China has launched a new crackdown on religion, warning the estimated 85 million Communist Party members they must "be firm Marxist atheists" or face punishment.
"Party members should not have religious beliefs, which is a red line for all members", wrote Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, in the latest issue of the Party's flagship magazine, Qiuishi Journal, according to China's Global Times.
He added: "Party members should be firm Marxist atheists, obey party rules and stick to the party's faith... They are not allowed to seek value and belief in religion."
Wang explained that "foreign forces" are using religion "to infiltrate China" which is a threat to the country's security.
"Some foreign forces have used religion to infiltrate China, and extremism and illegal religious activities are spreading in some places, which have threatened national security and social stability," he said.
The UK Times says that while Wang's comments are line with official Party rules, the country's undefined threat of "punishment" seems "unduly severe for modern China" and appears to be part of "an increasingly draconian crackdown on religious freedom".
Over the past year, President Xi Jinping has directed the party to "Sinicize" - or bring under Chinese tradition - the country's ethnic and religious minorities in efforts to counter religious "extremism".
Beijing believes Christianity, whose followers are said to rival in number the 85 million members of the Communist Party, "poses a major threat" to its long-term stability, says the Economic Times.
Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, and Falun Gong practitioners were also said to be severely targeted for their faith; during Ramadan, the authorities in Xinjiang ordered all children under 16 to change names where police have determined they are "overly religious".
In recent months, dozens of churches have been raided by authorities as China's government, and in previous years, authorities bulldozed hundreds of churches and removed thousands of crosses in addition to imprisoning -- and even torturing -- pastors and human rights lawyers.
Because of these ongoing abuses, the country is ranked 39th on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.
In an interview with The Gospel Herald, Fu shared how Chinese citizens are "thirsty" for the truth of the Gospel - particularly in light of the oppressive nature of the Communist government.
"The authentic love and compassion that is manifested in the lives of believers has been a major factor in the spread of the Gospel," he said, citing a Purdue University study that found the country is on course to become the world's "most Christian nation" by 2030.
"Under Communism, trust among the Chinese was destroyed," Fu revealed. "But the church was the opposite - Christians were the first ones to love those with disease and illnesses, the first ones to care about the elderly, the vulnerable, the children."
Despite ongoing persecution, Fu added that he is "more optimistic than ever" that the Gospel will continue to impact the country in a tremendous way.
"While we still feel the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters in China, we have seen the Good News spark the rapid growth of Christianity," he said. "We have seen a great revival - more and more believers are becoming actively involved. I believe that in the end, the Communist Party will be called the 'Servant of the Lord.'"