Wang Mingdao was born in 1900 in Beijing within the Foreign Legation where his parents had taken refuge during the Boxer Rebellion. The Wangs were in deadly danger, because they had associated with the Western missionaries. Terrified, Wang's father killed himself shortly before his son was born. Mrs. Wang named her new boy "Iron" which, because of his strong personality, soon became Tie-zi, "Iron son," a name that foreshadowed his courageous life.
Wang's mother hated to cook and was quarrelsome, so he grew up with many fights and little food. After a wicked childhood, he became a Christian at the age of 14. Educated and baptized in the church run by the London Missionary Society in Beijing, like most young intellectuals of his generation, he felt the obligation to participate in the task of national salvation. He did not aspire to be a Christian minister, partly because pastors received low salaries and were not greatly respected. But in 1918, threatened by a serious illness, he promised God he would give up politics for the Christian ministry if he could survive. Wang did recover and was faithful to his promise. Deep spiritual struggles followed until he understood that Christ demanded complete obedience. He finally gave up his dream to become a politician. In 1920, he changed his name to Mingdao which means "understanding the word." He even gave up a secure position at a Christian school when he insisted on being baptized again as an adult believer. He and five friends broke ice at a creek in January and plunged themselves in the frigid water in obedience to their consciences. Retreating to Beijing's Western Hills, he read the Bible 6 times in 62 days. After years in which God trained him, Wang was asked to preach. His message was solidly grounded in the Bible, and he put great emphasis on repentance, conversion, holiness, purity and truth. In 1928, he married Liu Jingwen, a pastor's daughter.
Wang is widely recognized as one of the most influential respected Christian leaders in the Chinese church who worked to build an indigenous church upon the threefold principle of self-propagation, self-government, and self-support. His church began in a household gathering in Beijing where a few people came for Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. Later, so many people came to hear him that he needed a bigger place to speak. In 1937 the Christian Tabernacle---the name of Wang's church---was built. Visible spirituality was the criterion for membership; no one was baptized without first showing real fruits of salvation, this kept the size of his congregation small. However, the church grew steadily, in 1949, when mainland China came under Communist rule, the Christian Tabernacle had a membership of about 570, which was one of the largest evangelical churches in Beijing at that time. Although Wang's primary ministry was to his local church, he also published a quarterly magazine, Spiritual Food, and frequently spoke at conferences across China. He became widely known as an independent evangelist and an editor of the Spiritual Food Quarterly in the 1930s and 40s.
It was his ideal that he should become a model for Chinese pastors and the Christian Tabernacle, a model church. He lived up to his own high standards. Even his worst enemies could find no fault in him except in his utter lack of compromise. Doctrinal purity was given first priority in Wang's ministry. He did not often invite outside speakers to his pulpit lest erroneous doctrines be taught to his congregation. For the same reason, not many contributors were welcomed in his quarterly magazine, Spiritual Food, which enjoyed a wide circulation.
Ever since Wang had abandoned his political ambition for a total commitment to the gospel cause in China, he took a firm stand against any form of political involvement. He believed that only the gospel could save his own kinsmen from sin and corruption. The church must be separated from the state because of the functional differences between the two. This principle of separation was closely followed in Wang's response to the political situations in the 1940s and 1950s.
During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), Beijing fell under the control of the Japanese army, which sought to control the churches of North China. Wang was invited to join the Japanese-led Chinese Christian Federation of North China, but he declined on the ground that the Christian or Tabernacle was already an indigenous church, not pro-Britain or pro-American. The Japanese threatened him so many times that he kept a coffin in his house for the possible consequence of his stance: receiving the death penalty. Indeed, his refusal incensed the Japanese authority, which, however, took no action against him. This amazing turn of events, interpreted by Wang as divine protection, perpetuated his view of political non-involvement and strengthened his willingness to be a martyr. Undoubtedly this prepared him for another crisis in the 1950s.
When the Communists came to power in 1949, the Christian church in China faced the problem of survival under an atheist government. In order to purify the church of "imperialism," all foreign missionaries were asked to leave the country by the new government. And Chinese Christians were instructed to render their contribution to the socialist reconstruction of the nation. Under the guidance of, and supported by the Communist Party, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) was organized to direct the nationwide Christian church.
Confronted with the unfavorable religious policy implemented by TSPM, Wang continued to stay away from politics and refused to join the TSPM. His reasons were not political but theological, for he was an inflexible opponent of biblical modernism. At the height of political pressure, his article, "We Are for the Faith," created a moment of crisis. In September 1954 an accusation meeting was called by authorities, with attendance required from all churches of the city. Many were arranged to criticize Wang, making ugly charges against him. He sat calmly, eyes fixed on the ceiling, refusing to answer a word. And many in the meeting wept. Despite speech after speech of denunciation popular feeling was on his side, and he was freed.
He went home and his attacks on the Three-Self Movement continued. Knowing he would be arrested, he wrote articles showing that the "Imperialist poison" of missionaries was for the most part the truth of the Bible. ". . .we are ready to pay any price to preserve the Word of God. . . .Don't give way, don't compromise!" Such nonconformity was hardly acceptable to the new regime and led to his imprisonment in the summer of 1955. Wang preached his last sermon at the Tabernacle on this day, August 7, 1955. "The Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." Afterward, he handed out copies of his spiritual manifesto. Around midnight, they were arrested at gunpoint, tied with ropes, Wang, his wife and eighteen young Christians were taken to prison.
Wang was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for what was called "resistance to the government." After being confined in a prison cell for a period of time, he cracked and signed a confession. He was released, but he had a guilty and grieved conscience and likened himself to the Apostle Peter whom had denied Christ three times. When his mind returned, he and his wife agreed that he must tell the authorities that his statement had been made under duress and did not represent his true feelings. He finally revoked the previous confessions in 1958 and was immediately returned to prison for 22 years, and his wife was sentenced, too. They were both tortured repeatedly during their years in prison and in labor camps.
Mrs. Wang was released in 1973, blind in one eye, and Wang in the end of 1979, old, toothless and nearly blind and deaf. They lived in Shanghai with their son, and regularly held meetings with Christians in their small apartment until Wang died on July 28, 1991. Mrs. Wang joined him on April 18, 1992. Their ashes are buried in the Dongshan Cemetary beside Lake Tai, about 40 kilometers southwest of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.
Wang is considered an outspoken fundamentalist in the Chinese churches. He had a good understanding of the Bible, believing in the inerrancy of the Bible and the depravity of fallen man. He delineated the justification and sanctification phases of salvation, preaching that man is justified by faith, but the integrity of the believer becomes the fruits of his sanctified life. Wang emphasized on issues that are not of this world, like building treasure in heaven, instead of on earth. His theology was close to that of Calvinism, stressing God's sovereignty and the depravity of man. Wang divided the world into believers vs. non-believers, God vs. Satan and light vs. darkness. The interaction between believers and non-believers should be kept to a minimal except for the preaching of the gospel. Christians with this approach can easily be regarded as self-proclaimed righteousness, who consider themselves to be out of this world. In both preaching and writing, he was a strong opponent of theological liberalism that was gaining popularity in some denominations in China after the 1920s. He mainly opposed the liberal theologians who believed neither in Jesus' resurrection nor in any supernatural miraculous events that might occur. The central doctrine of Wang's theology was regeneration in Christ, upon which Christianity stands or falls. Whereas the liberals preached an earthly kingdom of God to be established through human effort, and whereas the Communists envisioned a utopia through revolution, Wang affirmed that only a changed person through genuine rebirth could change society. This teaching has significantly affected the Chinese church today in its outlook on world mission and social involvement.
One of his personalities was that he strongly opposed any evils or injustices that occurred in Chinese society and he strongly emphasized that Chinese Christians should live a holy life. He always took the opportunity to point out or criticize any shortcomings of the Chinese church and society. He likened himself to the prophet Jeremiah since Jeremiah attacked the corruptions of society and all the false prophets during his time.
He encouraged his congregation that, other than reading the Bible, Christians should also "Study texts, study events and study characters" which means that people should also have good knowledge of books including both past and present events. He emphasized that the characteristics of prominent governing leaders be examined carefully to see if they are good role models worthy of the people's respect and following. Wang received no theological education and believed that both Scripture and the Holy Spirit were adequate in the making of God's servant. His preaching was practical and powerful, and throughout his itinerant ministry he unreservedly attacked the worldliness of Christians and the apostasy of the churches.
Wang emphasized simplicity in Christian life and service to the extent that anything not mentioned in the Bible should not be done. There were no traditional liturgy, no choir, no offering bags, and no celebration of Christmas. The leaders of the church should not be called "Pastors", and that "tithe sermons" should not be preached on the pulpit. Wang also said that Christmas was not to be celebrated because it "had no meaning." His church did not contribute in any charity works for society and he refused to join in any ecumenical church movements.
Wang clearly stood for the gospel and a church free of outside control, and advocated that the affairs between Church and Government be separate. A stubbornly independent church leader, Wang acted as a thorn in the side first to missionaries in pre-revolutionary China, then to Japanese invaders, and finally to the Communist government and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. So as a result, he received a fair share of threats and disasters during that period.
After Wang's release from prison, he told people that he had fallen into the sin of lying in 1955 when fear of prison overtook him and he falsely confessed that he was a criminal for not joining the TSPM. While meditating on Micah 7:7-9, his fellowship with the Lord was restored, and his spiritual life was completely revived. From then on, he set himself a high standard of absolute honesty and truthfulness, not tolerating even a trace of falsehood. He resolved that it was better to die in prison than to lie. The story of his falling away had been hidden by prison walls. The outside world knew nothing of it, and it would have been very easy for him to let the church remember him only as the heroic man of iron. His commitment to truth would not allow this. He was indeed an honest man and a true hero.