China (MNN) – There’s been a lot of noise lately about the rising persecution of Christians taking place in parts of China, including the destruction of multiple churches in the last several months. While the lives of Chinese believers may look grim in some places, Bibles for China’s James St. John says oppression is not the story for all Christians in the nation. Many are worshipping the name of Jesus freely.
St. John says there are two defining factors for Christians who are persecuted and those who aren’t. These are based on location and if their church is underground or legally registered with the state. These factors have created a wide range of relationships between the underground Church, the state Church, and the government.
“When it comes to China and dealing with religious issues, a lot of those are very local,” St. John says. “Changing of leadership on a local level, many times changes policies or changes the enforcement of policies. Some people are much more conservative – and when I say conservative, I mean they’re more hardline.”
Laws are interpreted differently in China, depending on the area. For example, rural areas are a toss-up. Sometimes religious laws are strictly enforced, other times not so much. In provinces, counties, and villages that enforce laws more strictly, we have seen most of the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities arise.
Persecution of the Underground Church in China
Persecution of the underground Church is the most frequent oppression we see of believers in China.
We recently shared about the Golden Lampstand, an unregistered megachurch in Shanxi Province which was demolished by officials on January 9th. The Church had around 50,000 people in attendance and was started in 2009. There have been continuous assaults from officials and arrests of church leaders and founders.
“This was an underground church that disguised this property initially as a warehouse,” St. John says. “With a congregation that large and being there without permission, or without the clearances that the local government required, I hate to say it’s kind of one of those it’s only a matter of time that something like this might happen… Obviously, I don’t want a group of believers [to] suffer the loss of the place where they gather and that kind of thing, but it’s a reality in many places in China that this is happening and it’s unfortunate.”
Persecution of State Run Churches in China
While the Golden Lampstand was an underground Church, state Churches have also felt the sting of persecution.
“Even where there is a great relationship between the government and these believers in the official presence of the Church, those things happen,” St. John says.
An example of this showed in late December. A Catholic state-run Church in Zhifang was destroyed. Church Militant reports the Church had the needed permits, was approved by the government, and had a permanent permit to the land. Yet authorities still went forward with the demolition of the building that’d been erected in 1999.
St. John shares the example of another Church in western China. It was destroyed on January 15. However, the demolition of this Church was due to new construction and the Church leaders were warned three years in advance.
“The government was expanding a huge economic zone. Everything was being basically leveled to make room for what they considered progress to build high rises and that kind of thing… It wasn’t just the Church [being demolished]. It was huge areas of properties that were all being basically leveled to make room for the construction.”
This shows that not all destruction of churches is solely based on religious oppression. While government officials in certain areas are oppressing members of the Church because of their faith, officials in other areas of China are celebrating them.
Working out of Faith
There are some areas “where government officials [are] excited about this group of believers being in their city because they’ve seen that they’re making a huge difference in their society.” In these cases, authorities are often seeing Christians from the official Chinese Church “working out their faith.”
St. John notes the work of believers several years back after severe earthquakes hit. These Christians were the first ones on the scene to begin offering aid and medical support. Through their work, they also encouraged those hurting by sharing the truth of Jesus.
Local government officials were so impressed with the work being done, a positive relationship quickly formed and opened new doors of ministry and medical work to the believers. The government gave them permission to construct two hospitals where they could share openly about their faith. They call them ‘Gospel Hospitals’.
The officials continue to be supportive of the believers’ work because of how they work out of their faith. St. John says there are other places around the nation sharing similar paths of strong relationships between officials and the Church.
While religious oppression and freedom in China may be subject to location, the growing hunger for God is not. It is rapidly spreading around the nation and more people are coming to Christ.
How Bibles for China is Responding
As this growth of the Church continues, God has created even more opportunities for Bibles for China to work. In 2018, the ministry will be entering new areas of the nation to further distribute God’s Word with permission from the government.
“There is one thing that we can do that we can make sure that the believers that we have an opportunity to go into these churches and facilitate placing the Word of God into their hands, and we know that when they take that home that it’s making a difference not only in their churches. It’s making a difference in their home and their growth as disciples,” St. John shares.
Their work in giving the Bible to each believer is helping the rapid growth of the Church. St. John saw proof of this when he recently traveled to a new location Bibles for China is working in. He witnessed the baptism of 13 believers who were fired up for the Gospel.
“There was such joy among these people having placed their faith in Jesus Christ, and those folks need our prayers.”
How to Get Involved
Bibles for China invites you to pray for the Church in China and their efforts to give each member a Bible. Pray for believers who have lost their Church building to be encouraged by Jesus. Pray for those who are persecuted in different areas of China to have faith that God is with them.
The Church in China is growing and it needs your help to flourish. Will you step forward and work out of faith? You can do this by providing tangible encouragement to a believer in the form of a Bible. All it costs is $5, the price of your favorite latte.