were not part of these events they denounce as false. In fact I soon discovered that many of Yun?s accusers have never met him; others have met him briefly, years ago in China.?

Brother Yun himself is quoted as saying: ?In the presence of The Lord, I would like to say I hold absolutely nothing against the men of God who wrote the booklet about me, and I have completely forgiven them ... I know that one day we will embrace before our Father in heaven, and any misunderstanding will be forgotten as we worship the Lamb of God together.?

It remains to be seen how this controversy will play out. Obviously all Christians should be praying for integrity and unity among the Lord?s people.