House Churches in China Under Increasing Threat

by Erin Roach

China's ministry of civil affairs has issued a statement calling for the elimination of the Chinese House Church Alliance, according to reports circulated by China Aid Association and Voice of the Martyrs, a move some say "could well cause the abolishment of all the Christian house churches" in the communist country.

"It has been found through investigations that the Chinese House Church Alliance' is not registered, and it engages in activities in the name of a social organization without authorization," the statement, which includes the official seal of the ministry of civil affairs, said. "... This agency has hereby made the decision to abolish the Chinese House Church Alliance.'"

The alliance, led by Pastor "Bike" Zhang Mingxuan, was established in 2005 and has been engaging in Christian missionary work and charity activities, according to the U.S-based China Aid Association Dec. 9.

News of the crackdown follows harsh rhetoric by Zhou Yongkang, the leader of the Central Political and Legislative Committee within the Communist Party, who in recent months called for "extraordinary measures to be taken against house churches." News reports did not indicate whether the two occurrences were directly linked.

"The Chinese House Church Alliance has always abided by principles of serving the church, being committed to the society, being concerned about public interests and engaging in activities in accordance with law,'" a declaration against the abolishment, signed by 15 Christian legal professionals in China, said. The declaration added that the Alliance conforms to the Chinese constitution which states, "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of profession and of demonstration."

"All types of gatherings by house churches and Christians are the basic form of expression of the Christian belief and should not be subject to unjust restriction or deprivation," the legal professionals wrote. "If this order of abolishment continues to be used in other expanded areas, this could well cause the abolishment of all the Christian house churches."

China Aid reported that Zhang, who has been imprisoned repeatedly for preaching the Gospel, was detained by four officers in Henan province Nov. 28. Authorities demanded that he sign the ministry's statement, but he refused. On the same day, Zhangs wife and 17 other Christians-including an American reporter-who were worshiping in Zhang's home also were detained. Government officials confiscated Bibles and personal property and later released the Christians, China Aid said.

On Dec. 4, Zhang and his attorney went to file an administrative statement of complaint against the government's decision to abolish the House Church Alliance, but the local court declined to accept the case. Court officials denied that a legal document had been issued regarding the churches, China Aid said, noting that "this is a tactic used by government officials to protect government interests and to delay responsible actions on this case."

Zhang's oldest son was brutally beaten by Chinese government officials in October when he tried to intervene in the officials' harassment of his mother. The son's right eye was severely wounded, his nose and eye bone were broken, and he was unconscious for a time. An update on his status was not available on the China Aid website.

Meanwhile, China Aid released an update on Shi Weihan, the Christian bookstore owner who has been imprisoned since March for distributing Bibles and other literature. No charges have been filed against him, and Chinese law permits the government to hold him up to three years without charges, China Aid said.

"Recently friends of China Aid visited Christian prisoner Shi Weihan's family and reported to China Aid about the family's situation and ongoing persecution by the Chinese government," the Dec. 9 news release said. "Shi Weihan suffers from diabetes and has lost a considerable amount of weight in prison, but since China Aid's last report in September, he appears to be in better health and receiving his medication.

"Friends report that he continues to lead fellow prisoners to the Lord," China Aid said.

The watchdog group said U. S. President Bush is personally aware of Shi's case and has requested periodic updates on his status. Also, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing has expressed concern over Shi and Zhang, and the U.S. Department of State mentioned Zhang by name in a news release Oct. 23.

"We are concerned about a pattern of intimidation of religious freedom and rule of law advocates and their family members," the state department said. "We urge China to honor those international human rights instruments to which it is a signatory that protect the rule of law, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion."

Baptist Press

Erin Roach is a Baptist Press staff writer.

2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad