Chinese Christians defy orders to shut down online services, evangelism

April 9, 2020 by Lindy Lowry in Asia

Online Christian meetings have flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many house churches, and some state churches, began livestreaming their church services, prayer meetings, and home group meetings to stay connected during the lockdowns.

 

But in Shandong Province the two most powerful government-run religious organizations—the Three Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council—issued a joint statement ordering Three Self churches to refrain from sharing or livestreaming their preaching online.

The edict, stamped with the seal of both organizations, added that in spite of the coronavirus lockdowns, some unregistered churches continued to meet in unregistered locations.

Local authorities were told to investigate and shut these meetings down.

In a separate location, 430 miles to the south in Anhui Province, a different approach ensued. Regional representatives of the same two government organizations issued a document giving State churches permission to create online chatrooms during the lockdown period but warned pastors to only connect with their own congregation online—no one else.

The document prohibits the sharing of links to preaching, worship, Bible reading or the prayers of any preacher or person not affiliated with the immediate (registered) church venue. Evangelism is also prohibited. Only church members are permitted to join the online church group.

Bold in opposition

So far, our partners have only heard of three such announcements, but more are expected. The government is known for releasing statements like this to threaten the church into submission. Naturally, Chinese believers are accustomed to such tactics and for many of them, nothing will change unless they are forced to do so.

Many will use this window of opportunity to invite non-believing friends and strangers to hear the gospel.

The Chinese church has learned over many years to refrain from posting content that can be distorted to look like anti-government messages. Instead, churches have called believers to pray for their country and leaders, and for an end to the spread of coronavirus both locally and globally. They pray for health workers and for families who, though they have loved ones affected by the epidemic, continue to serve their communities by distributing free gifts of food, masks and hand sanitizer to those in need.

Though the spread of coronavirus has slowed significantly in China, it is thought the government probably doesn’t have the time or resources to be chasing the church offline. The authorities are therefore faced with a dilemma. Christians have demonstrated outstanding courage and generosity over the past three months and this, combined with a growing online presence, could present authorities with an even greater challenge after the epidemic dies down—if Christians are seen as the ones to turn to in times of trouble.

That is a title the Chinese government is not prepared to bestow on the church.

Chinese believers need your support at this overwhelming but significant time. Once again, they have chosen to be bold in the face of opposition, generous in the face of lack, and the ambassadors of hope in a time of fear.

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