Three elders of a large congregation in China’s Jiangsu province hav been arrested

“Official persecution against the Suqian house church in coastal Jiangsu province escalated Saturday with the administrative detention of three of the church’s elders, according to the China Aid Association. “The five-day detention sentences follows the sentencing last month of the church’s pastor, Pastor Shi Enhao, to a two-year re-education-through-labor sentence.

“Furthermore, Pastor Shi’s son Shi Yongyang, his daughter Shi Yumei and her husband Zhang Quansheng are all at risk of being detained as well.

Pastor Shi is deputy chairman of the Chinese House Church Alliance. House churches are not recognized by the government and are treated by officials as subversive organizations.

The Chinese government has launched a crackdown on all such “house churches.” Freedom of religion is begrudgingly tolerated in China, but only at state-run churches pastored by government-hired clergy whose sermons are approved by the Communist Party and often reflect current policy matters rather than spirituality. Evangelism is not permitted, nor is attendance by children. As a result, most of the legal “Three-Self Patriotic Association” churches are attended by the elderly.

An unknown number of Chinese Christians — estimated between 50 and 150 million — worship in house churches. There are reports that the Chinese Communist Party has become nervous that party membership is lagging behind church membership.

The res0nse has been arrests and detentions of house church members as well as political pressure on their employers and landlords. A number of members of the 1,000-member Shouwang Church in Beijing have been forced to move out of the capital.

“China Aid calls on churches everywhere to pray urgently for the Suqian house church,” said China Aid’s president, Bob Fu. “Pray that the persecuted believers will have an intimate experience of God’s comfort and protection, and that the persecutors will gain nothing from their actions. Persecution can only grow and strengthen the church!”

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