China Wants the House Church to Vanish
By Gina Goh
05/15/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In the 2018 superhero film Avengers: Infinity War, when the villain Thanos snaps his fingers with the preeminent Infinity Gauntlet, half of the world vanishes, leaving an “ideal world” for the 50% who survive the snap.
Today, in the non-fiction world, Beijing wants to follow suit and make all of the unregistered churches in China vanish, so that only the state-sanctioned Three-Self churches remain.
The census published by the communist regime in 2018 states that there are nearly 40 million Christians in China. Given the discrete nature of underground churches, some experts believe that the actual number of Christians falls between 80 million and 100 million.
This number concerns Beijing. It nearly surpasses the 89 million member Chinese Communist Party (CCP). A clash of ideology is bound to happen – Your Party is your God versus one loving and just God, Sino-centrism versus “evil foreign influence,” and socialism versus universal principles.
On top of that, CCP cannot afford to see its regime threatened by any mass of people it feels like it cannot control, even if the latter has no intention to overthrow the Party. Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, and Uyghur Muslims alike inevitably become thorns in their eyes.
Since President Xi came to power in 2013, he has deliberately targeted Christians from the underground church, oppressing them with harassment, threats, imprisonment, and torture, while trying to ensure that the state-sanctioned churches remain loyal.
Last month, according to credible sources, Beijing initiated a new campaign against house churches called “Return to Zero.” The goal is to “dismantle the scale [of churches], dissolve the organization, and dismiss the church.”
“Since President Xi came to power in 2013, he has deliberately targeted Christians from the underground church, oppressing them with harassment, threats, imprisonment, and torture, while trying to ensure that the state-sanctioned churches remain loyal.”
The campaign is supervised by the Central Leading Group for Inspection Work, a coordination body set up under the Central Committee of the CCP for the purpose of managing party disciplinary inspections nationwide. Public Security is responsible for striking out illegal activities; the Sub-district Office is responsible for prevention and safety, while the Religious Bureau’s main task is to absorb house churches into Three-Self churches.
The campaign is scheduled to finish on May 20, in preparation for a nationwide conference in mid-June, where leaders of religious bureaus from different provinces convene to exchange their experiences. The government’s ultimate goal is to implement the “Return to Zero” campaign across the country in the next two years, while eliminating Christianity from public sphere.
On April 23, Zaidao Church in Beijing from the China Gospel Fellowship (CGF), a large house church network, was visited by officials from the Haidian District Ethnic and Religious Bureau, State Security, and Xueyuan Road Sub-district office. They demanded that the church join the local Three-Self church. If the church refuses, they were directed to contact Three-Self church Haidian Church and participate in a security training and stop using the name Zaidao Church by renaming themselves “Beijing Rongyu Building Gathering Place.” They were also asked to reduce the scale of their church.
If the church fails to fulfill these requests, they will face the same fate as two other prominent Beijing house churches – Shouwang Church and Zion Church – where thousands of their members have been banned from gathering and subject to harassment and surveillance from local authorities.
A Christian scholar based in Beijing told ICC, “So far, there have been churches across the country that were oppressed with different tactics by local government, with the aim to force them to join Three-Self, or cease their activities. Those who refuse will be banned, or have to shut down their churches.”
“For those large networks of house churches, the government’s attitude is to firmly strike and destroy them. For instance, CGF is their current prime target,” he added.
He said whether or not the government’s goal of dispersing all churches will succeed is too early to tell. However, the authorities are determined to follow through on their actions, leaving no room for negotiation. They will not use violent measures this time, since their primary goal is to shut down gathering places or merge house churches into Three-Self churches.
This “ideal world” of theirs, should be countered by our fervent prayers for our brothers and sisters in China.
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