Chinese Authorities have demolished a Church in Wenzhou that has become a symbol of resistance to the Communist Party's draconian control of the area, according to activist and witnesses who just recently formed a human shield around the building to try and prevent its destruction.
According to the Telegraph, Sanjiang church in a wealthy coastal city known as the "Jerusalem of the East", made headlines earlier this month when thousands of Christians formed a human shield around its entrance after plans for its demolition were announced.
Church members accused Communist leaders in Zhejiang province of ordering an anti-church, anti-Chiristian crackdown. According to the activist, this Church was just one of ten Christian Churches slated for destruction.
Officials rejected those accusations, alleging the church had violated building codes.
Apparently the deal dissolved in recent days with reports that some church leaders and worshippers had been harassed and detained by police.The activist had just relaxed their high profile, human shield approach, having been convinced that a deal to keep the Church was in the works.
On Monday morning demolition teams and police moved in and began razing the church in Wenzhou, a city near Shanghai.
One of China's largest Christian congregations is now left without a place of worship.
"I saw three or four excavators out front, demolishing the church, and three or four out back, demolishing the annex building. I also saw a small excavator going inside the church doing demolition work inside," one witness who claimed there were around 100 police around the church, including armed officers, told the Telegraph.
"All the roads are blocked, you can't get close to the church," said a local Protestant leader, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the government. "The two sides of the main hall are being demolished."
Photographs sent to The Telegraph and posted on social media sites showed at least four excavators that appeared to be ripping down large sections of the church's exterior.
Other images showed black police vans, military trucks and security agents standing on the main road outside.
In an unusual step, Chen Yilu, the head of the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, spoke out against the provincial government's "crude and hard-line" handling of the Sanjiang church crisis.
In a strongly-worded commentary that has been circulating online, Mr Chen said the incident would damage the Communist Party's image as well as harming "social stability". He called on Beijing to "intervene as soon as possible to avoid further deterioration".
Many believe the persecution will only make the Church stronger, as it has in the past.
The provincial government denies waging an orchestrated campaign against Christian places of worship, but Feng Zhili, the head of Zhejiang's ethnic and religious affairs committee, complained recently that Christianity's spread had been "too excessive and too haphazard".
Many believe that Christianity's rapid growth in the country will lead to a backlash from the Chinese government. Prof. Fengang Yang, an expert on religion in China, believes China will be the largest Christian nation by 2030. But he warns that Chinese Christians should brace themselves for growing interference as the Communist Party fights to stunt the Church's growth.
Just last week, in an indication of Beijing's growing discomfort at the rise in popularity of Christianity, senior party member Ye Xiaowen, a member of the elite 205-member Central Committee, dismissed Prof. Yang's projections as "unscientific" and "obviously inflated".
"It is completely meaningless to predict how many people might believe in Christianity in China in the future," said Mr Ye, who was the country's top official in charge of religious affairs until 2009.