China’s crackdown on the booming house church movement continued this fall, with government officials raiding worship services and even telling Christians they could no longer read the Bible.
By law, churches in China must register with the government and join either the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (if they’re Protestant) or the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. But because such churches face severe restrictions, millions of Christians have joined illegal, unregistered house churches.
In October, a house church in Jinan, Shandong province was ambushed by a group of local officials, according to the watchdog Bitter Winter.
“From now on, you are not allowed to meet here, nor are you allowed to read the Bible,” a local government official told the church members. “According to orders from the central government, the Bible is banned. You’re designated as a target of the campaign to ‘clean up gang crime and eliminate evil.’”
House churches “all over Shandong province are to be shut down,” the church members were told.
“What kind of government is this?” an elderly Christian asked Bitter Winter. “They turn a blind eye on evil-doers and criminals, but persecute us Christians.”
In August, police officers and government officials raided a house church in the province of Yunnan and ordered the members to join a Three-Self congregation that was “thousands of miles away,” according to Bitter Winter.
“Having no other choice, the churchgoers signed a document that prohibits them from holding religious gatherings,” Bitter Winter reported.
Government officials took the church’s valuables and told church members they would be arrested if they continued gathering. Further, they raided the houses of at least eight church members, “confiscating religious books and tearing down religious paintings,” Bitter Winter said.
In September, government officials raided another church meeting in Yunnan and confiscated 100 religious books published in other countries because owning them “was not in accordance with the Chinese laws.”
The next day, the members were told the pastor was guilty of “illegal preaching” because he did not have a permit. If they met with him again, they could be arrested.
“The government persecutes us because it fears that the church’s growing membership and rapid development would be unfavorable to them,” a member of a Yunnan house church said. “These officials are acting like devils.”
Churches within the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association have faced severe restrictions in recent months. Communist officials have edited sermons, ordered the removal of crosses, and replaced Ten Commandments displays with portraits of Chinese leaders. Chinese law forbids the proselytization of minors.