Remembering the 120th Anniversary of the Birth of John Sung, Pastor Shares Five Points to Church Revival

Rev. Ka-Tong Lim shared a speech titled "John Sung and the Work of the Holy Spirit" to celebrate the 120th birthday of Chinese evangelist John Sung, the "Wesley of China", on October 29, 2021.
Rev. Ka-Tong Lim shared a speech titled "John Sung and the Work of the Holy Spirit" to celebrate the 120th birthday of Chinese evangelist John Sung, the "Wesley of China", on October 29, 2021. (photo: Chinese Pastors’ Fellowship)
By Li ShiguangNovember 17th, 2021

Remembering the 120th anniversary of the birth of Chinese evangelist John Sung, Pastor Ka-Tong Lim, senior pastor of a Chinese church in the U.S. shared a speech with the theme of “John Sung and the Work of the Holy Spirit”.

On October 26-29, the conference in commemoration of the 120th birthday of John Sung was held by the Chinese Pastors’ Fellowship of North America Mainland Chinese Mission, with the theme "Commemorate, Repent, and Revive".

On the third day, Pastor Lim said that some people claimed John Sung (1901-1944), the “Wesley of China”, had many shortcomings, such as his allegorical interpretation, fiery temper, neglect of his family, and his accent. A pastor once told an interesting story, saying that Dr. Sung, born in Putian of Fujian Province, once preached that you sinners should be humble before God. But when the interpreter translated the sentence, everyone burst into laughter because what the interpreter translated was "you sinners will be shot before God.” "Be shot" (qiangbi in Chinese) should have been Sung’s Putian pronunciation of "be humble"(qianbei in Chinese), but his accent did not convey the accurate meaning, and so the people there did not understand him, so it ended up being a big joke.

The pastor claimed that Sung's public service lasted only twelve years, and he had not been deeply cultivated in theology, but his influence and contribution to the church were great. He summarized five points of his ministry: “be filled with the Holy Spirit”, “hold high the Bible and live according to it”, “confess sins and repent”, “work in prayer”, and “bear more fruit”.

In the early years of the Republic of China, almost all the highly educated leaders in mainstream churches in China were influenced by liberal theology. Reverend Jonathan Chao in his book specifically mentioned that when the National Christian Council of China was founded in 1922, unity was promoted, and several large denominations were united. Of the eight commissioners, only one was not a liberal church leader, but a young chemistry doctor from the United States, John Sung. He valued and highly revered the Bible, while many people at the time considered there to be superstition in the Bible and that the miracles in it were not credible. But Doctor Sung healed diseases, and cast out demons, valuing signs and wonders.

On December 14, 1928, Sung wrote, “People's words have no power to influence people, only to excite people's feelings.” He valued God's Word very much. W. B. Cole wrote a letter in 1929 to the headquarters of the American Methodist Episcopal Mission in New York, mentioning that Sung "seems to have mastered the whole Bible and is ready to explain any passage of scripture at any time.” 

In 1929, the American Methodist Episcopal Mission held its annual meeting in Xinghua. During the conference, they had a report about how Dr. Sung went everywhere to lead the Bible study, preach, and tell people to read the Bible after they believed. Therefore, the Bible Society said that the annual Bible sales in Xinghua that year surpassed those of the newly established distribution centers in various parts of China. Later throughout China and even in Southeast Asia, the society repeatedly reported that their Bibles were all sold out and sold very well. Later people found that those places had just been visited by John Sung.

In 1935 and 1936, Sung held a national Bible study meeting, during which people there spent a month reading the whole Bible. This meeting led to a big contribution, which was to record what he talked about including the background of each book of the Bible, the history of the Bible, and what he had read in English reference books. All of them were recorded and reviewed by Sung and then published as a book. It is said that during the most difficult times, many people preparing sermons in many places did not have reference materials, and those materials in that book became the help of many. 

Valuing the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, Sung was very sensitive to sin. He often confessed and repented before God. He said of his day of rebirth, “The Holy Spirit came and worked in my heart, reminding me of my sins, and I could not bear the condemnation of my conscience. Day and night I wept and prayed, and in the middle of the night the Lord came to me and said, ‘Your sins are forgiven, and henceforth your name will be John, and you will bear witness about me in all the world.’” This is what John Sung mentioned when he preached in Fuzhou in 1938.

He came to Nanchang in March 1931, confessing Nanchang was the turning point of all his work. He discovered that the secret of church revival was to confess, pray and be filled with the Holy Spirit. After a whole evening of prayer, he confessed and dealt with his sins before God, askingd all the people to do the same thing - confess their sins, and the wonderful spirit of God would work greatly.

On one Friday, he went to Luhe to preach sermons. While preaching, he shed tears and said to the congregation, “I committed the sin of losing my temper the day before yesterday. I blamed all the people who attended the meeting on the spot, especially the leaders.” There he said, “Please forgive me.” Tears fell down in his eyes, and the crowd was deeply moved.  The message and effect of that day were immediately different, namely, people on that day saw the work of the Holy Spirit.

As he took a break from his outside work and recovered from his illness, he began to do much introspection. During this time, he mentioned that he had made many mistakes, such as losing his temper when he saw children shouting when he preached, exaggerating things that he witnessed, and so on. 

After his death in 1944, some conservative Christians referred to him as a Pentecostal “member”. Even Pu Xingshi, an old missionary in his hometown, commented on him like this, "It is a pity that John Sung took the wrong path of a magic doctor.” But a pastor of the Assemblies of God Church wrote an article that he was against the Charismatic church.

In the autumn of 1926, a teenage preacher named Uldine Utley, whose “charismatic sermons” influenced Sung, was invited to attend a sermon at a large Baptist church in Mt. Calvary, New York. So, in 1927, when he reflected on his day of rebirth, some of the words he used in his testimony sounded quite charismatic.

Apart from that, he said that the Lord Jesus changed his name to John and called him to be a ‘John the Baptist’. In 1928, John Sung returned to his hometown Putian as a preacher. He was sent to every countryside and city in Putian to spread the Gospel. At that time, Putian was a place where evil spirits prevailed. When he used to preach and lead meetings, what often appeared in his diary was encountering demons, experiencing demons’ disruption, driving out demons and so on.

Sung also attached great importance to prayer and worked in prayer, making prayer his work.  In 1931, during a long night of prayer, God had given him the secret of reviving the church: dealing with sins and denouncing sins in the church. After leaving the Bethel Mission, John Sung began to start watchtower prayers everywhere he led the meeting, praying for meetings.

And he carried with him the intercession card filled out by the congregation. He asked churches to organize fasting and prayer meetings that would take place in the backroom or classroom at the same time as he laid his hands on the patients.

Before John Sung left the world, he said, “Pray, the future work is the work of praying.” 

In 1938, after serving in Vietnam for a year, many preaching stations were added in each district, 11 new churches were self-sufficient, 1013 new believers were baptized, and more than 5,000 people made a prayer of repentance. The news was published in the magazine The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal. Sung only visited Vietnam once.

In 1966, the Christian and Missionary Alliance did a study, and they found that  Sung's mission team in Vietnam, founded in 1938, was an important reason why churches in Vietnam continue to plant churches today.

- Translated by Stephen Huang

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