Thirty Chinese Police Surround House Church, Order Congregants to Stop Worshiping

Nov 01, 2016 02:00 PM EDT

Chinese authorities surrounded a house church in Beijing before raiding the building and ordering congregants to stop meeting - or face legal action.

According to China Aid, an international non-profit Christian human rights organization committed to promoting religious freedom and rule of law in China, the Shengai Fellowship Family Church in Beijing had organized a gathering on Oct.7 in the home of Xu Yonghai, an elder in the church.

After receiving word of the gather, police raided and terminated the meeting. More than thirty police officers guarded the building and demanded the gathering be cancelled.

Over the past two years, hundreds of underground church members, priests, and other activists have been arrested by the Communist Party for protesting against the nationwide crackdown on churches.

Citing building code violations, government workers have forcefully removed church rooftop crosses, and other religious signage. However, China Aid has expressed a belief that Communist Party officials are seeking to intentionally curb the growth of Christianity.

Last month, an official document leaked from Lu'an, Anhui described the Chinese government's organized plan to control and disband house churches in a "Development Zone" of Yuan District.

The plan reportedly outlined four steps in order to manage the "batches" of house churches in the area. Officials were ordered to first officially register churches before combining groups, placing smaller groups under temporary supervision, and banning groups who refuse to cooperate.

"The end goal of the plan is to fold underground churches into the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), or, if the group is too small to be a Three-Self church and there are none in the area, ensure that their activities are closely monitored by authorities," reads the report.

Zhang Mingxuan, a pastor and president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, told China Aid that such persecution is symptomatic of a larger operation spreading throughout the country, as a number of other churches have faced various forms of harassment from the government due to their religious beliefs.

Last month, the government implemented a new set of restrictions some say are aimed at dispersing Christian house churches and silencing Tibetan and Xinjiang separatists.

The Revised Draft of Regulations on Religious Affairs includes prohibitions on "organizing citizens to attend religious training, conferences and activities abroad," "preaching, organizing religious activities, and establishing religious institutions or religious sites at schools," and "providing religious services through the internet."

The rules were implemented to counter what the government describes as terrorism and the influence of foreign powers. However, they make it harder to accept teaching posts in foreign countries, or for house churches to gather for worship services.

"The government wants to control everything, even the smallest aspects. One characteristic of this draft is the empowerment of local government bodies all the way down to the communities," one pastor, identified as Zhou, told China Aid.

"This revision will further reduce the possibility of loosening religious control in China. It is becoming impossible."