RLPB 483. China: The CCP’s War on Religion Heats Up
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 483 | Wed 12 Dec 2018
CHINA: THE CCP’S WAR ON RELIGION HEATS UP
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) strikes Chengdu’s Early Rain Covenant Church
— by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
Generally it is the case that when serious persecution flares, the persecuted will strategically retreat ‘underground’ and endeavour to continue their ministry in secret. This is a totally legitimate response, rooted in the premise that as ‘sheep in the midst of wolves’, we must be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16 ESV). Sometimes God calls individuals and even whole churches to resist the oppressor as did the apostles Peter and John in Acts 4:18-20. This too is a totally legitimate response which exposes evil by drawing it out into the light, albeit at the cost of one’s own life or liberty. Both responses are legitimate; both are used by God. Each is a calling and should not cause division.
Located in Chengdu, the capital city of China’s south-western Sichuan Province, Early Rain Covenant Church has ‘about 500 followers but their weekly gatherings spread across 12 meeting points around Chengdu, attracting more than 800 church-goers on a weekly basis’. Unregistered on principle, Early Rain Covenant Church is committed to open ministry, irrespective of circumstances. [See interview with June Cheng, World Magazine (May 2016).] Undeterred by the escalating persecution or the new Religious Affairs Regulations [see Religious Liberty Monitoring (25 Jan 2018)], Early Rain has continued to operate openly. It conducts unregistered worship services, prayer meetings and Bible studies, as well as running its unregistered Covenant Reformed School (which caters for some 40 primary school students) and Covenant Seminary (with some 100 students). It has also continued to evangelise openly in the street and publish sermons on-line. Its policy is best summed up in its ‘Guide for Churches’ (May 2018): ‘The highest law of the Christian is the Bible. Any law that contradicts the Bible we will disobey by non-violent methods.’ As you might imagine, Early Rain church poses a serious problem for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Some 200 Early Rain members were arrested in a crackdown in May. While all were released within 24 hours, the church was put on notice, warned that if it refused to comply with CCP regulations then it would be closed down by the end of the year. Alarmed by the escalating persecution, Early Rain church leaders organised a petition. Entitled, A Joint Statement by Pastors: A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith, the petition was published on-line on 30 August with 198 signatures; top of the list was Early Rain’s Pastor Wang Yi (45, a former legal scholar). By 5 September the list had grown to 439 signatures, leading observers to question if this might mark ‘a significant moment in the country’s Church and State relations’. Then, on Saturday 8 December — with persecution soaring to levels unseen in decades — Pastor Wang Yi published a 7300-word manifesto on social media entitled ‘Meditations on the Religious War’, in which he condemns the CCP, likens President Xi to Caesar and Pharaoh, and urges Christians to embrace civil disobedience.
On Sunday 9 December Chinese police fanned out across the city of Chengdu. At around 6pm they snatched the church’s cameraman from off the street outside the church. Then, in co-ordinated lightning raids throughout the night, they broke into the homes and workplaces of Early Rain members. By 9pm the church’s phone line had been cut and members’ social media channels were blocked. Police pressured members to sign a document agreeing to never again visit Early Rain Covenant Church, which it labelled an ‘evil cult’. More than 100 members and key church leaders, including Pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong, were arrested for refusing to sign. Assistant deacon Zhang Guoqing is one of two church members released on Monday morning. He is essentially under house arrest, watched around the clock by ‘security personnel’ posted in his home.
Elder Li Yingqiang, who ditched his phone and fled when he heard the police were coming, was the sole Early Rain church elder to escape arrest that night. He spoke to World Magazine’s June Cheng: ‘Pray that God would give us the courage and the strength to deal with this persecution,’ he said. ‘That those [in detention] would be a good witness, and that the church members wouldn’t compromise, but instead … they would know God is real and that He will protect them.’ China Aid (CAA) reports that Elder Li Yingqiang was subsequently arrested on 11 December. As CAA founder Bob Fu notes, ‘Many house churches have been closed this year in China’s harshest religious suppression in decades.’ [That includes Beijing’s 1600-strong Zion Church; see RLPB 474 (26 Sep).] Fu believes the attack on ‘Early Rain Covenant Church represents a major escalation of religious persecution in China’.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT
* the Holy Spirit will be powerfully and palpably present with all Early Rain members arrested in recent days; may they be sustained by God’s presence, assured of God’s love, filled with God’s wisdom and gifted with God’s words.
‘You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.’ (Matthew 10:18-20 ESV)
* God in mercy will restrain cruel and angry hands, and in grace use the witness of believers to bring conviction of sin, liberating truth and the light of life into China’s dark and secret places.
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5 ESV).
* all China’s anxious, fearful, incarcerated and ‘disappeared’ believers will experience the sustaining reality of God’s ‘everlasting arms’, especially over the coming Christmas season … remembering in particular the severely persecuted (tortured) and ‘disappeared’ Christian lawyer, our brother, Gao Zhisheng.
‘There is none like God, O Jeshurun [Israel], who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’ (Deut 33:26-27 ESV)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY’S WAR ON RELIGION HEATS UP
Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu city, Sichuan Province, is committed to open ministry irrespective of circumstances. Though unregistered and under pressure, the church has continued to worship openly, run a school and seminary, conduct street evangelism and publish sermons on-line. Undeterred by arrests and threats, Pastor Wang Yi (45) openly continues to challenge Communist Party policy. On Sunday evening 9 December police launched co-ordinated lightning raids on the homes and workplaces of Early Rain members, pressuring them to sign a document agreeing to never again visit Early Rain Covenant Church, which it labelled an ‘evil cult’. Over 100 members and key church leaders were arrested for refusing to sign. Two have since been released. Chinese prisons are cruel; violence is routine and normal. Please pray for China and its Christians.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).