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Since the beginning of the month, the Chinese government has arrested dozens of leaders and members of the 750-member Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu.

Some were detained briefly, questioned, and then released under surveillance. Others were beaten, and some of the women were strip-searched. Pastor and former human rights lawyer Wang Yi was charged with incitement to subvert state power; he and his wife remain in custody.

Early Rain is being persecuted because the church refuses to register with the state or join the officially sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement. They also refuse to hide, which makes them an easy target.

Persecution hasn’t stopped the congregation from meeting. According to an undated update, from a recent Sunday, “Even though most brothers and sisters are under the supervision and control of community authorities at their homes, and more than a dozen brothers, sisters, pastors, and preachers are in prison, those brothers and sisters who can still freely leave their homes went to our church sanctuary in the Jiangxin Building as usual to prepare to meet the Lord. 

They were met by police: “The metal gate below the building where the church is was locked, and every entrance had many plainclothes police officers and SWAT team officers preventing people from entering the church. They took away some of the brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters then conducted a small-scale worship meeting at a nearby park, which was also shut down by police. Police took away more than 30 brothers and sisters.”

Elder Li Yingqiang believes that “this ‘great persecution’ will become the status quo for us in the future.” World magazine’s June Cheng agrees, writing that this is only the latest episode in a crackdown that began in February: “Hundreds of house churches have been raided, destroyed, and closed.”

It’s going to get worse. The Chinese government can’t allow Christians to get away with defiance. They’ll escalate the pressure, because they see unregistered Christians as an obstacle to the Party’s agenda. This is a contest for China’s future, and given China’s growing global prominence, a contest for the world’s as well.

But the Early Rain leaders are ready, and their response has been instructive. There’s outrage. Anticipating his arrest, Pastor Wang wrote a “declaration of faithful disobedience” to be released if he disappeared for more than 48 hours. In it, Wang writes, “I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely.”

There’s resolute courage. Wang writes, “Regardless of which regime I live under now or in the future, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church, violating human consciences that belong to God alone, I will continue my faithful disobedience.”

And there’s joy. Li Yingqiang cites 1 Peter 4 and asks, “Beloved brothers and sisters, do you have joy? . . . 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!”

Wang says he’s uninterested “in changing any political or legal institutions in China.” No doubt he’s sincere. But China is going to change regardless. Either the government will blink and Christians will win concessions, or the government will attack the church more viciously, come under God’s judgment, and Christians will inherit the land. Or both.

It doesn’t matter. Martyrdom is indefeasible. So long as they make a faithful witness, the people of Early Rain win. Pray for their safety. Pray for Wang’s release. Above all, pray that they stay faithful.

Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute

Photo by Michael Rehfeldt via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

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