Keeping Faithful: Perseverance of the Saints from 2009 to Present

Editor’s note: This article was originally presented as a speech in a 2021 pastors’ gathering in mainland China. In it, Elder Li Yingqiang divides the history of Chinese house churches into three time periods: 1949-1978, as the Chinese church stood firm in strong persecution; 1979-2008, when the church experienced great revival; and 2009-present, as the church has remained faithful through trials of money and power. Li divided house church history into these periods to help delineate general trends and characteristics during large segments of time.

In this third section, Li explains how the religious landscape of China has changed dramatically since 2008 and 2009, and zooms in on some of the changes brought about by 2018’s new religious regulations. He reminds believers that God has graciously placed them in this time in history, and encourages them to persevere and remain faithful to the Lord while “simultaneously tempted by money and persecuted by power.”

This selection has been edited and condensed from the original version for both time and space. It was originally published on the Grace to City website.


Tempted and Persecuted

The situation of the Chinese church is subtly changing. China is rising, Europe and the United States are facing economic problems and domestic political corruption. Since 2009, each year, the persecution of the Chinese church has become more severe. But none of this happened in just one year, so many believers walked through this historic process without seeing the significant changes happening around them.

““Since 2009, each year, the persecution of the Chinese church has become more severe. But none of this happened in just one year, so many believers walked through this historic process without seeing the significant changes happening around them.”

If other churches or leaders have been persecuted, we thought it was because of their own bad policies or practices, which led to them being singled out and crushed. Since 2009, the government has gradually tightened religious policies, first piloting small new programs, then expanding to more places. The government also uses legal methods to crack down on churches and preachers. They never directly arrest or convict people for believing in Christianity or for being a preacher. Instead, they cover up persecution by using non-religious charges. This practice continues today.

New religious regulations went into effect in 2018. Before this, there was a general lack of vigilance among house churches. This is because, in the previous decade, emerging urban churches were still growing. Because of urbanization, rural churches were in serious decline during this same period: hollowing out, losing believers and leaders, and facing a major crisis.

After 30 years of economic reforms and rapid growth, Chinese house churches faced a powerful threat: secularization. At the same time, the government gradually began to raise the temperature on the fire of persecution. How will we remain faithful to the Lord as we face this double test? We are simultaneously tempted by money and persecuted by power.

A few years ago, an 80-year-old house church preacher told our generation: “We did our homework; now, it’s your turn.” We need to recognize the history in which we live. God’s gracious hand has led his church, and his saints persevered. We must consider how to answer the questions God has given us today and how to respond to the obstacles he has placed in our lives.

Squeezing the Church’s Space

In 2009, the government began targeted attacks on certain house churches. These churches varied in size; Early Rain had only about 100 people at that time, while Shanghai Wanbang Church had about 1,500, but all were targeted for crackdown as typical. Since then, the government has been stress testing, targeting, and gradually refining its strategy.


Never miss a story

Sign up to receive our weekly email with our original articles.

““After 30 years of economic reforms and rapid growth, Chinese house churches faced a powerful threat: secularization. At the same time, the government gradually began to raise the temperature on the fire of persecution.”


Never miss a story

Sign up to receive our weekly email with our original articles.

As the Chinese, urban, evangelical church made its official debut in China, the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization was held in 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa. Chinese house churches were expected to send more than 200 delegates. The government was informed in advance, and all 200 leaders were detained in China. Although we did not want the strength of the house church to be publicly known, this shows the government already knew quite a bit about our situation.

Another turning point came in 2012, as China’s leader changed. Xi Jinping had overseen security for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. That year, 500-600 people were arrested within Beijing house churches. After he came to power in 2012, Xi systematically cracked down on Chinese civil society, including the church. By the time of the July 2015 crackdown on human rights attorneys, Chinese civil society had essentially been purged – except for the church. By then, there were almost no independent civil society organizations, intellectual groups, or media. Everything had been suppressed. The church stood out as an island, conspicuous, and therefore easy to identify. In the coming years, crackdowns on churches were very precise. This was one of the changes in that decade.

In 2013, demolition of crosses began in Zhejiang Province. This was not random, nor the self-assertion of a local official. Instead, it was systematic oppression. In March 0f 2013, Zhejiang began “three reforms and one demolition.” The main goal was to tear down crosses, but some church buildings were also demolished. By mid-2016, at least 1,500 churches had their crosses removed from their roofs or walls. More than 20 churches were torn down. This cross-demolition campaign continues to this day in some parts of China.

Gradually, a systematic strategy to squeeze the church’s space for survival was put into practice. Around 2014, a program to “Sinicize Christianity” was developed.

The December 9, 2018 persecution against Early Rain Church in Chengdu was actually first tried out on December 9, 2015, in suppression of the Living Stone Church in Guizhou. Three years later, Early Rain was attacked. Most recently, Guizhou has arrested house church leaders and tried them on charges of “fraud.” From 2014 to 2017, persecution escalated, but not in one full-scale movement. Instead, different policies were tried out in different places around China. In 2018, the layout was complete.

We Are for the Faith

The new Religious Affairs Regulations went into effect on February 1 of 2018. To this day, related regulations have been gradually rolled out. When large-scale persecution first started in 2018, it was mainly concentrated in the second half of the year.

““With a few exceptions, most urban house churches have lost the office buildings where they met, and have moved to temporary rented spaces, homes, and even small groups. Many have been banned. Those not banned have faced great difficulties.”

Several large-scale cases occurred in 2018 which had rarely been seen before. In Yunnan Province, charges of “using cults to undermine the implementation of the law” were piloted. Pastors throughout the country experienced a crackdown, and Beijing and Fujian cracked down on Christian schools, and systematically purged foreign missionaries. From 2019 to 2021, the “Sinicization of Christianity” continued to progress. With a few exceptions, most urban house churches have lost the office buildings where they met, and have moved to temporary rented spaces, homes, and even small groups. Many have been banned. Those not banned have faced great difficulties, and have largely moved into houses. Even after moving, the churches continue to be harassed and affected.

Pastor Wang Yi was arrested in December of 2018. Before his arrest, he wrote a statement, which ended with these two sentences:

“Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever. I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws…

I firmly believe that Christ has called me to carry out this faithful disobedience through a life of service, under this regime that opposes the gospel and persecutes the church. This is the means by which I preach the gospel, and it is the mystery of the gospel which I preach.”

We thank the Lord for using his servants, who wrote such words before their arrest, to testify that we are for the faith.


Elder Li Yingqiang is an elder of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. He and his wife have two children.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for Chinese Christians simultaneously facing increasing persecution and the temptations of money and comfort.

Share This Story

Further Reading

henry-co-G0rae74NmvY-unsplash
The Internal Cross: A Pastoral Letter
Read More
hangjia-xu-3ZdSvOSlm4c-unsplash
The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
Read More
billow926-ND4-6joi3t8-unsplash
Qingdao: How to Pray
Read More

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

Videos

ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

Videos

Stories from Qingdao

About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

Videos

Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Videos

Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

Videos

Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

Videos

Stories from Guangzhou

About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

Videos

Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

Videos

Stories from Shenzhen

About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

Videos

Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

Videos

Stories from Beijing

About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

Videos

Stories from Shanghai

give

A short message about partnering with us.