Less than 200 years after Christ’s death on the cross, Tertullian wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
The truth of that statement is being proven once again in China.
Persecution against the Christian underground church in China’s central Henan province has increased greatly since the implementation of China’s revised Religious Affairs Regulations on February 1.
But so has defiance.
“It’s a blessing to go to prison,” says Rev. C., “to suffer for Jesus.”
The comment came in a Time article that did not fully identify Rev. C., to protect his identity. The article, Guerrillas for God: How Hong Kong’s Pastors Are Delivering the Message to China’s Christians, points out the increasing difficulty in carrying out that mission under new Chinese laws governing religion, specifically Christianity.
According to ChinaAid, who spoke to local Christians in Luoyang, Henan, communist officials in the area have hired local gangs to break into churches and gathering places. In the attacks, they have broken doors and windows, as well as confiscated seats and religious books. Additionally, large numbers of church attendees and pastors have been kidnapped and detained by unidentified men while preaching.
In another report, officials demolished a tile in a Christian household that had “Emmanuel” written on it.
And still others claim the local public security bureaus and religious affairs bureaus have started targeting house church members with threats and fines since early February.
A new initiative in Nanyang, Henan, explicitly forbids any kind of religious gatherings in people’s homes. Anyone caught attending or hosting meetings outside of a registered religious venue will be subject to a fine of 30,000 yuan (U.S. $4,700). All Christians in the area are ordered to join an officially registered church.
Concern over the crackdown is evident on the blogs of Western missionaries. Ben and and his family (last name not given) are serving in mainland China. In his last two blog posts he writes about overcoming fear. His blog from March 7 ended with these words:
“What are we holding onto that we are afraid to lose? Our jobs, our stuff, our rights, our families, our lives—all of these things are examples of things we hold onto more than the Savior. Most often, the deepest level we have is the fear of loss. What we must remember is that we need to be willing to lose all for Christ and His cause. He told us that those who will lose their lives for His sake and the Gospel’s, would find it.”
Phil Martin, with Gospel to China, is a missionary in Northeast China. He wrote on his blog in early February:
“This was the first time we tried to go to an unregistered house church service in Changchun. One visit and one incident with the police. The police were specifically checking for foreign involvement. This suggests 1) the situation here is tense, 2) going to Chinese House Churches leads to persecution, 3) trying to attend causes trouble for the Chinese believers, 4) long term goals are risked by one simple visit to a church, and 5) the police are very closely watching for foreign involvement. From this perspective, we are lucky that nothing worse happened.”
The crackdown is also targeting mission groups that train Chinese pastors. Since proselytizing is forbidden on the mainland, many missionaries have set up operations in Hong Kong where there is greater freedom and religious liberty. Hong Kong has become a central hub for short-term theological intensives, distance Bible seminaries and networking conventions, but the government is now cracking down on those too.
“According to the new regulations, believers from mainland China are forbidden to attend unauthorized overseas religious conferences or training, or serious penalties will be imposed. Hong Kong is part of the overseas areas,” says Bob Fu, president and founder of China Aid. And while China’s house churches were previously barred from “foreign affiliations,” any religiously motivated trips abroad since the new policy must be vetted by Beijing.
In spite of the crackdown, or perhaps because of it, the Chinese church continues to grow. As the Time article points out, “Yet paradoxic, the more severe the persecution, the more people are drawn to Christianity.”
“By clamping down on it, the Communist Party has multiplied it,” Carsten Vala, chair of the political science department at Loyola University, told Time. “Protestants have arguably created the most sustained structural challenges to the Chinese Communist Party’s ordering of society.”
Rev. C. predicts that soon 20-25 percent of China could be Christian. At that point, he says, “the Communist Party will not be able to handle it. With Christianity [there will be] morals, ethics, just laws and a will to enforce it. Only Christianity can change this country.”
And undoubtedly, that is the government’s biggest fear.