Chinese House Church Pastor Wang Yi Detained, Faces Criminal Charge after Mass Roundup
Church members pray to stay faithful in the face of persecution.
Senior Pastor Wang Yi of a major Chinese house church has been criminally detained and charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” his mother told South China Morning Post. Police raided the church around 6 p.m. Chinese time on Sunday, making over 100 arrests there and at homes.
“These arrests that have lasted three days and three nights are still continuing,” the church reported in a prayer update.
Early Rain Covenant Church, an unofficial church or ‘house church,’ — i.e. uncontrolled by the government — is one of China’s few openly operating house churches, as well as one of the most prominent, according to South China Morning Post. Wang met President George W. Bush in the White House in 2006 along with other Christian activists.
Church members report that since Sunday evening, police have rounded up over 100 leaders, seminary students and worshipers, some from their homes, as this video shows. The church posted pictures of one member who was bound hand and foot and dragged, leaving him with ripped clothing and bruises. Two female seminary students were stripped naked and searched. Several students from the church’s liberal arts college were sent to reeducation camps. Of those who have been returned, many are under constant police surveillance.
These events are part of a broader crackdown on registered churches that the government began this year. New amendments to the Regulations for Religious Affairs came into effect February 1. These allowed local officials more power to impose tougher penalties for unauthorized religious gatherings. China’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but laws requiring churches to register and join the state-run Three-Self Church make many expressions of worship illegal.
The church shows a strong determination to continue worshiping openly and boldly and avoid hiding or complying with immoral laws. On Wednesday night church members gathered for their regular home group meetings. Videos posted to Facebook show them singing hymns.
Elder Li Yingqiang wrote a letter to the church, detailing how the church should move forward in response to this persecution. He wrote this letter while hiding from police as the last elder free at the time. Police arrested him on December 11 around 2:00 a.m. and notified his wife that he is criminally detained and charged with provoking trouble through the internet.
‘We Will Not Retreat’
Li instructs those who are free to take up leadership, to not back down from meeting publicly if at all physically possible, and to be willing to be imprisoned:
We will not easily relinquish our church building and retreat to our small groups. […] Neither paper seals nor arrests should hinder our determination to worship in our church sanctuary. Unless all elders, preachers, and seminary students able to lead public worship and the preaching of God’s word lose their freedom, we will not retreat to small groups. If we cannot enter the church building, we will rent another place. If there is no place indoors where we can worship, we will begin worshiping outdoors.
Meeting in small groups is our last resort. […] But if we must meet in small groups and encounter opposition while doing so, we are willing to pay an even greater price to bear witness to the great work of the gospel in our lives. We are willing to have 200, 300, or 500 people arrested and imprisoned. May the whole world know that we are joyfully willing to receive this persecution for the sake of our faith. […]
May you all be filled with joy in the gospel of Christ. May you welcome, filled with hope, the even heavier cross and more difficult lives that lie ahead of you.
‘Declaration of Faithful Disobedience’
Pastor Wang Yi anticipated his arrest and wrote a letter to his congregation entitled “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience” to be released if he was detained for more than 48 hours. That time has come and church leaders have released it. In it, Wang declared that he is committed to civil disobedience as long as it is necessary.
“The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God,” Wang said. “My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws.”
More foundational than civil disobedience is the church’s commitment to obeying Jesus by remaining faithful and joyful through persecution. “If I am imprisoned for a long or short period of time, if I can help reduce the authorities’ fear of my faith and of my Savior, I am very joyfully willing to help them in this way,” Wang wrote.
‘Do you know that we are blessed?’
Li encouraged his brothers and sisters in Christ to be joyful:
Beloved brothers and sisters, do you have joy? Are you rejoicing in the fact that you are suffering with Christ because of this church? Do you know that we are blessed? The Lord is bestowing on us poor people today treasures of glory from heaven! The Lord himself is bestowing on us weak people comfort from heaven! The Lord Jesus is shining on us blind people his great light. Those of us brothers and sisters standing on the front lines of the gospel war will earn great spiritual riches!
Early Rain Covenant Church has sent out several urgent prayer updates through social media, including its Facebook Page, though not all the updates have been posted there. An English translation of Update #11 ends with a reflection on suffering and prayer to stay faithful:
Lord, you have given great glory to your servants and children. You have allowed them to suffer with you, and you have made them faithful unto death. Lord Jesus Christ, when you were hung on that tree you were charged with “incitement to subvert the state.” Only you can subvert this world that confounds truth and falsehood. The ruler of this world has already been judged.
Your Kingdom has come. Your rule is forever. You forever govern your people with love and truth and give them peace that surpasses all understanding. Subvert us with your truth. Let us proclaim your truth to this nation. For we have no other weapons except the weapons of prayer and the Bible. We have no other hope except your passion and resurrection.
Christ is Lord. Grace is King.
Bear the cross. Keep the faith.
May the Lord help us and give us great joy!