China Shuts Down Another Big Beijing Church
Another prominent unregistered church in China, Shouwang Church in Beijing, was raided by Chinese police over the weekend and officially banned from gathering to worship.
Shouwang, which draws more than 1,000 attendees, is the fourth major underground congregation shut down by the Communist government over the past several months, as party leaders and heads of the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement intensify efforts to rid religious groups of Western influence and exert control to make them more Chinese.
Similar to earlier incidents at Early Rain Covenant Church in Sichuan, Zion Church in Beijing, and Rongguili Church in Guangzhou, officials interrupted Bible study gatherings at two Shouwang Church locations on Saturday, putting the activities to a halt, interrogating and briefly detaining dozens of attendees, and switching the locks of their buildings to keep them from returning, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).
The church had been charged with violating the country’s Regulations of Religious Affairs and Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Organizations by operating without government registration.
Shouwang members refused to sign a document pledging to never attend the church again, and leaders said the church will continue to worship by adjusting meeting times and locations.
Throughout its 26-year history, Shouwang members have refused to come under Communist authority and persevered despite persecution, with their “underground” services forced outside when evicted from their buildings in 2009 and with their founding pastor Jin Tianming under house arrest since 2011.
“China’s oppression against house churches will not be loosened,” Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, told ICC. “A systematic, in-the-name-of-law crackdown will continue to take place.”
Fu’s organization noted that religious restrictions adopted by China last year “narrow the margin in which unregistered churches previously thrived.”
The biggest unregistered churches have recognized the growing threat to their ability to continue worshiping, but do so anyway, at a large scale and in public.
“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,” Early Rain said in a statement of solidarity.
Early Rain’s pastor Wang Yi remains detained with a dozen church leaders after a raid in December. In a statement Wang prepared in the event of his arrest, he defended nonviolent resistance against the “evil” of Chinese efforts to halt the spread of the gospel.
“I firmly believe that Christ has called me to carry out this faithful disobedience through a life of service, under this regime that opposes the gospel and persecutes the church,” he said. “This is the means by which I preach the gospel, and it is the mystery of the gospel which I preach.”
This week, a New York Times article described Wang’s desire to see Chinese Christianity resist authoritarian structures to improve social conditions in China, not merely save souls:
Some in his congregation objected to his overtly political message. Two years ago, another pastor left Early Rain to start his own church, criticizing some of Mr. Wang’s statements as stunts. But others in the church thought they were necessary.
Mr. Wang’s bluntness made him one of the most polarizing figures in Chinese Christianity. When the government began reducing the public face of Christianity in one province by tearing crosses off the steeples of even government-run churches, Mr. Wang expressed no sympathy for the churches affected. Instead, he said their pastors were wrong for serving in churches controlled by the government.
Earlier this month, Chinese leaders shared more vocal support for the government’s “sinicization” plan, to infuse sectors of society with more cultural and party alignment. “[We] must recognize that Chinese churches are surnamed ‘China’, not ‘the West,’” the head of the state-run Protestant body said. “The actions by anti-China forces that attempt to affect our social stability or even subvert the regime of our country are doomed to fail.”
Tianming, who stepped down from Shouwang last year to focus on missions, had cheered Wang’s example.
“Pastor Wang Yi is our dear brother, a servant whom God has been using for his special purpose within the Chinese church for the last ten years. During his current criminal detention under the charge of ‘inciting to subvert state power,’ many dear brothers and sisters of Early Rain Covenant Church are being persecuted,” he said.
“As a pastor who has received the same call of the Lord and called to serve in the same land, I declare: What pastor Wang Yi declared as his stance on the relationship between the church and the state is also where I stand!”
Leaders of the group ChinaSource recently wrote for Christianity Today about the political, rhetorical, and historical significance of this move. Combined with examples at big congregations like Early Rain and Zion, experts say there’s reason for concern that the government may be “testing” crackdown measures before more widespread implementation.