Leading pastor closes church
A Beijing church leader, Pastor Allen Yuan Xiangchen , has 'voluntarily' closed his house church in the city, informed sources said yesterday.
The decision came after two visits by police and officials from the Beijing Municipal Religious Affairs Bureau informing the 82-year-old pastor he had to register his church as required under government regulations.
The officials suggested Pastor Yuan could merge his church with the Gangwashi Church or the Chongwenmen Church, but both offers were turned down.
Instead, he informed the authorities last Wednesday he was closing his church and was therefore not obliged to register.
The State Council passed a regulation in 1994 requiring all churches and temples to register, and the Religious Affairs Bureau Director, Ye Xiaowen , said all registrations should be completed by the end of the year.
Although the regulation did not say unregistered house churches were illegal, many have been closed by public security officers.
Their leaders were either fined or jailed for refusing to co-operate.
Sources said Beijing officials treated Pastor Yuan 'politely' and did not threaten to close his church.
They claimed officials had told Pastor Yuan it was a 'transition period', but did not indicate whether he would be able to reopen his church.
Pastor Yuan's church in Beijing and the Damazhen house church run by Pastor Samuel Lamb in Guangzhou were considered two beacons of the unofficial church movement in China.
Pastor Lamb yesterday told the South China Morning Post he had not yet been told to register and was continuing to preach.
'I still preached to about 2,000 believers on Thursday. They [the authorities] have not asked me to close,' Pastor Lamb said.
Many house church leaders refused to register because some feared it would subject their followers to persecution, while others did not want any links with the atheist government.
Pastor Yuan's church has long been a focal point of local and foreign Christians in Beijing, catering to hundreds of believers every week.
Last week, Pastor Yuan baptised about 200 converts.
Christian sources in Hong Kong said the fact he had to close his church indicated the authorities were determined to enforce the registration regulation.