China (MNN) — Release International recently named China as a “key country of concern” in their 2018 Persecution Trends Report. The UK-based group monitors and supports persecuted Christians worldwide.
According to Release International, the Chinese government is planning to unveil a new set of regulations on religious affairs next month. These new regulations may give the government more control over state churches and tighten the pressure on unregistered churches.
China also recently grabbed international attention when the Golden Lampstand Church, an evangelical megachurch in the Shanxi Province, was demolished by military police. It was the latest in a string of oppressive movements by local governing officials to restrict and regulate spiritual life.
David Curry, President of Open Doors USA, says, “These kinds of incidents where China demolishes a church or tears down crosses, these kinds of things have been going on for a few years now.”
In the Golden Lampstand Church’s case, and the case of many other unregistered churches, the Chinese government says they had to be torn down because of zoning laws. But, Curry points out, “There are some problems with that line of thinking because nobody has zoning in this part of the world. So they’re using that as an excuse…. It’s a reason to pare back the growth of the Church in China.”
To be fair, China is a massive country holding one-fifth of the world’s population. So the oppression Christians in China face varies from region to region. Open Doors’ World Watch List ranks China at number 43 out of the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is the worst.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily an entirely centralized movement. That’s why it’s hard to pin this on the key government. This particular province has leadership that decided to tear [the Golden Lampstand Church] down. I would be surprised if this came from the central government in Beijing. So some areas have it more than others depending on the leadership in that region.”
Curry says a lot of the paranoia when it comes to religion in China can be boiled down to one thing: nationalism.
“The Chinese government in my opinion, and I think the data proves this, wants to make the movement of Jesus a national movement not unlike what you’ve seen in the Russian Orthodox Church becoming tied to the government of Russia.”
Christianity is viewed by the Chinese government as a Western religion. And in a country steeped heavily in Communist principles, any Western influence is considered a threat. So while China’s constitution allows for freedom of religion, in practice, permissible religion is regulated.
“I’ve heard the president of China say, in regards to the Catholic Church, ‘We would welcome more Catholics if only you would be more Chinese.’ That’s the message. So they’re not hiding the fact they want to bring the Chinese government’s agenda into the Christian movement.”
Believers around the world can pray that Christ alone will be head of the Chinese Church — and of our own churches.
“The ideal thing would be for us…to maintain the Christian movement in China as a spiritual movement. This is true not just of China. It’s true of Russia, it’s true of the United States, any place. This is not a political movement. It’s a movement to understand the words and the message of Jesus to live that in our daily lives.
“So we have to resist any sort of nationalization — whether it’s in Myanmar or China or anywhere else — of the Christian movement. It’s not God and country. It’s God. And that will make us good citizens of whatever country we come from. We’re first citizens of Heaven and I think that’s terribly important to understand.”
(Header photo courtesy of Open Doors)