Chinese House Churches


Effective March 1, 2005, the Chinese government came out with new regulations concerning house churches and the state sponsored Three Self Patriotic Movement churches. The new regulations make it easier for house churches to register, but also call for stricter punishments against churches that decide not to register. Some Christians are excited by this opportunity, while some are extremely wary. Many of the pastors not wanting to register say their reason is that Jesus, not the government, is the head of the church. What do you think of this reasoning and the biblical basis for the churches in China to join or not join the TSPM?


This is a difficult issue especially because it involves a government that has not yet demonstrated that it is trustworthy. A positive spin on this issue is provided by China Daily (Rules safeguard religious freedom in China). A more measured response, however, should consider that the past year hasn't been all that great.

The Three Self church is clearly not what the Chinese church should aspire to be. The new regulations seem to offer some options beyond Three Self. But registering also put churches on the government's radar. If the government changes its stance on allowing more freedom of religious thought and practice, these churches will be easy to find and prosecute. This seems to be a significant and legitimate concern for house churches.

The new regulations also seem to limit or prohibit non-Chinese involvement in training registered churches. But there are many good and important resources offered by non-Chinese sources, and there is a lack of qualified/educated leadership in the underground church movement. Registering may make it easier to meet initially, but it may negatively impact discipleship and other training programs.

There is also a problematic possibility of instituting a "bishop system," as recommended by Ding-Guan-Xun. If this became a regulation that was applied to all registered churches, and if the government appointed the bishops, then the government really could become the ecclesiastical head of the Chinese church. It does not yet appear that they are planning this, but one has to wonder.

This brings up your point regarding the head of the church. A bishop system would not challenge Christ's headship. All churches should have church governments. Personally, I think a Presbyterian government is best. But Episcopal governments and congregational governments are possible, too. In all cases, church governments are supposed to be submissive to the universal headship of Christ, and to recognize his supremacy. So, I don't think that being forced to have a bishop is a valid argument against registering a church. But I do think that being forced to submit to a bishop you can't trust is a valid argument.

It is good to be wary at this point. If the government knows about your church, it is probably a good idea to register. After all, they can come after you either way, and registering does offer some benefits. But churches of which the government is not aware often prefer not to register, believing that the risks outweigh the benefits.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.