In this my third blog on the visit of Brother Yun to the Chicago area, I am following the admonition of Paul in Romans 14:16: "Therefore do not let what you know to be good to be spoken of as evil."
My purpose here is to show you how this man’s good has been spoken of as evil and then how this has caused incredible harm to the body of Christ. I write this post not only because I believe in the ministry of Brother Yun (and Brother Ren, his translator seen in the photo here) but even more so because I believe in the church and believe that this needs to be addressed with deep repentance if we are to see God’s Kingdom power in our land.
Slander involves speaking untruthfully about another person. The common definition of the word also carries with it the idea that the reputation and character of the party spoken against is directly harmed through this form of speech. (Libel involves the same idea but occurs through a written form.) In America the law makes it extremely difficult to establish slander and libel for very good reason. Our founders wanted a free society in which the exchange of ideas could take place without legal prejudice against speech. This, of course, allows (legally) slander and libel to take place quite easily in our country. For these political freedoms I am profoundly grateful. In the spiritual realm it opens us up, as a culture and a people, to some incredible dangers that we hardly notice.
In the church of Jesus Christ slander and libel have no place. I suggested yesterday that Brother Yun, like so many public servants of God, has been slandered and libeled by several Christians via the Internet. Slander and libel, within the body of Christ, are acts of fratricide, as one writer noted in his response to yesterday’s post. Fratricide is the killing of one’s own brothers and sisters. When we slander a brother in Christ we actually kill his character in the eyes of others who listen to us and believe what we say or write. The Scriptures speak very strongly against such sin.
Scripture makes it abundantly plain that our speech has great power and significance. We can bless or curse. James says there is great power in the tongue. The power of life and death is in our speech (James 3:1–12; cf. also Proverbs 18:21 and 15:2, 4). We can literally destroy others with our speech (Proverbs 12:13–14). Evil speaking comes from an evil heart (Matthew 12:33–35; Proverbs 2:12–15). Slander is explicitly spoken against in Leviticus 19:16. And the New Testament speaks very powerfully about this:
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11–12).
It is right and fair to review Brother Yun’s story and to discuss the arguments that he makes about God, faith and Christian living. It is OK to discuss the accounts of miracles he provides. It is not right to slander him or to attack his character. He must be given the opportunity to be heard adequately before anyone speaks against him. Those who have spread gossip against Brother Yun have time and again either refused to meet with him or to consider serious corrections brought to them by those who actually know Brother Yun personally, both in and out of China.
This story is not that uncommon. All of us, to one degree or another, have experienced the impact of such sin. What makes this story so unique is that this man now has a world-wide ministry and has touched millions of Christians with his story of faithfulness. Every attack upon him undermines this ministry to one more person, or via the Internet (potentially to millions).
When I began to work with Zondervan on bringing Brother Yun to Chicago this past week I ran into one wall after another. Almost all of these walls were erected by the vicious slanders of a few Chinese Christians who attacked the man as if this was their calling in life. Then I ran into various American Christian walls, both personal and institutional, that kept me from securing venues for Brother Yun to speak in Chicago. I now know for a fact that both schools and churches simply refuse to have him speak without seriously investigating the charges made against him. (It is much easier to take a pass on controversy. Why search and get facts when it is too hard and time consuming?) I also know that some have scheduled him to speak only to later cancel. It seems that once you get the reputation for some kind of controversy, even if you did not create it, you have two strikes against you in many Western contexts. We argue, “We must protect our constituency.” Sadly, what this often means is nothing other than this: “We do not want prophets coming around because they disturb our donors too much!”
I told my wife two weeks ago that I was sure that God was going to pour out great blessing on our visits with Brother Yun. I came to this conclusion because the evil one was seeking aggressively to destroy the entire agenda. In my own spirit I was dealing with some nasty stuff and had to pray more than I am accustomed to in these matters just to proceed. (At the same time I saw God preparing the ground for a great ministry!) What saddens me about all of this is that much of the work done to hinder Brother Yun was carried out by Christians, wittingly or unwittingly. Brother Yun himself urged me in private to never focus on the attacks or the people who slander you but on the Lord who allows these things to happen, so that his people will look to him alone. His gracious response to all of this was so Christlike that it was deeply moving and fortified my soul for future ministry.
One reader of The Heavenly Man reported that after reading Brother Yun’s story he “finished with the strongest desire to see the Kingdom of God come no matter what the cost.” I believe that says it very well. This is how I felt when I first read the book. After meeting Brother Yun, and seeing how he responds to criticism and people, I want the Kingdom to come now even more than ever.
All of us have heard the term “friendly fire.” In combat we sometimes kill our own troops accidentally. We now know, for example, that former NFL-star Pat Tillman, was killed in this way. It is an awful thing to be killed in combat but even worse, at least for those who survive, to know that “friendly fire” was the cause.
Such “friendly fire” is killing multitudes in the church today. Brother Yun writes of his persecutions with amazing clarity and grace. But he also testifies to the reality of “friendly fire.” He says the greatest burdens he ever bore were not the beatings of the Communists or the reality of his impending death in a prison in China. What has touched him more deeply is to have been attacked by Christians who should be on the same team.
Assume the Worst
Why do we assume the worst about Christians we have never met? Why do we assume the worst about leaders who are not perfect, especially since we are not perfect? God raises up a man or a woman to lead and preach with power and we assume “there has to be something wrong.” Their message is not quite right, or they want more money.
We must be aware of the danger of false teachers, for sure, but since when did Scripture warrant “truth wars” launched upon those who are clearly members of Christ’s church and faithful to his gospel? And why must we assume that everyone who handles money at all, even in entirely appropriate ways, is “in it for the money?”
Brother Yun’s message is crystal clear. He is a solid Trinitarian, even telling us on Saturday of how his mother (through a misunderstanding in the Chinese translation) referred to the Holy Spirit as the Holy Dragon. He corrected her. His love for God’s grace, for Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, and for his kingdom and coming again is apparent and clear. He exalts the complete sovereignty of God in life and word. Even his message of miracles is not a denominational one, fraught with special pleadings about interpretations that are not clearly warranted.
As to the money issue I watched money given and handled very closely. I am sensitive to this issue. Brother Yun never handled a penny and made no appeal for funds at all. An American mission, with the director present, handled the funds and we always had a number of people counting and processing the money given. Checks were made out to a non-profit ministry based in Florida and I have checked out the work carefully.
The History of Attacks Upon Other Christians
There is a sad, long history of Christians attacking Christians. In an article in Christianity Today (November 21, 1997), journalist Alex Buchan commented on some of these attacks from one Chinese house church leader against another (he was not dealing with Brother Yun) by writing:
Perhaps his reaction meant more to me because I had a similar feeling a few days before, reading about the Church Fathers. I stared aghast as the great Tertullian lays into Praxeous, the heretic, in the most uncharitable terms imaginable. I read with disappointment the downright ungraciousness of the so-called Doctor of Grace, St. Augustine, as he calls the Donatist sect to be punished by military force. It seems to be a fact that many of the great heroes of the faith burned with as fierce a hatred toward those they perceived to be the enemies of God, as they were inflamed with love for God.
These attacks have long been a part of Chinese history as well as Western history. Nestorian Christians strongly attacked John of Montecorvino at Beijing in the year 1305. John had baptized 6,000 people but was called a “spy, magician, and deceiver of men” by Nestorians. John later wrote, “If not for all the slanders I should have baptized more than 30,000.”
Revival Brings Slander Against the Servants God Uses
Indeed, every revival I have read about in my long study of this subject shows this same sad pattern. When God blesses a man or woman with unusual ministry and fruitfulness, others in the church will attack them. We have a history of this in America since 1950 with the now very elderly Dr. Billy Graham. He has been attacked for various reasons from the beginning of his highly effective ministry.
Can we discuss the practice and even the theology of Dr. Graham? Of course we can and we should. This is not the issue. The issue is “how” we have done it. The same is true with my new friend, Brother Yun.