Wang Mingdao at the Christian Tabernacle in Beijing, c. 1950
|Born||July 25, 1900
|Died||July 28, 1991
Wang Mingdao (Chinese: 王明道; pinyin: Wàng Míngdào; Wade–Giles: Wang4 Ming2-Tao4) (July 25, 1900 – July 28, 1991) was an independent Chinese Protestant pastor and evangelist imprisoned for his faith by the Chinese government from 1955 until 1980. He has been called the "Dean of the House Churches."
Childhood and conversion
Wang was born in the foreign legation quarter of Beijing in 1900 while it was under siege of the Boxers. His early life was one of extreme poverty and repeated illness; but he had an inquiring mind and did well at a London Missionary Society school. He later said his poverty had been something of a spiritual advantage because there were many sins that took money to commit. At first Wang hoped to become a great political leader, and he put a picture of Abraham Lincoln on his wall to remind himself of his goal.
Converted to Christianity at fourteen, Wang came to believe "that all kinds of sinful practices in society had their exact counterparts in the church." He decided that the church "needed a revolution" and that God had entrusted to him the mission of bringing it about. In 1919 Wang became a teacher at a Presbyterian mission school in Baoding, a hundred miles south of the capital, but was dismissed in 1920 when he insisted on being baptized by immersion. His mother and sister thought his behavior so peculiar that they believed him mentally ill, and Wang himself later admitted that the "persecution" he had received from others was in part the result of his own immaturity.
In 1923, after a good deal of personal Bible study but no formal theological training, Wang moved towards a more mature understanding of the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith. In February 1925, he began holding religious meetings in his home in Peking, meetings which eventuated in the founding of the Christian Tabernacle, a church which by 1937 had its own building seating several hundred, and which was one of the largest evangelical churches in China during the 1940s. Wang also had an itinerant ministry throughout China, visiting twenty-four of the twenty-eight provinces and taking the pulpit in churches of thirty different denominations. Wang was often absent from his own church for six months of the year. In 1926, Wang began publishing a religious newspaper, Spiritual Food Quarterly (Chinese: 靈食季刊; pinyin: Líng shí jìkān).
Conflict with the Japanese and the Communists
Wang believed both that church and state should be separate and that Christians should not be "yoked together with unbelievers." When the Japanese occupied Peking during World War II, they insisted that all churches join in a Japanese organized federation of churches. Wang refused on a number of occasions. Despite threats of various kinds, he was not arrested, and his church was allowed to continue to hold services.
When the Communists gained control of China, Wang believed that the new government might indeed allow the religious freedom it had promised. Nevertheless, when the Korean War broke out, the government pressured churches that had been started by Western missionaries to unite in denouncing Western imperialism. Wang was pressured but refused on the grounds that his church had never had any connection with missionaries.
In August 1955, Wang was arrested for refusing to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the state-controlled church. A few months earlier Wang had written a long article attacking the Three-Self Committee headed by Wu Yaozong as a group composed of modernist unbelievers with whom true Christians should have nothing to do. Wang, his wife, and eighteen church members, were imprisoned, and the Christian Tabernacle was closed. After signing a confession, making a humiliating plea for mercy from those he had previously denounced as "false prophets," and promising to participate in the TSPM, Wang was released from prison. Then after recovering from a possible nervous breakdown, Wang recanted, was rearrested in 1957, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1963. After the United States reestablished diplomatic relations with China in 1972, human rights organizations began to pressure China to release its political prisoners. When the Chinese government attempted to release Wang in 1979, he refused (like St. Paul in Acts 16: 35-40) to leave until his name had been cleared. In 1980 the prison tricked Wang into leaving, in Wang's words "not released but...forced out by deception."
After Wang's release he received numerous visitors to his tiny apartment in Shanghai, including foreigners from Europe, North America, and Asia. The sheer volume of visitors made Chinese security officers nervous, especially since Wang made frank statements about his past treatment by the government. Wang remained unapologetic, and when a member of the Three-Self Church sent him a donation, Wang sent it back.
Between 1987 and 1989, Wang's physical and mental abilities noticeably declined. In July 1991, Wang was diagnosed with blood clots on his brain, and he died on July 28. As one authority has noted, despite Wang's old age and declining influence, he had "remained an unrivaled symbol of uncompromising faith until his death."
Marriage and personal characteristics
In 1928, Wang (through what might be called semi-arrangement) married Liu Jingwen, the much younger daughter of a Protestant pastor in Hangzhou. They experienced a long and happy marriage and had a son, Wang Tianzhe, who survived them; but their temperaments were remarkably dissimilar. Wang was obsessive about details, whereas his wife was (in his words) "only concerned about the general effect," "happy-go-lucky," and "very forgetful." Wang could be hasty to the point of rashness, and he also frequently failed to express proper sympathy or sensitivity. Jingwen was exceptionally patient and considerate of others, but she stunned Wang by correcting him in public, taking the view that since he had spoken unwisely in front of others, she had the duty to correct him before others as well. Wang recalled that after twenty years of instruction from his wife, he had made "a measure of progress," but he also warned readers of his autobiography that Jingwen "should not necessarily be taken as a model in this respect.". Wang's sermons also reflected changes in gender relations that occurred during the early Republican period, and he preached about marriage, concubinage, and the place of woman in the family.
Wang Mingdao believed in the inerrancy of the Bible, the depravity of man, and justification by faith. He criticized shortcomings of both Chinese and missionary churches, emphasizing that Christians should live holy lives. Wang likened himself to the prophet Jeremiah who had attacked social corruption and false prophets, and Wang especially opposed purveyors of liberal theology such as Western missionaries and the YMCA, which he said had destroyed the faith of young people.
Wang founded the Christian Church in Christ (CCiC), which emphasized "the practical aspects of the Christian life." Wang believed that the greatest responsibility of church leaders was to help Christians "tread the path of holiness." He often refused baptism to converts until they had proved that their Christianity was more than a "profession of their lips." An obsessively orderly man, Wang's advice included admonitions against spitting, flirting, brawling, and chewing on raw garlic. Conversely, he advised Christians to be timely, wear proper attire, and observe traffic rules. Although the Pentecostal preacher who had immersed Wang tried to have him speak in tongues, Wang balked at making repetitive nonsense sounds, and he was repelled by the "indecorous behavior of some Pentecostals who 'danced, clapped, and shouted wildly' during revival meetings."
Wang never took the title "pastor," he permitted no choir, and his church had no liturgy. He rarely allowed anyone but his immediate fellow workers to preach from his pulpit, fearing that other preachers might harbor heretical ideas or be living lives "full of deceit, covetousness, lewdness, envy, pride and selfishness."
Bibliography in English
- Harvey, Thomas Alan (2002), Acquainted With Grief: Wang Mingdao's Stand for the Persecuted Church of China. Grand Rapids, Brazos Press. ISBN 1-58743-039-8.
- Reynolds, Arthur, tr. (1988), Strength for the Storm, Singapore, OMF, ISBN 9971-972-62-X
- Wong, Ming-Dao (1981), A Stone Made Smooth, Southampton, Mayflower Christian Books, ISBN 0-907821-00-6
- Wang, Ming-dao (1983), A Call to the Church, Fort Washington, CLC, ISBN 0-87508-094-4
- Wong, Ming-Dao (1983), Spiritual Food, Southampton, Mayflower Christian Books, ISBN 0-907821-01-4
- Wong, Ming-Dao (1989), Day by Day, Crowborough, Highland Books, ISBN 0-946616-43-4
- Wong, Ming-Dao (1990), The Spiritual Gifts Movement, Southampton, Mayflower Christian Books
- Wang Ming Tao tr. Ding (1993), God's Grace in Suffering, Hong Kong, Living Books for All (CLC), ISBN 962-7329-04-5
- Wang, Stephen (2002), The Long Road to Freedom: The Story of Wang Mingdao, translated by Ma Ming, Lancaster, UK: Sovereign World.
- Arthur Reynolds, who translated and edited Wang's autobiography, translated Wang's family name as "Wong." A Stone Made Smooth, "Publishers' Preface."
- Wang's personal name was "Yong-shung" until 1920, when he "unconditionally submitted to God" and formally changed his name to "Mingdao," which means approximately "Testify to the Way." A Stone Made Smooth, 49.
- Thomas Alan Harvey, Acquainted with Grief: Wang Mingdao's Stand for the Persecuted Church in China (Grand Rapids: Brazos Books, 2002), 7.
- Lian Xi, Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 111. His father was so terrified of being tortured by the Boxers that he strangled himself a month before his son was born. A Stone Made Smooth, 2.
- Stone Made Smooth, 7-20, 27.
- Stone Made Smooth, 31-32.
- Stone Made Smooth, 20-21, 48-49.
- Stone Made Smooth, 42-64.
- Stone Made Smooth, 66-67.
- "I have never studied at a theological college, but I have been taught in the theological college set up by God. I have not yet graduated." Stone Made Smooth, 106.
- Stone Made Smooth, 71-73, 81-82. Wang also credited the teaching of an elderly Norwegian, one Eric Pilquist (who wore "extremely untidy clothes"), with pointing him away from salvation through obedience to the law.
- Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity
- Xi, Redeemed by Fire, 116.
- Stone Made Smooth, 144-52. Wang was gratified that the publication could continue for twenty years without a subsidy from foreign missionaries and that, except for the original capital, he neither put money into it or took money out of it.
- Stone Made Smooth, 216; Stephen Wang, 89.
- Stone Made Smooth, 215-38.
- Li, Yading (Spring 2008). "No Compromise". Christian History & Biography (98): 21.
- Stephen Wang, The Long Road to Freedom (Kent, England: Sovereign World, 2002), 10.
- Stephen Wang, 19-28.
- Xi, Redeemed by Fire, 200-01.
- Stephen Wang, 122, 126, 142, 147, 171; Harvey, 98-99. Among other things, Wang was forced to confess that he had made personal attacks on Wu Yiaozong, the founder of the Three-Self movement under the direction of the Communist government, by calling Wu a modernist, an unbeliever, and a false prophet. (122)
- "But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, 'Let those men go.' And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, 'The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.' But Paul said to them, 'They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.' The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city." English Standard Version
- Stephen Wang, 205-210. Wang's wife had been released in 1977.
- Stephen Wang, 214-19. American evangelist Billy Graham visited Wang in 1988, having been invited to China by the Three-Self Church. Graham's connection with the Church made him unwelcome to Wang, but Graham came anyway.(228) Billy Graham, Just As I Am (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 613-14: "I asked if he had a word from the Lord for us. He was silent for some time. 'Be faithful, even to the point of death,' he finally said, 'and I will give you the crown of life.'"
- Stephen Wang, 238-39. Wang's wife died in 1992, and their ashes were buried near Lake Tai (244).
- Xi, 221.
- Stone Made Smooth, 156-67. "Someone inquired whether our marriage was new style or old style. I could only reply, 'Neither new nor old; both new and old; half new half old.'" (167)
- Stone Made Smooth, 189-202.
- Stone Made Smooth, 197, 194.
- Tseng, Gloria S. (March 2015). "Bathsheba as an Object Lesson: Gender, Modernity and Biblical Examples in Wang Mingdao's Sermons and Writings". Studies in World Christianity. 21 (1): 52–65. doi:10.3366/swc.2015.0105.
- Lian Xi, Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 117-121.
- Stone Made Smooth, 130-31.
- Stone Made Smooth, 135.
- Xi, 113, 117.
- Xi, 115; Stone Made Smooth, 64-65: "Mr. Ju had taught us simply to cry 'Hallelujah' and to repeat those syllables in succession without stopping. Thus it seemed to be the manufacture of tongues by a man. Naturally we did not regard Mr. Ju, who was a sincere and devout man, as having deceived us. Rather he was deceived himself, and through his own lack of commonsense it was he himself who suffered loss."
- Xi, 117.