One of the most impactful leaders of China's house church movement, Pastor Samuel Lamb (also known as Samuel Lam), passed away last Saturday at the age of 88.
"The death of Samuel Lamb leaves a hole in the Chinese Church," said an Open Doors USA spokesperson. "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."
Every Sunday after church service, Lamb (Lin Xingiao in Chinese) invited foreign guests into his office and immediately began to tell the story of his life, which he summarized in the one "holy principle" of "more persecution, more growth," Open Doors said in a statement released on Monday.
Lamb was born in a mountainous area overlooking Macau. His father pastored a small Baptist church and he was raised as a Christian. Lamb was arrested during one of the first big waves of persecution in Mao's China and was held in prison from 1955 to 1957. The Chinese authorities sentenced him a second time in 1958. He spent 20 gruesome years in labor camps, where he mostly worked in coal mines. Despite the harsh punishments, Lamb continued to teach, Open Doors stated.
The Chinese government targeted Lamb mainly for his refusal to merge his illegal house church into the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-led Protestant Church, according to Open Doors. The government prohibited Christian leaders from preaching about the second coming of Christ and teaching minors under 18 years old. China closely monitors the state church with principals geared toward government support more so than Christian beliefs.
In 1979, Lamb restarted his house church in 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, reports Open Doors.
"Lamb's theology challenged the government, the attendees of his church as well as other believers inside and outside China," explained an Open Doors spokesperson. "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."
Suffering played an import part in many of Lamb's sermons.
"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, according to Open Doors. Even though his congregation was still illegal, it hasn't been raided in years. He always warned: "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."
In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, Lamb proved to be a reliable partner for Open Doors' ministry. Through his network, more than 200,000 pieces of Christian literature were delivered to Chinese believers.