the weblog of Alan Knox

The [Chinese] Church Institution

Posted by on Jul 1, 2008 in elders, gathering, office, worship | 14 comments

The latest PBS / Frontline World program includes a segment called “Jesus in China“. Evan Osnos, the reporter, examines Christianity in China.

He begins by talking about the “underground” church. The underground church in China is made of Christians who cannot meet together openly. Instead, they meet in homes and caves and other locations around their cities. Many of these underground churches are now beginning to meet more openly, in spite of ongoing harassment. Often, the leaders of these underground churches are arrested by Chinese government officials, who charge the leaders with various political charges – but never religious charges.

Interestingly, there is an official Christian church in China. This is what Osnos says about it:

This is the [Communist] Party’s answer to Christianity: an official church where Christians are supposed to worship. The Party actually started this church right after the revolution to put religion under state control… It can all get a little confusing figuring out why this version of Christianity is tolerated… Pastors here like Wu Wei Cheng are trained and approved by the government. I asked Pastor Wu why the majority of Christians are choosing the underground church over his.

Here is Pastor Wu’s response:

There are some people who are not willing to be part of the church. They would rather stay or worship by themselves. I believe ??? [couldn’t make out the word] Church – the church I’m serving – is the church of Christians in China – is the church of the people.

Pastor Wu’s response sounds like the response of many institutional church leaders in America: “My church is the true church, and anyone who doesn’t want to ‘worship’ like and with me is being rebellious and not part of the true church.”

By the way, if you watched the segment, you’ll notice that video that they show of the official church in China looks very familiar. In fact, it looks like they have all the right parts in place: a nice building, choir singing, hymnals, preaching, even the Lord’s Supper with the small cups. I think many Christians in the West would be very comfortable in the official church in China. I wonder why so many Chinese Christians are not comfortable there – to the point of being arrested for meeting “underground”…


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-1-2008

    Alan, are you seriously suggesting that if a church has a building and a choir they are the same as the communist approved church in China?

    I find some irony in your post. You say you know some “institutional” pastors who say, “if you don’t worship in my church you are lost.” and then you imply that “anyone who does not worship in a house is lost.”

    Sounds a lot like the same kind of legalism in reverse to me.

    I have not gotten this from you before, so I hope you can tell me I am misreading your intent here.

  2. 7-1-2008


    I think I must have communicated badly in this post if that’s what you understood. I was trying to point out that certain elements (i.e. buildings, choirs in robes, singing from hymnals, trained pastors) do not guarantee that a group is a church. Yet, some believers would feel more comfortable within a government sponsored institution simply because that institution has those things.

    I would also say that some are just the opposite. Some would say that a church cannot meet in buildings, cannot have choirs in robes, cannot sing from hymnals, and cannot have trained pastors. I would also disagree with this position.


  3. 7-1-2008


    Sounds like most Chinese Christians would rather have the real deal than have what the Communist government says is the real deal. A place where people can get real with God and not have a compromised version of the same.

    Because the people who have been persecuted realize that Jesus Christ is truly the anwer for their lives and not a form of religion.

    I hope it doesn’t take that type of thing in America before your average Chrisian is willing to get real with Jesus.

    But, even after 9/11 nothing really changed. It’s very sad!!


  4. 7-1-2008

    Alan, is it possible that the part of the sentence you couldn’t make out was the words “Three-Self”? That’s the name of the state church, and it comes from the three characteristics: self-support, self-governance and self-propagation. It is sometimes referred to as the “Three Self Patriotic Movement”.

    J.R., yes, you have pretty majorly misread Alan’s comments here. Knowing Alan personally, I can definitely vouch that what you read into this post is not at all his attitude.

  5. 7-1-2008


    I wonder what most American Christians would choose if they were given the option of 1) persecution with greater faith or 2) no persecution with the status quo…


    Thanks. As you know, I’ve often questioned those who proclaim “house church” as to why they are focusing on meeting location.


  6. 7-2-2008

    Thanks Alan for clarifying your post. It did seem odd considering everything else you have written, but I just had to ask based on the way I was reading it.

    Steve, I take Alan at his word, but I am glad he has you to vouch for him 🙂

  7. 7-2-2008


    That’s a very good question. On the day that American Christians are persecuted to the degree that Chinese Christians are, I firmly believe that no one will be left sitting on the fence.

    I fear for those who have taken our freedom for granted to the degree that they have not developed a biblical foundation. Because I firmly believe that the time is coming when our freedom will be lost. It seems like even now our freedoms are eroding very quickly.

    The gammers will definitely be separated from those who are truly following Jesus at that point.


  8. 7-2-2008

    Alan –

    There is a very provokative and compelling rebuttal to “Jesus in China” over at a blog called Shanghai Scrap written by a guy for the Atlantic Monthly. CBN posted it. I wonder if you’ve seen it. The link is here:

    I think it touches on some of the things that you are suggesting, but goes a bit deeper.

  9. 7-2-2008


    I appreciate your asking me about this post instead of assuming my meaning. As we all know, electronic communication – especially short blog entries – often falls short of clarity.


    I think there are some who trust in their “doctrines” more than they trust in God. Some trust in their “practices” more than they trust in God. In times of persecution, those false trusts often crumble. In good times, the false trusts are just that – false trusts.


    Thank you for the link. I will try to read it tonight.


  10. 7-2-2008


    That is very well put. Does it ever make you wonder why they bother going to church at all? As you know, when you don’t have a relationship with the Lord you’re left with nothing but religion.

    In my opinion, that creates more bondage in a person’s life than just flat out living a life of sin.


  11. 7-2-2008


    I completely understand people who “go to church” even if they do not trust God. In fact, it makes more sense to me. For those who trust their own ability and their religion and their practices to earn acceptance from God, then “going to church” makes very good sense.


  12. 7-2-2008


    Well, I guess that’s true. Definitely works based religion. And, it would be a lot of work.


  13. 7-4-2008


    There is also a set of videos about the Chinese church in China that can be downloaded or streamed to your computer. They are called The Cross in China and can be found here:

  14. 7-4-2008


    Thanks for the heads up on the videos.