Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Parable from the Past: Preparing for Persecution, Part One

I’m often asked if I feel that our organic church movement has accomplished all that I had hoped. The answer is no. We are not the movement that I hoped for…yet. But that is partly because I have always felt that what we were doing was preparing the church for what is coming: persecution. Because it has not come yet the movement has not fully realized all that it was meant to.  I see our work as sowing seeds for a future harvest, and I believe that future is getting closer every day.

One of the heroes of my faith is Watchman Nee. God used him (and his contemporaries) to prepare the church in China before the Communist revolution took over. He launched the “Little Flock” movement, which was a radical departure from the Western church model that had been planted in China prior. It was smaller, simpler in structure, less expensive and more indigenous. The churches met in smaller gatherings in homes led by ordinary people with real jobs.

When the communists took over the nation they arrested the church leaders (like Nee) and seized all church property. The indigenous expressions of simple churches meeting in homes not only survived…they thrived. The Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse-Tung sought to eliminate all religion from society in China but instead mobilized the church and it grew from about 2 million Christians in 1949 to over 60 million.[1] It is estimated today that there may be upwards of 80 million Christians in China.[2]

Contrast this with the church of Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church was dependent upon three things: holy buildings, holy men in robes, and holy services performed by those men in those buildings. When the communists took over in Russia they seized all the buildings and arrested or compromised all the leaders of the church. The church was devastated.

I carry deep inside a feeling that everything I have been about for the past 20 years is just preparing the bride of Christ for what is to come. Like Nee, I have been striving to bring health and simplicity back to the church, and with that an ability to ride out any storm that may come. 

But there is another movement in America that looks far closer to the Russian church than the Chinese. Just as it was easy to decimate the church in Russia the church in the US may be equally weak and not surprising it is the same three areas that will be the downfall.

In the next week I will post a few ideas on this blog about how vulnerable our churches are to persecution and what I think may take place in the next couple years to expose those vulnerabilities.

[1] Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006, p. 19

[2] Philip Yancey, “Discreet and Dynamic: Why, with No Apparent Resources, Chinese Churches Thrive,” Christianity Today, July 2004, p. 72


Living Liminal said...

A sobering assessment. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Heartspeak said...

I have felt the same thing for the past two or more years. When (not if) persecution comes, there will be no public buildings, tax deductions or radio programs. Only what we truly have 'inside' will be our strength.

Folks who depend on 3 songs and a homily for their 'security' will be adrift.

Tom Marshall said...

Persecution will come. I see the shift in culture gaining momentum as it follows its own agenda, "everyone did as they saw fit." Israel, Rome, and Sparta are just a few past examples to those mentioned above. But as each society worked through the stages that led to its own demise, God raised up workers for the harvest. And it is this thought that gets me jazzed. We are in times like Paul, and look what he did following Jesus and making disciples.

I enjoyed hearing about Nee's plan in China. It is that type of decentralized structure I think can change the spiritual landscape in North America. I remember using Stott's book, "Christian Counter Culture: The Sermon on the Mount" in College as a student, but now the title has dropped "Christian Counter Culture." Christianity began as a counter-culture (I don't recall if you said that Neil in your books) and I think it still is; even more so now that society is shifting back to type of culture that Paul faced in the first Century (no emperor worship yet).

Neil Cole said...

Well said. I believe persecution will be coming as well, but in this series of posts I am making a point that most churches today can be taken out with less than persecution.

Andy Rayner said...

My first mentor in West Africa, when I arrived green on the continent, said people focus on persistence, flexability, or adaptability being strong needs in international workers. He said there is another word we must rediscover, but is all but an non issue for western Christianity....that word is Mobility. .... He said a kingdom worker should never live or serve in a way that jeopardizes our mobility. He said we need to be limber and light. Being able to move and respond with Gods movement. He advised is to build nothing and rent everything even churches. So for almost 20 yrs of international work, off and on, and doing 9 church plants personally, and part of another 7, we have never raised money for building structure. The nationals have build simple structures according to their needs... and mostly from peer pressure of looking around and seeing how "church" is done by the tribes around them... with Western models. Anyway, Mobility. ... Lew Cass (My mentor) said mobility is the lost word of modern mission. Maybe it will need to be discussed again. How mobile are we as a body? With a shingle hung... not very.
Simple zoning laws, and in Canada pressure against religious charities getting tax deductible donations is already hindering us. In Canada no church is permitted to speak on political issues or try, as a church body, to seek to influence government policy... or you will loose tax status. And individual can do this stuff... but not a non profit charity. I was part of a group seeing incorperation a few years back and we threw the application out when we read it, and did not apply. To this day we give anonymous seeking not tax receipts. These are the kinds of choices we will have to make more. There are more restrictions to tell that really affect missions too. Another day.... anything that will tap, tamper, touch, restrict or influence church money.... will make this system fall. It requires sooo much money. BUT I have discovered meeting as a church family can be quite simple and economical.. with simplicity in mind. Our western church we have right now will all rise or fall on the money... if society or government wishes to stop or tamper with the flow.... Get out of the way as the bricks fall

Tom Marshall said...

I liked your suggestion that churches can be taken out with less than persecution. I think the culture shift away from church as an option has triggered a move by some believers to circle the wagons, either by denying there is a problem, or by polarizing the separateness from the very culture they are called to reach.

And I am intrigued by the devastating potential larger churches could bring due to leaders being raised too high. In some way this reflects large companies seeking a larger market share, but the very success has the potential for greater losses. It's one thing when you're Blackberry and when you're Christ's hands and feet to a lost world.