Rev. Joseph Gu, senior pastor of Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, the largest protestant megachurch in China, has been taken into custody by government authorities. A report from the Shanghai news agency Shanghaiist, says the pastor has been placed under residential surveillance.
Rev. Gu, who is also chairman of the Chinese Christian Council of Zhejiang province, was removed from his church position ten days before being placed in custody. The Shanghaiist quoted a statement from Hangzhou’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the China Christian Council, which claimed the move was to ‘promote the normal rotation of the principal Christians in charge of churches and sort out the interpersonal relationship between the province and the two municipal [Christian] organisations’.
However, the newspaper claimed the removal of Rev. Gu had wider implications, as the pastor was pentecostally inclined and drew more than 10,000 people each Sunday.
The church was founded in 1866 by British missionary Hudson Taylor, and now occupies a 42 million yuan ($6.7 million) building that accommodates 5,500 people in a single service. The church has hosted international evangelists, such as Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, and Luis Palau.
According to the Shanghaiist, in May 2015 following a wave of forced removals of crosses from church buildings across Zhejiang province, the Chongyi Church argued in a statement posted on its website, that the removal of crosses ‘profanes Christianity’s most basic beliefs and tramples on the law and spirit of religious freedom’.
In a statement issued after Rev. Gu’s dismissal, Gu and his wife wrote: ‘Chongyi Church is faced with an unprecedented, heart-chilling time of testing, and we shall all have to overcome by the grace of God.
‘Thank you for the concern you have shown to both of us. We are both deeply touched by it. After a time of prayer, we have decided to temporarily cancel all ministerial activities, to focus on intercession and seeking to understand what God wants for us’.