Wang Mingdao and the House Church Movement

What faithfulness to Christ under a totalitarian government can do. 


John Stonestreet

Glenn Sunshine

Today, China officially recognizes roughly 20 million Christians affiliated with “government sanctioned” churches. These are churches registered with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and under state control. 

Actual numbers of Christians are believed to be well over 100 million, thanks in part to the courageous pioneering of Wang Mingdao, who in the 1930s established the house church movement.  

Mingdao was born in Beijing to a poor Chinese Christian family during the bloody Boxer Rebellion. He became a Christian himself at age 14 through his missionary school. But serious illness at 18 led him to a deeper commitment, where he began studying the Bible intensely. Seeing a need to both uphold the Chinese culture in the local church and resist liberal doctrine seeping in, Mingdao started a house church in 1923. This grew so large that by 1937 he built the Christian Tabernacle in Beijing, seating several hundred.  

During this time, Mingdao spoke at conferences across China to establish more grassroots gatherings, often called underground churches. He stewarded their growth, preaching on Scriptural inerrancy, human depravity, the need for repentance and personal salvation, and subsequent purity of life. With an insistence on ethical behavior, which remains a prominent feature of Chinese Christianity today, he would delay baptism for converts to be sure their repentance was more than just words but was borne out in their lives. His belief was that churches should be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating.  

When the Japanese occupied northern China in the late 1930s, they set up the Chinese Christian Federation of North China in a bid to control the churches. Mingdao refused to join, even keeping a coffin in his home in anticipation of his execution. The Japanese neither arrested nor killed him, which Mingdao credited to divine protection. 

After the Communists took over China, Wu Yaozong emerged as another prominent Protestant figure, but with Communist sympathies. Yaozong, with the backing of the CCP, sought to establish a similar but corrupt form of Mingdao’s house churches. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) became and remains the government-controlled Christian church in China. Under the auspices of unifying Protestants, the TSPM kept the idea of the self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating church but rejected the core beliefs of Christianity, including the Trinity, the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the Second Coming, and the last judgment. 

All this put Mingdao, at the prime of his far-reaching ministry, and the Communist powers now in control of the “official” local church, on a collision course. 

He rejected both being tied to the government and the theological liberalism of the TSPM. He preached more strenuously against the idea that Christianity was mainly about public reform, insisting on personal conversion and its purifying effects on the individual as the cure for society’s ills. The government responded by organizing accusation sessions against Wang, but he lived with such integrity that they could not find any credible charges against him. 

Finally, in 1955, he was arrested without charge and sentenced to 15 years in prison as a counter-revolutionary.  

After a year of daily interrogations, beatings, reports of arrests of house church leaders, and his wife’s deteriorating health, Mingdao gave in. He confessed to crimes he had not committed and agreed to join the TSPM, and so was set free from prison. 

After his release, he was despondent. He felt like he had, like Peter, denied Christ. So, six months later, he informed the government he would not join the TSPM and recanted his confession. He was then sentenced to life in prison and repeatedly tortured. 

After the U.S. and China established diplomatic relations in 1972, human rights groups began pressuring China to release political prisoners. They tried to release Mingdao in 1979, but he refused unless they cleared his name. They ended up tricking him into leaving the prison in 1980. By then he was deaf, nearly blind, and had lost all his teeth. 

Once free, Mingdao returned to preaching. He lived the rest of his life in Shanghai with his wife and son until his death in 1991.  

China reports 20 million Christians, yet millions and millions are actual believers underground, a testament in part to Mingdao’s faithful service to Christ under a totalitarian government.  

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Dr. Glenn Sunshine. If you’re a fan of Breakpoint, leave a review on your favorite podcast app. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to 


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