Brother Yun and the Slander of Christians

John ArmstrongACT 3

As noted in yesterday’s post I had the opportunity to spend several days with the Chinese minister Brother Yun, who has lived in Germany since his escape from China in 1997. Brother Yun’s story is widely known. I urge you to buy his book, The Heavenly Man, and read it for yourself. I will tell you again, it changed my life. My copy is signed by my new friend and the Scripture text that he used, in Chinese of course, was from Acts 26:19 where Paul says to King Agrippa, "I obeyed the vision from heaven." He urged me to "obey" the vision God had given to me when he signed it and handed it back to me. Over dinner on Saturday evening we spoke about the vision that God has given to me and he reiterated that no matter what the cost I must obey God, not man. I listened with intense interest and a deep sense that God was encouraging me directly through this "heavenly man."

For those who may wonder why Yun is called "the heavenly man" it is not because he gave himself this name in an act of self-promotion. His Communist detractors heard him say, when they questioned him about his home, that he was a heavenly man and his address was in heaven. They called him "the heavenly man." The nickname stuck, thus it has been used by many others since. In no way does he "sell" himself as unique or heavenly in any way other than the way all Christians are heavenly.

As I previously noted, Brother Yun is widely criticized on the Internet. These rumors have thus spread all over the world. Wherever Brother Yun now goes he faces opposition. He refers to this at the end of his first book, ever so briefly. This is part of what so deeply impacted my life when I first read the book a few years ago. (I also prayed that I would be allowed to become a friend of Brother Yun, never knowing that God would answer my private prayer in less than two years time. God is so good. You ought to bring "large petitions" to him more often my friend.)

So it is on the Internet where you can find the most fierce posts against Brother Yun, many from Chinese believers. I was prepared for this reaction by my defense a few years ago of the Korean ministry, University Bible Fellowship. Because of firsthand experience with UBF leaders and members I came to know these folks as my friends. I was able to speak to them as a friend to a friend, freely and openly. I then wrote about this and readers can go back and now see the trail of comments from those months. This group is "controversial" and has not done everything with utmost care in non-Korean cultural contexts but their ethics and theology are sound.

The fact that these attacks on Brother Yun originate from Chinese believers makes them appear all the more damaging at first. If you care to do your own research you can use your Google search feature and type in his name: Brother Yun. You will likely not be able to know who to believe or what is accurate if you spend several hours reading all that you will find.

The charges against Brother Yun are of two primary types. First, that he lacks credibility in his character because his stories of miracles are not true, or at least vastly overstated. Second, that he has misappropriated money and ministry and people have unwittingly supported him.

I spoke directly to Brother Yun about these two primary charges. What ministered to me so powerfully was the way he chose to never attack his attackers but rather to let others defend him if they chose to do so. (Many do and I am now among them gladly.) He was without guile, showed me no desire to protect himself and then went about his work, demonstrating to me the character of a godly man at every point.

Let me address the issues of the miracles first. Brother Yun tells two stories that are most commonly attacked as lacking in credibility. One is his 74-day fast. The others is his miraculous escape from a maximum security prison in broad daylight, having heard Jesus speak to him and tell him to get up off the floor when he could not walk. The second story he told again on Sunday evening at Wheaton College. In truth it was the only miracle story that he recounted in his message and he did it in a way that glorified Jesus entirely.

I have heard many miracle stories during my lifetime. Many of those I hear from Americans seem contrived, almost like a carnival sideshow. (I have also clearly seen the real work of God in miracles on several occasions. I believe God is sovereign and acts where and when he wills!) But Brother Yun is no carnival salesman. His Chinese background explains who he is and how he functions, at least culturally. He is non-Western through and through. (I hope he stays this way, though he has lived in the West for over a decade now, traveling all over the world.) But the bigger issue is this: "Is he like Jesus?" I have no doubt about the answer to this one.

Let me take these two miracles that most upset people who criticize Brother Yun and comment on them in this present post.

1. His 74-day Fast

This testimony is so striking that when I first read it I seriously doubted it. One of my responses was that Brother Yun may have fasted for weeks and weeks and simply lost track of the days, thus making an honest mistake. But then I was reminded of Mark 10:27b: "Everything is possible with God." I was reminded that the issue was not so much Brother Yun’s account as my own inability to accept what I thought was impossible. Brother Yun reminded me over and over this weekend that God doesn’t know this word "impossible." What a simple and refreshing way to say it.

Paul Hattaway, a director with Asia Harvest and the translator and co-writer of Brother Yun’s story, has openly told of witnesses who were there to see his condition at the end of this long fast. These witnesses included his pastor and his wife Deling. (Deling’s testimony appears in The Heavenly Man as well. She adds amazing insights to the story). In addition there was extended family who saw him at the end of this period of time.

Let me put this in the way Paul Hattaway has expressed it: "Those who make this accusation were not there."

Rationally, one must conclude that this could have happened. There is no cogent reason against it if you believe that God is God. Hattaway says he researched this before he wrote the book and spent several weeks going over this event again and again with Brother Yun. He even secured a translator, who had translated for Billy Graham, to help him get the language right so he would not misunderstand what he was hearing. He writes, "No stone was left unturned in our effort to achieve this. The testimony of Yun’s 74-day fast in prison has been well known for many years now."

Another student of this story, Dennis Balcombe, pastor of the Revival Christian Church in Hong Kong, says that in 1991 he translated a book with many Chinese testimonies. With a well-educated house church leader helping him he wrote down the manuscripts that were translated. Research was done on the various stories of many Chinese believers. He now says that Hattaway’s account of Brother Yun is exactly the way other house church accounts are recollected by many who spoke of these same stories. (Remember, this is an oral culture for the most part. These people conduct their work with little formal education.)

Perspective here is everything. Hattaway notes that when he shared this story with pastors in Nagaland no one was surprised or felt misled at all. One of the pastors told Hattaway that when revival took place in the 1960s in Nagaland one minister was known to have fasted for 100 days!

I have ministered twice in South India, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. I have seen revival mercies spread across people like showers from heaven. I have seen the clear evidence of God at work in awesome and amazing ways. I listened to stories like these, asked lots of questions and concluded that God had done what the people said he had done. Even if you grant some "liberty" for a simplistic accounting of the facts the truth remains the same: God does great wonders in seasons of revival.

I found nothing in Brother Yun’s life or character to suggest that he made up stories. I believe him. Why shouldn’t I? "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life . . . "

2. Brother Yun’s Miraculous Prison Escape

This was the story that he told on Sunday night. I wondered to myself, "How are Wheaton students hearing this? I wonder what faculty members are here tonight and how they would respond?" (I know of one person who read Yun’s book to review it and said they could not because they could not confirm the miracles. Question: Have you confirmed the miracles in the New Testament? If so, how?) I may soon find out what faculty and students thought as I have been offered an opportunity to enter into more personal dialogue with many on campus. I welcome this unique opportunity if God grants it.

I will tell you my own impression of all this. I am more inclined to believe this story than the 74-day fast. Perhaps it is how I am wired but I have no doubt that God delivers people through angelic visitations and direct miraculous displays of providence. Such stories abound in all of church history, East and West. This is not even remotely related to the typical overblown Americanized miracle stories that we sometimes hear on cable television. I know people personally who have experienced such deliverance and I have no doubt that their accounts are true. Why then should I doubt Brother Yun’s story?

One of the main issues of the attacks on Brother Yun has come from a pastor named Samuel Lamb, who has cited this particular story as the central part of his opposition. Hattaway again notes that when he wrote the book he interviewed three eyewitnesses who saw this situation unfold with their very eyes. They were all three pastors in prison with Yun, having been arrested in the same meeting at the same time. Hattaway says their testimonies were all the same. Hattaway adds that he included the story because he had the witness of three who were there with Yun against a man who was not there. He concludes: "I want to go on record to say I remain confident that the testimonies I wrote in The Heavenly Man book are true and accurate."

The main source of the attacks upon Brother Yun have come from a Chinese man living in Hamburg, Germany, by the name of Titus Pan. (He gives his name as Lin Mushe on the Web site.) His Web site is completely devoted to destroying the reputation and ministry of Brother Yun. He seems intent on doing everything in his power to bring down Brother Yun’s ministry. He has published a number of letters against Yun and Hattaway noted that when some of these letter writers were contacted they were stunned to learn that they were being used against Brother Yun.

I asked Brother Yun, and his translator, Brother Ren, Dsc00556_2
about this man. They refused to attack him and spoke sympathetically of him as a confused and very troubled man. There was no anger or defensiveness at all, only gentleness and kindness. It was quite striking to me. I pray I will always have the same gentle response to anyone who attacks me.

Several years ago eight respected Chinese leaders issued a statement saying that they had checked the accusations against Brother Yun completely and that they were simply not true. Most of these accusations, they concluded, "were full of outright lies, slander, half-truths, and nonsense." They say that even fake letters have been used to attack Yun.

What makes a person undertake such a campaign to slander and destroy another Christian’s character and credibility? Ultimately God alone knows the heart, but I will suggest some reasons for why this happens in tomorrow’s post. This is an area of the Brother Yun story that interests me very deeply, since I know how stories and rumors can be used against you if you conduct a public ministry in which there is any measure of controversy or disagreement associated with your work.