1 October 2019
1 October 2019 is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The lavish celebrations marking the occasion mask the difficulties that many are facing in the country – particularly members of religious minorities. The government is taking further steps to tighten its control on these religious groups, spelled out in a new official document. The result? An unexpected growth in church leadership.
“Control of the church has long been high on the political agenda,” says Julie*, a local contact of Open Doors. “Since 2017 the government has been closing some large churches, and monitoring and putting pressure on pastors to limit church growth.” China rose significantly on the Open Doors World Watch List this year, from number 43 in 2018 to number 27 in 2019.
A believer in China
The new document, called ‘Measures for the Administration of Religious Groups’, puts forward further restrictions. It includes regulations on financial accounting of day-to-day operations and makes it harder for religious groups to be established. Regulations put in place in 2018 have already made the registering of a religious organisation, or establishing a place to meet, more difficult.
But we are hearing good news. Julie tells us that these obstacles are strengthening the faith of believers in China, and they are seeing spiritual growth in the face of persecution. “It’s like God is recalibrating the foundations of the church to prepare for a new season of growth,” she says.
The effect of this crack down is actually to increase the number of smaller churches. And that, in turn, has led to more and more people taking on church leadership roles. In such circumstances the support and training that Open Doors provides is vital.
“Now that increasing number of believers meet in small groups, the training of small group leaders who can disciple others has become crucial," adds Julie.
A long history of persecution
Julie has witnessed the highs and lows of the Chinese church. She can remember the situation 30 years ago, when Christians were violently persecuted and had to meet secretly in homes, village courtyards, fields and caves. During and after the Cultural Revolution, Christianity was portrayed as a Western superstition and Christians were decried as counter-revolutionaries opposed to the Communist ‘revolution’.
“Few Christians owned their own Bible so had to copy the Scriptures by hand,” Julie recalls. “People were very poor, but they risked their lives daily for the privilege of meeting together to worship. Healings, visions, prophecy and exuberant joy were common. It was like the Acts of the Apostles all over again!”
The current wave of persecution has seen some large churches closed, pastors closely monitored, police raids, beatings and imprisonment. Christians are often targeted because they are a large social force that is not controlled by the state. There are estimated to be almost 100 million Christians living in China – approximately seven per cent of the population.
Children under 18 are not permitted to attend church, and religion is banned from the public sphere. Teachers and medical staff have been pressured to sign documents saying they have no religious faith. In some regions, elderly people have been told that their pensions will be cut if they do not renounce their Christian faith.
“A mighty warrior”
Julie remains confident in God’s goodness in the face of tough times: “This new season of control and fearmongering has highlighted an overwhelming crisis that, I believe, is also an opportunity from which the church can springboard to a new season of revival.”
One of Julie’s colleagues wants to remind us of Jeremiah 20:11, which helps her pray for the Chinese church: “But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.” Amen!
Thanks to your support and prayers, Open Doors supports persecuted believers in China through training in discipleship, stewardship and how to face persecution, and by providing contextualised Christian literature. As one Chinese Uyghur Christian who received training from Open Doors said, "We almost gave up being a Christian witness. Your support will help us stay faithful to our calling."
Please support Christians in Asia
- Thank God that He is with Christians in China like a mighty warrior, and for the resilience of the church
- For the new season of revival that Julie predicts
- For the message of Christ to spread in China despite obstacles and restrictions.
*name changed for security reasons