State-sanctioned Protestant Christianity in China — the Three-Self Patriotic Movement — is a bit of a mystery to me. I'm wondering to what extent the Communist Party censors the Christianity taught therein. This is a difficult question for this site (due to the lack of an accepted "orthodoxy"), so I'm trying to get at that by looking at objections raised by the "other Christians" in China. A 2017 article from The Gospel Coalition states:

Yes, Christianity in China is legal, and yes, churches can meet publicly under the TSPM banner. But this comes with consequences. The TSPM reserves the right to censor and control their churches to the extent they deem necessary and appropriate.

Granted, things used to be much worse than they are in 2017. In days past, certain biblical books were forbidden as texts of exposition (mainly end-time ones like Daniel and Revelation), evangelism wasn’t allowed, the gospel couldn’t be boldly proclaimed, and so on.

Apparently the teaching isn't so restricted now, although the idea that "real Christians" in China are underground is still widely circulated among expatriate Chinese Christians, and the house church movement there is still going strong. Are there specific doctrinal issues that have been raised in objection to TSPM that fuel the ongoing house church movement?

I realize that everything in China is ambiguous and the answer probably varies by region, city, and individual churches, but I'm hoping that specific evidence can be adduced from the testimony of Christian leaders who have objected to TSPM teachings.

Note: this was a difficult question for me to figure out how to ask on this site, but I think it's an important topic that is oddly missing from C.SE as far as I have been able to find. (I'm hereby rescuing the tag , but also I kind of think the tag deserves to exist...) If others have ideas about how this can be edited to better fit the format of this site, please do help.

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    Up-voted (+1). The recent edict issued by the Party in China must have had an effect on Christians living there. Authority has been further enforced, atheism and the Party line have been further asserted; and this against all religion. It would be helpful to understand the real situation of Christians in that country.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 4, 2018 at 4:55
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    @Nigel And yet.... China is such a slippery thing to understand. I have a number of expat friends who continue to return to TSPM churches there on visits and swear that they're fully orthodox (the standard being our shared American-taught evangelical doctrines), while other people (mostly from different parts of China) say it's complete propaganda and "real Christians" are getting thrown in jail. I would say that a good answer here could be a valuable asset to the internet, because it's not an easy issue to understand.
    – Susan
    Jun 4, 2018 at 9:20
  • The question is a good one. I know nothing of the situation and hope that there is some answer given.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 4, 2018 at 9:53

2 Answers 2


There is a wonderful book by one of the founders of the House Church movement in China, called "The Heavenly Man: The remarkable true story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun", Kindle Edition, by Brother Yun. In this book, Yun tells his story, including passages about the Three-Self Patriotic Church, starting in chapter 5.

After a founding meeting of the Three-Self Patriotic Church ended with a disagreement, Brother Yun had this response:

This is how the Lord led me to give my life for the gospel in China, and to work for the growth of the house churches. From that day on I clearly understood that the kingdom of God can never mix with politics. The ultimate, stated aim of Marxist teaching is the complete eradication of all religion. The pure bride of Christ can never be controlled by an atheistic government or led by men who hate God!

The true church is not an organization controlled by the rules of men but a holy collection of living stones with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone.

and also

Over the ensuing weeks and months the Lord started to teach me to know the difference between his church and the Three-Self Church in China.

We knew the government had only created the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and allowed "open, legal" churches in a bid to control Christians and to promote their own political agenda inside the churches.

and also

We know there are many true followers of Jesus attending the government-sanctioned church in China today. I personally know many of them and have grown to appreciate them. It's not with [them] that we have a problem, but with the corrupt leadership and the political power used to control people.

These leaders have severely restricted what Three-Self Church pastors and members are allowed to do. Ministry is not allowed without their permission. Evangelism is discouraged. All outreach to children is strictly banned. They even decree that certain parts of the Bible cannot be preached, such as the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. They are not allowed to teach on divine healing, or the deliverance of demons. The entire Book of Revelation is banned!

In the house churches we simply couldn't adhere to such control and interference. We believe that Jesus is the head of his church, not the government. We broke away from the Three-Self Church and took a firm stand against all attempts to bring us under its control.


In July 1981 I narrowly escaped going to prison after I was arrested while leading a meeting of 120 house church believers. As the police car drove me to the station the tire deflated and I was able to escape into the night. That night as I lay down on the wet ground I cried out to God, "Why are they treating us like this? Why can't you protect us?" The Holy Spirit reminded me of two Scriptures: "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." 1 Peter 2:21. "Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" Isaiah 30:20-21. The Lord again reminded me of his call to preach the gospel to the west and south. God's grace is sufficient for me, and his ways are higher than ours. We must submit ourselves to God and embrace whatever he allows to happen. Sometimes there are times of peace, other times struggle and persecution. But both are from the Lord, to mold us into the vessels he wants us to be.

This is an interesting one (paraphrases or clarifications from me in square brackets):

The Lord didn’t allow me to feel as much pain as I should have. [They tortured and humiliated me in numerous ways at this point.] I still refused to speak. I was a half-dead pile of skin and bones lying motionless on the cold cement floor. Realizing their approach wasn’t working, one officer suddenly changed his attitude and adopted a “silk glove” method. He said, “Stop! Wait a minute! Yun, I’ll give you another chance. This day, if you admit your crimes against the government, we’ll release you if you agree to attend a Three-Self Church. We can even let you become the Chairman of the regional branch of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement! We’ll stop investigating your previous crimes and will forgive you.” He kicked me again and asked, “Yun, did you hear what I said? Do you accept my offer? Answer me immediately!” Before I opened my mouth to answer, I was reminded of the vision of the [seducing woman] trying to lure me to safety. Suddenly my spirit was taken away from my body and I saw the vision again of the snakes, scorpions, hornets and centipedes that had attacked and almost killed me as I lay on the ground. I realized why God had shown me the vision the previous night. The officers tried brutality, then seduction, in an attempt to conquer me, but the Lord enabled me to repel their efforts. The Heavenly Man (pp. 99-100). Lion Hudson LTD. Kindle Edition.

Despite mistreatment by government organizations, which includes the Three-Self Patriotic Church, he still displayed a good relationship with members of that church:

I received very little news from the outside world. I wasn’t allowed to send or receive letters. Despite these restrictions the Lord did a wonderful thing to help me! Along the outside of the prison wall was a line of small shops. These shops had tiny windows in the wall that allowed prisoners to buy food and other small items from them. One day I noticed one storeowner had a Three-Self Church hymnbook on the counter behind her. I asked, “Oh, can I please see that book?” She sternly replied, “You don’t need to see my book. It’s none of your business.” She hid it below the counter. This woman was a believer who attended a Three-Self Church. She thought all prisoners were bad people, so didn’t believe I could possibly find her hymnbook of any interest. I said, “I noticed that book is a hymnbook. I’d love to have a look at it because there are many songs in it I can sing.” She scoffed, “There are no good men in here. What’s the use?” I assured her, “Auntie, I’m a real Christian! I’m in this prison for the sake of the gospel and the testimony of Jesus. Please let me sing a hymn for you from the book. Please?” She felt embarrassed for the way she’d spoken to me. She opened the book to a certain hymn I knew. With tears in my eyes I sang: Praise God without ceasing Give thanks to my Saviour for now and evermore. Look! The Son of God was crucified Nailed to Calvary’s cross for you and me. God’s love is over our family and our friends Sinners, receive God’s grace today! Devil, be gone from our presence. Look! The Son of God was crucified Nailed to Calvary’s cross for you and me. The old sister wept tears of joy. She put her hand through the window and gripped my arm tightly. She said, “May the Lord comfort your heart! Take the book and keep it.” Two days later I returned to the shop. She told me when she’d arrived home the Lord said to her, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40. She didn’t know what she could do to bless me, so she cooked some dishes and asked another sister to secretly bring the delicious food to me, to bless me in Jesus’ name. She asked me to come to her store window from time to time so I could share God’s Word with her and her friends. They entered into a deeper fellowship with the Lord. This dear sister offered to become the messenger for letters to be passed between my family, my co-workers, and me. God used her to bring great comfort to me, through the blessed little window in the wall. The Heavenly Man (pp. 179-181). Lion Hudson LTD. Kindle Edition.

Through these quotes from the book, I hope that gives you just a glimpse of what the difference between these two churches are. Of course, there's no substitute for reading the whole book, which I heartily recommend, and am going to reread myself.

In the book, he also miraculously fasts for 74 days without food and water, and when he breaks his fast, all of his cell-mates are converted and revival breaks out in the maximum security prison where he was.

And I cannot fail to mention the miraculous escape, where he simply walked out of maximum security prison, from the third floor, through three steel gates, across a courtyard, and out the front door!

What follows is a picture of the max. security prison and Yun's quote beneath:

Front gate of Zhengzhou Maximum Security prison in Henan, China

The front gate of the Zhengzhou Prison. When I escaped, these gates were standing open and I walked out!
(The Heavenly Man (p. 309). Lion Hudson LTD. Kindle Edition. )

The book is full of God's blessed miracles and leadings. If you read it, God will bless you through it!


What theological differences distinguish the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the house church movement in China?

In an attempt to more directly answer this question, here is my analysis of communist "substitutes" for church, derived from reading mainly two autobiographical works, over and over again. This analysis applies directly to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, but also applies to the puppet churches of Richards experience.

The first work is a book by Richard Wurmbrand titled "In God's Underground". Even though Richard was tortured and imprisoned many years by the communists, he loved his torturers and founded a mission organization to save the same ones who tortured him, the notable Voice of The Martyrs. (Excellent magazine, by the way). Here are two pictures of my book:

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This is one of the few books that I have in both print and Kindle formats, and I took an additional picture to show my dog-eared evidence of love for the book, and what I see as the brotherhood of suffering, or the brotherhood of The Cross, or the brotherhood of Martyrs, of which Jesus is first, and that great love that he calls all of us to when Jesus said (my paraphrase) "I want you to deny yourselves [stop being selfish] and take up your [own] cross [and lay down your life for others] and follow me [and my example in every way, including going to my own cross for others]." Here is the official scripture:

Matthew 16:24-26, NKJV: Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"

I will quote for you my very favorite part of the book. What strikes me is how God describes taking up our own Cross:

I lay on the sofa in my cottage, reading the New Testament, and in the days that passed Christ seemed to me as real as the woman who brought my meals. But not everyone who recognizes Christ is saved; Satan believes, and is not Christian. I said to Jesus, "You'll never have me for a disciple. I want money, travel, pleasure. I have suffered enough. Yours is the way of the Cross, and even if it is the way of truth as well, I won't follow it." His answer came into my head, like a plea: "Come my way! Do not fear the Cross! You will find that it is the greatest of joys."

When I thought of the Cross previous to reading this, I shied away from it, seeing only the pain. But all of life is pain -- the pain of growth, or of degeneration; the pain of self-investment or opportunity-wasted; doing what's painful now for a better future, or doing what's pleasurable now for a more painful future. But I started seeing the Cross as an opportunity to enter into the Fellowship of The Cross with Jesus. Then, also, we would never have to worry that Jesus might eventually have to say to us, "I never knew you!", for we are following the Law of Love.

Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

What a present to be able to give to God and lay at his feet, and it's not just the Fellowship of The Cross, but also the exponential love and paradise on Earth which would happen if all were laying down their lives for each other.

The fellowship of The Cross is also mentioned by God in Yun's book:

The word of the Lord came to me clearly, [God said] "The reason you suffer is so you can partake in the fellowship of my suffering. Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth." [As I was humbled... then] Suddenly the fear and pain left me. [pg. 82/315, Location 1173/4553, Kindle Ed.]

The second work is noted in my other answer, which includes excerpts from the autobiographical book, The Heavenly Man: The remarkable true story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun, by Brother Yun, of the Chinese house churches, mightily used by God in the Chinese House Church revival.

If, as scripture says, "control is as witchcraft", then they are considered to be spiritually equivalent. Indeed, they both control others, by various means, attempting to force that person to bow to (worship & obey) something, which takes away that person's will, but also prevents them from bowing to (worshipping & obeying) God, which takes away that persons' calling, mission, and effect in the Kingdom of God.

If you read these two books, you will clearly see that communism takes every opportunity to come against the true Christianity that works well (for purpose and meaning), because communism really doesn't work very well (for purpose and meaning); and the reason that I say that is because it produces precisely the spiritual vacuum that gives its people an intense thirst and hunger for God. This is also why they take such extreme measures against Christianity (see the books) and why they must -- any true convert to Christ from communism says, basically, "God, I've been looking my whole life for you" and empty communism will never again be acceptable to that person, even in the face of imprisonment, and even execution. Without God, death is a terror and truly tragic, but with God, "Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55 NASB).

So the Theology of communism must be utter terror of God that directly leads to the militant stomping out of Christianity, indeed, even the whiff of religion, because communism is such a dreadfully poor substitute. And yes, stomping out religion plays out in every possible way, including a "honeypot" false Christian church that captures Christians (in their membership) and then makes them of no effect (as much as possible), especially passing on their religion to others, and even more especially passing on their religion to the next generation. (In Yun's time, you could not teach your children your beliefs -- which is against our beliefs!) The other purpose of the "false church" is to make communism seem more acceptable to the outside world.

And let me not fail to mention that none of these descriptions apply to the real believers inside the false church, but the communistic government must be dedicated to, as much as they can, frustrating those believers and preventing them from any evangelism at all, effectively killing Christianity (eventually).

Actions speak louder than words, so don't look at what the communists say about their church (why do they call it "Patriotic?") -- you must look at its actions. Therefore, read the books, both first-person testimonies by people who have given their lives for the souls of communists in the face of threats, beatings, tortures, and many years of imprisonment. Richard even faced intense brainwashing in prison.

So, to compare the Theologies, the one is like hay and stubble which burns up when tested with fire. But the Theology of these two saints is like Gold, which was shown to be of much value when tested in the trials by fire of the various persecutions, beatings, losses, and imprisonments that both saints suffered -- at the hands of the same communist governments that provided phony churches as cheap substitutes as a plan to eventually wipe all religion off the face of the earth.

Listen to this description of the early church:

Acts 2:38-47 NKJV 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Doesn't that sound like communism claims to be? ("had all things in common" and "sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.") Yet the church actually realizes this vision, with Love, and without government. (This is actually what the present generation has been told communism will give them -- but they are really searching for Jesus, and the love He causes the world to give for one another!)

Even though they could look superficially similar on the surface, their Theology could not be more different!

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