Pastor Samuel Lamb, in prison and out, faithful to the Lord. (Photo credit: Jesusblogger)
When Pastor Samuel (Lin Xingiao) Lamb entered Heaven last Saturday, August 3, 2013, it is quite possible that Christ greeted him by saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But it is doubtful that He would have added “you have been faithful with a few things.” Throughout the 70 years of his ministry, Lamb was faithful with many things — with the lives of thousands of China’s Christian believers, with his commitment to the integrity of the churches in China, and with his own dedication to serving his Lord, any time and anywhere. He was one of the leaders of the house church movement and was pastor of an unregistered church in Guangzhou currently holding four services attracting over four thousand attendees every week.
Lamb knew firsthand what it meant to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. Eighty-eight years old when he died, he had spent almost twenty-two of those years in the prison and labor camps of the Chinese Communist regime. Although Lamb’s years in prison were spent in grueling labor in the coal mines and on the farms, he continued to preach and teach to other prisoners in the laogai.
Born in Southern China, in what a tribute in The Christian Post describes as “a mountainous area overlooking Macau,” Lamb’s father, Paul Lamb, was a Baptist pastor. Lamb preached his first sermon at age 19 in his father’s church. World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that he was first arrested in 1955, “during one of the first big waves of persecution” under the dictatorship of Chairman Mao. After two years’ imprisonment, Lamb was released, but then rearrested in 1958, this time for a twenty year sentence.
Sadly, Lamb’s wife died in 1977, the year before he was released from prison. WWM notes that the last time Lamb saw her was “during the five months when he was on remand.” And The Christian Post quotes Lamb himself, who said:
I can understand Job’s victories and Job’s defeats. It taught me that grumbling does not help. Not against God and not against those who persecuted me. My dear wife died while I was in prison. I was not allowed to attend her funeral. It was like an arrow of the Almighty, until I understood that God allows the pain, the loss, the torture; but we must grow through it.
WWM says that Lamb “was targeted by the government because of his refusal to merge his illegal house church into the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-regulated Protestant Church.” The registered Three-Self Patriotic Movement churches functioned under many restrictions about what they could preach and not preach (could not preach about the Second Coming of Christ, for example) and who was allowed to attend church services (no one under the age of 18). Lamb believed that although Christians should obey their government, when the law of man conflicted with the law of God, they should obey God.
Lamb also believed that persecution caused the church to grow. According to WWM, Lamb was “famous for repeating: ‘More persecution, more growth.'” And WWM adds, “That phrase had not only to do with numbers of believers, but also with spiritual growth.” But numbers of believers is also a good indication of the phrase, which Lamb referred to as the “holy principle’s” truth. During the decades of Lamb’s ministry, the church in China has grown from a few million people in the 1950’s till today, when it numbers anywhere from 80 million upwards, with many secret believers within the ranks of the Communist Party.
While church experts debate to what extent persecution truly benefits the churches, none would deny the impact that Pastor Samuel Lamb has had on the house church movement in China. Christianity Today explains that Lamb was “one of the few remaining bridges between [the church in China’s] pre-Cultural Revolution and modern-day reality.”
In his last years, Pastor Lamb would have seen great changes taking place in China. The churches had become more open. International Christian Concern tells how Lamb revealed to them in an interview last year that the police in Guangzhou were actually unofficially giving newcomers directions to his church now! But Lamb still wanted to make sure that Christians did not too easily assume that nothing would ever happen to them, according to WWM. WWM explains what Lamb warned both Chinese Christians and any international visitors who came to his church:
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. When I had to go to the police station, I could just pick it up. I was ready. People are still being arrested. You don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Today the authorities are not bothering us, but tomorrow things may be different. I pray that we will receive the strength to stand firm.
No more prison bags for Samuel Lamb. Like St. Paul, who also suffered for the sake of Christ, Lamb can say that he has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, and he has kept the faith. Lamb has gone home. It remains for the Church — in China, in America, and across the globe — to carry on with a bag of clothes at the ready for whatever may come.