By Mark Ellis –
Pastors in registered Three Self Churches were crying foul over new government restrictions that prevent children from attending worship services or any other Christian activities.
“There are definitely more restrictions in place,” says John Woodson*, affiliated with an organization that trains Chinese Christian leaders.
The constraints on young people are particularly troubling. “They did make it official that no church can have anyone younger than 18 come to church. Many people are upset about that,” Woodson notes.
The crackdown against young believers began in mid-August, when over 100 Christian churches in Wenzhou and Zhejiang Province received a notice from the government prohibiting young people from entering churches and prohibiting them from involvement in any religious activities.
When local pastors asked officials with the Religious Affairs Bureau about the restrictions the officials said they are “protecting children from indoctrination,” according to Woodson.
“Now those in Three Self churches can identify more with what the house church movement has dealt with for years,” Woodson says. “They thought they were doing things above the law. Churches are being torn down if they are illegally built. They are feeling the pinch, so that makes them more compassionate toward those church leaders on the house church side.”
Some provinces have come under greater scrutiny by the government than others. “In Henan and Zhejiang, where a lot of Christians are located, that’s where the government is really cracking down. You see crosses coming down and unregistered churches being closed,” Woodson observes.
“Officially they are saying no foreigners are allowed to do teaching or training in China.”
Remarkably, some pastors welcome the increased pressure. “Many pastors told us, including several leaders in Hong Kong, that this could be healthy. There are people who have accepted Christ loosely. There are many shallow Christians in the registered and unregistered churches,” he says.
The irony is that the new crackdown may be helpful for the survival of the church because it will test the believers’ faith. “None of the leaders we met with were overly concerned. They were bothered by the new restrictions, but not concerned that it will curtail any ministry going forward.”
Officials have also been persecuting house churches with increased vigor. “I’ve heard there are increased arrests among the house churches. They are prosecuting them more viciously.”
Many of the registered and unregistered church leaders know each other and are trying to help one another, according to Woodson.
Increased government control is evident throughout society, not just against Christians. “The government is curtailing or trying to control what foreigners can and cannot do in China, including the economy and businesses. There is a general surveillance and control to make sure the citizens are complying using facial recognition.”
“When we checked in pictures were taken of everyone coming in, but they do that in the U.S. as well, so it’s nothing new.”
“Many Christians in China will stand for the truth no matter what. We need to keep praying for them. They are courageous and willing to suffer. We should worry about ourselves and our own country. Are we ready to suffer?
“They are ready to suffer.”