Hu Shigen, an elder at Holy Love Church in the city of Jinhua in the eastern Zheijiang Province, apparently admitted to "subversion, damaging national security and harming social stability" according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Hu, 67, was accused of leading an "underground organisation" that masqueraded as a church but was dedicated to identifying and drawing attention to accusations of government abuses.
He and many other Christians have been protesting at the Chinese government's removal of hundreds of church crosses around the country and the imprisonment of hundreds of Christians and lawyers representing them.
Practising Christianity outside the state-monitored Three-Self Patriotic Movement church is illegal, which has led millions of Christians in China to worship in secret in their homes or literally underground.
He worked with others, some of whom are also facing trial this week, to "organise activities that manipulated public opinion and disturbed public order", prosecutors were quoted as saying by state media.
"Hu's ideology and his behaviours have seriously harmed the country and social stability," prosecutors said.
Hu was sentenced in 1994 to 20 years in prison on the now-abolished charge of counter-revolution in connection with his political activities, but was released in 2008 after his sentence was reduced.
Other cases are expected to be heard by the court in the northern Chinese city this week, including those of Christian activist Gou Hongguo and human rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng, who represented Christians.
More than a dozen other lawyers and activists remain jailed, their legal status uncertain.
Many family members of those being held say they and their retained lawyers have been denied access to the detainees for more than a year, receiving only occasional updates by word of mouth.
Some have been briefly detained themselves while seeking information.
Andrew Boyd, from anti-persecution charity Release International, told Premier's News Hour: "In some cases, including Christian lawyers, they're tortured brutally before being wheeled out to give a televised confession.
"For Christians who respond to Jesus Christ as Lord of Lords and King of Kings, the Communist Party in China cannot get their heads around that because they're atheist... you're standing up and saying that the state is doing things wrong and the only reason you're doing it must be foreign influence.
"Britain is now working more closely to seek trade relations with China and Release International's message to the UK government here is to do everything in its power... to encourage China in the direction of offering fresh freedoms - freedom of speech and freedom of belief."
Listen to Premier's Alex Williams speaking to Andrew Boyd: