house churches


house churches
House churches are an important phenomenon in Chinese Christianity (Protestantism) and their members form a large part of the Christians in the PRC today. Other commonly used names are ‘unregistered churches’—in contrast to the registered ones belonging to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM)—and ‘underground churches’.
Several wholly Chinese denominations were formed both before 1949 (e.g. the Little Flock) and after, and these groups refused to join the TSPM. They were persecuted but survived as free groups, often referred to as ‘house churches’. In the late 1970s when religion was once again allowed after the Cultural Revolution, people met in homes to worship since most churches were either still closed, being used for other purposes or had been demolished. This was another basis for the emergence of house churches. There are also house meetings within the TSPM that are often called ‘meeting points’ (juhuidian). Here a grey zone exists where some ‘meeting points’ are only loosely affiliated with the local TSPM. In some places as well, new church buildings have been erected by unregistered groups and have been allowed to remain.
House churches grew quickly during the 1990s, often formed by iterant evangelists (see itinerant evangelists (Protestant)) who travel around China and start new congregations. Henan and Zhejiang provinces supposedly have millions of house church members. A problem for both house churches and the TSPM is the appearance of a number of pseudo-Christian sects, the result of a shortage of well-educated pastors to take care of the fast-growing numbers of believers. Despite their differences, house churches and registered churches share a basic theology and faith, both evangelical and Bible-centred. Nonetheless, persecutions and denunciations of house church leaders by the TSPM in the 1950s led to a mistrust of registered church leaders and their faith which has long disturbed relations between them.
In the 1990s, local level cooperation between house churches and the TSPM improved some-what, but after the suppression of Falun gong in 1999, new laws against cults and sects were passed that have also been used to harass the house churches. In 1998, leaders from several large house churches assembled to formulate a statement about their faith, their view of the TSPM and their relation to the CCP and the state. They stressed their identity as law-abiding citizens of the PRC but decried state control over religion. They also recognized the idea of ‘three-self but not the TSPM as a government-controlled organ. A draft for new regulations for registering churches appeared in December 2001, but the process has been stalled as the draft suggests that it is no longer necessary to register through the TSPM.
Lambert, T. (1999). China’s Christian Millions: The Costly Revival. London: Monarch Books
FREDERIK FÄLLMAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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