Is God at work in the “above-ground” church in China?


By Mark Ellis

Werner & Erik Burklin (far left and far rt.) attend meeting in China

While we hear frequent reports about the underground house church movement in China, especially many of the hardships they face due to their resistance to government control, it may surprise some to realize there is life in the registered, “above ground” church, officially known as the Three -self Patriotic Movement.

China Partner serves the registered church in China “above board and legally” by supplying Christian literature, pastoral training, and forging partnerships to build the church.

Erik Burklin, president of China Partner, recently returned from China, where he worked with several pastors currently seeing God’s hand at work in significant ways. Rev. Zhao and his wife graduated from Sichuan Theological Seminary in 1995  and came to Yibin city to serve the local church.

When they arrived, there was one church building and one meeting point (two ecclesias); today there are 18 churches. Yibin had 200 believers when they started to minister in that city; today there are over 4,000.

In 2011 he and his wife baptized over 100 new converts; the church has seen tremendous growth during their ministry.
He believes that the Chinese church will experience a big revival within the next few years. They invited China Partner to return in 2013 for further trainings specifically in the area of marriage/family and children’s ministries.

Rev. Guo and his wife graduated from the theological seminary in Wuhan in 2003. They have a vision of building a 10,000-member church. Rev. Guo’s wife is a fourth generation Christian whose grandfather also served as a church pastor.

They are both in their early 40’s and have a passion for evangelism; the last two years they conducted special evangelistic meetings in their city, renting a local hotel ballroom. During the meetings Rev. Guo gave a clear presentation of the Gospel, after which 30 and 60 people (respectively) accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

Last year he baptized over 200 new converts. They also have a passion for training their church leadership and surrounding lay pastors; this was China Partner’s second time to conduct pastoral training at their church. Over 160 leaders attended. Rev. Guo invited China Partner to return in 2013 to help him train more leaders.

On this recent ministry trip in China, China Partner trained over 190 church leaders and pastors with practical ministry tools in pastoral care and Bible study methods and passed out 2,440 theological study books.

Sichuan Theological Seminary is part of a regional seminary formed by the Christian Council/Three-self Patriotic Movement Committee of three provinces and one municipality including Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Chongqing. Since its founding in 1984, the aim of the seminary is to “train clergies who love their country and church, adhere to the Three-self principle, have scholarly attainment on theology, excel in virtue, and can lead the church and congregation in the faith, ” according to their website.

In 2010, 589 students graduated from the school. The curriculum includes 70% religious courses and 30% general courses. Courses in English and NT Greek are available.


  1. This is an awesome and very moving story. You are correct in saying that we do not hear much about the “approved” church in China. In fact, I hadn’t thought about it much.

  2. The reason you do not hear much about the “approved” church is that most Christians in China are more discerning than we are in America and those with “boots on the ground” are well aware of the pitfalls of being in cahoots with the enemy of our souls – the One from the beginning of time. It is not wise to “throw in” all ones chips with those who are openly atheistic and yet there are those within the three-self movement that do name the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives. That’s where the wisdom spoken of in James 1 is so needed. Open fellowship with them is subject to watching to see if their behavior matches with their testimony. In time, it will become self-evident why a word of caution should be exercised with this article and this organization called China Partner is in order. Lay hands on no man suddenly comes to mind.

  3. -Is There a Higher Theology For Man, Than Knowing God personally -person to PERSON-?

    True Theologians
    “He is not here; for he is risen” (Matthew 28, 6)
    From the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:4,5).

    There are those today who live in not so distant places that have a real life person to Person relationship with Lord Jesus!
    These humble words that are shared with brotherly love and respect, point out to the kind of relationship man was made to have with our Lord Jesus Christ. The following paragraphs, where taken from the book of Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos Entreaty” (Paraklitika), and it is knowledge that must be shared with all those who have Lord Jesus Christ as their Heavenly Father.

    “Those who have made their selves worthy to see God are the True Theologians. Saint Gregorios the Theologian taught that those who saw God like Apostle Paul can safely theologize, because the sight of God cleans them from all fantasy, and renders them true preachers of the truth making them explicitly different from philosophers and philosophies”.

    Metropolitan Hierotheos who is member of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church continues in his book:

    “It is with a lot of awe and fear of God that we dare write here that even today there are Saints (that are alive today) who saw and see Christ in the Light, they converse with him, and stay in His Sight for days and even weeks. We have been blessed by God to personally meet such people who saw Christ in His Divine Light, who attest to the fact that Lord Jesus is a True God, the only Savior of man, our only hope for Eternal Life, our only way out of the dead end that we have reached”. (John 17:3) “And eternal life means knowing you (personally), the only true God, and knowing Jesus Christ, whom you send”

    Saint Gregorios (3rd century) description of his personal experience who saw Christ in His Divine Light is used as an example to describe how the Saints are able (became worthy), to see and know God in His Divine Glory.


    A notion, which Saint Symeon goes to great lengths to clarify in his writings, is the fact that the Divine Light is a Person. It is not simply a sensible radiance—an inanimate luminosity such as one might receive from a lamp, or from the sun. Rather the Divine Light is the very ‘Person’ of the Divinity Himself: it is not simply a product of God, it is God. “Your light, O my God, is You”, he writes, and to this point of emphasis he often returns. Saint Symeon is also known to emphasise in his teachings… “If we don’t see Lord Jesus in this life…we will never see Him ever”! There is no other theology higher than being in the presence (union) with God. There is an actual physical ontological transformation that takes place that can be verified after death and after exhuming the body that testifies to an awesome EXPERIENCE in the presence of God.
    The object and the purpose of our Christian Life is enabling our selves in His Divine presence by becoming in His Likeness (“Be Holy because I am Holy” (Peter 1, 16) through a THERAPY that was delivered to the Apostles the day of Pentecost ONCE AND FOR ALL 2000 years ago!

    Orthodoxy teaches that it has an unbroken Holy Tradition of spiritual knowledge a way of life (Divine Life) that leads to the mystical union with God. This mystical union is also known as Sainthood, Salvation, Supernatural condition, the Overcoming of mans mortality state, or being a god by the Grace of God. They also teach that it is not possible for this union to become an object of any kind of an academic study that can “discover” or “deepen” in the knowledge, because Christianity is all about Divine Grace.

    The people of the Nations belonging to Orthodox Christianity will never claim that they have discovered the road (THERAPY) for Salvation. However they will tell you that their prime directive and responsibility has always been to keep everything that was passed down from Jesus (the Holy Spirit) and the Apostles u n c h a n g e d for these methods and teachings that were put forward for the Salvation of all man constitute or sum up the Divine Will of God.

    To know Lord Jesus philosophically is to have a love relationship with an idea “philosophy” and not Lord Himself who appears to his Saints in His Divine Light PERSONALLY!

    Interesting relating Internet addresses:

    Lord Jesus did not come to teach philosophically but THERAPEUTICALLY.
    The personal experience of the Saints begotten during conduct with Divine Light is the very base of Orthodox theology.
    The term “Orthodox Psychotherapy” does not refer to specific cases of people suffering from psychological problems of neurosis. Rather it refers to all people, for it is the darkening of the “nous” (mind) a condition disabling man to ever have communion (PERSON to person) with God.

    HOLY LIGHT (in English too)

    (Miracle of Holy Light in Jerusalem: Testimonies and Evidence)
    An awesome miracle on video that takes place Orthodox Saturday Easter (ONLY) during Divine Liturgy each year for about 1670 years at the spot our Lord Jesus was born, in the Temple of Nativity in Jerusalem. Notice in the video that the candles of the faithful in the left light up –before- the Patriarch comes out!

    Those who see this video, can reflect back to the Old Testament and clearly understand how the fire did not burn, (look at pictures at the very bottom) and how the fire was in essence Gods Holy Light, Gods Holy Fire.

    I belong to no organization (that does this) and no one pays me. I do not hold any kind of position anywhere. I feel sadden and hurt to see all those who have been better than my self in prayer and Christian deeds to not get what they truly deserve because of reasons …of not knowing

    God bless,
    your friend and servant

    Constantinos (J.W) 357(Cyprus) 99873390 (mobile)

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