A Chinese Pentecostal communal church that challenged traditional norms and faced severe persecution post-1949.
The Jesus Family, also known in Chinese as 耶穌家庭 (Yesu jiating), was a Pentecostal communitarian church founded in 1921 by Jing Dianying. It started in the rural village of Mazhuang, Taian County, Shandong Province, and primarily operated in rural and semi-rural areas. The church’s members practiced a communal lifestyle, inspired by the apostles’ life as described in the Book of Acts. By 1949, the movement had expanded significantly, with over a hundred communities and thousands of followers across China.
Beliefs and Practices
The Jesus Family emphasized a simple lifestyle and spiritual experiences like prophecy, along with the second coming of Christ. This movement was characterized by its communal living arrangements, where everything was shared among the members. Men and women typically lived separately except for the youngest married couples, and engagements and weddings were arranged by Jing, the Family head. This communal lifestyle was a significant departure from traditional Chinese family structures and social norms.
Criticism and Controversy
Over time, the Jesus Family’s practices raised concerns, with reports suggesting that the movement was veering towards becoming a cult. Their doctrines stressed the filling of the Spirit, often overshadowing the doctrine of redemption through the cross of Christ. The interpretation of the Bible in their teachings was highly allegorical and often prioritized personal spiritual experiences over scriptural teachings.
Persecution and Decline
After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Jesus Family initially found some admiration from the government for practicing communal ideals similar to those promoted by Communism. However, the government soon began to fear the movement’s independence and inability to control it. The Jesus Family was dismantled by the government in 1952, with their headquarters seized and their communities forced to disperse. Jing Dianying was arrested, imprisoned, and died in 1957 under harsh prison conditions.
Surprisingly, the Jesus Family re-emerged in the 1980s despite severe persecution during the Cultural Revolution. The movement’s strong faith persisted through decades of hardship. While they could no longer form Christian communes as before, numerous Jesus Family congregations still exist today across various provinces in China. Some have joined the registered Three-Self Patriotic Movement, while others operate as independent house churches.