After government agents attempted to break into a church in China's Henan Province, hundreds of church members successfully intervened, praying and stopping them from entering the building.
Persecution watchdog China Aid reports that on September 9, approximately 100 agents from the religious affairs and public security bureaus attempted to break into Dali Church, located in Zhengzhou, Henan.
But more than 400 church members intervened, however, praying and stopping them from entering. Eventually, the officers left after handing the church a document from the local religious affairs bureau, ordering it to close.
The notice alleged that on September 5, Wang Yanfeng, one of the church's members, and other Christians organized religious events on the fifth floor of a building, where the church is located. Because the building is not a legal religious activities site and alleged that the day's speaker had not been approved by the religious department, the church violated Articles 33 and 36 of the Regulations on Religious Affairs, according to the notice. As a result, they must immediately cease holding so-called "illegal" religious events.
China Aid notes that the Article 33 of the Regulations on Religious Affairs expressly forbids the construction of sites for religious activities without the consent of the government, and Article 36 specifies that clergy must be affiliated with a state-sanctioned religious group and report their activities to the local religious affairs departments.
"These stipulations allow the government to more closely monitor religion and grossly violate Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution, which guarantees Chinese citizens religious freedom," says the outlet.
Earlier this year, China's president Xi Jinping introduced a 5 year plan to "sinicize" all the nation's religions by infusing them with "Chinese characteristics" such as loyalty to the Communist Party.
As a result, the government has shut down hundreds of private Christian "house churches," arrested church leaders, and and seized Bibles.
In September, the Beijing Chaoyang District Civil Affairs Bureau informed Zion Church -- a prominent house church in Beijing -- that it was "legally banned" for organizing events without registering as an official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church.
Bob Fu, president of China Aid, said authorities are enforcing rules requiring registration as a TSPM church in order to exercise increased control over ideologies. He called the church closure part of a larger crack-down on Christianity across China.
"The massive clampdown against thousands of churches in Henan [Province] and the forced closure and total shutdown of the largest house church in Beijing, Zion Church, represents a significant escalation on President Xi [Jinping]'s crack-down down against religious freedom in China," Fu said in a statement. "Now that the Chinese Communist Party has started to burn Bibles and coerce millions of believers in the Christian faith and other religious minorities to even sign a written pledge to renounce their basic religious beliefs, the international community should be alarmed and outraged at this blatant violation of freedom of religion and belief and demand the Chinese regime stop and remedy this dangerous course."