The standoff between the congregation, known as Shouwang Church, and the government has received worldwide attention and has brought to light the government's often-hidden crackdown on Christianity. Since the first round of arrests Sunday, April 10, some churches members have lost their jobs and been evicted after the government pressured employers and landlords, church leaders say.
Churches in China must register with the government, but once they do, they often have to conform to restrictions on growth and evangelism. The only legally recognized Protestant churches belong to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
Shouwang is only one of thousands of unregistered churches in China, but also one of the largest, with about 1,000 members. The unregistered churches often are called "house" churches because of their meeting location. Shouwang met in a building until 2009, when the Chinese government pressured the landlord to evict the congregation. Since then, the government has blocked attempts by the church to rent or purchase other property.
Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid, said Christians worldwide must speak up and pray for Shouwang. ChinaAid monitors religious freedom in China.
"God and his persecuted church will hold us accountable if we keep silent when we know clearly what we can and should do for our persecuted body of Christ," Fu said. "We urge the Chinese government to exercise restraint and refrain from using violence that would further escalate the conflict with peaceful Shouwang worshippers who ask for nothing more than simply to exercise their right to religious freedom."
The government didn't seem to care April 10 that it was arresting church members in the nation's capital in broad daylight, with media members watching. That pattern continued Sunday morning, April 17, although it did warn an Associated Press writer not to conduct interviews. Once church members started to sing hymns in the public square, they were arrested, ChinaAid reported. Most of them were freed by that evening, although some -- particularly the ones who had participated in both services -- were still in custody. Yet even before Sunday morning, police had tried to stop the meeting by detaining senior pastor Jin Tianming and placing the other church leaders under house arrest. Upwards of 1,000 police were involved in the first round of arrests April 10, but there was not an estimate yet of the number of police involved this time. Tianming was freed Sunday morning, April 17.
In a letter to church members prior to the second outdoor service, Tianming had urged members to "step out, whatever the cost."
"This really and truly is a spiritual battle," Tianming said. "The devil Satan has taken advantage of the authority God has granted to the national government to destroy God's church."
The church's outdoor worship is "pleasing to the Lord," he added.
"We believe the church is Christ's church, and Christ is the head of the church," he wrote, restating what the church had said days earlier. "The church ought to honor only our Lord Jehovah as God. There is no other god besides Him. Therefore, the church will never be controlled or manipulated by any external forces; she belongs only to our Lord. What this outdoor worship expressed was our uncompromising position with regard to (the practice of) our faith."
The church also released a statement saying that it cannot join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement because it is an "official state institution" and "is not a church." But it did say it would be glad to register with the government, which it tried to do in 2006 only to be denied.
The government tolerated Shouwang's growth until the law few years. The final straw apparently took place in October when approximately 200 house church members, including some from Shouwang, tried to attend the Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization in South Africa, The New York Times reported. Most were prevented from leaving the country, and Chinese officials were angry that the house churches had tried to represent China instead of allowing the Three-Self Patriotic Movement to do so.
The Chinese House Church Alliance released a statement April 16 urging "all peace-loving Christians worldwide" to pray for Shouwang Church, which it said was being persecuted.
"Some Chinese leaders mistakenly believe that if churches grow, it will lead to religious forces becoming an influence on political power and become a source of instability in society," the alliance said in a statement. "Therefore, based on this misunderstanding, the government has adopted a long-term policy of suppressing religion."
The Chinese house church movement, the statement said, must obey God.
"Christianity as a religion and Christians as citizens and members of society are willing to submit to the supervision of earthly kings and rulers," the statement from the alliance said. "But, if the kings and rulers want Christians to do what goes against Biblical principles, then the church and Christians in this instance will unhesitatingly choose to submit to God and not to kings and rulers. This is something that earthly kings and rulers often do not understand. The church was established by Jesus Christ through his blood and water and the Holy Spirit. Christians as sons of God, which is a spiritual identity, are not under the supervision of earthly kings and rulers but rather under the supervision of the holy Lord Jesus Christ."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Read more about Shouwang Church at ChinaAid.org. Read The New York Times' feature on the church at http://nyti.ms/ejeqAY
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