China’s oppressed “house churches” have been ordered by the communist government to seek guidance from a handful of state-approved religious organizations and apply for official state-mandated permits to register as an official place of religious worship.
The State Administration for Religious Affairs, which is responsible for much of the state-mandated persecution, issued a statement earlier this month ordering organizers of religious activities at temporary sites to apply for a permit that is valid for three years.
According to Catholic news site UCAN, the sudden directive sparked renewed fears among the “underground” church community that they will be subjected to an increasing amount of pressure and control from the Chinese government.
UCAN reported that the notice was keen to point out that religious believers who were registered residents, who had no criminal record or possessed certain religious knowledge can apply for temporary religious activities.
“Religious groups have guiding responsibilities for the activities of temporary events. The activities of temporary events should receive guidance from religious organizations,” read the alarming directive.
“It is well known that many ‘house churches’ are reluctant to register and are willing to be an illegal organization because they do not want to be under the two organizations,” Professor Fuk-tsang, director of the Divinity School at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, wrote on his Facebook page.
Earlier this year, the Chinese government introduced strict criteria for religious organizations who are seeking to register their Church as an official house of worship. The decision to announce fresh calls for the obtaining of official permits is the latest in what is being described as a fresh government crackdown on these awfully subjugated congregations.
But despite the persecution, China’s Christian population continues to explode. The Beijinger reported that some 70 million followers of Jesus reside in the enormous Asian nation. While some dispute that figure, one thing is for sure: millions of Chinese people are searching for meaning, and many are finding Jesus.
As the Council on Foreign Relations noted in its lengthy report into Chinese Christianity: “Believers are not only searching for meaning in their own lives but also for the future of their country as China adapts to a rapidly changing economy and society.”
Christian religious practice resurfaced following conclusion of the Cultural Revolution and has been gaining steam in Chinese society ever since. As CFR noted, the number of Christians in the early 1980s was estimated at just six million. This figure has increased at an astonishing rate despite a militant campaign of persecution waged against the Christian faith. Between 2013 and 2015, over 1,200 crosses were pulled down from churches in the eastern province of Zhejiang alone.
In Nanyang, which is located in central Henan province, some 100 Churches were shut down by authorities during the month of March. Elsewhere in the province, officials banned clandestine “house church” meetings and proceeded to march door-to-door, warning residents to cease attending “illegal” church meetings or else face prosecution.
The government is suspected to be acting out of a fear that Christianity is taking over the nation. According to World Watch Monitor, Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University, has argued that China’s Christian population could reach 247 million by 2030, “making it the world’s largest congregation.”