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What is the Chinese Word for Church?


The Chinese language makes a distinction by using two different words: jiaotang ()and jiaohui ().

The word jiaotang refers to the actual building. The first character means religion (or teaching) and the second character means hall (as in large gathering place). So the word jiaotang is the word that refers to the physical structure the church building.

If a church building is large, and has a number of rooms or sections, then the word libaitang () will be used to designate the sanctuary. Libai means worship, so a libaitang is the hall of worship.

If there is an annex to a church building, or a smaller hall used for gatherings, it will sometimes be referred to as a fuyintang (), which could be translated literally as "good news hall," or "gospel hall." A more common translation is "chapel."

The word jiaotang is most commonly used in the names of Three-Self Churches.

According to the government regulations governing religious affairs, there is to be only one church (jiaotang) per urban district. This is the church building itself (either owned or rented space) that has a designated pastor.

Many Three-self churches are also responsible for smaller congregations scattered around a district. These are called juhuidian (), which is usually translated as "meeting point." In effect, they are "registered' house churchessmall congregations that meet in homes but are served by pastors from the registered church (jiaotang) in the district. The pastors come regularly to preach, baptize, and serve communion. Oftentimes, these groups are made up of people who, for one reason or another, cannot come to the Sunday services.

The other Chinese word for church is jiaohui (), which refers to a congregation, or body of believers. House churches typically use the term jiaohui; in fact the Chinese term for house church is jiating jiaohui (), with jiating meaning family; home; house. This is true even if the house church meets in a venue other than a home, such as an office building or some other rented space. A broader concept, such as The Chinese Church would be called Zhongguo Jiaohui ().

The distinction between these two terms can be clearly seen in two posts on Weibo that were written in response to the demolition of the Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou last week (translated and posted on Chinese Church Voices):

When it comes to our faith, the word jiaohui (church, congregation, fellowship) is not the same as jiaotang (church building). It may be possible to deal violently with a jiaotang, but not with the jiaohui. Christians shouldn't be so sad. Maybe this is a good time to reflect and wonder if we have put too much focus on church buildings. With this jiaotang now destroyed, we should focus our efforts on building the jiaohui.

And .

The church (jiaohui) is not a church building (jiaotang). The original meaning of the term church (jiaohui) is "a people called by God gathered together." The key terms are "called by God," "people," and "gather together." It does not say that that "gathering together" must be done in a church building (jiaotang). Protestant theology has always emphasized that the key functions of the church (jiaohui) are "preaching the Word" and "properly administering the sacraments." These two principles define what a true church (jiaohui) is. It says nothing about a building.

A good reminder from a Chinese brother.

As with most questions of a linguistic nature, the answer is a bit complicated because in English the term church can refer to either a gathering of believers or a building where those believers gather. In other words, we can use the term church to call any and all gatherings of believers, regardless of the existence of a building. Generally speaking, we can infer from the context what is being discussed.

The Chinese language makes a distinction by using two different words: jiaotang ()and jiaohui ().

The word jiaotang refers to the actual building. The first character means religion (or teaching) and the second character means hall (as in large gathering place). So the word jiaotang is the word that refers to the physical structure the church building.

If a church building is large, and has a number of rooms or sections, then the word libaitang () will be used to designate the sanctuary. Libai means worship, so a libaitang is the hall of worship.

If there is an annex to a church building, or a smaller hall used for gatherings, it will sometimes be referred to as a fuyintang (), which could be translated literally as good news hall, or gospel hall. A more common translation is chapel.

The word jiaotang is most commonly used in the names of Three-Self Churches.

According to the government regulations governing religious affairs, there is to be only one church (jiaotang) per urban district. This is the church building itself (either owned or rented space) that has a designated pastor.

Many Three-self churches are also responsible for smaller congregations scattered around a district. These are called juhuidian (), which is usually translated as meeting point. In effect, they are registered house churches small congregations that meet in homes but are served by pastors from the registered church (jiaotang) in the district. The pastors come regularly to preach, baptize, and serve communion. Oftentimes, these groups are made up of people who, for one reason or another, cannot come to the Sunday services.

The other Chinese word for church is jiaohui (), which refers to a congregation, or body of believers. House churches typically use the term jiaohui; in fact the Chinese term for house church is jiating jiaohui (), with jiating meaning family; home; house. This is true even if the house church meets in a venue other than a home, such as an office building or some other rented space. A broader concept, such as The Chinese Church would be called Zhongguo Jiaohui ().

The distinction between these two terms can be clearly seen in two posts on Weibo that were written in response to the demolition of the Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou last week (translated and posted on Chinese Church Voices):

When it comes to our faith, the word jiaohui (church, congregation, fellowship) is not the same as jiaotang (church building). It may be possible to deal violently with a jiaotang, but not with the jiaohui. Christians shouldnt be so sad. Maybe this is a good time to reflect and wonder if we have put too much focus on church buildings. With this jiaotang now destroyed, we should focus our efforts on building the jiaohui.

And.

The church (jiaohui) is not a church building (jiaotang). The original meaning of the term church (jiaohui) is a people called by God gathered together. The key terms are called by God, people, and gather together. It does not say that that gathering together must be done in a church building (jiaotang). Protestant theology has always emphasized that the key functions of the church (jiaohui) are preaching the Word and properly administering the sacraments. These two principles define what a true church (jiaohui) is. It says nothing about a building.

A good reminder from a Chinese brother.

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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio