China (MNN) — Those older than the Millennial generation can remember extreme Christian persecution in China during the Cultural Revolution. Mao Zedong, Former Chairman of the Communist Party in China, banned all religious activity with horrific consequences.
After the revolution ended in 1976, persecution started to go down. However, this year, The Voice of the Martyrs’ Todd Nettleton says Christian persecution in China has gotten worse again. Much worse.
“What we’re seeing in China is an increase in the level of persecution against house churches — or family churches as they call them — as well as registered churches.”
Control and the Communist Party
Nettleton explains, “As always with the Chinese Communist party leadership, the issue is control. The issue is where is your first loyalty? Is it to the Communist party? Or is it to Jesus Christ? If it’s to Jesus Christ, then you’re seen as a threat. You’re seen as dangerous to the Communist party leadership, so they are doing what they can to exert control and ultimate authority by the Communist party.”
Reports are coming out about Chinese churches being forced to take down crosses and display Chinese flags and pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Last month, 34 house churches in Beijing released a statement detailing the harassments they received at the hands of government officials.
Churches — even registered ones — have been forced to close in multiple provinces. Some congregations have been required by local government authorities to ban children from attending.
VOM shares a good relationship with ChinaAid as both ministries seek to encourage and advocate for the persecuted Church in China. Bob Fu, the president of ChinaAid, recently visited VOM’s offices and Nettleton says he shared this update from a Chinese pastor:
“The authorities came in [the pastor’s church] and said, ‘We’ll allow your church to continue meeting, but in order to do so, we want to put a facial recognition camera on your platform facing out at the congregation so we can monitor who is coming to church and who is here every week.’ The pastor flatly said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that,’ and the authorities said, ‘Okay, well then you can’t meet anymore.’
“We’re just seeing the level of control ratchet up by the government and the pressure against the Church get higher and higher.”
Outcome of Strict Religious Laws
The Chinese government implemented restrictive religious laws earlier this year requiring religious groups to get government approval for all religious activity, even in personal homes or in the pursuit of theological degrees.
President Xi has suggested that religious groups do not conform well to Communist ideals and are therefore a threat to the government. He has pushed for religions to become more “Chinese-oriented.”
Additionally, China dropped presidency term limits in February — the same month that stricter religious laws were implemented — which means Xi is now allowed to maintain his position as president indefinitely.
Nettleton says now with Christian persecution increasing, “It does seem to be connected to that. You know, we talked about that earlier this year when those laws came into effect. Okay, what does this mean? And the answer at that time was, ‘We don’t know yet. We will see how these laws are implemented.’ I think what we’re seeing is this is how they are being implemented. The Communist party, the Chinese government wants utter and complete control of all religious expression, all religious gatherings within the entire country and they are not satisfied with anything less than that.”
Rising Persecution New for Millennials, Post-Millennials
Christians are currently the largest group in Chinese society not controlled by the Communist government. Every week, the number of Chinese churches shut down or threatened is growing at a rate reminiscent of Christian persecution over four decades ago.
“We had some of our China experts on our VOM Radio podcast last month and they are comparing this to the Cultural Revolution. Now, not necessarily as bad as [the Cultural Revolution], but they are saying this is the worst we’ve seen it since the Cultural Revolution.
“So for the Church in China, they look at that and they say, ‘Wow, we’re about to face some things that, especially for the younger believers within the Church, they’ve never faced this before.’”
The Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, and the Millennial generation began around 1982. Young believers age 19 to 39 make up roughly 62 percent of the Chinese Church today, according to the Chinese Education Department.
For Millennial and post-Millennial Christians, this rising level of persecution in China is unprecedented in their lifetime.
“They look at this and think, ‘…How are we going to withstand this kind of pressure?’ They haven’t been through it so they haven’t seen the miracles that God will do on their behalf. They haven’t seen how God sustains Christians even through suffering. They haven’t experienced that firsthand yet.”
However, history attests to the fact that when God’s people come under attack, the Church only becomes stronger as true believers endure the testing of their faith. This is what we can pray for the Chinese Church.
“We need to really be on our knees asking God to sustain and support them…. Especially, pray for those young believers who are facing this kind of pressure and persecution for the first time.”
Nettleton also points out, “As the Bible says, pray for the persecutor. So we want to pray for Chinese officials to come to faith in Christ. We want to pray that they will have a change of heart towards the believers.
“The other thing that we can do and should do is have a voice on behalf of our Chinese brothers and sisters. That includes [being] a voice to our own government. We trade with China. We have interactions at the government level with China and we want religious freedom to be a part of all of those discussions.”
Click here for more ways you can support the Church in China with Voice of the Martyrs!
(Header photo courtesy of ChinaAid)