Members of Early Rain Covenant Church have vowed to keep fighting despite escalating persecution of Christians in China and the recent sentencing of their pastor, Wang Yi, to nine years in prison.
The 5,000 member church issued an “exhortation and protest” against the severe sentence and expressed hope that God will be glorified throughout the ordeal after Wang was sentenced to prison Dec. 30 on charges of subversion of power and illegal business operations.
“Do you government officials not know that this is a sin against God? Do you not know that this is an abuse of your authority (Rom. 13:3)?” the statement began. “Even so, we do not hate you. On the contrary, our merciful and righteous God wants us to love you and to pray for you.”
“We desire that those public officials and law enforcement officers who are involved in this case would quickly repent and believe in the Lord, that you would know the atonement and forgiveness of sins which the Lord Jesus extends to all through his suffering on the cross, and that you would obtain eternal life and hope.”
The church invited “all sojourners throughout the world who belong to the universal church” to pray for both Wang and church leader Qin Defu, who was sentenced to four years in prison for the charge of illegal business operations.
“Pray for all of us. We will also pray for you,” the church said. “In this eschaton, which Jesus Christ brought about through his incarnation, through his perfect life, through his betrayal and trial, through his substitutionary death, through his resurrection and ascension, through his gift of the Holy Spirit — in this eschaton, may we testify, through our suffering, that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn. 14:6) and that he is the light of the world.”
Early Rain Covenant Church was first raided during a Sunday evening service in December 2018 after authorities claimed the church had violated religious regulations because it was not registered with the government. Wang was detained along with his wife, Jiang Rong, and more than 100 members of the congregation.
China’s Communist Party requires that Protestants worship only in churches recognized and regulated by the officially sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
Most Early Rain members were released after enduring various degrees of interrogation and torture. However, Wang was detained by authorities for more than a year without charge. He was later sentenced in a closed-door legal proceeding in which his lawyer wasn’t allowed to defend him.
In addition to jail time, Wang will be deprived of his political rights for three years and the Chinese government will confiscate about $7,200 of his personal assets.
According to Bob Fu, president of China Aid, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization advocating for the basic rights of Chinese Christians, Wang’s sentence is the harshest of any house church leader in China.
In its statement, Early Rain invited other persecuted churches to likewise “fix their eyes together with us upon the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.”
“Through the Holy Spirit, may we be united to the King of Kings who ascended to the right hand of the Majesty on high, who is our eternal high priest and prophet of the last days,” the church said. “May we be strong in his grace as we keep on fighting despite repeated setbacks. We do this to fulfill the Great Commission and to spread the Gospel, that the glorious name of the triune God might be praised.”
“May God help us and allow us to experience together the breadth, length, height, and depth of the love of God until the day we see him face-to-face,” it concluded. “May blessing and honor and wisdom and wealth and glory and power and authority be to our holy Father who is in Heaven, to the Lord Jesus Christ who obtained our salvation, and to the Holy Spirit our Helper who continually helps us. Amen!”
A lawyer by training, Wang had become known for taking high-profile positions on politically sensitive issues, including forced abortions and the massacre that crushed the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989.
Before his arrest, Wang released a letter titled “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience.” In it, the pastor said he wasn’t interested in “changing any political or legal institutions in China,” because “the goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world.”
Regardless of what crime the government charges me with, whatever filth they file at me, as long as this charge is related to my faith, my writings, my comments, and my teachings, it is merely a lie and temptation of demons,” he wrote. “I categorically deny it. I will serve my sentence, but I will not serve the law. I will be executed, but I will not plead guilty.”
Persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA ranks China 27th on its list of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.