True Jesus Church
In the third of five articles looking at the fringes of faith in the North East, Charlie Turnbull visits the True Jesus Church
A church is a place usually associated with tranquillity. However, the true Jesus Church is different. It hosts sessions where they pray in tongues, making loud noises which no-one but the speaker knows what it means.
The True Jesus Church (TJC) was established in Beijing, China, in 1917 and then spread across Asia and became one of the largest Christian churches in Taiwan. From the 1960s the church spread across Europe, Australia and North America.
During a shift in the politics of China in the late 1940s the churches outside the country lost contact with the churches within. Tony, who works at the church, told me:
"There was a time where the churches in China lost contact with churches from other countries. So, the church in Taiwan set up the first World Delegates Conference so the churches could keep in touch." He told me that these meetings still happened and the last one they had was in 2017.
I spoke to Matthew Su, a member of the church, and asked him some questions about their beliefs.
"Generally, TJC preaches Christianity according to the Bible. However, we do have distinct statements of common belief and three sacraments which are baptism, the Holy Communion and foot washing." he also said: "Besides, the system and culture here is very different to other denominations."
Upon my visit to the church I arrived early, so I could introduce myself, get a feel for the place and make a fool of myself when people started to show up. I parked at the back of the car park outside the church where I was quickly told to move. I wasn't sure why at first, but it became clear when the entire population of earth showed up to park. If I hadn’t had moved the car then I would still be there now trying to get it out. It surprised me how busy the church was as fewer people are going to church.
One of the people I met, Kieran Ho, who helps at the church, said: "Less people are religious these days and don’t go to church because they think it makes them free. And they are free from religion but a slave to the world."
When I did get into the church, after making my way through the automotive obstacle course, I was asked to go into the office by Tony. It turned out I had arranged a visit to the church through the wrong channels, so my visit wasn’t expected. Once I explained my intentions they were more than accommodating and were happy to talk to me and tell me about the church.
Once the mistake was cleared up I was taken into hall where everyone was eating and having tea. The room was full, and it wasn’t a small room, once again showing the sheer numbers in attendance. I had previously asked Matthew Su what he thought attracted people to the TJC, and he told me:
"People choose the TJC because of finding what we preach to be good. But nowadays more people are attracted by the warm ambiance or friendship." He went on to say. “There are also testimonies that some come to believe because they experienced the grace of God or Witnessed a miracle.”
In there I sat at a table with Kieran and Winston Chan, who is part of the running of the church. As we sat and talked we were offered refreshments. We talked about the church and where it started. The church originated in China and most of the people in attendance were Chinese, Winston told me, but you don't have to be Chinese to attend.
“I know the church came from China and most people here are from there or their families are, but anyone is welcome to come in and join us, we’re not an exclusive group,” he says.
It was when we were sitting and talking in the hall I was introduced to the speaking in tongues. Kieran told me:
“I was outside the church one day and I heard this noise like rushing water and gushing wind, I didn’t know what it was at first but then I realised that it was people praying.”
Winston then got a bible passage up on his phone which read:
“When the day of the Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Soon after it was time to go in and pray, in tongues, we went into the main church hall with the pews on all sides and an alter in the centre of the wall they were facing. The prayers had already started when I went in. I slid into a spare seat and just listened There was no telling what anyone was saying as it was just noise but everyone taking part was very into it.
Winston told me that it was God speaking through these people and no one human could possibly hope to understand what they were saying. I was told it was alright for me to try it, but I thought I’d better not as I wouldn’t know where to start. I know it was supposed to be God speaking through someone but for some reason I don’t think it would have worked for me.
When I left I was still overwhelmed by the amount of people in attendance. According to a survey shown on the website Faith Survey church attendance has dropped from 6,484,300 to 3,081,500. This is equivalent to 11.8 per cent of the population declining to 5 per cent. Maybe practicing prayer sessions which are conducting in speaking in tongues is way forward.