Building a Biblical Church: The Institution Is Not the Goal

Editor’s note: What is the church? How can a church be governed by the Bible? These are questions Christians have struggled with for more than two millennia. As the Chinese church continues to mature, Chinese believers are also facing these difficult and important questions. Pastor Wu Jing continues this series, fleshing out why and how his congregation chose to become a part of a larger church institution. He also talks about how being a part of a more established confession impacted the daily life and practice of believers in his body.

This article was originally published on the Grace to City website in March, and has been edited for length and clarity.


Choosing a Denomination

Initially, our church leaned toward the Reformed Presbyterian position. But as we studied their confessions, ecclesiology, and practices, we could not agree with the Presbyterian position on infant baptism and on the relationship between local churches. It was a continuous journey of learning and exploration as we searched the Bible together and sought God’s guidance. In 2018, church leaders decided we would become a Reformed Baptist church. The following were key factors:

  1. Biblical foundations

When we face practical issues in church governance, we search and find answers in the Bible. Our faith came to us through revelation. The church belongs to God, and was not built according to the pattern of earthly organizations. A church must be built on God’s Word, not human ideas or plans.

  1. The confessions and experiences of different denominations throughout church history

We looked into the historical experience of the church, and began to learn why different denominations arose. We also learned of some of the controversies between these denominations.

Our faith came to us through revelation. The church belongs to God, and was not built according to the pattern of earthly organizations. A church must be built on God’s Word, not human ideas or plans.

Previously, we focused on evangelism, missions, and individual salvation and healing. We rejected denominations, believing they came about due to disunity. We were also ignorant about the denominations, unclear on the reasons for their creation, and uncertain of the arguments between them. Yet when we began to study, we found that today, we face those same controversies from church history. We struggle with the same arguments. Every individual has their own theology; each church has its own beliefs. Is our confession of faith clear or confused?

Yet even as we consider church history, we still also need to return to the Bible. Our goal is not to become a particular denomination. Our goal is to use denominational confessions as a guide to help us return to Scripture and find what we, as a church, believe.

  1. Communicating with established churches is a great help

The problems Chinese churches are encountering right now are very similar to one another. Communicating with other churches has helped us a lot. We have become more aware of the problems we face, and of how to make decisions.

  1. Patiently waiting for God

We need to wait for God’s timing. Our church was one congregation under a larger church, and needed to wait for the whole church’s decision. In 2017, the church decided each congregation would become an independent church. Our own church was officially established in 2018.

Return to the Bible Together

A church is a living organism, not something created by humans. The New Testament letters clearly show early church governance went through a discovery stage. God’s revelation clearly came through the process of building his church. Later in the New Testament, particularly in 1 and 2 Timothy, God revealed clear principles on which the church could be built, governed, and pastored.


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We were ignorant about the denominations, unclear on the reasons for their creation, and uncertain of the arguments between them. Yet when we began to study, we found that today, we face those same controversies from church history.


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We must be especially vigilant not to “graft” or apply any one system to the institution of the church. The Bible is the source of all our actions. As pastors, the most important thing is to lead people back to the Bible. Pastors should ask important questions that we have not thought about before, and lead people to explore the Bible together. When we began to institutionalize our church, we did not start by emphasizing one particular denomination. Instead, we searched the Bible together.

The process of institutionalization brings opposition. Some were unwilling to change; others had different positions. This is when pastors need to be able to persevere and lead people through challenges. Conflict is inevitable. Pastors need confidence to look to God and do what is right. External markers (such as systems, documents, and teaching) are relatively easy. Expressing the confession of faith at the action level is very difficult. Personally, I think this is the hardest part. After hearing teaching, it seems everyone agrees. But when practical issues arise, people realize they do not understand what they have agreed with, and what biblical church governance is.

For example, after institutionalization, we faced the issue of church discipline. Our teaching was clear. But when the church was to enforce actual discipline according to the biblical confession, brothers and sisters realized this was intimately related to themselves. It is a great challenge to submit to church authority in these times. Only when specific problems arise do we truly understand what the teachings mean.

Before we became our own church, we spent a year teaching church doctrine and confessions. But these things remained intellectual and were not reflected in people’s lives until we confronted specific issues. Only then did we wake up to realize our confession of faith and church constitution were practically relevant to life. We ought to submit to the authority of the church, and we are to govern the church according to biblical teaching. Every Christian must live according to the Bible, especially when it comes to their life in the church. If Christians cannot live according to biblical teaching in church, how can they live out the gospel in other areas?

Our teaching was clear. But when the church was to enforce actual discipline according to the biblical confession, brothers and sisters realized this was intimately related to themselves.

Institutionalizing the church also pushes people to use biblical teaching to govern both the church, themselves personally, and to grow together according to the Bible. Every aspect of the church is led by the Bible: creation of positions, governance, and church life in general. Believers do not come to church to hear the Word and then leave; they come so we can apply the Word to all aspects of our lives.

The institution itself is not the goal. Instead, as we faithfully live and govern the church according to the Bible, and as we come to know the Bible more deeply and live according to it, each Christian must face the question of whether the church is governed biblically. What do you think the church is? How should it be governed? Does the Bible have limiting principles regarding governance? Or can you make your own choices? These questions will inevitably arise.


Wu Jing is a pseudonym for a post-80s generation pastor. Wu began to pastor after he graduated from seminary in 2014. 

Pray for Chinese churches who are seeking a strong understanding of what the church is and how to best govern her.

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The Internal Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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