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THANKSGIVING IN CHINA

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, November 24, 2002


"And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole" (Luke 17:17-19).


The title of this sermon is "Thanksgiving in China." That must sound incongruous, incompatible to the ears of an American, a contradiction of words. After all, Thanksgiving is an American holiday. How can it be connected in any tangible way to people living on the opposite side of the world, in abject poverty, grovelling under the tyranny of Communism? And yet I think that the kernel of this story, the very heart and meaning of it, comes clearly into view when we compare China with America at Thanksgiving this year.

The account in our text is a simple one. As Christ is passing through Samaria and Galilee He encounters ten lepers. Nine of these men are Jewish, and one of them is a Samaritan. The Samaritans were a mixed race of people who worshipped God, but were not part of the Jewish nation. You may recall what a Samaritan woman said to Christ,

"How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9).

It is important for us to remember that "the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" as we think of this account of Christ healing the lepers. He healed nine Jewish lepers who went on their way to show themselves to the priests at the Temple in Jerusalem.

"And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan" (Luke 17:15-16).

I believe that we are seeing the essence of this event repeated - in America and China today. America has been blessed beyond measure by Christ, but she largely goes on her merry way, with no time for Christ, no real Thanksgiving to Him in her heart. But China! Oh, China! She turns back to the Saviour, giving Him thanks! And so it is - real Thanksgiving in China - and only another gluttonous meal in America! That's the way I want us to apply these words from Luke 17 this morning.

I. First, America takes for granted the blessings of Christ.

I have been reading a book titled, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization by Dr. Alvin J. Schmidt (Zondervan, 2001). It shows the impact of Christianity on Western culture. The chapter on the sanctity of human life is very revealing. It shows that infanticide (killing unwanted children), child abandonment, abortion, suicide, and cremation were all practiced heavily by the pagan Romans. Christianity abolished them all.

The Christian view of the sanctity of human life is a direct blessing on our culture which only now is being eaten away by modern paganism. Why do we have hospitals? Because of Christianity. Why don't we have slavery? Because of Christianity. Why do we believe in liberty and justice for all? Because of Christianity. Why are women treated with dignity? Because of Christianity. Where does our educational system come from? You guessed it - from Christianity! Now, you won't hear this in your secular college classroom, but it is the truth from history. Get the book and read it - Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization by Dr. Alvin J. Schmidt, Zondervan, 2001. Dr. Schmidt retired as a professor of sociology at Illinois College in 1999.

Think about this. Where would you rather live - in India, Africa, China or the United States? For nearly everyone, the answer would be the United States. But most people don't understand that it is the impact of centuries of Christianity that makes America such a desirable place to be. I am not saying that many Americans are real Christians today, but I am saying that our culture benefits greatly from centuries of Christian background.

Dr. Schmidt points out that Christians caring for throw-away babies, the sick, the poor, and the elderly overthrew the inhumanity of the Greco-Roman culture. He shows that Christianity's founding of hospitals in the fourth century, and the beginning of orphanages and charitable organizations made our culture a safe and humane haven, compared to the savagery and inhumanity of, say, a country like India to this very day. Dr. Schmidt also points out that universities and the very idea of higher education came out of Christianity. The very country we live in, the United States of America, was founded by Bible-believing Christians, who came here so they could practice Christianity without being persecuted.

But America, and the Western world in general, are like the nine lepers who were healed and went their way, without even so much as thanking Christ for healing them. Yes, our culture in Europe and America has been healed of many diseases that plagued mankind for centuries. That's why people are still flocking to Europe and the United States today. You don't see anyone trying to immigrate to Pakistan, India, or any Arab country. Oh, no! They all want to come here - because we are so blessed in our culture by our Christian foundation.

But America has turned its back on Christ. We have been no more thankful than those nine lepers who were healed - and went away without true thanksgiving to Christ.

Today in America 74% of the people claim to have "made a commitment to Jesus Christ." What a joke! A new study shows that Baptists living in the South are the most likely group to be divorced. "Nationally 29 percent of all Baptist adults have been divorced" (Barna Research Group, March 2000). The startling truth is that so-called "born again" Christians are the most likely group to be divorced - way more than Jews, Catholics, or any other group. What does this show? Why, it shows that American Christianity is a mess - that's what it shows!

Billy Graham said recently:

It seems that the moral dam in the Western world is breaking wide open. The things on television and in the movies, and the literature people read, would make Sodom and Gomorrah feel ashamed (prayer letter, January, 1998).

And what about the churches in America? Out of 15.9 million Southern Baptists, 10.7 million don't even come on Sunday morning. That's right - two thirds of those who call themselves Southern Baptists never attend church! More than half of all Southern Baptists gave less than $1.00 each last year. That's right - less than one dollar a year!

Evangelical Christianity in America is a joke. It has little impact on society. Most evangelical Christians don't pray, don't win souls, don't tithe, and are not faithful to their local church every Sunday morning and night. What good are these American "Christians"? I say that they are no good at all!

"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked…I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:17,16).

The average American so-called "born again" Christian will be spewed out of Christ's mouth into the flames of Hell.

"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not…in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:22-23).

How about you? Are you an American "Christian," a good for nothing, shiftless, wicked, church-missing, prayerless, selfish, self-deceived unconverted sinner - bound for Hell? I say that American "Christians" like you are a disgrace to the name of Christ!

Where are you at prayer meeting time? Where are you at witnessing time? Where are you most Sunday nights? That's what Jesus said about those nine lepers, "but where are the nine?" (Luke 17:17). They got a material healing and material help from Jesus - and went on their thankless way - lost and going to Hell - just the way many of you are!

"Where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger" (Luke 17:17-18).

II. Second, China's persecuted Christians have real thanksgiving.

The American Thanksgiving is largely a sham - a joke. People will gorge themselves with food with little thought for Christ. Yet in the People's Republic of China there is real thanksgiving to Christ tonight.

Recent archaeological evidence reveals that Christianity was first brought to China in 86 A.D., during the lifetime of the Apostle John. The gospel was rejected by China at that time. The Nestorian Christians brought the gospel the second time to China in 635 A.D., under the preaching of Alopen and others. Christianity gained a foothold then and people were converted to Christ in China for about a hundred and sixty-five years. In the ninth century the Nestorian Christians in China were persecuted and ceased to exist as a movement, although some of their church buildings still exist even today.

Then in 1807 Christianity was introduced to China a third time, when the British missionary Robert Morrison reached Macao and translated the Bible into Chinese. He baptized one Chinese convert before his death in 1834. Eight years later the Treaty of Nanjing of 1842 allowed foreign missionaries to freely enter China. Preaching from Morrison's Chinese translation of the Bible, the missionaries began to see numbers of conversions. Twenty-three years later, in 1865 the great British missionary James Hudson Taylor began establishing the first of his 205 preaching stations (or missions) deep in inland China. By 1928 the number of missionaries in China peaked at 8,325. Thousands of Chinese were converted to Christ under their sacrificial ministry.

The Communists came to power in 1949 and began expelling all foreign missionaries. One of the last to leave was Gladys Aylward, whose courageous story has been told in a movie titled "Inn of the Sixth Happiness," starring Ingrid Bergman. I had the privilege of hearing Miss Aylward give her testimony in person for three hours in, I believe, 1963. It was a soul-stirring testimony, and I remember much of what she said today, nearly forty years later.

With all foreign missionaries expelled by them from China, the Communists then banned the ordination of the Chinese themselves. It was in this period that my former pastor, Dr. Timothy Lin, left China to study theology and Semitic languages in the United States. I learned a great deal of what happened in China before the Communists took over directly from my pastor, Dr. Lin, who is now nearly 92 years old. Before coming to pastor our Chinese church in Los Angeles, Dr. Lin taught theology in the graduate department at Bob Jones University for several years. Dr. Lin's ministry made a deep impression on my life in the 1960s, for which I will always be grateful. He taught me to have complete faith in the Bible as the very Word of God. Dr. Lin's father had also been a pastor, in old China, before the revolution in 1911.

The Communists forbade any Chinese from being ordained to the ministry between 1955 and 1985. Ordinations had to be carried on in secret among those in the underground "house church" movement. In 1995 the Communists banned what they called "evil cults" in the house church movement.

Jonathan Chao has an article in a recent issue of Reformation Today (November-December 2000) in which he says, "In China, the Protestant Church has grown a hundred times during the last fifty years (1950-2000) under adverse circumstances and a hostile environment. That environment has been one of persecution by the atheistic [Communist] state" (Reformation Today, Nov.-Dec. 2000, p. 3).

Chao continues by saying, "In January 1950…there were 834,000 Protestant… members. Today, while there is no reliable survey available, an educated estimate would put the number of believers at nearly 85 million…70 million are found in a variety of house churches scattered throughout the land" (ibid.). He concludes by telling us that "Today in North and Northeast China reports indicate that there is a church in every village" (ibid.).

Chao tells us of the phenomenal growth of the Chinese churches under intense persecution. He cites such faithful pastors as Wang Mingtao (1900-1991) who was imprisoned for twenty-three years for preaching the gospel; Yuan Xiancheng of Beijing, who was imprisoned for twenty years, and has pastored a church since 1979; Xie Moshan of Shanghai, who was imprisoned for twenty years; and Samuel Lam of Guangzhou, who also spent 20 years in prison for preaching the gospel of Christ.

These extraordinary pastors, and thousands of other totally dedicated people have led the Chinese churches into an explosive revival, the greatest revival on earth in the last fifty years.

Jonathan Chao tells us, "As a student of Chinese church studies, I can say that the ongoing expansion of the church in China has already passed the point of the [Communist] state's ability to control it. There are already more Christians than [Communist] party members, some of whom are turning to Christ" (ibid.).

The success of this mighty revival in China is astonishing, particularly when you realize the great suffering many Chinese Christians have had to endure. The website religiousfreedomforchina.org/English gives several reports that illustrate what has happened to thousands of Christians in China:

At the local police station, the police interrogated and tortured them. With the Bible in his hand that he found from Yuxi Wei, Yang Zhang shouted at Wei, "Where did you get it? Who is your leader?" Before Wei got a chance to reply, Zhang slapped several hits on his face, and then used an electric police club to strike Wei's ears. Seeing Wei groan under the strike, Zhang shouted, "We have to give you a hard time because you believe in God." Then he told another police, "Go and see what is going on with Xiang. Beat him to death if he refuses to confess!"

Around 9:00 pm of July 1st, 2002, Zefeng Ma and Junfeng Zhang, the head and associate head of Political Protection Section of the Public Security Department of Xiangcheng City, Henan Province, together with Yaolin Xue, the director of Huancheng Road Police Station of Xiangcheng City, and other policemen broke into the house of Christian Xing¡¯ai Wei. Without showing any legal document, they ransacked the whole house like robbers. Then they took Xing¡¯ai Wei and the hymns and Bibles to Huancheng Road Police Station.

At the police station, Junfeng Zhang shouted at Sister Wei, "Confess frankly! Where did the Bibles come from?" Seeing that Wei refused say anything, Zhang grabbed her hair and brutally whipped her face by a rolled book for a while, then shouted, "How long have you been believing in God?" Sister Wei still kept silent. Then Zefeng Ma lost his temper, grabbed her hair and slapped her face fiercely until her face numbed. Then it was Yaolin Xue¡¯s turn. He also dragged her hair and beat her severely. Sister Wei was such tortured and abused until 2:00 am at late night.

Failed to get anything from her, they sent her to the city detention center where she was detained for five days under the charge of "cult organization." After her family had given Zefeng Ma some gifts of 700 RMB (about $88), she was finally released by paying a fine of 500 RMB (about $62).

At 7:00 of the next morning, there came Xian Li, the party director of the Political Protection Division of the county Public Security Department. Li used a leather belt whipped Brother Cai until the bloody bruise covered all around his face and other parts of his body. Then they tightened him onto a bench, and poked him with an electric power line. Brother Cai could not bear with the electric shock, and he shouted and groaned. Then Li kicked him down to the ground, and stamped on his face, shouting, "I will cut off your [sexual organ] if you don't confess that you believe God!"

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand spent fourteen years of torture and suffering in a Rumanian Communist prison, where he witnessed the courage and commitment of hundreds of Christians.  I had the privilege of knowing him well. My wife and I had dinner with him and Mrs. Wurmbrand in their home several years ago. In his book, Tortured for Christ, Pastor Wurmbrand said,

It must be understood that there are no nominal, half-hearted, lukewarm Christians in…China. The price Christians pay is far too great. The next point to remember is that persecution has always produced a better Christian - a witnessing Christian, a soul-winning Christian. Communist persecution has backfired and produced serious, dedicated Christians such as are rarely seen in free lands [like America]. These people cannot understand how anyone can be a Christian and not want to win every soul they meet [to Christ] (Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ, Diane Books, 1976, p. 105).

The Christians in China are like the Samaritan leper, of whom Christ said,

"There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole" (Luke 17:18-19).

I want to be as much like those Chinese Christians as possible. I do not want to be like the average American "Christian." This morning, will you pledge to God that you will follow the example of the Chinese Christians, whatever it costs? Will you promise to be in church every Sunday morning and every Sunday night - no matter what? Will you promise God to help us with all your heart, to make this church, the Baptist Tabernacle, as much like one of those sold-out churches in China as possible? If you will, please come this Thanksgiving Sunday and kneel here at the front of the church, as we sing, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus."  I am not asking you to come forward for salvation.  We can talk about that later if you wish.  I am asking you to come forward and dedicate your life to the kind of Christianity they have in China.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."


Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 17:11-19.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"I Have Decided to Follow Jesus"

THE OUTLINE OF

THANKSGIVING IN CHINA

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

"And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole" (Luke 17:17-19).

(John 4:9; Luke 17:15-16)

I.   America takes for granted the blessings of Christ,
Revelation 3:17,16; Matthew 7:22-23.

II.  China's persecuted Christians have real thanksgiving,
Luke 17:18-19.