By BosNewsLife Asia Service
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)– Christians of one of China’s capital’s largest Protestant “house” churches prayed on the last Sunday, April 3, before they face eviction by authorities wary to lose control over religion.
Several worshipers of the 1,000-strong Shouwang Church in Beijing were seen crying after they were told by the landlord they can no longer worship at the “Old Story Restaurant” with its walls lined with pictures of Chinese Party leaders shaking hands with former U.S. presidents.
Among those attending the gathering were middle-class and student Christians who are among a growing groupof Christians gathering outside the churches registered and overseen by the ruling Communist Party’s religious affairs authorities.
The church has refused to register with the government, saying its congregation belongs to God alone. Its leadership told members they may have to prepare themselves for gatherings in the open air. “This is the cross that the church has to bear,” Reuters news agency quoted Pastor Jin Tianming as telling the worshipers about the prospect of worship outdoors. Some of them wiped tears from their faces, reporters said.”
“We need a formal approval from the authorities to allow us to find an indoor meeting place. If not, we will not waver in worshiping outdoors,” the pastor added.
In 2009, the church reportedly raised 27 million yuan ($4.12 million), in donations from members and tried to buy a space in a commercial building as a permanent home.
But authorities pressured the seller not to hand over the property to the church, even though it had paid for it, church members said.
The stand-off comes at a time when the Chinese Communist government is stepping up control over what it views as groups potentially undermining the country’s one-party system, including house churches, amid concerns that revolutions against autocratic leaders in the Arab world will encourage more open calls for freedom in China.
House church Christians say however they respect the government but want to have the right to freely worship Christ.
There are at least tens of millions of Protestant Christians in China, divided between registered denominations unregistered “house “churches. Many of the house churches began as small Bible groups at homes of individual believers but soon grew into much largest congregations.
Officials within the Communist Party have been quoted as saying there may be as many as 130 million Christians in China, one of the largest growing Christian communities in the world.