Accused of “illegality” or “disturbance,” terrorized and manipulated, numerous house churches are closed down to make them join the official Protestant church.
by Ye Ling
Since the new Regulations on Religious Affairs came into effect in February last year, the CCP has been focusing its crackdowns on those religious groups that are unwilling to be controlled by the government. Designated as unauthorized organizations, they have been subjected to harsh suppression and persecution. Wang Yi, a well-known Chinese house church pastor, called the Regulations “wicked from the perspective of religion, illegal from the perspective of the constitution, and foolish from the perspective of politics.”
Numerous well-known house churches have been closed down across China in the past year: Zion Church and Shouwang Church in Beijing, Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan, and many more.
House churches in Fujian Province in southeastern China have also been suffering severe persecutions. In May, one of the most influential and oldest churches in the province – Xunsiding Church in Xiamen city – was closed down after nearly 70 years of existence. The remaining churches are under constant danger of being eliminated.
A thirty-year-old church closed down
Xiamen’s Shiyijian Church, founded in 1986, was shut down on order by the local authorities in June, leaving more than 200 believers spiritually homeless.
According to some church members, between June 2 and 9, officials from the local Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, Public Security Bureau, and other government departments repeatedly came to harass them. They asserted that the gatherings in the church were illegal since they hadn’t joined the state-approved Three-Self Church. Officials also claimed that the church’s donation box constituted “illegal funding” and the Hong Kong-published hymnbook used by the church was an “illegal publication.”
On June 13, a notice of closure was posted at the church’s entrance. Officials returned to the church every week to make sure that believers have not resumed their gatherings.
“The officials said that the government’s regulations outweigh the constitution. This should be exposed overseas, so people in foreign countries can see how lawless the Communist Party is and how it persecutes Christians in China,” a believer said resentfully.
Six of the church’s branches – Hongsheng Church, Yuanyang Church, Jinshang Church, Kangle Church, Ruijing Church, and Jimei Church – were also shut down in succession.
On May 22, the government ordered to shut down a meeting venue for elderly Christians near Xiamen University because it was “disturbing people.” Threatened to be fined by the police, believers had no choice but to disperse.
“We’ve been assembling here for more than 20 years. Now the government says we’re disturbing people. If we were, could we have held gatherings for so many years?” one of the meeting venue’s believers said angrily.
Numerous other house church meeting venues in Xiamen have been recently shut down; according to some media reports, as many as 40. A house church director from Xiamen told Bitter Winter that the authorities had threatened to shut down all known house church meeting venues in the city.
Join Three-Self Church or face closure
In Fujian’s capital Fuzhou, personnel from the local Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau broke into an evangelical house church during a gathering in late April, claiming that “the meeting venue was unapproved” and “believers were from outside the jurisdiction.”
The raid was organized because the congregation had been refusing to join the Three-Self Church. The church’s director said that joining the state-run church means changing their faith. “Three-Self church preachers cannot talk about God’s creation of man. They have to talk about the theory of evolution,” the director explained. “Even sermons that mention God’s creation of man, sinners, or eschatology [the part of theology commonly referred to as “the end times”] are deemed unacceptable and substandard. Some local authorities also require preachers to give sermons based on government-issued content.”
A government insider revealed that the identity of the director had been long known to the authorities. They threatened to arrest and interrogate congregation members on any trumped-up suspicion, like that there are criminals or drug users among the church’s believers, if the director disobeyed their requirements.
Since the venue refused to join the Three-Self Church, it was closed down. To prevent believers from renewing their gatherings, the government forcibly removed all the stools from the meeting venue.
In May, a Local Church meeting venue in Zhulinjing community in Fuzhou’s Gulou district was also shut down by the police; more than 200 believers lost their place to worship.
During the same period, government officials stormed into another Local Church meeting venue in Fuzhou, ordering to join the Three-Self Church. “If you don’t agree, the landlord will be fined 200,000 RMB [around $ 30,000],” the officials threatened. The meeting venue was forced to stop holding gatherings.
“As soon as a house church joins the Three-Self Church, the government will first control what is being said from the podium. Secondly, they will control the donation box; and thirdly, believers will be subjected to government regulations, forced to obey and follow the Party. Otherwise, they will find themselves on the road to ruin,” said the director of a house church. “The government sends its personnel to deliver sermons. In the end, we must submit to government control in every respect, which is equivalent to believing in the Communist Party.”