BEIJING (BP)–Members of a persecuted church in China are under pressure from an unexpected source: self-proclaimed Christians.
Shouwang Church, a large, illegal house church in Beijing, is enduring its 11th week of government persecution over its repeated attempts to hold outdoor worship services in a public square. The government pressured the church out of its rented building earlier this year.
On Sunday, June 12, Chinese authorities rounded up 14 church members attempting to meet and brought them to police stations for questioning. But this interrogation, and that of the previous Sunday, brought a disturbing new twist, according to the religious freedom monitoring organization ChinaAid. In addition to police and government interrogators, the Shouwang Church members faced representatives of China’s government-approved church, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
“[I]n the past two Sundays, Three-Self church personnel showed up at many police stations to persuade, ‘educate’ and even rebuke the imprisoned brothers and sisters in an attempt to get them to leave Shouwang Church and join one of the Three-Self churches or to ask us to unconditionally abandon our outdoor worship,” said a Shouwang Church announcement posted by ChinaAid.
ChinaAid also quoted a Shouwang Church member who wrote that interrogators even tried to raise theological issues by discussing whether the church’s actions were biblical.
“This surprised me greatly,” the Shouwang member wrote. “Perhaps this will be their approach from now on.”
In China, only churches officially registered as part of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement are considered legal. But registration places churches under the yoke of government regulations that restrict things like evangelism, Sunday School and baptizing teens and children.
Furthermore, says ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement is run by government-appointed leaders, many of whom are Communist Party members.
“[It] is nothing but a political organization with a religious uniform,” Fu said.
Shouwang Church has suffered for defying the government’s demands. Members attempting to gather for outdoor worship have been arrested for nine straight weeks: 160 the first week, about 50 the second week, approximately 40 the third week, about 30 the fourth week, 13 the fifth week, 20 the sixth week, 25 the seventh week, at least 20 the eighth week, and 14 the ninth week. It is not yet known how many were arrested Sunday, June 19. Most of the church’s 1,000 members are now under weekend house arrest, and all of its leaders have been confined to their homes for weeks. Some members have even lost their jobs or been evicted from their homes due to government pressure on employers and landlords.
“Even though we get tired, our God is a God who ‘neither sleeps nor slumbers’ and ‘gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak,'” the church said. “In this race, may we not look at our weakness and fatigue but rather keep our eyes always on the Lord Jesus Christ who is the author and finisher of our faith, believing that whatever perfect work He has begun will, at his appointed time, surely bear fruit.”
Shouwang Church says that, no matter what persecution it faces, it will only exalt Jesus as Lord.
“A half-century ago, these attempts came to nothing with those of the older generation who chose imprisonment rather than give up their principles; we believe that today these attempts will also come to nothing with our generation of Christian believers.”
John Evans is a freelance writer.