The explosive growth of the church in China is one of the most remarkable stories of the 20th Century. When Mao Zedong came to power in 1949 there were less than 1 million Christians in all of China. By the time he finished his near genocidal persecution of the Chinese church, less than 250,000 remained.
Instead of wavering in their faith, Chinese Christians chose to follow Paul’s example of “delighting in their persecutions.” In doing so they proved the truth of the Apostle’s declaration: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)
Today, the Chinese government estimates that the total number of Christians in China might be as high as 130 million total. In the midst of tremendous persecution, the Chinese church has grown into one of the most vital and dynamic Christian movements on the planet. Now comprising as much as 10% of the Chinese population, these believers could be key to 21st Century culture making in what is rapidly becoming the most influential nation on earth. But it will not be easy.
Over the past month governmental fears of an Egyptian-style revolution have caused a significant crackdown on freedoms–especially in public meetings. Memories of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests of 1989 are never far from the Chinese government’s mind. On Sunday’s arrest over 150 worshippers from a single church for participating in an “unsanctioned” outdoor worship service could be a harbinger of increased persecution.
Sue and I developed a deep love for the Chinese people during our three summers studying Mandarin in Beijing and Shanghai. We witnessed first-hand the beauty of the Chinese church and the tremendous tension that exists in the three-way relationship between the Chinese government, government sanctioned “registered” churches, and non-sanctioned “underground” churches.
The three articles below explore events and issues in China. As you read them, please pray for the worshippers still in custody, and for cooler heads to prevail in the Chinese government.
More than 100 Chinese Christians have been detained after they worshiped outdoors. One Chinese state-run newspaper called the meeting “illegal” and a “public disturbance,” and accused Christians of trying to politicize religion.
This comes just days after the U.S. expressed serious concerns at a growing crackdown across China. Beijing has defended itself, saying the U.S. is using human rights as a political instrument to defame other nations.
This confrontation had been brewing for weeks. With a congregation of about 1,000 people, Shouwang church is one of Beijing’s biggest unregistered or “house” churches. It had been allowed to operate, but the church has been unable to find a space to meet, a fact they blame on government pressure.
If yesterday you attended church without fear of being arrested for expressing your faith, say a prayer today for the tens of millions of Chinese Christians who have to worship in hiding:
Beijing police on Sunday detained dozens of worshipers from an unapproved Christian church who were trying to hold services in a public space after they were evicted from their usual place of worship, a parishioner said.
Leaders of the unregistered Shouwang church had told members to gather at an open-air venue in Beijing for Sunday morning services, but police, apparently alerted to their plans, taped off the area and took away people who showed up to take part.
China’s Communist government allows worship only in state-approved churches, but many Christians belong to unregistered congregations. Such “house churches” are subjected to varying degrees of harassment by authorities.
More than 60 million Christians are believed to worship in China’s independent churches, compared with about 20 million who worship in the state church, according to scholars and church activists. [Chinese government estimates go as high as 130 million total Christians.]
By ANDREW JACOBS and SHARON LaFRANIERE in the New York Times
BEIJING — The police detained more than 100 members of an underground Protestant church on Sunday after the congregation tried to pray in a public plaza in the north of the capital.
The raid on the church, which sought to pray outside after it was evicted from its building under government pressure, was part of a broad crackdown on dissent over the last seven weeks. The campaign has led to the jailing of scores of rights lawyers, writers and activists, as well as the repression of unauthorized worship.
The authorities have also clamped down on less obvious threats, canceling events as diverse as a St. Patrick’s Day parade and a collegiate debate tournament this weekend.
The Protestant church, Shouwang, was evicted last week from the space it was renting after the government pressured the landlord not to renew the lease. The congregation, whose 1,000 members make it one of the largest unregistered churches in China, has been seeking legal recognition since 2006.