Chinese Authorities Shut Down Another Major House Church in Beijing
Members Detained and Ordered to Stop Attending Their Church
Several sources, including International Christian Concern and China Aid, are reporting that on Saturday afternoon, March 23, more than 20 police officers and other Chinese government officials raided a Bible school class at Beijing’s Shouwang Church.
The authorities demanded the church to cease its activities immediately and read out an official document formally banning the church. They also demanded Pastor Zhang Xiaofeng sign and keep a document claiming that the church was "in violation of Regulations of Religious Affairs and Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Organizations."
According to China Aid, a Christian human rights organization committed to promoting religious freedom and the rule of law in China, "this crackdown comes just months after Chinese authorities forcibly shut down another unregistered Beijing church, Zion Church. Such closures come in the wake of the Chinese government implementing a revised edition of its Regulations on Religious Affairs on Feb. 1, 2018, narrowing the margin in which unregistered churches previously thrived. The new regulations coincide with China’s attempts to force religion to align to its ideals, a tactic known as “Sinicization.” As a result, many churches have faced persecution."
All of the students at the Bible school class were taken to a nearby school and questioned by authorities. Several other Christians from another location affiliated with Shouwang were also detained, brought to the school, and interrogated. All those detained were asked to sign a letter of guarantee that they will no longer attend Shouwang, to which they refused. The Christians were only sent home hours later by local police offices.
In the meantime, the officials switched out the locks at the locations of both raids in order to prevent Shouwang Church members from returning.
Shouwang Church is one of the largest house churches in Beijing and is attended by more than 1,000 people. It was targeted and heavily persecuted for its refusal to join the state-sanctioned church in 2011. Its senior pastor, Jin Tian-ming, and two other pastors have been under house arrest ever since 2011 and its purchased property is still confiscated by the Chinese government.
In response to the March 23 raid, Shouwang Church issued a statement to its members, saying that it does not accept the authorities’ decision to ban their church, reminding everyone that the legality of the church is not determined by any religious or administrative agencies. It will continue to meet and operate while adjusting its meeting venues and methods.
Victims from another heavily oppressed church, Sichuan’s Early Rain Covenant Church, express their faith and solidarity amid this persecution against the Church — “When we heard that Shouwang Church is being persecuted again, […] and other churches facing various pressure from the government, we kneeled down to pray to give thanks and praises to our God, because we are delighted that the bride of Christ is closely following her husband.”
Pastor Bob Fu, President of ChinaAid, stated “China’s oppression against house churches will not be loosened. A systematic, in-the-name-of-law crackdown will continue to take place.”
Gina Goh of International Christian Concern, a human rights organization focusing on persecution of Christians around the world, said: “China’s disregard of religious freedom for its 1.4 billion citizens is deplorable. Christians outside of the state-sanctioned churches can no longer worship without fearing of harassment, detention, or even imprisonment. Even official churches face increasing pressure to exalt the Communist Party over God. The international community should continue to press China over its human rights abuses until it is willing to make positive change.”
China, which remains under strict communist control despite opening up to capitalism in recent decades, has a population of approximately 1.4 billion people. The Communist Party in China, which is officially atheist, has approximately 70 million members. However, the strong growth of evangelical Christianity in China has resulted in slightly over 100 million Chinese Christians (approximately 75 million Evangelicals and 27 million Catholics. Also, the Chinese Orthodox Church, an autonomous Eastern Orthodox church, has about 15,000 members.
This situation of Christians outnumbering official Communist Party members is at least partially behind government crackdowns on Christianity over the last few years, as they seek to exercise control over Christianity in China. Communist governments, and all other collectivist regimes, demand that the citizen's top loyalty be to the State, not to God, the Church, or even the family. The State essentially sets itself up as God, and hates competition for that slot.
Sources: 1) press release by International Christian Concern dated 3-25-2019; 2) additional information from China Aid, via their website; 3) statistics from the China entry of Pray for the World, a resource from Operation World, 4) original analysis by Tim Gamble.
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