Missionary to China
1 January 1863|
|Died||16 October 1933
Bernt Berntsen (Chinese: 賁德新, January 1, 1863 – October 16, 1933), also known as Brother B. Berntsen, was a Norwegian-American Protestant Christian missionary to China. In 1904, Berntsen and his wife Magna was able to preach along with several other independent Norwegian missionaries in a mission station in Damingfu of Zhili Province. Influenced by the 1906 Azusa Street Revival, he later founded the Apostolic Faith Mission in China (later amalgamated with the Assemblies of God) with a group of American missionaries associated with the Pentecostal movement. His evangelism had a profound influence on the early co-workers of the True Jesus Church, namely Zhang Lingsheng and Paul Wei, and he is regarded as one of the early missionary progenitors of Pentecostalism in China.
Bernt Berntsen was born in Larvik, in Vestfold county, Norway. Married to Magna Berg (1867–1935), he emigrated to the United States in 1893 and was employed as a storekeeper in a local grocery store. He resided in Chicago, Illinois for seven years and was naturalized as a United States citizen at the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois on September 6, 1904. His son Henry Berntsen, was born at Chicago in August 1900.
Commitment to Service
In 1904, along with his wife and two young boys, Berntsen sailed for China and joined the Non-denominational South Zhili Mission  which had been founded by Horace William Houlding in Damingfu of Zhili Province since 1901.
The Pentecostal encounter in America
On December 1906, Berntsen came across an early publication of The Apostolic Faith from Los Angeles which detailed the events of the Azusa Street Revival. In 1907, he journeyed to the Centennial Missionary Conference in Shanghai with the hope of finding someone who had experienced the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, the people there told him it was the 'work of the devil'. Although he was convinced that there was more to it than what the critics were saying, he nevertheless returned to the place of his ministry. After receiving a letter from a friend in Chicago who wrote that she had received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Berntsen sailed back to America to see this revival firsthand.
In August 1907, he made a trip to Seattle where he encountered Martin L. Ryan holding group prayer meetings there. Although Berntsen sought for the baptism of the Holy Spirit but did not receive it. He then journeyed to Oakland, California and attended prayer meetings held by William F. Manley, but again he did not receive it. Berntsen ultimately travelled to Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles where he received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit through speaking in tongues on September 15, 1907. After the Mission leaders heard his testimony, they agreed to give some financial support his missionary work in China.
Return to China
They sailed to China in 1908 to form the Zhengding Mission in Hebei Province. Due to the lack of fluency in the language, four of the missionaries later left for Shanghai to learn the Chinese language whilst Berntsen and his wife along with several others began spreading the Pentecostal message to the local populace. Berntsen encountered considerable resistance from some established missionary groups, nevertheless he always hoped to convince other western missionaries. He wrote:
|“||The missionaries here are not in favour of us, so many bad reports are circulated all over this country, so the poor people do not know what to believe of us. ||”|
He rented a store building where he held meetings during the morning and evening, drawing good-sized crowds especially from among the poor. In January 1910, Berntsen had led a number of the poorest people in the region to the Lord and described his work as a "rescue mission". By March that same year, he was caring for thirty orphaned children and a number of people who were disabled, cripple, blind, dumb, and other outcasts.
Between April and November 1910, Berntsen visited Norway, Sweden and Denmark before returning to China directly from Northern Europe. Berntsen also maintained contacts with the emerging Pentecostal movement in Norway, led by Thomas Ball Barratt and Erik Andersen Nordquelle  His daughter Ruth was born at Zhengding in August 1910.
In 1912, they printed a Chinese-language Publication named Popular Gospel Truths  which emphasized on the importance of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They remained at the Zhengding Mission until 1916. Among those baptised were Zhang Lingsheng (in 1910) and Paul Wei (in 1916).
During 1916, Berntsen was approached by Zhang Lingsheng, whom after having read tracts published by the Seventh-day Adventists, advised Berntsen that he also keep the Seventh-day worship. He agreed to do so and on September 1, 1916, Berntsen announced on the thirteenth edition of the Popular Gospel Truth publication that they would be holding Seventh-day worship from now on.
In 1917, Berntsen published a tract titled "The Viewpoint on Seventh-day Sabbath worship in China", which mentioned that worshipping on the Western Sabbath day is equivalent to worshipping on Sunday in China. He reasons:
|“||"...because Sunday in China is the Sabbath day, and this is due to the fact that when people in the Western Hemisphere are sailing towards China by ship, they need to lose one day [ie. put the time forward by one day] when they are still halfway at sea. In this way, Sunday in China is the same as Saturday in the Western Hemisphere. Currently, in regions such as the United States and Britain, Saturday is the Seventh-day Sabbath, hence according to such projections, in order to keep the Holy Sabbath in the region of China [at the same time as in the West], it ought to be kept on a Sunday" ||”|
However Paul Wei was opposed to keeping the Sabbath on a Sunday and dismissed the tract's viewpoints of the Sabbath as "erroneous". Zhang Lingsheng travelled to Beijing to peacefully persuade Paul to change his stance, but after several discussions together, Zhang himself understood and gradually accepted Paul's viewpoint. Hence in the spring of 1918, Zhang and Paul cooperated as co-workers, announced at the Tianjin chapel that they were to be keeping the Sabbath worship on a Saturday and thus formed their independent Pentecostal-Sabbatarian True Jesus Church.
During the middle of 1919, Berntsen clarified his viewpoint regarding the Sabbath on the Popular Gospel Truth publication,
|“||"...Recently some of our brethren have argued that China and the land of the Judea belong to the same continent of Asia; however if there are any Jews who travel by land to China, then they would not need to deduct one day whilst they are travelling halfway through their journey. Hence if our brethren in China can keep the Sabbath worship on Sundays, then we and our Christian brothers living everywhere in the world can keep the seventh-day Sabbath at the same time period. Therefore the Western Sabbath is approximately the same as worshipping on a Sunday in China."||”|
By 1919, Berntsen had become affiliated with the "Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Church of God".
- Popular Gospel Truths (Chinese: 通傳福音真理報, Pinyin: Tōng chuán Fúyīn Zhēnlǐ Bào, 1912)
References, Notes and Further Reading
- Chinese Pinyin pronunciation: Bìdéxīn
- R.G. Tiedemann, "Reference Guide to Christian Missionary Societies in China: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century", p.122
- Former known as Ta-ming-fu; Chinese: 大名府
- Former known as Chi-Li Province
- Lian Xi, "A Messianic Deliverance for Post-Dynastic China", p.434
- Daniel H. Bays, "Indigenous Responses to Western Christianity: Indigenous Protestant Churches in China", p. 137
- R. G. Tiedemann, Handbook of Christianity in China: 1800 to the Present, p.550
- Department Passport Application of Bernt Berntsen, dated September 4, 1919.
- Chinese name: 南直隸福音會 (Nán Zhílì Fúyīn Huì); formerly known as the South Chihli Mission
- R.G. Tiedemann, "Reference Guide to Christian Missionary Societies in China: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century", p.138
- Cecil M. Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement, p.260
- Xi Lian, Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China, p.46
- Chinese sources refer to it as: 使徒信心會 (Shǐtú xìnxīn huì); Another Chinese translation used by the missionaries was 耶穌堂 (Yēsū táng). See Cecil M. Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement, p.263
- Russell P. Spittler, Pentecostal currents in American Protestantism, p.55
- Bernt Berntsen, letter of 28 September 1908, in BM 1, no.26 (15 November 1908)
- Department Passport Application of Bernt Berntsen, dated September 4, 1919
- David Bundy, Visions of Apostolic Mission: Scandinavian Pentecostal Mission to 1935
- Chinese: 通傳福音真理報, Pinyin: Tōng chuán Fúyīn Zhēnlǐ Bào, 1912
- In 1936, Miss E.L. Brown was the sole Apostolic Faith Mission representative in China. For further information, see R.G. Tiedemann, Reference Guide to Christian Missionary Societies in China: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century, p.122
- Steven Kaplan, Indigenous responses to western Christianity, p.133
- Chinese pinyin: Lùn Ānxī Shèngrì zài Zhōngguó de Rìqī, (Chinese: 〈論安息聖日在中國的日期〉)
- "The Viewpoint on Seventh-day Sabbath worship in China", (Chinese: 「因為在中國的禮拜日，就是安息日，因為西半球的人，坐船由海來中國，在海路上除去一日，所以中國的禮拜日，就是西半球的禮拜六，現今在英美等國的地方，禮拜六是安日，如此推算，在中國的地方，守安息聖日，應當在禮拜日。」 〈論安息聖日在中國的日期〉)
- Chinese pinyin: Zhēn Yēsū Jiàohuì, 真耶穌教會. See Stone Zhang, History of the True Jesus Church", p.25-26 (Chinese: 「因為中國的禮拜六，就是安息日，因為本於前幾年，有中外同心信主的弟兄們公同討論，業已將聚會拜主的日期，改守禮拜六為安息日。後又想到凡由英美航海來華者，在海中除去一日，因此又改守禮拜日。近來有弟兄們，論中國與猶太國同係亞細亞洲，若有人從猶太步行來華，在路中不用除去一日，因此本會同心信主的弟兄、同志更正，仍在禮拜六聚會拜主。」 張石頭，《真耶穌教會歷史》，頁25~26)。
- Bernt Berntsen, Popular Gospel Truths, 1919 edition (Chinese: 《通傳福音真理報》)
- Death of Mr. Bernt Berntsen in China. See "Report of the Death of an American Citizen", date-stamped on August 27, 1935