The True Jesus Church (TJC) is a Pentecostal Chinese denomination and part of the Latter Rain and Restorationist movements. The True Jesus Church is not a part of the Three-Self Church, and it works independently of the Chinese Communist Party. For this reason, the TJC faces persecution in China. In 2020, the True Jesus Church had about 1.5 million followers worldwide.
In examining any church, including the True Jesus Church, we need to look at their history (where they came from), their statement of faith (what they believe), and their practice (what they do).
The True Jesus Church was established in 1917 in Beijing, China, by Paul Wei (also known as Wei Enbo). Wei claimed that, in May 1917, he heard a voice telling him to receive the baptism of Jesus. He followed the voice’s directions to a nearby river, where the voice told him to be baptized facedown. According to Wei, Jesus Himself appeared, baptized him in the river (facedown) and gave him armor and a sword. After the baptism, Satan appeared, but Wei was able to defeat him with his newly acquired sword. From the beginning, the True Jesus Church placed an emphasis on signs and miracles, and members saw themselves as part of the restoration of the apostolic age.
The True Jesus Church expanded to Taiwan in 1926 and then to other parts of Asia and the Pacific. Starting in the 1960s, churches affiliated with the True Jesus Church were established in North America, Europe, and Australia. The church has also made inroads into Africa and Central and South America.
The True Jesus Church has several distinctives in doctrine and practice. They believe that Wei’s vision restored the “true” Christian church and that Wei was “the new Martin Luther.” They believe that “the only true church” will baptize people facedown, with bowed head, in “natural living water,” such as a river, sea, or spring; they practice speaking in tongues, celebrate Saturday rather than Sunday as the Lord’s Day, and wash each other’s feet as a sacrament. Acceptance of these teachings is essential for salvation, according to the True Jesus Church.
The True Jesus Church, like most Pentecostal groups, is millenarian and not opposed to uttering prophecies, even if it means setting dates. Before his death in 1919, Wei predicted the world would end sometime in 1921 or 1922. But the failed prophecy did not slow the growth of his denomination.
The True Jesus Church has historically been persecuted by the communists in China. An especially strident crackdown occurred in the 1950s, even after the True Jesus Church joined the Three-Self Church. The True Jesus Church was in fact officially disbanded worldwide in 1958. In the 1980s, however, remnants of the True Jesus Church revived the denomination in Taiwan and California. In recent moves to unify religious expression in China, the CCP has destroyed True Jesus Church church signs, confiscated hymnals, and, in some cases, razed church buildings (https://churchleaders.com/news/363886-true-jesus-church-razed-to-the-ground-in-china.html, accessed 12/1/23).
As its name implies, the True Jesus Church views itself as the one true church, and some of their claims underscore the exclusivity of their doctrine. Paul Wei taught that facedown baptism and speaking in tongues were both necessary for salvation. Any church that believers or practices something different is not the “true church.”
Some statements by the True Jesus Church on their official website (accessed 6/24/21) are at odds with biblical doctrine:
• “Water baptism is the sacrament for the remission of sins for regeneration.” (Water baptism does not remit sins. Many biblical passages clearly and explicitly declare faith to be the only requirement for salvation (see John 3:16 and Acts 16:31.)
• “Receiving the Holy Spirit, evidenced by speaking in tongues, is the guarantee of our inheritance of the kingdom of heaven.” (The Bible does not teach that speaking in tongues is the guarantee for one’s entrance into heaven. Rather, Jesus said this in John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”)
• “The sacrament of footwashing enables one to have a part with the Lord Jesus.” (The Bible never commands physical foot washing for the church; rather, Jesus’ washing of His disciples’ feet taught them to serve one another and provided a picture of the cleansing of the soul.)
• “The Holy Communion is the sacrament to commemorate the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. It enables us to partake of the flesh and blood of our Lord and to be in communion with Him so that we can have eternal life and be raised on the last day.” (Our communion with the Lord is not “enabled” by eating and drinking, and neither is our eternal life dependent upon a ritual.)
• “The Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week (Saturday), is a holy day, blessed and sanctified by God. It is to be observed under the Lord’s grace for the commemoration of God’s creation and salvation, and with the hope of eternal rest in the life to come.” (The Jewish law of Sabbath observance was fulfilled in Christ, according to Colossians 2:16–17, Romans 14:5, and Hebrews 4.)
• The church “must experience the power of the Holy Spirit as in the days of the apostles. The church must have the testimony of God through the gift of the Holy Spirit and various signs and miracles (Heb 2:3–4; Mk 16:20). When the church upholds the apostolic faith today, she will also have divine blessings similar to those of the apostolic church.” (Note the repeated word must: signs and miracles “must” be present in a church, or it is not upholding the “apostolic faith.” The problem is that the Bible does not command the church to perform miracles like the twelve apostles did.)
Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye of the University of Auckland has studied the True Jesus Church, and she points out some similarities between the True Jesus Church and Mormonism in an article titled “Exclusivity and the True Jesus Church”: “Both the True Jesus Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are restorationist churches, claiming to have restored the true gospel of Jesus Christ after centuries of apostasy. . . .
“Both [Joseph] Smith and [Paul] Wei were charismatic leaders who claimed to receive divine revelation, were reported to have performed miraculous feats of healing, frequently got on the wrong side of the law, and died young. Both were succeeded by pragmatic leaders (Brigham Young and Wei Yisa) who solidified church institutions and ensured the movement’s long-term survival.
“Both churches have continued to thrive and expand globally, though they remain tiny as far as world religious movements are concerned” (https://bycommonconsent.com/2020/04/08/exclusivity-and-the-true-jesus-church, accessed 6/24/21).
To be clear, the True Jesus Church holds to a different Christology than the Mormon Church, but some of their tactics are similar and their histories have followed a like trajectory.
In summary, the teachings of the True Jesus Church are misguided and imbalanced. Their emphasis on signs and wonders, their exclusivity, their belief in apostolic succession, Paul Wei’s false prophecy, and their contention that water baptism is required for salvation—baptism the “right way,” no less—are all red flags that should warn believers away from this denomination. The apostle Paul wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17, ESV).