China (MNN) ― US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brought several sensitive issues to light in China this week.
While its economic recovery is strong, she urged China to match that strength in political reform. That would also mean embracing religious freedom.
It has long been known the Chinese government has been trying to stamp out the underground house church movement. Officials treat it the same as the cult movement of the Falun Gong.
In 1999, Beijing banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement after 10,000 followers demanded official recognition of their faith.
China also forbids organized worship outside designated religious organizations and frowns on many Tibetan Buddhist practices it sees as superstition.
Open Doors' Jerry Dykstra says, "Their interpretation of freedom and what is actually going on right now that we know of are two different things. So, the more attention that we can bring to the house church Christians, I think will help them, perhaps change their minds and relax some of the restrictions on the house church."
On March 1st, the communist government instituted a new law governing religion in China. In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, it is clearly in the government's interests to stabilize the situation by encouraging these house churches to register.
The new regulations apparently allow churches to register directly with the government rather than with the Three Self Patriotic Movement. If Beijing Christians succeed in registering while maintaining their independence from the TSPM, other urban house churches may follow their example.
But, an older generation of house church leaders view the TSPM as a tool of the Communist Party. As a result, they are less likely to register. The issue is control, and whether or not the government will try to control and infiltrate churches.
In spite of that, Dykstra says the impact of Rice's visit will hopefully result in better conditions for the underground church. "We're launching a really impactful project this year. It's called the 'Lighthouse Project-China'. The goal is to provide 3.5 million study Bibles, commentaries, hymnals and other resources for the house churches in the rural communities."
While Bibles are available in urban areas, there is still a growing need for God's Word in rural areas where house churches are growing. Pray that through these materials and training programs, Open Doors can make a difference and help fellow believers be a Lighthouse in their country.