The Chinese Church is standing on the threshold of major persecution. China has around 115 million Protestant Christians, less than 30 million of whom attend CCP-approved churches.
Background to China
Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution led to the deaths of 45 million Chinese people between 1958 and 1961. Dissent within the Chinese Communist Party was suppressed, indoctrinated youths purged society of 'closet capitalists'; books were burned; intellectuals were incarcerated or killed; churches were confiscated and bulldozed; foreign missionaries were expelled or executed; Chinese pastors were murdered or condemned to decades in labour camps and coal mines.
Despite severe persecution, the church remained committed to mission and God opened hearts to the Gospel. In 1989 the Tiananmen Square massacre aroused an interest in Christianity among lawyers, academics and entrepreneurs. Rapid church growth, estimated at 100 million by the turn of the century, occurred without foreign missionaries, making Christianity an indigenous movement.
President Xi Jinping was elected in 2013. Xi’s goal is to transform China into a superpower to cement the power of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and his role as leader into perpetuity.
It seems that now he is laying the foundation for a new cultural revolution. He is tightening his control, promoting Marxist solidarity as China's only defense against foreign infiltration.
New administrative measures for religious groups were announced by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in December 2019.
These measures are designed to eliminate all unregistered house churches, forcing them to either become part of the CCP system or go underground, risking severe penalties. They mandate that all religious activities must be registered with, guided, supervised and managed by the Religious Affairs Department under the control of the CCP.
Under President Xi, repression and persecution of legal, CCP-approved churches has escalated. For the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), it started with the removal of pastors who criticised CCP policies. Since then, interference and harassment has escalated.
TSPM churches have been forced to remove crosses and Bible texts in churches and replace them with portraits of Xi and pro-CCP slogans. In mid-2019, Beijing determined that, to stem the rapid growth of Christianity, it had to reduce the number of churches. Multitudes of TSPM churches are now being closed and repurposed. Christians will have to choose between total absorption into CCP structures, or illegal, high-risk secret meetings amidst Cultural Revolution-style persecution.
CCP authorities also seem to be concerned that evidence of their persecution will tarnish their image abroad. But in today’s world, it is very hard to cover up all evidence of human rights abuses.
In the light of human rights abuses, I think that Australia needs to rethink the lease of rich agricultural land, the Port of Darwin and other facilities to China without the knowledge or consent of the Australian people. This represents a betrayal of trust -- which is at last, being addressed.
Hong Kong is home to 850,000 Christians (12.4 percent of the population), some 1,500 churches and 35 Bible Colleges. It has often been seen as a springboard for evangelizing in China and a vital nerve centre for Christian media. Hong Kong's loss of freedom will therefore be a massive blow to the Church in China.
On 22 May China's Premier, Li Keqiang, announced that the National People's Congress would write national security legislation into Hong Kong law, bypassing - 'and thus fatally neutering' – Hong Kong's Legislative Council. This effectively ends "One Country, Two Systems" agreement in Hong Kong.
The amendment creates fear that Hong Kong Christians cannot go into China for mission. Hong Kong Christians have been arrested in China and accused of trumped up charges, simply because the Chinese government can.
At the moment the Hong Kong government allows religious gatherings without having to obtain a permit from the police. This is one thing which could be at stake in the future.
Christians in Hong Kong are also experiencing a crisis of conscience about protest. They have generally kept a low profile and not drawn attention to themselves. But it is becoming clear that issues of concern about social justice issues may force them to act and risk consequences. It seems that Christians have two choices: firstly, whether to conduct any protest or action using non-violent methods and secondly to be prepared to bear the legal consequences of breaking the law as a just response to an unjust situation.
The need for prayer
A heads-up: Sunday 1 November is the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church. I’m hoping there may be guidelines published about the issues that desperately need prayer around the world. But if not, my recent articles have given a lot of fuel for prayer.
In the meantime, we can lift China and Hong Kong to the throne of grace. As happened after the Tiananmen Square massacre, may there be a renewed interest in Christian life and the transforming truth of His Word as people see the CCP removing crosses and otherwise repressing Christians.
Many Christians in China and around the world are being forced to deny their faith to receive food, medical attention, and other necessities. In this COVID-19 era when such difficulties play into the hands of people antagonistic to the Gospel, let us ask the Lord to provide for His people and draw more people to Himself; restore freedom, truth in public policy and economic prosperity to the glory of His name.
Let us ask for God’s blessing, protection and provision for every organisation supporting the 260 million persecuted Christians worldwide: for their safety and provision, for more opportunities to spread the love of Christ in this time of urgent, increased need. May He help Christians to overcome fear to rebuild everything the enemy has attempted to steal and destroy.
Let us ask God to open the eyes of nations which have long disregarded the human rights violations of the CCP, intent on pursuing the economic advantages of trade relations with China. Let us also pray for organisations like the UN, WHO, the EU to adhere to the values and freedoms upon which they were founded.
Let us pray in earnest that the Lion of Judah will arise in the hearts of the people of China to liberate His persecuted Church and bless their nation to the glory of His name!
Aira Chilcott is a retired secondary school teacher with lots of science andtheology under her belt. Aira is an editor for PSI and indulges inreading, bushwalking and volunteering at a nature reserve. Aira’s husband Bill passed away in 2022 and she is left with three wonderful adult sons and one grandson.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html