House Church Alliance (CHCA), to two years of “re-education through labor” – a sentence that requires no trial or conviction, according to the China Aid Association (CAA) as reported in a July 29 Compass Direct News article.
Shi, who leads a large house church movement in Beijing, was officially charged with “illegal meetings and illegal organizing of venues for religious meetings.” Police have ordered his church members to cease meeting and have confiscated choir robes, instruments and substantial church contributions.
Shi’s arrest comes in the wake of conflict between the government and Shouwang Church in Beijing. While Shi’s house church movement consists of a network of small churches, Shouwang Church worships as one large church and has petitioned for some time to obtain a permanent place to meet. In response to government denials, the church has been meeting in outdoor venues, leading to arrests of both worshippers and leaders. In the wake of government action against Shouwang Church, seventeen house church pastors have signed a citizens’ petition this year to the National People’s Congress seeking a resolution of the church-state conflict and a guarantee of religious freedom, as reported by Christian Newswire.
In the West the church often struggles with shrinking membership rolls; not so in China. The house church movement in China is experiencing exponential growth and herein is their challenge. The government’s analysis of this rapid growth is revealed in a June 2010 article written by government advisor Ma Hucheng and published by the China Social Sciences Press. According to translator Tony Lambert of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, this article shows that advisors recognize this growth, predict that it will only increase in coming decades and fear that it may “change the face of China.” Ma sees the West as wanting “to use Christianity to change the character of the regime in power in China and to overturn it.” Ma’s conclusion is that “faced with this abnormal growth, we must undertake State interference, and take legal and administrative means so that religion does not have a free market and expand out of control.” In addition, Ma claimed in his article that Christianity would endanger national security by destroying the “present balance between religions” in China, since house churches resist government control and persist in “illegal Christian evangelism.”
Father, we stand in amazement at Your work in China and at the scores of people there who are committing to follow You. It would seem that a revival is sweeping across this nation. But with that revival comes opposition and in the midst of it, we pray for their protection, but even more we pray for their courage and opportunities to share Your gospel. And we pray for those in power that they, too, will turn to You in true worship. Amen