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China's "Barbaric" Christians
In the face of severe opposition and persecution by the government, China's courageous house churches continue to thrive and grow.

The Chinese house-church leaders had concluded their morning devotions and were settling in for another day of church leadership study in the suburb of Harbin city, the capital of Helongjiang province in north-eastern China. About one hundred and forty of them had gathered from several provinces—some traveling over long distances for days—just to attend the training sessions. They were joined by ten guest pastors: one from Taiwan, another from South Korea and eight from the United States. Suddenly, without warning, one hundred security officers from five different Chinese government agencies burst through the doors of the temporary training facility. They seized Bibles and Christian study materials and arrested many of the attendees. Accompanying the police were officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB). This time American pastors were among those taken into police custody.

China's 'Barbaric' Christians
Crossing a river

The Americans were detained, questioned for 13 hours and then deported. Among them were Rev. Dr. Brad Long, an Evangelical Presbyterian minister (PCUSA), and Rev. John Chang, recently retired as president of the general assembly of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and now senior pastor of the Grace Christian Church in Flushing, New York.

The RAB considers any such Christian activity in China outside of the state church as "barbaric" and "uncivilized," not approved by civil atheistic authorities. Every single pastor who did not join the new state Christian church founded in 1952, in China, was imprisoned. Protestants and Catholics may publicly worship but only through the state church. Thousands are in prison today for refusing to bow down to the state.

Erwin McManus in his book The Barbarian Way writes:

"Two thousand years ago God started a revolt against the religion He started. So don't ever put it past God to cause a groundswell movement against churches and Christian institutions that bear His name.
"Christianity over the past 2000 years has moved form a tribe of renegades to a religion of conformists. Those who choose to follow Jesus become participants in an insurrection. To claim we believe is simply not enough. The call of Jesus is one that demands action. We are called to an unconventional war using only the weapons of faith, hope and love. Nevertheless, this war is no less dangerous than any war ever fought.
"(Christians) live their lives with every step moving forward and with every fibre of their being fighting for the heart of their King. Jesus Christ has become the all-consuming passion of their lives. They are not about religion or position. They have little patience for institutions or bureaucracies. Their lack of respect for tradition or ritual makes them seem uncivilized to those who love religion."

This describes China's "illegal," unregistered house church Christians.

Refusing to remain quiet

One of the first churches established by Hudson Taylor's mission group, prior to the Communist takeover of China, was destroyed two years ago. The Tu Du Sha Church refused to join the state church and submit themselves to the atheistic leaders; therefore, government bulldozers came in and knocked the building down, leaving nothing but a pile of rubble.

Church members rebuilt a very simple structure on the site and continued their meetings. A leader in the state approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) called police to tell them the church had resumed meetings and asked them to intervene. This TSPM leader called seven more times until finally the police destroyed the church the Christians had rebuilt. We also have reports of state church officials who have sat alongside Communist police trying to tempt persecuted pastors to join their state TSPM church.

These Evangelical Christians refused to remain quiet. Instead of going further underground, they responded to their church's second destruction by holding a march in the streets, turning it into an evangelistic outreach. Music played, the Christians marched and church members joyfully handed out Gospel tracts to the crowds that gathered to watch. You can watch video clips of this church standing up to the Communist officials on

Government officials thought they had solved this "problem" congregation. Surely bulldozing their church would make them bow! they thought. Attesting some of the church members? Surely bulldozing it a second time! But the church would not be contained. Instead, these "barbaric" believers took Jesus to the streets. Many suffered beatings for this.

Because of their refusal to stay in the state's religious box, the Communist government views the massive Chinese house-church movement (estimating 75 to 100 million) as threatening, untamed "barbarians." All are lumped together as "evil cults." Western organizations that conveniently align themselves only with the state TSPM church, which upholds a ban on Sunday school and any evangelism, have become partners in fear. They fear the wrong thing. They should fear god.

Preparing others to reach out

On a recent visit to China, Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) couriers met up with students of an underground Bible school supported by VOM partners. The young people—ages 16-20—spend one year in hiding, studying to prepare for ministry as pastors and evangelists within China's "illegal" (unregistered) churches. They must stay inside, out of sight. They are allowed to leave only once a week, and only when it is absolutely necessary, to shop for supplies and personal items. Christian training—or any religious training—for anyone under the age of 18 is illegal in China.

China's 'Barbaric' Christians
Hua Hui Qi

Hua Hui Qi is under house arrest. He is allowed to live at his home and to go out for short periods, but he is watched constantly by the police. His previous house was destroyed by government officials. Even his 8-year-old daughter is regularly questioned by the police, and because of police pressure, she lives with a relative for her safety.

Brother Hua could make his troubles with the police go away quite easily. All he has to do is conform and register his church work with the government, coming under the authority of the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB). But he will not bow to the Communist Party. He would rather take a stand and see Christ transform the lives of his fellow countrymen.

"The Three-Self (government-registered) church will not allow people to praise Jesus," he told VOM workers. "The Great Commission says we are to preach to all nations, so their teaching contradicts the Bible. If you join a Three-Self church, they will control you and control your church activities. You will not have … free worship time or free service."

Being left alone by the police is not worth compromising his beliefs, Hua says. "It is better to follow God than the government. Every Christian knows that."

Hua knows that the Bible students will likely face persecution when they enter full-time Christian work. The one-year training program focuses on God's Word. Each student spends hours each day in Bible study. They also focus on missions and outreach in preparation to reach others for Christ.

So far, the police have not closed down the school. Brother Hua has had many conversations with police and RAB officers. Many times they ask religious questions or ask for his thoughts on specific verses.

"One time they pointed out Romans 13 to me, the first six verses, telling Christians to obey their earthly rulers. I told them not to misuse the verse." The irony of this conversation is that TSPM pastors are discouraged from preaching out of Romans.

However, God has enabled Hua to love his persecutors. "From my flesh, I hate. They have beaten me. They have taken all possessions from me and from my family. But I don't want to live in the flesh. I don't want to hate. With God's help from my spirit, I continue to pray for those people. I pray for their salvation and that they will understand Christianity more."

Brother Hua has made an impact. He says local police know that he is a good man and that no matter what they do he will not change his beliefs. One officer even warns him when a police raid or inspection is coming. Hua is thankful for the warnings but he also knows that God uses persecution. "Persecution is like winnowing out the chaff and leaving the pure in the church. In our flesh we do not want to be persecuted, but if it is His will, it is okay."

Like Chinese house-church leaders, VOM's founder, Romanian Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, used every method he could to reach his captive homeland for Christ. This former Jewish atheist and his wife, Sabina, even witnessed to the invading (yet spiritually hungry) Russian soldiers. The Romanian Communist government banned Sunday schools. Pastor Wurmbrand met with youth anyway. He paid the price of 14 years in prison for his aggressive love.

Back to China

Zhang Rongliang is one of the founders of the China for Christ Church, a group comprised of more than ten million Christians. He met with VOM friends last year outside of China.

While he was outside China, he was offered a chance to go to America, to live in freedom and safety. Christians in the U.S. had even prepared a five-bedroom house for Zhang and his family. However, Zhang turned down the offer. "For my family and for my safety, I wish I could be in the United States, safe in that wonderful land," Zhang said. "But for my church and for God's people, I have to go back to China." And so he did.

Weeks after making that courageous decision, Pastor Zhang was arrested. He is currently in the custody of Chinese police and cut off from the visits of fellow believers and even his family. It is unclear what the charges against him will be, but the penalty could be very severe, even life in prison.

Pastor Zhang isn't the only one who is choosing persecution over freedom.

Recently a Chinese pastor phoned a VOM-USA program officer for China. "The police are after me!" the pastor said. He has a wife and two sons, and he was very concerned.

Quickly we provided funding to get him and his family to a safe location in a different province. But the next day he called our program officer again. "After much prayer," he said, "the Holy Spirit has been guiding me. For the sake of the church and the people of God in my church, I have to go back." Our program officer agreed that if God was calling him back, he must indeed answer the call. We promised to assist his family.

Pray for this Christian brother. We cannot share his name, but God knows who he is. Also pray for pastor Zhang to remain a witness each day in a Chinese prison.

"Your God cannot help you now!"

Ali (not his real name), who now lives in eastern China, was recently ordered by the police to return to Urumqi, the largest city in Xinjiang, Ali's home province. He was told that if he did not return, police would come and get him. Ali is Uygur (pronounced "wee-gur"), a mostly Muslim people group found in western China and some neighbouring countries. After several days on a train, he arrived and was immediately taken to the police station.

China's 'Barbaric' Christians
Baptism in a pot

As soon as he arrived, police brandished clubs and beat Ali's lower back. They used devices to poke and twist the skin on his arms. They electrocuted him in many places. Three times police placed clips on his ear lobes that were wired to electrical currents. He remembers one time seeing the clock at the beginning of this torture; it said 10:00 a.m. The next thing he remembers, it was 3:00 p.m. Ali, now a Christian, is the brother of a Muslim terrorist. Police want to arrest his brother, but they have not been able to find him for several years. They shouted to Ali, "You are a Muslim and a terrorist!" Ali replied, "No! I am a Christian!"

The police could not believe it. "What? You cannot be a Christian! Your family is Muslim. Your people are Muslim and terrorists," they shouted. "You have to be a Muslim!" Ali again stated that he is a Christian, confessing Christ in front of the people who were abusing him.

The police said that they did not even know what a Christian is. "What is a Christian? What is that?" they asked. Ali told them about Christ. He said, "Christ is just." There was another man in the police station from Hubei province who said he knew of some Christians, that they were good people although he was not one himself.

Later in his jail cell, he was with two other Muslim men and told them about Christ. "Christ died for all men," he said. His Muslim cellmates mocked him, but Ali went on to say: "Christ is the only way. My God is the only God." They mocked him again saying, "You God cannot help you now!"

By God's sovereignty, an old friend came to Ali's aid, a former middle-school classmate. Ali did not remember him, but the old classmate remembered Ali. Ali later told VOM contacts that the help of this man was definitely "From the Father in heaven." The man said he would help Ali avoid being moved to the police station in his home town. This is the place where he was sure to suffer more than he had already endured. It is the place where Ali was disowned by his family for becoming a Christian several years ago, a place where it seems there is no law.

This friend advised Ali: "Do not tell them you are a Christian. It will only make it much worse for you." But Ali continued to stand up for Christ. Suddenly, Ali was released. He quickly went to the airport to buy a ticket to leave as soon as he could, but there were no seats left. He went to the train station and began his long trip back to his new home in eastern China. He had to change trains seven times and finally arrived home five days later.

Like the three young Israelites in the book of Daniel, this young Uygur Christian stayed true to God, and He rescued his faithful servant. Who knows how God will use Ali's release in the lives of his Muslim cellmates who claimed, "You God cannot help you now," just as God used the rescue of Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego in Nebuchadnezzar's life (see Daniel 3:28-30)?

On the day Ali entered the police station his persecutors met their first Christian and heard of Christ for the first time. Pray for them, as Ali may have shared the only words of Christ they ever hear.

Walking down Jesus' road

Chinese house churches are growing at a remarkable rate, in spite of Communist efforts to control and kill the church. The persecution has become a purifying fire, bringing forth true gold in the lives of believers across China. Each of the seven largest Christian house-church "networks" outnumbers all denominations in Canada, except for Catholics and Southern Baptists. Desperately the Religious Affairs Bureau uses all its power in an attempt to domesticate religion. The authorities realize that this is the best way to control the spread of the Gospel yet appear civilized to the West.

China's 'Barbaric' Christians
Titus Tiduo

McManus writes:

"It is true that the enemy will essentially leave you alone if you are domesticated. He will not waste his energy destroying a civilized religion. If anything, he uses his energy to promote such activity. Religion can be one of the surest places to keep us from God. When our faith becomes refined, it is no longer dangerous to the dark kingdom."

The Christians of China who choose to suffer in following Christ so they may evangelize are willing to endure hatred because of His love.

"The believers' hearts and faith are strengthened by the persecution," said Titus Tiduo, a 33-year-old worker in the South China Church. "We know Jesus is winning the battle. The Word of God says that we are walking the same road that Jesus walked. We have also seen throughout church history that others have been persecuted by their government and by other people. Through the persecution we feel God's love and His grace."

The church in China is standing up in the face of persecution, refusing to bow to government attacks. In the West, we do not usually face police arrests or beatings, but still we must stand up. We forget that Christians who were executed in the Roman Coliseum were not asked to stop worshipping Jesus. They could "keep Jesus" as long as they worshipped Caesar first.

Today, because of religious freedom in the West and our vital traditional churches, we are not forced to make such state-church decisions. Yet, all Christians must witness within their culture even though in some locations they will be mocked as uneducated, unrefined, intolerant "barbarians."

Like believers in the book of Acts, we must evangelize and teach our children the Gospel. We must choose to walk the road that Jesus walked, though it may not be a path of earthly comfort. China's courageous, "barbaric" Christians remind us that we are in a spiritual war for souls … fighting for the heart of our King.


The Barbarian Way. Erwin Raphael McManus. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2005,

Originally published in the Voice of the Martyrs, May 2005.




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