The Church Father Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” In other words, the early church did not grow in spite of persecution but because of it.
Here in America, we know about persecution mostly from books: classics like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs tell about the great persecutions of history; the Book of Acts narrates the birth of the church in suffering. The dictionary dryly defines persecution as “to pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment, especially because of religious or political beliefs…”
The mainstream media does not devote much time or space to bring to life Christian persecution in the world today, but it’s happening. More Christians were killed for their faith in the past one hundred years than in the preceding 1900 years put together. Governments or religious majorities actively persecute Christians in India, Pakistan, Somalia, Kenya, Iran, North Korea, China—to name only a few.
Martyrs in Mao’s China
China’s church was born in persecution. In the mid-1900s during Mao’s revolution and the infancy of Chinese Communism, China’s Christian population was probably less than 1 million. Now that’s a lot of Christians, but not when we consider that today there are almost 1.4 billion Chinese.
Since then Communist China, officially atheistic, has banned, outlawed, and severely punished Christians. The numbers of Chinese martyrs is unknown to men but not to God.
So where are we now, more than sixty years later? The number of Christians in China today may be 100 million or more. In spite of fire, prison, torture, and death, the heartcry of the Chinese Church has been to preach the Gospel regardless of the cost. And the cost has often been high.
Around the year 2000 things began to change for Chinese Christians. The church was growing, and some within the Communist leadership began to realize that Christians generally sought to be good citizens. The severity of persecution slowly diminished. House arrest replaced the horrific prisons. Underground churches began emerging, renting meeting places and operating in plain view of the state. Not everywhere but in many places. Some predicted that China would legalize Christianity and the persecution would cease.
Persecution in China today
In the last few months the Chinese government enacted a series of laws and regulations aimed at closing down unregistered churches, Bible schools and seminaries, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that operate businesses as missions.
Landlords who rent buildings to Christian entities are being heavily fined and threatened with confiscation of property. NGOs face national registration and investigation to assure that no religious activity happens under the guise of business. Chinese citizens cannot leave the country to attend religious conferences. The government hopes to do by financial pressure what it could not do by prison and sword.
Pray for your brothers and sisters at the dawning of this new wave of persecution in China. Pray that this new generation of believers will face the persecution of today’s church with the courage of those who came before.
“It is this Truth (the Gospel) that has proven indestructible throughout China’s history. An emperor couldn’t eliminate God from China in the ninth century. Fanatical Muslims couldn’t decapitate Him in the 1300s. The Boxers couldn’t murder Him in 1900. And Mao couldn’t march Him out of China in 1949. His Body is moving forward, adding numbers to its masses every day”. – Paul Hattaway, China’s Christian Martyrs