Chinese Independent Churches
The Chinese Independent Churches are a major category of churches of Chinese people.
During Missionary Council Meetings in the mid to late 19th century several Western missionaries started advocating for the Chinese Christians to become independent instead of relying on outside support and funds. This idea was supported and accelerated after the disastrous Boxer Rebellion. During the incident, 48 Catholic missionaries and 18000 members were martyred while 182 Protestant missionaries and 500 Chinese Christians were martyred.
Although this incident led to the downfall of the Qing Dynasty, Western missionaries encouraged Chinese Christians to be self-sufficient economically, self-preaching, and self-pastoring even if it meant breaking away from their original Protestant denominations.
The earliest known Independent Church existed in 1862 with the title, "Minnan Church". Little is known about this church since most of the records were recorded in the local Minnan dialect rather than in Mandarin. Information regarding this church is slowly being ‘discovered’ and translated.
Gospel of Grace Church (福音堂)Edit
The Gospel of Grace Church or Grace Evangelical church was founded at Shandong by Xi Sheng-Mo (席胜魔) in 1881. In 1906, Yu Zong-Zhou (俞宗周) established this church in Shanghai. These were some of the early indigenous churches established by local Chinese Christians.
True Jesus Church (真耶穌教會)Edit
The True Jesus Church was registered in Beijing in 1917. Early workers include Paul Wei, Zhang Lingsheng, and Barnabas Zhang. The General Coordination Board was established in Nanjing which was later moved to Shanghai. The English version of the church name was once the “True Jesus Mission”.
This independent church is an offshoot or breakaway from the first wave of the Pentecostal movement in the United States during the early 1900s. Pentecostal missionaries from the Azusa Street Revival were the first to arrive in Hong Kong as early as October 1907. The Pentecostal movement in China spread through Protestant organizations that were already established, leading to the creation of the True Jesus Church and many others.
- The early founders believed, through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, that they were establishing a reformed true church which was to correct all the mistakes in doctrines and interpretations made by other denominations. They believed that all the teachings of the gospel must have biblical references to back it up in order to avoid misinterpretations or false teachings.
Church Assembly Hall (聚會所)Edit
They began arranging “small group hymn singing” sessions in Shanghai so many Chinese refer to them as the “small group” and they were known (or the nickname) as the "Little Flock", and because at that time, they were still using the Plymouth Brethren's Hymn Book called "Little Flock Hymn Book".
- Their early message to people was, “Walk out your denominations and return to the Bible”, since during the 1920s and 30s there were numerous church denominations that existed in China so many people were confused and did not know which one they should actually choose from. So the church’s early founders were against church denominationalism and believed that churches should stick closer to the Bible teachings instead.
- Their early important contributions to society were “The Revival Times” newspaper publication and several gospel bookstores which still survive till this day. By 1949 the Church Assembly Hall had approximately seven hundred churches around the country.
Jesus Family (耶穌家庭)Edit
The Jesus Family is a unique Pentecostal communitarian church first established in Shandong province in the late 1920s. It is a more distinctive type of the independent churches in China. Founded and established by Jing Dianying (敬奠瀛)  near Mazhuang, they are located mostly in rural areas. At that time, their main message was, "Leave your old family and enter the new family." What they meant was that converts were to break away Leave your old family and your old world, enter the new family and new world from their original family system and enter the new ‘Family of Jesus’. The new converts were also required to bring out all their possessions and share it out with all its members.
After they have left their previous families or societies and joined the Jesus Family, the next step was, "Change to a new life, Jesus is our Lord," which meant that the new converts must adopt new lifestyles and that their behaviours of should change. Jesus Christ was to be the Head of the household.
Step three was to "Break down food, clothing and shelter; fulfil food, clothing and shelter." This is a vivid description of the Jesus Family lifestyle which meant that the new members must change their old habits on food, clothing and shelter. For example, if you like wearing flash clothes, eating delicious buffets, and living in luxurious mansions (which is what everyone craves for), then it is time give up all these habits by stop being materialistic and start living a more simplified life.
After the new Jesus Family members have adopted a very simple lifestyle, the statement “fulfil food, clothing and shelter” means that everything is to be shared among its Family Members including all the food produce and income earned.
The Jesus Family was basically imitating the example of the early Apostolic Church in Jerusalem that was recorded in the book of Acts. The early church also lived a communal lifestyle of giving and sharing and loving each other. Of course, this type of farming lifestyle is obviously easier to fulfil in the countryside so the Jesus Family followers are mainly situated in rural areas rather than cities.
The last step of their message was to: “Live and die for the Lord with all your heart”, which clearly shows the Jesus Family mentality of living everyday for the Lord and being willing to die for the Lord’s sake if and when persecution arises.
The Jesus Family Church is considered quite unique and stood out among the other independent churches in China. In reality, this type of Communal lifestyle can also be found in Israel today (The Israeli “Kibbutz”).
Christian Tabernacle (基督徒會堂)Edit
It originally was just a family service but was later established as a new church by Wang Mingdao (王明道) at Beijing in 1937. The Christian Tabernacle was founded without the help of any foreign missionary so it was essentially Chinese Christians preaching to Chinese people. They also self-administer and are self-sufficient economically.
Wang Mingdao was especially tight on church entry. During the sixteen years from 1933 to 1949 only 570 believers received baptism since every new believer must bring another convert to the church before baptism was allowed. He said, “The sheep must have life, your behaviour of giving birth to more sheep shows that you have life”. Therefore, being able to bring people to believe in the faith is evidence that indeed you are quite clear of the path to salvation. Although it does not mean that you have already received salvation, it shows that you are worthy to become one of their church members.
Once Wang Mingdao's strict entry requirements have already been satisfied, both the new convert’s behaviour and lifestyle will be closely observed or examined by church members for a period. This is done in order to confirm that the new believer really is behaving as a Christian ought to behave and that his faith truly has a solid foundation.
People's Republic of ChinaEdit
The independent churches established during the republican era are the most well known and representative of the many independent churches in China. Today, many of them constitute a significant portion of what is generally termed the house church movement in China, because after 1949, with the arrival of Communist control and departure of all foreign missionaries, all Chinese Christian denominations had become independent.
- Espinosa, Gaston. "William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism." Duke University Press, 2014, p.89.
- Bays, Daniel (2012). A New History of Christianity in China. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 130.
- Kaplan, Steven (1994). Indigenous Responses to Western Christianity. NYU Press. pp. 129–140. ISBN 0-8147-4649-7.