According to the apostle Paul knowledge of the One True God came to China with the first descendants of Adam and Eve to settle in the country, but those inhabitants chose to leave their Creator behind. God did not leave them, they - like the nations of Europe - chose to leave him.
"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." (Romans 1:19-23 ESV)
Paul addresses a similar audience - whose ancestors had also chosen to forget their Creator - in the Greek city of Lystra:
"In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." (Acts 14:16-17 ESV)
When Paul came to those people's capital city Athens he made a similar speech, showing them that their attempts to worship other gods - as in Buddhism and Taoism - were simply attempts to make contact with the original One God whom their ancestors had forgotten.
"For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for "'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, "'For we are indeed his offspring.' Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:23-31)
Paul's words here are true today as well. God never sent these people away, instead their ancestors chose not to hand down knowledge of the true God to their children. We can see from Chinese history the truth in these words. Go to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and you will find that while the people of China worshipped many gods, the emperor worshipped only one God - Shangdi, the Emperor of Heaven himself. The oldest religion is monotheism - the belief in one absolute God.
"who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time." (1 Timothy 2;4-6)
No one knows when the Good News about Jesus first came to China. Jews had been coming with Persian traders along the Silk Road since the days of their exile in Babylon c.500BC - leading to the famous construction of a Jewish quarter and synagogue in Kaifeng - so it is not at all impossible that some of the 1st Century Jewish Christians came with them.
However the first written records of Christianity concern the Nestorian monk Olopen who came along the silk road in 635AD, translated a Gospel synopsis into Chinese and founded a church in the capital Xian in 638AD - possibly the same church which has recently been excavated. The famous Nestorian Stone now housed in Xian City Museum, which recognises Christianity as one of China's religions dates one from 781AD, but this stone records that Nestorian monasteries "abound in a hundred cities", indicating a wide spread of Christianity - even as far as Mongolia. This is the same period when most of Northern Europe was in total darkness.
Nestorianism was a heresy in Europe. It's founder Nestorius had been archbishop of Constantinople from 428-431AD and taught an extreme form of the Trinity which, his enemies said, taught Christ had two natures - one human and one divine. However to his credit Nestorius did at least try to address verses such as Mark 13:32, John 14:28 and Hebrews 5:7-8 which orthodox Trinitarians simply ignore. What the Nestorian monks taught in China we do not really know. From what survives it appears to have been very basic.
In 1867 an English man in Hong Kong, Bro Lilley, found an early
edition the book ¡®Christendom Astray¡¯ by the Scottish Christadelphian writer
Robert Roberts, and his eyes were opened as to how the original Gospel message
of the Apostles had been changed by years of tradition.
How the copy of the book got to Hong Kong is not known, but it had a
tremendous effect on Bro Lilley, and soon his new-found knowledge was passed to
others who, in turn, were also convinced of the original simple New Testament
message. The friends baptised each other, and formed themselves into a small
assembly. The founder of the group Bro Lilley wrote to the author of the book,
brother Roberts, asking for advice on how to set up and run an assembly. He
spoke of having great battle to fight for the faith. Apparently, such opposition
dogged the steps of the assembly right to the end of its days.
The brethren established a meeting room called the Christadelphian
Synagogue in West Point, Hong Kong. "Synagogue" is a rather unusual name, one
not encountered among Christadelphians today, but it was not unknown among 19th
Century brethren who wished to distinguish their assemblies from the pastor-led
"chapels" and "churches". (In fact the word 'synagogue' is used of an early
Christian assembly in James 2:2). The little assembly took a room
for lectures at a rent of three pounds a month, and handbills were distributed.
The result was the baptism of two more members including Bro Hart who was to
become the mainstay of the little lightstand. Discussions were also held in a
pastor's house but, the more the believers increased, the more hostility was
aroused by the brethren¡¯s view on Jesus being the Son of God, not God himself.
All the foreign churches seemed to unite to crush the assembly. The brethren
complained of having to contend with 'absurd arguments' and were excluded by
On 4 January 1869, there was a debate between a Brother Hart and a cleric, Rev Hill. The opposition was so great that bro Lilley who had originally found the book ¡®Christendom Astray¡¯ succumbed to the opponents and presumably went back to the establishment church.
But the little lamp was kept burning by the great efforts of Bro Hart. Brother Hart preached every Sunday and grasped every opportunity to preach the Good News. The churches maligned him and the newspapers defamed him. He was attacked in the press for teaching the mortality of man (see Psalm 6:5, John 3:13), by a writer who called himself 'An Immortal' but denied the right to respond. Bro Hart¡¯s name appeared in the church directory of the foreign churches with the slur 'anti-Christian' against it, again without the right to clear his name.
Most unfortunately Bro Hart lost his job for his faith. A Reverend Tegg went to speak to Bro Hart's employer - presumably a man of standing in the foreign community - and the eventual result was that Bro Hart reported he had "lost his situation for speaking out". The influence of Reverend Tegg and those like him was strong - Bro Hart was unable to find permanent work with any foreign company and was unemployed again just before his death a few years later.
An additional problem for Bro Hart and the other brethren was that
they were hampered not only by the opposition of foreign pastors and
missionaries, but also by their stance to the British colonial government. With
Christadelphians refusing to bear arms, or to become involved with the many
commercial activities of the colonial traders incompatible with the Bible, they
were at odds with the foreign community at work as well as in worship. The
period when the little Christadelphian Synagogue was experiencing persecution
from these pastors was exactly the same period ¨C after the end of the Second
Opium War in 1860 ¨C when British trading companies in Hong Kong made fortunes
selling opium to China. A little group of anti-opium, anti-arms,
non-Trinitarian, lay Christians was hardly going to be well received by the
foreign community in such an outpost of the British Empire.
Having been rejected by the privileged foreign community in Hong Kong
it appears the brethren made some efforts to reach out to the mixture of races
making up the majority of Hong Kong¡¯s population ¨C Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay,
Indian - though they were hampered by the language and the competing attractions
of life in Hong Kong. They also looked outside Hong Kong making use of the
shipping routes out of Hong Kong to spread the Good News. Those brethren who had
business over the border took the message into Canton and into mainland China.
More of the literature found its way to the Philippines, Malaya, Borneo,
Singapore, India and even Nagasaki in Japan. The brethren in Hong Kong were a
kind of nineteenth century ¡®Bible Mission¡¯ of the Far East.
The brethren¡¯s difficulties increased in the 1870s and 1880s, which saw economic troubles and a Chinese uprising, which naturally turned the attention of the populace away from spiritual things. The assembly gradually crumbled, and the end of its leading brother was tragic; Brother Hart's child died, then his wife. With no employment, his health failed. He had been a generous man in giving to the poor, but at the end he was reduced to extreme penury. He fell asleep penniless, worn out with his apparently fruitless witness, but strong in his faith and looking forward to resurrection and the Kingdom (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 1Corinthians 15:23).
(For the original articles in English by or concerning Bro. Hart click here.)
For the next 60 or 70 years, and through two World Wars, Hong Kong was isolated from the Good News of the Kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ. A renewal of interest and opportunity came in the late 1950s and the 1960s - that remarkable period when there was a worldwide blossoming of response to the message and when doors were being opened on every continent.
Hong Kong and the New Territories, then a British Crown colony with a population of over 6,000,000 people, became again one of the great financial and commercial centres of the world.
Employment opportunities opened up for Europeans and Australians, and the Bible Mission renewed its efforts with newspaper advertising. Brother and Sister Tony Rydings moved from the UK to Hong Kong 1960, when bro Rydings became the chief librarian in the University on Victoria Island. Then in 1963, after the formation of the Australasian Christadelphian Bible Mission, Brother and Sister Doble and Brother John McColl undertook a six-month stay in Hong Kong, residing first at the Rydings apartment on the island, then as the volume of work increased, moving over to the Kowloon section of the city. Four lectures given in the City Hall, attracting 125 visitors.
On 13 March 1964, Brother John Shaw (Jen-Shu Hsiao), after responding to CBM advertising and being instructed by Brethren Rydings and Herman, was baptised in the picturesque Deep Water Bay. Two months later, 44-year-old Richard Tsong was immersed in Silver Strand Bay. The small ecclesia held regular meetings, usually in one or other of their homes, and these were attended by a growing group of interested people. Many others were taught by the Bible correspondence course. They would call at the group's base once or twice a week to deliver answers to the course and to pick up new lessons.
After the Dobles' return to Sydney in 1965, Brother Lawrence Chu was
baptised by Brother Rydings. In the memorial service which followed, Brother
Shaw was presiding and offered the following words in prayer:
"Our Heavenly Father, with joy and reverence we introduce our new
brother Lawrence Chu to Thee. And we believe truly that Thou art here present to
witness our acceptance of Brother Lawrence Chu into this household. Thou willest
then, that he receives Thee and unites himself to Thee. We beseech Thy clemency
and we beg of Thee to give him Thy grace that he may be wholly dissolved in
Thee, may overflow with Thy love and may no more concern himself about any other
kind of consolation. For this most worthy immersion is the new life of our
mortal body, the medicine of every spiritual malady, in which our vices are
cured, passions restrained, temptations overcome, faith confirmed, hope
strengthened and charity inflamed. O, our Heavenly Father, let the immersion
obliterate our old selves but give to new ones to live to Thee and for Thee.
Thou must be weary of the inefficacy of our desires, and of offering Thee only
thoughts which we reduce not to practice and promises which we never fulfil. We
earnestly supplicate Thee to grant us the grace of adding effect to our desires
and of uniting the practice with knowledge of Thy Word. We ask all this in the
Name of Thine only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."
One of the great 'characters' of the Hong Kong ecclesia, who fell asleep in the hope of resurrection in 1987 at the age of 85, was Brother Teddy Sun. He was born a Dutch national in the island of Celebes, in Indonesia. His father was Dutch and his mother was Chinese. Although his father died early Teddy had an happy childhood, he went to a 'European' school and learned Dutch, English, French and German. He worked for six years as an administrator in a shipping company, and gained a thirst for travel that took him to South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, New York and Amsterdam. Next he was promoted purchasing agent for a company dealing in raw rubber, work took him to Thailand, Malaya and Shanghai. The Japanese overran Shanghai, but treated him as a Dutchman and left him alone. After the War Teddy his wife and their daughter left to Canton and crossed the border into Hong Kong. After four or five years, his wife died. He had an accident and went to hospital and, because he had no money, the kindly staff allowed him to stay there. At what point he found and embraced the Truth is not clear, he had travelled the world and explored many religions, he finally found peace in the knowledge of the scriptures and in the hope of the Kingdom. He spent his last years in a home for Asian expatriates, and was always overjoyed to have visits from brethren and sisters and to discuss the scripture. Teddy Sun was a living example of the way that God's 'family' is being called out of many nations.
The current Hong Kong Ecclesia contains members from half a dozen
nationalities ¨C local Chinese residents, as well as Philipino and Guailo
(westerner) brothers and sisters working in Hong Kong. We meet weekly and
welcome visitors of all nationalities.
Box 2625, Central Post Office, Hong Kong
* Paragraphs 3-9 adapted from
article by bro. Stanley Owen in "Into all the world",
published Christadelphian Bible Mission, UK.
in "Into all the world", published Christadelphian Bible Mission, UK.