China (MNN) — One of the largest evangelical churches in China was completely demolished in a shocking government campaign on January 9th. Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi Province has been around for nearly a decade with 50,000 congregants. But it wasn’t registered with the Chinese government.
“It’s an unregistered church, but it was completely paid for by many of the Christians there,” reports Anthony Rhodes with Voice of the Martyrs Canada. “The church has a history of being persecuted by government officials and state police in that area…. Previously, there were harassments and some of their leaders were arrested and interrogated.”
Then, last Tuesday, officers of the People’s Armed Police went to the Golden Lampstand Church and announced because it was an unregistered church building, it would be demolished.
“They actually cleared the church of the congregants and put dynamite in the church and blew the church up. They actually blew up the building and completely destroyed the church. There’s video footage of this happening, and then you see many of the workers cleaning up the rubble and bulldozing what was left of this church.”
Although the Global Times, a Chinese state newspaper, says the church’s destruction was part of “a city-wide campaign to remove illegal buildings”, Communist China regularly seeks to restrict and regulate spiritual life in the country. The Communist Party views Christianity as a Western religion and, ultimately, a threat to its authority.
Rhodes says, “It’s very disturbing. We’ve seen in China before churches bulldozed and torn down or maybe they’re taking down church steeples or some of the crosses that are in the building. But such a demolition of a church building of that size, it’s concerning.”
Golden Lampstand Church was one of two churches demolished last week. The Chinese government has also removed crosses and steeples from church buildings.
According to ChinaAid, new religious regulations will be established in China next month. Many believers are worried this could lead to more church demolitions like this one.
While some people may think the easy solution is just to register the unregistered churches, there are several reasons why churches avoid registering with the Chinese government. In fact, out of the estimated 60 million Christians in China, around half of them attend unregistered churches, according to The New York Times.
“Churches don’t register because [if they do,] they will have to comply with government interference and they’re told what they can teach from the Bible [and] what they cannot teach. It’s really strong government control in churches that are registered. So unregistered churches, they recognize that Christ is the head of the Church and they want to stay true to what the Bible teaches and have the freedom and the ability to teach that to their congregants.”
Rhodes says it seems the strategy of the Chinese government is to isolate and control the Church. Part of that also includes controlling what the government calls “foreign influence”, meaning missionaries.
“So, for example, we’ve seen South Korean missionaries expelled from China in staggering numbers, being kicked out of the country and told they cannot return. So it is an attempt to isolate the Chinese Church from the rest of the Body of Christ.”
Nevertheless, Voice of the Martyrs Canada serves as a connection point between believers in China and the global Church.
“We will seek to be able to give them resources, things that they need to be able to continue to minister within China…. Christians in Canada can come alongside Voice of the Martyrs Canada or other organizations that work on behalf of Chinese Christians to help provide Chinese Christians the tools they need to fulfill and carry out the Gospel mandate within China.”
Rhodes shares, “What Chinese Christians need to recognize the most is that they are not cut off from the Body of Christ, that Christians around the world are praying for them, that Christians around the world remember them, that Christians around the world don’t see them as just the Church in China but see them as vital members of the Body of Christ.”
Worthy of Suffering for Jesus
Often when religious freedoms are violated and persecution situations spotlighted, Christians are quick to jump to advocacy and justice for those wronged. Rhodes says, “There have been calls for Christians to voice their concern or even in some cases their outrage over the fact that a government is destroying a church. And I agree, there is a time and place for Christians in Canada to write their local MPs, to write Chinese embassies, to write government officials and to advocate for Chinese Christians that are being persecuted.
“But I want to put a different spin on it. I want to say that maybe we should also take time to rejoice that the Chinese Church has been found worthy to suffer for Christ.
“You know, we see that in the Bible that when the apostles were arrested, when they were thrown in prison, when they were beaten — and we see in Church history when church leaders faced the same things — that they rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer for Christ.”
In light of this reflection, please pray with the Church in China.
“We can pray for the Golden Lampstand Church, for the 50,000 Christian that were affected by the destruction of this church, that in the midst of this persecution that they would continue to rejoice and know again that they serve a God in Heaven; and what the enemy has meant for evil, God will turn to good and God will use it for his glory.”
(Header image screenshot courtesy of ChinaAid)