Well-known Chinese house church leader Samuel Lamb died Saturday at the age of 88. Lamb, who is known for saying “more persecution, more growth,” spent more than 20 years in prison for his faith and led an unregistered house church of 4,000 people in Guangzhou.
The son of a Baptist pastor, Lamb (Lin Xingiao in Chinese) preached his first sermon at 19. As China came under Mao Zedong’s Communist rule, Chinese authorities arrested Lamb in 1955 for the “anti-revolutionary” act of refusing to join the government’s Three-Self Church. He was released in 1957, but five months later was sent to a labor camp for 19 years. His wife died while he was imprisoned, working in the coal mines.
Once he was released, Lamb reopened his house church in Guangzhou. Still he refused to register his church as a Three-Self Church because the government body forbids teaching minors under 18 and preaching on the second coming of Christ. According to Open Doors USA, Lamb was insistent that Christians obey the government unless it contradicted God’s Word. “The laws of God are more important than the laws of man,” he said.
Under his leadership, the house church grew from 400 parishioners in 1997 to more than 4,000 today. A news clip filmed inside the church in 2011 shows Lamb preaching to a crowded room. A video feed of the sermon was streamed to numerous other rooms in the building, each equally packed with congregants. Once the service ended, throngs of people filed out of the doors and filled the streets.
Authorities know about the unregistered church, but no longer try to shut it down. In an interview with Cal Thomas in 1997, Lamb said this was because they had learned their lesson: “Each time they arrested me and sent me off to prison, the church grew. Persecution was good for us. The more they persecuted, the more the church grew. That’s been the history of the church.”
The country’s attitude toward house churches differs from region to region: While some, like Lamb’s church, enjoy relative ease, others face harassment. In July, police raided two house churches in Xinjiang province, arresting their leader and fining him for holding an “illegal gathering.”
Lamb warned the growing church movement in China that suffering is a part of the Christian life, according to Open Doors USA. “We must be prepared to suffer. We must be prepared for the fact that we may be arrested. Before I was sent to prison, I already prepared a bag with some clothes, shoes and a toothbrush. … Today the authorities are not bothering us, but tomorrow things may be different. I pray that we will receive the strength to stand firm.”