The purpose behind the recent increase in persecution among house churches in China has become clearer in the wake of recent revelations. Compass Direct News reports that China’s government is engaged in a three-phase campaign to eradicate Protestant house churches, according to a statement released Friday (April 20) by the China Aid Association (CAA). The government’s strategy was clearly outlined in a document released last September during a training class for “Patriots in the Christian Community” run by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), according to an unnamed CAA source.
From January through June of this year, the document has called for local authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of house churches nationwide and create dossiers on each of them. In phase two, for the following two to three years, authorities would strongly encourage unregistered churches to affiliate with the government-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM); and in phase three, churches refusing to comply would be shut down, according to the CAA.
Officials would also ban the words “house church” and all reports on house churches from websites and other media, replacing them with “house gatherings,” a term used for groups meeting in sites affiliated with the TSPM. Simultaneously, the China Christian Council and the TSPM are rolling out joint “Training Sessions for Ministerial Certification” across China. These sessions include instruction on China’s Regulations on Religious Affairs and the need for patriotism.
According to the document circulated last September, the government plans to use “humane law enforcement measures” to achieve the total eradication of house churches. “Humane law enforcement, long-term implementation and ‘united front’ style registration – how will this impact house churches that are seeking a path to religious freedom?” CAA asks in its statement.
In a recent random survey conducted by the CAA’s source in several provinces, over 95 percent of house church leaders said they had already felt the impact of these investigations, and 85 percent said local religious affairs departments had already created a dossier for their group.
“Since the beginning of 2012, we have noticed an increase in the frequency of persecution,” the CAA said in a press statement. “In addition to the continuing persecution of Shouwang Church in Beijing, the number of similar cases has risen 20 percent over last year and has spread into other areas, including Christian education, publications and bookstores.” The campaign first emerged in December 2010 through a secret document entitled “Operation Deterrence,” issued by the Communist Party’s Central Committee. This directive urged officials at all levels to “guide” house church Christians to attend only churches belonging to the government-approved TSPM and to break up large house churches into smaller groups.
Beijing’s Shouwang Church, numbering some 1,000 members, felt the effects of this directive almost immediately. Having blocked Shouwang’s attempts to register legally or to find a suitable worship venue, in April 2011 officials began to arrest and interrogate church members who sought to meet outdoors in a public plaza. According to Shouwang’s Facebook page, on April 22 of this year, police detained 12 church members who again gathered for outdoor worship. Three members were quickly released, but the others were sent to local police stations and held for several hours of interrogation. Another church member was detained in a hotel on Friday, April 20, and was not released until Sunday morning.
A church staff member wrote, “It is His grace and peace that have protected us and sustained us until now. May the power and glory of the Lord become our strength while waiting for God in this difficult circumstance.”
Father, we thank You for Your daily presence with Your church in China, whatever their circumstances. As they look toward the possibility of increased persecution in the coming years, we pray You will comfort and strengthen them, that You will give them courage to remain true to Your Word, and that You will grant them wisdom and discernment. And may the eyes of this nation be opened to see You, to turn from their godless ways and seek You and Your hand of justice and compassion. In the name of Jesus who satisfied justice that we might live as sons of God, Amen.