More than 60 police officers and officials stormed a children’s Bible class in southern China on Saturday morning, in a raid on an underground church founded in 1978 by a leading light in the country’s house church movement.
According to Christian sources, the Rongguili Church in Guangzhou, widely known as the beacon of faith in southern China, was raided about 10am, making it the third prominent Protestant unregistered church to be shut down by Chinese authorities this winter.
The officials, who included representatives from the education and religious affairs departments, were said to have stayed until 8pm and confiscated church property, including more than 4,000 books.
Entry and exit points for the roads leading to the church, which is tucked in a narrow lane in Guangzhou’s Yuexiu district, have been cordoned off by police.
The church, which attracts thousands of worshippers every week, was founded by the late pastor Samuel Lamb Xiangao, one of the leading figures of China’s independent house church movement over the past four decades.
Its closure comes after Chinese authorities shut down the prominent 1,500-member Zion Church in Beijing in September and Chengdu’s 500-member Early Rain Covenant Church last week.
According to a notice issued on Saturday by the Yuexiu district ethnic and religious affairs bureau, all activities at the Rongguili Church have been suspended by local authorities for violating the Religious Affairs Regulation.
The notice that was circulated on social media told worshippers to attend gatherings in 15 other registered Protestant churches in Guangzhou.
“Halfway through the children’s Bible class, we heard the footsteps of dozens of police and officials stomping up the stairs,” according to a post by a Rongguili church member.
“They read out law enforcement notices declaring our venue was an illegal gathering [that had engaged in] illegal publishing and illegal fundraising and confiscated all Bibles.”
The personal identities of worshippers, including children, were recorded. Their phones were ordered to be switched off and handed over.
“They then verified our identities again and warned us not to return [to the church] before letting us go,” the person said.
The only person taken away was a parent who attempted to photograph the scene, according to a church member who did not wish to be identified.
Rongguili Church, which attracts up to 5,000 worshippers a week, was founded in 2000 to replace Damazhan Church, which was razed during urban construction. The latter was also founded by Lamb in 1978 after he was released from a labour camp.
“Samuel Lamb’s house church, after his release from prison in the late 1970s, was the leading and largest unregistered church in the south, just as Allen Yuen Xiangchen’s was in the north and in the capital of Beijing,” said Hong Kong-based missionary John Short, who was a friend of Lamb’s.
“These two men, along with Moses Xi in Shanghai, led the post-Mao era of Christian revival in today’s China,” he said.