Dennis Balcombe and The Charismatic Movement in China

Rev. Dennis Balcombe speaks in a retreat
1/2Rev. Dennis Balcombe speaks in a retreat(photo:
Rev. Dennis Balcombe
2/2Rev. Dennis Balcombe
By Alice WangJune 5th, 2017

Mr. Dennis Balcombe, 72, has a very authentic Chinese name - Bao Dening - and can speak fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. An American born in southern California, two thirds of his life was nevertheless spent in China, making him a person "born for China."

"China" is a key word to understand the life and service of Balcombe.

His Autobiography is titled, One Journey One Nation: Autobiography of Dennis Balcombe Missionary to China.  The introduction from Online bookseller is:

From the age of 16, Dennis Balcombe knew that he would be a missionary to China, even though it was then a communist nation and closed to the West. In 1969, he moved from his home state of California to Hong Kong and there established his base of operations. When mainland China reopened its doors to the West in the 1970s, Dennis Balcombe was one of the first missionaries to enter the country.

Part One

The relationship between Dennis Balcombe and the Pentecostal Movement.

The Pentecostal movement is the fastest-growing movement in the world, going from zero in 1906 to about a billion today, according to Rev. David Housholder, founding pastor of Robinwood Church in Southern California.

In the 1960s, a revival movement arose in the United States. Called the New Pentecostal Movement, it was different from the earlier Charismatic Movement of the early 1900s.  The New Pentacostal Movement began in Azusa Street mission in Los Angeles, California, a Methodist-sponsored revival, according to the trace and analysis of Peter Wagner, professor of Church Growth at the Fuller Theological Seminary.

David J. Du Plessis, Dennis J. Bennett, and Demos Shakarian, the founder of Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International, were the three leading individuals of the second Charismatic Movement. Under their impetus, the movement soon spread to the Presbyterian Church, Lutheran Church, Congregational Church and other Protestant denominations and even to some Catholic Churches.

This Charismatic Movement started its spread in the western Christian Church and Catholic Church. While in China at the time, Under Mao's regime, China was suffering from the Cultural Revolution and great turmoil, religion was viewed as spiritual opium, the Church was closed, believers were persecuted, and Church activities were banned.

China was too far away to be affected by the second Charismatic movement. However, one man was affected, who devoted the rest of his life to Mainland China and Chinese abroad.

This person, a 16-year old in 1961, was invited to join a gathering in a Pentecostal Church. Born to and accustomed to a traditional Christian church, Dennis Balcombe was very familiar with religious rituals. However, during that Pentecostal gathering he saw with his own eyes the wonders and signs. A seed of the whole gospel and the inspiration of doing missions, were planted deep into his heart.

That experience at 16 formed in him the foundation of being a missionary to China in the rest of his life. In his autobiography he mentions a vision where he saw a rural village and he accepted the calling to do missions in China, even though it was then a communist nation and closed to the West. After graduated from seminary in Southern California, he was called into the army to fight in the Vietnam War.

At the end of his military service, he went back to the US via Hong Kong, where he saw riots everywhere in the street due to the Cultural Revolution. It was at that time he deeply felt that the Lord had called him to Hong Kong for missions to bless China.

Balcombe settled in Hong Kong in 1969. Encountering a completely unfamiliar culture, he mastered Cantonese in the first eight months, then established a church named Revival Church, and finally a ministry named "Revival Chinese Ministries International."

China reopened to the West in 1978 and Dennis was able to go to Mainland China. Since then he has been serving the house churches in China, providing them with the Holy Bible and teaching materials.

Part Two
Far away from Dennis Balcombe's hometown in Southern California, it was not hard for him to be informed that the third charismatic movement, the " Vineyard Movement", was in full swing.

In the 1980s, the evangelical church was influenced by the Pentecostal belief and its practice, which also generated great theological controversy. Peter Wagner, professor of Church Growth at the Fuller Theological Seminary, named the movement in the 1980s "the third" movement in order to get rid of the negative burden of the Pentecostal or Charismatic Movements. The main leaders were John Wimber and Peter Wagner. 

John Wimber took charge of The Vineyard Church, which belonged to the Charismatic Movement, and made it even more powerful and influential. From 1982 through 1985, Wimber also served as an adjunct faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. Along with C. Peter Wagner, a renowned church growth expert and professor of Fuller's School of World Mission, he co-authored the Fuller Seminary course "MC510 - Signs, Wonders and Church Growth," which soon became the most popular class at the seminary. Wagner's interest in signs and wonders grew out of his observation that church growth was most rapid among the Pentecostal and charismatic churches, especially in the Third World.

10 years had passed since Dennis moved to China when the Vineyard Movement developed. In 1976 Wimber began to pastor Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda, CA. Then around 1983, because of differences with Calvary Chapel leaders over issues related to the charismatic gifts, such as tongues, healings, and prophecy, some 30 pastors including Wimber, broke away from Calvary Chapel. Wimber renamed his church the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Anaheim. From that time on Wimber became the main spokesman for the movement. 

During that time, Hong Kong was still separated from Mainland China. There was much more freedom in Hong Kong. Dennis chose an outside-in missionary route.

In the 1990s, the traditional Pentecostal Movement continued its development in Hong Kong, reaching a number of around 10,000. There were many large-scale events held and recorded, such as "Power Renewal" -- evangelism in the Hong Kong Coliseum where John Wimber and John White served as guest speakers. The Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International (FGBMFI) hold a three-day evangelical gathering themed "Don't be afraid, just believe." Not only that, some churches with Charismatic presentation act positively in Hong Kong. Overall, the Charismatic movement became a remarkable boom in the Hong Kong Church at that time.

Dennis Balcombe did not limit himself to Hong Kong even though the charismatic movement eventual rose there. When China reopened herself to the west, he turned to inland China.

Besides the word "China", "Revival" is another to understand Balcombe's service. Even though he is a while American, he is bent on the revival of the Chinese Church. Not only has he spoken in Mainland China, he has also spoken at gatherings of overseas Chinese, encouraging them to undertake the mission of world missions.

In the 1970s, China was still in the shadow of the Culture Revolution and the churches were still under persecution. The believers held on to their faith prudently. The environment for Christians was not perfect, but Balcombe saw hope in the darkness, saying "persecution made the church unite and pray and rely on God." In his view, it was just like the church during the Roman Empire, undergoing severe persecution yet unified and gaining more power to preach.

Holding that to be Full of the Holy Spirit is the main focus after conversion, Balcombe came to China to preach the message of the Holy Spirit. He encouraged people to seek for tongues and healing and other charismatic gifts. When Believers were full of the Holy Spirit, they were surely stimulated by a fiery heart to preach and to pray, as well as casting out demons and healing.

He has witnessed the great spiritual revival in rural Henan, Anhui and in the nort-eastern China. He saw many many wonders and signs there in the rural church. In his eyes, the churches are healthy and full of hope. 

The first 10 years Dennis spent in China was the revival time of the rural church. Not only did he experience this great revival, he participated.

Part Three
Dennis Balcombe is the founder of Revival Chinese Ministries International and has been living in Hong Kong for more than 50 years.

of the five main house churches in China (The five main families covering Tang-He, Fang-Cheng, Li-Xin, Ying-Shang, and Wen-zhou), two families were deeply influenced by Dennis Balcombe. 

The two families deeply influenced were Tang-He and Fang-Cheng, both in Henan province. Their worship and prayer style were influenced by the Pentecostals starting in 1988 by Dennis Balcombe.

Balcombe arrived in Hong Kong via Vietnam in 1967. Mastering Cantonese and Mandarin quickly, he established a HK-Chinese church. He also paid attention to the inland Chinese even before China reopened herself. In the early 1980s, he went to Guangzhou regularly, teaching English in some business schools. He met many house-church leaders who went to Guangzhou to purchase imported Bibles. They built a trust relationship, playing an important role in the development of the Chinese Church.

According to Dennis Balcombe, Churches in China experienced a charismatic revival in the 1970s and 1980s. At the beginning of the revival, churches and believers spontaneously pursued the gifts of the Holy Spirit since there was quite a little contact between churches in China inland and overseas. At that time, there were many wonders and signs, such as sick seniors being healed, and these kinds of wonders spread widely.

Since the rural church revival, both the registered church and the unregistered church have experienced charismatic revival. But up to today, there were many "extreme" charismatics, which make great show of spiritual warfare, being slain in the Spirit, and speaking in tongues. These extreme charismatics have been attracting more people in the last 10 years, while the normal, pure Gospel has been neglected. 

Chinese Christians are not so familiar with charismatics, but they know much about extreme charismatics. "This phenomenon is inevitable," says Dennis, "it's common everywhere in the world."

Part Four

China will play a great role. 

Though a "Western Missionary" to China, Dennis Balcombe enjoys a warm relationship with the Chinese government as well as the churches, both registered and unregistered.

He was once reported to "be under House Church Arrest" in China in 2013, when he was leading a gathering in central China's Henan Province, an eye-catching news item at the time with a background of "persecution". According to his own statement, after he returned home safely he was allowed to leave with no restrictions placed on him after a day of speaking with authorities in his hotel room. Actually the only concern of the local authority was whether the meeting was a cult gathering. The reason the authorities checked the gathering was that the recent activities of the Eastern Lightning and other cults were active at the time.

In fact, after a long time communicating with the Chinese government, Balcombe has obtained a good understanding regarding the Chinese church as well as the religious authority. He always sees himself as Chinese. When it comes to the Chinese Church, or Chinese Christians, he always uses the term "we", saying for instance "we the Chinese church," "we Chinese Christians," etc. In an interview, he told China Christian Daily that "we the Chinese church should be authentic in Chinese culture. Not only in culture but also in thought."

If the Chinese church holds fast to the pure belief as well as her own culture, said Dennis, China will make a great difference in the global mission. He has a revival dream for the Chinese church he has been serving for decades: "I have a dream that our Chinese church should turn into the church in Acts. This is called revival, not merely done with many people or many being baptized. It means that we should return to the church in the time of Acts."

In order to reach that goal, "the Chinese church should keep a fiery heart," claimed Dennis, seeing many Chinese Christians studying theology abroad. "The Spiritual life could never be replaced by theology or reason."



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