Ancient Chinese Christian Church

Reflections on The Ancient

Chinese Christian Church


Taoism and Christianity

(Excerpts from a Larger Work, Copyright 2006)



Anna York

The picture above is of the DaQin Pagoda, part of the first Chinese Christian Church, dating to 635 A.D.

Coming from a Midwestern, rural, white, fundamentalist background, it was about as likely for me to connect with Traditional Chinese Medicine as it would be for me to go to the moon.  I regard it as one of God’s greatest miracles in my life—and there have been many!—that God was able to break through all the social, cultural and religious barriers to connect me with a system that would bring me healing and wholeness after years of severe disability caused by multiple sclerosis. Since I had previously thought of Chinese methods, including acupuncture, as “foreign” and possibly “demonic,” I needed to know how my Christianity could relate to the Eastern culture that gave me so much blessing. (See Anna’s brief bio at the end of the article.)

There was little to guide me when I first started, but in time I was to discover that I was not the first Christian to wrestle with such issues. In fact, I learned that there were Christians engaging this task in China itself over 1400 years ago! I was astonished that I was coming to some of the same insights they did and that I had a “cloud of witnesses,” a fellowship of Chinese saints who expressed their love for Christ in a Chinese context those many centuries ago.  While I express my faith much differently than they did, I now feel they are companions in my search.

The early history of the Christian Church in China is recorded on an extraordinary monument housed in the city of Xian in China in a museum called the Forest of Stone Steles. This stone, which is ten feet high and weighs two tons, is dated as being set up in 781 a.d.. It tells the amazing story of how Christians came to China in 635 A.D. and how the “Religion of Light” flourished during the T’ang Dynasty from 618-906 A.D. At the top of the stone is a carving of a stone tablet held by two curling dragons. On the tablet are images of a delicate Christian cross rising from a cloud-wreathed lotus flower. Stylized Western flowers rise on both sides, and the top of the cross holds a flaming pearl. The clouds represent the Chinese concept of “yin” and the pearl represents “yang.” The lotus is a Buddhist symbol of spirituality rising above the chaotic waters of existence. The dragons, which have quite a different symbology in Chinese culture than they do in Western religion, represent immortality. The stone, which contains 1900 Chinese ideograms, tells a story proving that there was once a flourishing Christian church that found a home in the multi-cultural, religiously diverse context of Central Asia.

The story of the ancient Chinese church first unfolded for me in a book entitled The Jesus Sutras by Martin Palmer. Palmer records descriptions of the stone stele that has turned out to be a kind of “Rosetta stone” of the beginnings of the church in China. He also details his own discovery of an ancient Chinese Christian pagoda near Xian and provides translations of ancient Christian texts found in the late nineteenth century in a cave in Dunhuang on the Old Silk Road.  Some of these texts, which are referred to as the “Jesus Sutras,” might be compared to the Dead Sea Scrolls in the sense that their discovery reveals previously unknown information about the early Christian church and how it functioned within its context. The discovery of the stone stele and the Dunhuang texts reveals an alternative way that Christianity developed in a completely different cultural context than that of the Western Church. A brief outline of the history of the “Church of the East” is provided below, with much more available in Palmer’s highly readable book. Footnotes contain other references as well. [i]

In the year 52 A.D. the Apostle Thomas founded his first church in India in Cranganore, one of the oldest churches in the world. Christians had a distinct community in Asia from third century on. Materials from the Thomarist church influenced writings of the Jesus Sutras. It is important to note that the Church of the East was well established before the famous Councils that set the basic doctrines of Western Christianity and established the canon of the Bible:  The Council of Nicea, 325; the Council of Constantinople, 381; the Council at Rome, 382; and the Council at Ephesus, 431. These Councils were marked by conflict, often politically motivated, and once they were over, some of those who strongly disagreed with the conclusions separated from the Roman church and established other branches of Christianity.


One of protesting groups was the Nestorians. The monk Nestorius, who was Archbishop of Constantinople (the most powerful position in the church) and those in the “Antiochan” branch of the church agreed with the Councils that Christ was both human and divine, but leaned more toward Christ as human and as being the inspiration for human compassion, a kind of social gospel, committed to care of the poor. The Nestorians and Antiochans also disagreed with the Councils over the issue of whether Mary was the “Mother of God.” They wanted the Church to adopt language of Mary as the “Mother of Christ.”  Due to powerful political influences, they lost the argument and in the strife that followed Nestorius was exiled. Antiochans and churches east and south were alienated and became a refuge for intellectuals who rejected the hard line of  the Roman Church, which persecuted dissenters and executed them as heretics.

The dissenting churches were not only alienated from the developing Roman Church by theological differences but also by political divisions between the Roman Empire and the Sassanian Empires to the East. In the 4th and 5th centuries the Persians, located between East and West, began a strong religious and political persecution of Christians, whom they associated with the rival Christian empire to the West. They murdered 150,000 Christians, whose bodies were heaped outside city of Kirkuk in northern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq.[ii]  These persecutions further separated the Western and Eastern churches so that by 489 they were doctrinally, politically and culturally separate. Those in the East who were dissenters from the Church Councils subsequently had a significant influence over the development of the Church in the East, and the political, cultural and doctrinal differences created uniquely different expressions of Christianity.[iii] 

One of the differences between East and West was that churches in the East developed more as a confederation of churches rather than as a monolithic entity as was the case in the West. The fact that they did not force doctrinal agreement allowed more openness in their interpretations of the meaning of the Gospel.[iv] One result was that Christianity was able to adapt certain parts of its message to the unique aspects of many different cultures. In the 4th to 8th centuries the Church of East was more widespread and more active in a greater range of cultures than the Western Church, extending throughout large portions of Arabia, northeast Africa, Afghanistan, Central Asia, India, and Sri Lanka.

In contrast to the Western Church, which evangelized primitive tribes in Europe, the Eastern Church dealt with ancient, highly literate, civilized cultures and peoples. It had to develop in a world where theological writings, philosophical debate and schools of education had existed for hundreds and thousands of years, and it had to function as a minority among other faiths. The Church of the East far outstripped the Church of the West in the size, scale, and range of cultures within which it operated. The Western Church, striving to protect its doctrines and political power, called the Eastern Church “Nestorian” and dismissed it as heretical. This dismissal continues today, with churches that are descended from the Roman church (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Protestant churches) taking the view that the Church of the East was heretical.[v]

 The Christian church in China, still often referred to as the “Nestorian Church,” began during the Tang Dynasty, which ruled in China from 618-906 A.D. the first Emperor, Taizong, ruled from 626-650 and created the most powerful empire in the world, stretching from North Korea to the Caspian Sea and from Mongolia to present-day Vietnam. Beyond this, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Laos sent tribute. Taizong even controlled part of northern India for a while, along with Tibet. Taizong developed the Confucian hierarchy but also gave huge support to Taoists, claiming to be a direct descendent of Lao Tzu, the foremost figure in Taoist philosophy.

In the 7th and 8th centuries Tang Emperors established the Lou Guan Tai temple compound as a major intellectual and monastic center of Taoism. Lou Guan Tai is the traditional site where Lao Tzu is said to have written the Tao te Ching. Buddhism was also gaining strongly and Confucianism was struggling to keep its hold on the intelligentsia. The Empire was growing, and it was an environment of highly diverse ideas and religions, changing values, and many possibilities.

It was during this time, in 781 A.D., that the stone stele now housed in a museum in Xian, was carved and set up at a huge Christian monastery close to Lou Guan Tai. The location of the monastery so close to the holiest site of Taoism indicates the influence and status the church had attained within the Empire. The stone stele relates the story of how the church developed in China. It describes how the monk Aluoben arrived in China in 635, bringing various books telling about the “Religion of Light” and how the church was established, was imperially supported, and became successful and widespread. A pagoda called the Da Qin pagoda was built at the monastery of Lou Guan Tai as a mark of imperial favor. This pagoda, containing Taoist Christian iconography, has recently been rediscovered and is now being restored.

The golden age of the Chinese Church began to fade around 800 A.D. when the Confucian bureaucracy and Taoist hierarchy began a backlash against the growing power of Buddhists that also caught up other “foreign” religions, including Christianity.[6] In 845 the Great Persecution began in which all foreign religions were suppressed. Court order seized all gold, silver and bronze statues in temples and private homes. The Buddhist infrastructure was dismantled, including 4600 temples and 40,000 shrines. 260,000 monks and nuns and 150,000 slaves were ordered to return to lay life. The Christian monasteries were also dismantled, the clergy disbanded, and the Da Qin monastery and pagoda vandalized. In the year 987 a Church of the East monk in Baghdad reported that there was only one Christian left in China and that the native Christians had perished and the church was destroyed. His assessment was probably too pessimistic. There is some indication that Christians continued to meet secretly and that the traditions were passed down quietly from generation to generation. 

In 1005 the Dunhuang cave, also known as Mogao, was sealed shut, containing thousands of scrolls, paintings, and artifacts of the Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Christian religions, dating from the 5th to 11th centuries. Silk Road travelers continued to establish churches and monasteries, and many ruins, tombs and books have been found at oases along this route. Many faiths mingled on this road—Buddhists, Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, Manichaeans, Taoists, shamans, the Bon religion, and others. In the period of 1260-1294 there was a time of peace in China under Kublai Kahn, during which Marco Polo made his visits. He reported finding “Nestorian Christians,” about 700,000 of them, some of whom told him that their ancestors had taught their religion and that they had preserved it for hundreds of years.[7] Thus the Church in China, even though it flourished widely for a time, eventually fell victim to imperial power and politics. Even though some of its descendants may have remained into the 13th century, but there is little known about the Chinese church after that time.

I will not describe details of the Church in China except to note some of its unique characteristics:

  • Due to the multi-cultural, multi-religious environment in which it existed, the Church was compelled to enter into serious dialogue with other faiths. It had to engage with teachings of the much more powerful Taoist and Buddhist establishments and find a way to address the existential problems confronting people in that time and place. In the process of doing so, it seems to have sought open space in which the core of the Christian message could be communicated meaningfully in that particular context. Thus, it took seriously the idea of karma and reincarnation and offered Christ as a way to break the cycle of death and rebirth.[8] While these issues have not been important to Western cultures, they were critical to those in the Chinese context in which there was a strong Buddhist presence.
  • The Chinese Church was non-violent toward all living creatures, not just humans, and thus not only avoided military conflict but also practiced vegetarianism—a radical difference from the warring church of the West.
  • The Church of the East in China also treated men and women as equals, an achievement which still eludes Western churches to this day.
  • Furthermore, although slavery was widespread and Buddhist temples had large numbers of slaves, churches and church members in China did not own slaves.
  • The Chinese Church created its own texts and liturgies in the Chinese language, another strong distinction from the Western Church, which insisted on Latin liturgies wherever it established itself, regardless of the local language and culture. Thus, cultural domination was not an outcome of spreading the Gospel in the East as it was to become in the West.
  • An additional unique feature was the lack of a cult of Mary as the Mother of God.

While the Church of the East was a unique expression of Christianity and contained elements that many Western Christians would regard as heretical today, we can see from the above description that it also had some admirable characteristics that the Western Church lacked and that more closely reflected many of the teachings of Christ himself. The attempt to adapt to the climate and culture of the day and to find “open space” for dialogue with other faiths reflects the Apostle Paul’s description of his own style of evangelism: “To the Jews I became a Jew in order to win Jews . . . I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” (I Corinthians 9:20, 22)

Contemporary Christianity is highly diverse, finding a great variety of expressions in different denominations and sects, many of which claim to be the “true” church.  We are discovering from that Nag Hammadi texts, discovered in 1945 in Egypt, that early Christianity was also much more diverse than was previously thought.[9]  Sometimes the methods for determining what was canonical were as much political as spiritual. When Christianity became the state religion under Constantine, the Catholic Church had the political and military support to enforce its doctrines and declare all other views as heretical.

The early Chinese Church has the potential to serve as a model of how Christianity can function in a multi-cultural, multi-religious context as a minority community. As information comes more to light about the Church of the East, the question may rise more to mainstream consciousness about how one branch of the Christian church (those descended from the Roman Church) can have the authority to declare another branch (for example, the Church of the East) as heretical on the basis of nuances of doctrine when those who are supposedly heretical worship Christ, do Christ’s work in the world and display fruits of the Spirit. It seems evident this was true of the Church in the East. Given the warring violence and intolerance of the Western Church, we can wonder which more nearly reflects the Spirit of Christ—the so-called “heretics” or the so-called “true church.”

Seeking the Open Spaces Between Taoism & Christianity

Christ accepted healing from other cultures and religions as valid and even put forth some foreigners such as the Good Samaritan as examples to follow. Christ sought the “open space” of compassion and actively broke down boundaries and walls of ideological, doctrinal separation. I also discussed in the chapter previous to this one, that the ancient Chinese Church thrived in the multi-cultural, multi-religious environment of ancient China by finding the open spaces in which it could express the unique message of Christ.  In this section I also will seek to share the “open space” of compassion and wisdom I find between Taoism and Christianity that allows me to use some elements of the Chinese system freely and joyously to achieve healing and wholeness today. While I am most familiar with the Chinese system, the idea of “open space” can apply to other systems as well, such as the Ayurvedic system, which comes from the Hindu culture and has much wisdom to offer in regard to health and healing.[10]

            I am a Christian and have been one all of my life. Indeed, I am a minister, ordained in a Southern Baptist church in Chicago. When I first heard of Tai Chi, Qigong, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Taoism, I questioned whether it was appropriate for me to pursue these ancient philosophies and healing modes for my own personal health. Other Christians may have similar reservations. I will make it clear that I do not have an in-depth knowledge of Taoism and its history, and I do not feel it is necessary in order to use the wisdom that is relevant to my own situation. Just as I do not attempt to resolve or justify every aspect of Western philosophy and lifestyle with the Bible and Christianity, neither do I try to resolve every aspect of Taoist teachings with Christianity. I am a Christian and have no intention to become a Taoist, but I have come to believe that it is important for me to incorporate into my life some of its wisdom about how to be healthy and live well in the world.  Once again, what I seek is open space, space for conversation, for respect, for practical exchange of wisdom about how to live a healthy life. I have discovered over and over again that learning to appreciate another point of view expands my thankfulness and appreciation of the gifts God has given to me in my own faith.

TAO and I AM. The Chinese ideogram for Tao means “path” or “way” and consists of two symbols, one for “walk” and the other for “head.” The meaning is that the Tao is a path which one walks by following one’s head rather than one’s feet, being guided by the mind (which includes qualities of spirit) rather than by the body and its desires. Tao can also be a verb that means to “say” or “guide.”[11] If one walks with Tao as the Way, one walks with God. Stephen Chang, in his book The Great Tao, says “Tao is God.” [12] 

Other ways the Chinese refer to the Tao is through the words “Tai Chi,” which mean Supreme Ultimate and “Tai Yi,” which mean Supreme Mover.[13] In our language we might describe the TAO as the Way, the Ultimate, the All, the Way Things Are, God, or the I AM. We should recall that in an earlier chapter of this book, “Naming the Energy in the Earth, the Universe and Me,” we discussed the many ways in which we refer to God. God is the one who is nameless in the sense that no name can ever fully describe God; God may also be regarded as having infinite names because all names that can ever be named could never fill up the fullness of God. “Tao” is another culture’s way of trying to express this infinitude.[14] We can recall that some of the terms used above to describe “Tao” are the same ones we use to describe God and Christ. The sage Lao Tzu says, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” The names “Tao” and “I AM” both remind me that God is transcendent, beyond all we can think or imagine. At the same time, all of life is an inseparable whole, an interconnected, organic unity. This transcendence and immanence reminds me of panentheism (See Section I) which means that God is not exhausted by finite beings, yet God is in all finite creatures and apart from God there is nothing; nor is God ‘apart’ from anything.

Tao and Logos: Stephen Chang says the Chinese word Tao has the same connotations as the word logos in Greek and that Tao is the word used to translate logos into Chinese in the Gospel of John, chapter one, verse one. The familiar translation in English reads this way: “In the beginning was the Word [logos] and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” With Tao translating logos, the passage would read: In the beginning was the Tao [logos], and the Tao [logos] was with God, and the Tao [logos] was God.”  Chang says that Tao has all the qualities of God that are conveyed by logos.[15] Since Logos is understood by Christians to refer to Christ, we therefore see a way we can connect ideas of Tao with our understanding of the pre-existent Christ. When we recall (as in the earlier chapter on “Embodying the I AM”) that the pre-existent Christ is the Sophia of Wisdom, we can see that the wisdom of Taoism fits with Sophia’s efforts to call people to a life of temperance and prudence.

The Taoist Trinity: In Taoist thought there are three “treasures,” which are spirit (shen), essence (jing), and energy (chi). Some writers refer to these as the Taoist Trinity.[16]  Essence (jing) comes from the earth and includes all aspects of life in our physical bodies, including blood and all fluids, hormones, and sexual secretions. Spirit (shen) comes from heaven and includes all of our mental faculties, including awareness, rational thought, intuition, spirit, attention, intent, will and ego. Energy (chi) literally means “breath” and “air” as well as “energy.” As we discussed in an earlier chapter, energy or chi permeates everything in creation throughout the entire Universe. The Chinese understand it as becoming active in humans at the moment of conception and as dissipating at the time of death. Without chi there can be no life in any living thing.  In Chinese thought all of these three treasures, spirit, essence and energy, are interrelated and none is regarded as “higher” than any other because all are necessary.  For example, the spirit is not regarded as an entity that is higher or separate from the body but as the flowering blossom of the Taoist Trinity, with essence/body as the roots and chi energy as the connecting stem. Only well-nourished roots in fertile soil generate strong stems and beautiful blossoms.[17]

As I seek open space for understanding the Chinese system, I note that the Chinese Trinity has some similarities to our Christian idea of Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Spirit or mind (shen) is associated with invisible qualities of the human and also with heaven and could correspond to our ideas of God the Father. Chi energy has similarities to the Spirit of God that moved over the face of the waters in creation and that was breathed as the breath of life into humans at the time of creation. Essence/body (jing) corresponds to the physical expression of God in a human body as the incarnate Christ. This divine Trinity is reflected in all humans, who are created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). Christ shows us what it looks like for humans to be the “image of God” in the sense that we humans also have body, mind and energy; when all of the parts are healthy and fully integrated, we will express them outwardly into the world in ways similar to Christ.  Some Taoist writers acknowledge that Christ also epitomizes the life of one who follows the Tao.[18]

Faith, works, sanctification: Taoists believe it is possible to achieve immortal life and that in order to do so it is necessary to live according to the Tao or to “walk with God.” As a person goes through life, bad deeds bring bad “karma” and good deeds bring good “karma.”  In order to have immortal life, one must get rid of bad karma and build good karma, something that can only by done by each individual person and by no one else.

This idea of karma seems to be at odds with the Pauline teaching that our sins are removed through faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. All we have to do is have faith in him, confess our sins and we will be saved (Romans 5). In Ephesians 2: 8-9 we read “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”  This seems to indicate that the human part is faith and that the saving work is done fully by Christ and God. On the one hand then, we have Taoism emphasizing personal responsibility and on the other we have Christianity emphasizing that Christ has done all the work and we must have faith in what he has done. Where then is the “open space” in which Taoism and Christianity can address each other with regard to “sin” or “karma?”

First, both Taoists and Christians desire eternal life. Because there is a desire for eternal life, there is also a desire to eliminate those things in life that are regarded as bad “karma,” as “sinful” or detrimental to walking in God’s ways. This is a space where we can meet each other with respect and understanding.

Secondly, even though the doctrinal teachings may differ, the practical ways we want to get rid of sin and karma have much in common. The Apostle Paul teaches that we are saved by faith, but he also teaches that once we have been united with Christ and buried with him in baptism, we must not allow the members of our body to sin but must present our bodies to God.  Ephesians 4: 22 says, “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” This says that individuals are supposed to “put away” the old life and “clothe” themselves with the new self. This is the classical Christian work of sanctification in which both the believer and the Spirit of God are active. While God and Christ are active, the believer must do the work of “putting away” and “clothing.”

Other New Testament writers are strong in articulating that Christians must do the work of sanctification: “Therefore, rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness . . .” (James 1: 21)  James also says in chapter 2, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead . . . Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”  He wraps up his argument by saying, “Faith without works is dead.”

Christ himself also taught that we are responsible for our own entrance into the kingdom of God. He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Jesus says that those who hear his words and act on them are like a wise man who builds his house on a rock and the storms come and blow against it but it does not fall. Those who hear but do not act on them are like a foolish man who builds his house on the sand and the storms come and wash it away.

Thus, we see that the New Testament presents a variety of teachings about our participation in achieving eternal life. It is evident that both faith and works are necessary and that in some cases faith and calling on Christ are not sufficient. What we do know is that we must live a righteous life, following Christ’s example. It is in this space of sanctification that we find a meeting place for Christianity and Taoism. While in Christianity our empowerment comes from the Holy Spirit, we can appreciate that Taoism offers many detailed and practical ways to live a balanced and harmonious life in this world. These include hands-on ways to prepare food, promote health and live in relation to other humans and with the natural order.  Taoist teachings offer an abundance of guidance in some arenas in which there is little said in the Bible. . In those places where the Bible is silent, we must draw on some traditional or cultural practices to sustain our lives. Taoist teachings offer a treasure of wisdom that is good for all who live on the planet, no matter what their religious faith

Body as temple. Taoism teaches that in order to have a strong, healthy spiritual life, one must cultivate a healthy physical life on earth. Taoists insist that only a strong, healthy body can house a strong, healthy spirit. The body serves as the root for the blossom of the spirit. If the root is unhealthy, the rest of the plant will be unhealthy. When the root dies, the plant dies. Lao Tzu said, “He who loves the world as his body may be entrusted with the empire.” The Apostle Paul also says that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19) and that it is imperative for those who profess Christ to control their bodily desires and actions.

Virtuous Life: A central concept in Taoism is te, which means virtue, or the intrinsic power deriving from the fact that our true self is an expression of the Tao and that we are intrinsically connected with the power of the Universe. This reminds me of the fact that God’s energy is in all things. Lao Tzu, one of the Taoist sages, describes three treasures that help one achieve fullness of te: compassion, frugality and humility. Compassion helps us respond to various situations in an appropriate, helpful manner, serving the higher good. Frugality works to preserve the balance of all things and harmonizes our actions with those around us and with the Universe. Humility allows one to be guided by Tao and to be respectful of others with whom we interact. In Christianity virtue is manifest in the fruits of the Spirit. Jesus Christ was a pure expression of what it looks like for a human being to embody I AM or, in Taoist terms, to express a fullness of te. When we are like Christ, drawing on the power of the Spirit, we will live virtuous lives as he did.

Balance, Harmony: If one lives according to the Tao, one will explore ways to achieve connection, harmony, and balance in all aspects of life. The writer of Hebrews says, “Follow peace with all people, and holiness, without which none shall see the Lord.”

Many Taoist and Christian Teachings are Similar

Lao Tzu, the great Taoist sage who lived some time between the third and fifth centuries b.c., wrote the Tai te Ching, a 5000 word poem that is the greatest text of Taoism. Besides the Bible, the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book in the world. Below I highlight some teachings of Lao Tzu that are similar to those of Christ and his followers


Lao Tzu says:

 “[The wise person] does not show off, so he shines

he does not promote himself, so he becomes famous

he does not boast of himself, so he gets the credit

he does not glorify himself, so he becomes leader.” (Tao te Ching #22)


 Jesus Christ says:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you ust be your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27)



Lao Tzu says:

“And so the Wise Person:

Puts himself last, and so finds himself in front.

Puts himself in the out group, and so maintains his place. (Tao te Ching, #7)


Jesus Christ says:

“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30)


Rich and poor

Lao Tzu says:

“Heaven’s Way is like the stringing a bow;

It pulls down what is high

it lifts up what is low

it takes away from what has an abundance

to give to what has not enough. (TTC #77)


Mary, Jesus’ mother, says:

The Mighty One has done great things for me . . . He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (The Magnificat, Luke 1: 49-53)]



Lao Tzu says:

“Truly, to be stiff and hard is the way of death;

To be soft and supple is the way of life.

Therefore, the weapon that is too hard will be broken,

And the tree with the hardest wood will be cut down first.

Truly, the hard and strong are cast down,

While the soft and weak rise to the top.”


Jesus Christ says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer,. but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

“The meek shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)


Behavior to enemies:

Lao Tzu says:

 “Requite hatred with virtue.” (Tao te Ching, #63)


 Jesus Christ says:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

“Do good to them who hate you.” (Luke 6:27)


Lao Tzu says:

“The violent man shall die a violent death.” (TTC, #42)

 Jesus Christ says:

“They who take the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

Simplicity like a child

Lao Tzu says:

“Who is filled with harmony is like a newborn.
Wasps and snakes will not bite him;
Hawks and tigers will not claw him.
His bones are soft yet his grasp is sure,
For his flesh is supple;
His mind is innocent yet his body is virile,
For his vigour is plentiful;
His song is long-lasting yet his voice is sweet,
For his grace is perfect.” (Tao te Ching #55, Merel)

Jesus Christ says:

“The disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them., and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:1-4, NRSV)


Lao Tzu says,

“When gold and jade fill the halls,

no one can guard it all.

Rich, famous—and conceited;

leading to a downfall self-caused.” (Tao te Ching, #9, Michael LaFargue)

 Jesus Christ says,

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24, NRSV)


Anna’s York’s Story

Why Is It Important to Know About Taoism--

And Why Should Christians Care?

Quite frankly, for most of my life I was unaware of Taoist thought, and, not knowing what it was and what it offered, I didn’t miss it. If I had thoughts of it at all, it was that it was strange and non-Christian. Of course I thought of most unfamiliar ideas and people who were not familiar to me, including Catholics and Presbyterians, as being unchristian, so you can understand that Taoism would be even farther out of the Christian arena! I did not come to any understanding or appreciation of Taoist thought and practice until I had a disease that was incurable by Western standards.

I was once severely disabled from multiple sclerosis, a disease I have had for over 45 years. I used a wheelchair and then an electric scooter. At my lowest point, I was unable to even sit up straight for more than a few minutes and was sometimes so weak I could barely lift a plate or cup. Through means that I consider to be quite miraculous, God brought into my life some people, including my own sons, who began to show me the benefits of health that could be mine through a strange and foreign Eastern culture. In 1996, I began a remarkable recovery that included Eastern healing modalities, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tai Chi and Qigong (Chi Kung). As an ordained minister in a Southern Baptist Church, the disconnection between my Christian faith and my mode of healing provoked disruption in my relationships and years of soul searching and discovery. I have recorded details of my journey in my book Rising UP!, available on Amazon and in many digital formats. Today I am healthy and strong and live a normal life. I am an authorized teacher of Qigong, which I teach in various settings in Chicago, specializing classes for those with disabilities.

While the story of how I received physical healing is personal and unique, I believe it has broader implications. It is a sign of hope, cooperation and understanding in our fractured, war-torn world. It speaks that we are not whole until we learn that the heritage of other cultures can be God’s gift of love to us. I am a Christian, and my experience is deeply Christian, but God surprised me by breaking through frontiers of time and space, through walls between nations and people groups, through barriers of the heart and spirit. My experience bursts out of traditional Christian patterns and dogmas and recaptures some of the iconoclastic nature of Christ’s original healing ministry. People of any faith, or no faith at all, can find hope in my story because it speaks once again, as it did in that ancient time, of a God who is great beyond all comprehension and whose love crosses all boundaries.

My healing journey has brought me from rural, fundamentalist roots in America’s heartland to the pluralistic, urban setting where I have experienced healing through the Eastern arts. For me, this journey is as unlikely as traveling to the moon. It has transported me from the familiar, comfortable doctrines of my childhood faith into the heart center and offense of Christ’s gospel—the gospel that there is a new humanity and that the walls of hostility are broken down among all people so that we may seek and discover the meaning of God’s love among all the diverse expressions of those who are created in God’s own image. It has taken me away from a passive, yielded faith to an active, co-creative participation in community with people of diverse nations and faiths. Within that community I commit myself to struggle and wrestle with the meaning of our similarities and differences and to assist each other in finding healing and mutual transformation so that we can have peace in our world.

You can read more of my story and see pictures of my journey on


[i] Palmer, Martin. The Jesus Sutras.  Ballantine Wellspring, New York, 2001. Martin Palmer is the Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture. He studied theology at Cambridge and has published translations of  many ancient Chinese texts, including the Tao te Ching, I Ching, Chuang Tzu, and Kuan Yin. Most of the information  in my commentary is drawn from his book but can also be found in other sources, some of which are on the web:

“Early Roots of the Church in China” by Hugh MacMahon.

“The Nestorian Monument in Xian, China”by Fred Aprim Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004 at 06:05 AM CT

“Amazing Discovery in China Changes Christian History in Asia by Ken Joseph Jr. - The Keikyo Institute. Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 at 07:28 AM CT.

“Nestorian Christianity in the Tang Dynasty.”

[ii] Martin, p. 98.

[iii] The Eastern Church to which I refer here is not the same as the Eastern Orthodox Church. See The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI, Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company, Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight,  Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor, Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

[iv] Martin, p. 100.

[v] Martin, 100.

[6] Martin, 234.

[7] Martin, 249.

[8] Martin, 137-138.

[9] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, Vintage Books, New York, 1989, p. xxii.

[10] Deepak Chopra has made the Ayurvedic system accessible to Western audiences through his many books. Hindu spirituality is integral to his approach, and he does not specifically address Christian concerns. For this reason many Christians may not find his work approachable. The principles I present here may help make the Ayurvedic system more accessible for Christians.


[11] Reid, Complete . . . p. 15.

[12] Stephen Chang, The Great Tao, Tao Publishing, San Francisco, 1985, p. 15.

[13] Reid, Complete . . . p. 16.

[14] The Tao te Ching, one of the great texts of Taoism, says that the Tao that can be named is not the Tao.

[15] Stephen Chang, The Great Tao, Tao Publishing, San Francisco, 1985, p. 15.

[16] Reid, Tao of Health . . ., p. 32.

[17] Reid, Tao of Health . . ., p. 41

[18] Chang, The Great Tao, p. 17.


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