Update – Beijing “house church” news comments

Singapore Straits Times dated April 4 2011 reported :

Beijing – Tears flowed at one of Beijing’s biggest “home churches” yesterday as some 300 Chinese Christians prayed on the last Sunday before they face eviction from their makeshift place of worship, pressed by officials wary about religion outside of their grip.

The Shouwant Church with about 1000 members, is one of the biggest Protestant congregtations in Beijing that has operated and expanded outside the confines of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s religious affairs authorities, which register and oversee churches.

But the party is wary about any potential unrest, and this gathering of neat middle-class and student Christians has been told by its landlord it can no longer worship at the Old Story Restaurant, which has walls lined with photographs of party leaders shaking hands with United States presidents.

Church leaders warned that unless the church can find a new home, its members may be forced to worship outdoors, a risky step in this nation, where big gatherings often attract official scrutiny and can be broken up by police.

Said Pastor Jin Tianming to the worshippers about the prospect of worshipping outdoors : “This is the cross the church has to bear.” Some of them wiped tears from their faces.

“We need formal approval from the authorities to allow us to find an indeer meeting place. If not, we will not waver in worshipping outdoors.”

Members of the chruch told Reuters they did not see themselves as political activists or foes of the government. But the pressures they face show the extent of China’s recent crackdown on dissent and potential sources of unrest.

Said veteran pastor You Guanhui to the congregation about the possibility of gathering at a public palce: “Some people may face being caught, may have to stand trial or may even be sentenced.”

China as arrested and detained dozens after online calls for a pro-democracy “Jasmine Revolution”.

In recent years, restrictions on house churches across the country have eased, allowing them to grow and settle. These churches started as Bible-study groups that grew into large congregations, sparking ruling party fears that they could undermine its grip. But those fears had eased in many areas in recent years, and many such churches are now much bigger than a normal house can fit.

There are 40 to 60 million Protestants in China, divided between official and unregistered churches, according to Dr Carsten Vala, a Loyola University Maryland-based professor who specializes in Chinese Christians.

The eviction is the latest chapter in a long series of restrictions on the Shouwant Chruch, which started in a rented apartment in 1993. When pressed to register with the Administration for Religious Affairs, it declined, said Mr Cao Zhi, a church member in his 30’s.

“Traditionally, home churches haven’t been willing to register, because the church is considered to belong to God” he said.

Reuters

Let us pray for His protection for Christians in house churches who continue to serve the Lord in spirit and truth.

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2 Responses to Update – Beijing “house church” news comments

  1. Pingback: Do you belong to an organic church? What is organic church?

  2. ptl2010 says:

    This weekend especially pray for the underground church in china.

    In The Singapore Straits Times dated April 8, 2011
    Underground churches in China fear crackdown.
    by Grace Ng, China Correspondent.

    Beijing – An impending clash between one of Beijing’s largest underground churches and the Chinese authorities this weekend is sending jitters through Christian congregations across the country.
    The Shouwang Church plans to start hollding is Sunday service outdoors following its eviction from rented premises. If it goes ahead, its action will be an open challenge to the government, which frowns on such open gatherings.
    The experience of the 1000 strong church is similar to that faced by many other house churches in China, whose congregations can no longer fit into homes and have to rent large premises.
    “We are afraid that after Shouwang, other churches with several hundred members may be targeted next,” said a pastor who gave his name only as Sun.
    In Shanghai, a pastor who gave his name only as John said his congregation is “safe but alert.”
    “The leaders have reminded the church to be careful not to do anything that may give the authorities an excuse to restrict us, ” said a member of the 50-strong congregation in Beijing who wanted to be known only as Ms Zhang.
    “This includes not singing hymns too loudly in case neighbours complain,” the middle-aged white-collar worker added.
    Some churches are now more discreet when sharing the gospel with non-believers, and make sure their congregations split up and meet in smaller groups of fewer than 100 in different locations.
    The five churches in Beijing and Shanghai The Straits Times contacted are also watching the outcome of Shouwang’s move – its second since November 2009, when 800 members met in a park during a snowstorm.
    It would give an indication of whether the government is about to embark on a widespread crackdown on house churches and other unregistered social groups.
    Some observers have suggested that the governmnet is targeting Shouwang and two other churches in southern Guangzhou as part of its clampdown on dissidents and unregistered groups. This comes in the wake of calls in February for nationwide protests modelled after those in the Middle East.
    It also comes two weeks before Good Friday and Easter, when churches make annual trips to the outskirts of cities for meetings to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his resurrection.
    There are about 50 million Protestants in China, in official and unregistered churches. The latter have been targeted by the authorities in the past few decades, sometimes in violent ways.
    In recent years, however, most Christian gorups have been tolerated as long as they remain small and low-key.

    Shouwang said it intendes to hold outdoor meetings every week until Christmas as it has “no other choice”. It was to start renting a film studio this week after its previous lease at a restaurant expired, but the new landlord was pressured by the authorities to break the lease.
    The church said it will go back indoors only when the government gives formal reassurance that it would be allowed to find and lease a new indoor location.
    In addition, the authorities must give the church access to its own building, which it had bought in 2009 for 27 million yuan (S$5m) but had been barred from entering.
    There has been some opposition to this decision to worship outdoors from a small number of Shouwang members.
    But Shouwang pastor Jin Tianming said “the church will not split up”.
    Chinese University of Hong Kong divinity professor Ying Fuk Tsang said bigger, high-profile house churches such as Shouwang may have come under pressure because they want official recognition.
    Smaller congregations have not been touched so far, he said. “I think Shouwang is an isolated case.There is unlikely to be widespread pressure from the government on house hcurches in general.”
    Meanwhile Shouwang’s leadership has told members not to retaliate or behave emotionally if arrested or prevented from attending the service.

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