BreakPoint: China’s Faith-Friendly Facade

What They Don’t Want You to Know

To foreign Christians, China portrays itself as a free country. But Chinese Christians know better.

Earlier this month, a delegation from the World Council of Churches made a “historic” visit to China. There, they toured churches and celebrated news that within our lifetimes, China will be home to more Christians than any other nation on earth. And that’s true.

The Council’s secretary general expressed amazement at the government-approved churches he was shown, and at their reach among Chinese citizens of all ages. Present were representatives of the state-controlled denominations, the Chinese Christian Council, and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

But noticeably absent was anyone from China’s booming house-church movement, which by some estimates accounts for 80 percent of Chinese Christians.

If this strikes you as fishy, congratulations—your sniffer is fully functional. The government-run churches World Council members were shown are the religious equivalent of China’s notorious “Potemkin villages.” These apartments and condo complexes, shopping malls and even cities are constructed by the state and state-backed speculators largely as a show for foreigners. They look good from a distance, but get closer and they’re ghost towns—all façade and no substance.

Likewise, behind this façade of friendliness toward Christianity, China in fact has a much different policy toward the faith. Of the country’s 60 million believers, the majority worship outside of the law. And when they’re caught, the consequences can be severe.

Earlier this month, Chinese paramilitary police literally dynamited one of the country’s largest evangelical churches, where some 50,000 people went to worship. Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi province was allegedly disguised as a warehouse for years, and has had prior run-ins with the law. Back in 2009, authorities confiscated Bibles from the church and imprisoned several of its leaders.

This time, they wanted to finish the job, and did so by filling the church’s sanctuary with explosives and blowing it sky-high. Images of the building coming down are distressing, but they’re a much more accurate picture of communist China’s attitude toward Christianity.

Golden Lampstand was only the latest victim of this new war on Christians. In December, officials demolished a Catholic church in a nearby province, and President Xi Jinping’s government has spent years tearing crosses from the steeples of unrecognized churches around the country.

Back in September, China passed new religious regulations to prevent so-called “extremism.” An analyst from Open Doors described the regulations as part of the government’s attempt to control and “Sinicize”—that is, render more Chinese—“every aspect of Christian life—be it culture, news, or religion.”

And adding insult to injury, the government just days ago threatened the law licenses of several Chinese lawyers for defending fellow Christians who were arrested on trumped-up “cult” charges.

China, says the New York Times, is on “a campaign that reflects the Communist Party’s longstanding fear that Christianity, viewed as a Western philosophy, is a threat to the party’s authority.”

This new persecution harkens back to a more brutal era, and bodes ill for our millions of brothers and sisters who refuse to worship as their government dictates. Our own government should speak up.

But first, the world needs to realize that the Chinese Communist Party’s show of friendliness toward Christianity is just that—a show—one ultimately as empty as its shopping malls.


China’s Faith-Friendly Facade: What They Don’t Want You to Know

Find out more about our Christian brothers and sisters in China–check out the links in our Resources section.


Chinese Police Dynamite Christian Megachurch
  • Russell Goldman | New York Times | January 12, 2018
World Council of Churches makes 'historic' visit to China
  • Marie Malzac | | January 12, 2018
A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China
  • Rodney Stark, Xiuhua Wang | Templeton Foundation Press | May 2015
  • website

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • my2cents

    Excellent commentary, and keep the truth coming. If only mainstream America could/would hear it.

  • Bill Knapp

    thanks for the article; I am wondering in the back of my mind if the fact that the intertwining of faith and Trump “America first” politics by evangelicals in the US has sent a signal to the world that evangelical = Trump .. this association unfortunately has been made even though non-American evangelicals are not fervent Trump supporters (in many cases to the contrary) … this to say that Chinese government persecution of Christians may be a way to “oppose the US and Trump” because to them Christianity and “evangelicals” especially = Trump politics

    • Marco

      Bill, this has been the Communist modus operadi for far longer than the Trump Administration. Take 70 plus yrs.

      • Bill Knapp

        true, however there has been a renewal and an intensification of persecution for the last 6 months or so .. curiously coinciding with Trump, Chinese relations … after a period of a decade or so of relative openness towards Christianity on the part of the Chinese government

        • Joann

          The tightening began following Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012. This has nothing to do with American politics, and everything to do with Chinese politics and Xi’s attempts to re-establish Party control over all segments of society, including religion.

  • Joann

    Thanks for including in your list of resources at the end of this article. While there is no question that things are tightening, not just for Christians in China, but for all sectors of civil society, my main concern in this article is the labelling of all registered churches as “all facade and no substance.” To simply write them all off is to ignore the fact that, despite difficult circumstances and fickle government interference, God is at work in many of these churches. There are millions of genuine believers who worship in these churches. There are many many Gospel-loving preachers who serve in these churches who, despite the restrictions under which they must operate, want nothing more than to see the people in their communities and nation know and worship Jesus. They need our love and prayers, not our condemnation. The simplistic paradigm of “house church = good / registered church = bad” is outdated and does not take into account complexity of the church in China today. A good place to start in understanding that complexity is this article:

    • David Carlson

      Thanks Joann, for your concern. We tried to avoid calling the state-approved churches and their members facades, so we referred to the Chinese government’s faith-friendly posture a facade. We could have been more clear.