Worshippers from a prominent Protestant unofficial church in southwest China have vowed to keep meeting for religious services South China Morning Post
Early Rain Covenant Church — China’s largest underground church — has vowed to meet Christmas Day despite a recent crackdown which saw the arrest of 100 church members, including Pastor Wang Yi.
A member of Early Rain Covenant Church in Sichuan who did not want to be identified told the BBC that despite Beijing’s stepped-up crackdown on independent religious practice, the church will continue to operate.
“We will continue the gathering. The church is shut down so it’s impossible to have a big gathering, but there will be small gatherings on Sunday and on Christmas Day.”
The church member added that ultimately, such persecution might even increase the profile of the faith in China.
“Without repression, people may doubt about our religion. But when repression occurs, pastors and members’ reactions will make people who don’t believe realize the charm of Christianity.”
Earlier in December, police raided the church and arrested Pastor Wang and his wife Jiang Rong. Over the following two days, at least 100 church members, including Wang’s assistant, were also taken away.
The church member told the BBC that the lock on the church school had been broken, churchgoers’ homes had been ransacked and some were “under house arrest or are followed all the time.”
Both Wang and his wife have since been charged with state subversion, one of the most serious crimes against the state and a charge that carries a potential jail term of 15 years.
After he was detained, the church released Yi’s statement explaining and defending his nonviolent resistance to China’s “evil” and “wicked” rulers.
“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,” he concluded. “This is the means by which I preach the gospel, and it is the mystery of the gospel which I preach.”
Police have accused Early Rain of operating without registering with authorities, as required by the updated Regulations for Religious Affairs. Churches which do not belong to the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement and are illegal under Communist rule.
The Early Rain member who did not want to be identified said the idea of the Three-Self Patriotic churches was “hilarious”, saying they “don’t spread genuine gospel, but spread the thoughts of loving the Party, loving the country”.
Another Christian in Chengdu told the BBC such churches were “against Jesus, against gospel.”
He described the scale of the operations against Early Rain as “unprecedented” but said more could be expected, adding: “I’m very lucky they haven’t found me yet.”
On Sunday, authorities also shuttered Guangzhou’s Rongguili Church, one of its first underground Christian communities. Asia News reported that 60 police and religious affairs officials interrupted weekly gatherings at Rongguili, ultimately closing the church, seizing materials, and taking cell phones from attendees.
“Halfway through the children’s Bible class, we heard the footsteps of dozens of police and officials stomping up the stairs,” one member said, according to the South China Morning Post.
“They read out law enforcement notices declaring our venue was an illegal gathering [that had engaged in] illegal publishing and illegal fundraising and confiscated all Bibles.”
Despite persecution, the Christian population has grown steadily in recent years. There are now an estimated 100 million Christians in China, many of them worshipping in so-called underground churches.