Every Sunday after the service, Chinese pastor Samuel Lamb (also known as Samuel Lam) invited foreign guests into his office and immediately began to tell the story of his life, which he summarized in the one holy principle: “More persecution, more growth.”
Lamb experienced Communist oppression and spent more than 20 years in prison. He also experienced God’s response: “an amazing growth of the Church” in China.
Lamb became a hero of the Christian faith for millions of believers inside and outside of China. He passed away on Saturday August 3, 2013 at the age of 88. His wife died in 1977, the year before he was released from prison.
Samuel Lamb (Lin Xingiao in Chinese) was born in a mountainous area overlooking Macau. His father pastored a small Baptist church. Lamb was raised as a Christian and preached his first sermon at age 19. 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. He spent 20 gruesome years in labor camps, where he mostly worked in coal mines. Despite the harsh punishments, Lamb continued preach and teach to other prisoners.
The main reason Lamb was targeted by the government was his refusal to merge his illegal house church into the Three Self Patriotic Movement, the state controlled Protestant Church. The government used to forbid Christian leaders to preach about the second coming of Christ and to teach minors under 18 years old. China basically made the state church evolve around the state and not around God.
In 1979, Lamb restarted his house church at 35 Da Ma Zhan in Guangzhou. Attendance grew quickly, and he moved his congregation to a bigger building in the same city. Now his urban house church is still unregistered but tolerated by the authorities. The church has over 4,000 attendees each week with four services.
Lamb’s theology challenged the government, the attendees of his church, as well as other believers inside and outside China. He taught that Christians should obey the government unless those leaders directly opposed God with their law enforcement. “The laws of God are more important than the laws of man,” he said.
Lamb also believed that persecution caused the church to grow spiritually and numerically. 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.
Suffering played an import part in many of Lamb’s sermons. He repeated, “More persecution, more growth.” That phrase had not only to do with numbers of believers, but also with spiritual growth.
“I can understand Job’s victories and Job’s defeats,” he often said. “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.”
Lamb always remained cautious about the government. Even though his congregation was still illegal, it hasn’t been raided in years. He revealed 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 and always warned, “We must be prepared to suffer. We must be prepared for the fact that we may be arrested.”
“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.”
In the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, Lamb proved to be a reliable partner for overseas ministries. Through his network, over 200,000 pieces of Christian literature were delivered to Chinese believers.
“The death of Samuel Lamb leaves a hole in the Chinese Church.” Together with other heroes of faith like Wang Mindao and Allen Yuan, he symbolized the brave faith of a Church that grew at an unprecedented speed in world history. Long after his passing it will be said in many churches that more persecution only has one outcome: “more growth.”
“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.” No more prison bags for Samuel Lamb.
Like 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.
Pray for Lamb’s family, friends, and congregation. Pray for Chinese Christians to thrive and be bold witnesses for their faith, as Pastor Lamb was.