Since being in China we have been able to visit three kinds of churches: Underground, Three-self, and Expatriate. The main differences between these churches is not necessary a doctrinal stance because in each kind of church their are different stripes, from those who are doctrinally where we are to those who are corrupt and preach another gospel. The difference that I am drawing attention to is the different “permissions” on who is aloud to worship openly and those who can’t.
Underground – An underground church is a church that is meeting without the government’s permission. They usually meet in someone’s home or in a business. The term “underground” just means the gathering of people is illegal in the eyes of the government’s due to not registering and following all the government regulations.
Three-self – Or for the full name, Three-self Patriotic movement, are churches that are meeting with the government’s permission because they have agreed to follow all their regulations. The name stands for 1) Self-governing, 2) Self-supporting, and 3) Self-propagating. The ones that we have been able to see have hundreds of people at them with the majority of the people and leadership being women. They believe they are the true church in China because they are in submission to the state.
Expatriate – An expatriate church is a church that is strictly for foreigners residing in China. Foreigners are able to assemble and worship openly but they are not able to invite their local friends. You will read in their bulletin or hear during the announcements “Due to government restrictions this service is for foreign passport holders only.” They are suppose to check your passport at the door.