The church was labelled an illegal movement when it was just days old – not because of any criminal behaviour, but because a lame man received healing in the name of Jesus.
“What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” Acts 4:16,17
What happened there was the beginning of a difficult future that saw countless believers persecuted, ostracized, and martyred for no other reason than their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It came as no surprise though, as Jesus said it would happen:
Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. John 15:20
This may seem like a long time ago for Christians in the West, but persecution is still a daily experience for many believers in other parts of the world. I have personally seen underground churches that meet in secret, and believers who dream of owning a Bible. Simple home churches where disciples gather in small groups do not have praise bands, pews, video projection, or any of the luxuries that we consider necessities in the West; they worship quietly, preach the Word, enjoy Communion together, and take care of one another. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 is their mission statement. And they are growing organically – not by church shoppers. The underground church in China has seen consistent growth for decades now, and it is well known that the church in Iran is the fastest growing Christian movement in the world, despite brutal persecution and long prison sentences for believers. Adherents to the Christian faith pay a heavy price for their faith in a long list of countries where the church is outlawed.
While we are rightly concerned about the plight of the persecuted church, it seems that they have reason to worry about us in the free world. Without realizing it, we are under attack too. The enemy is the same, but his tactics are different, and he seems to be more successful here than in persecuted nations. If the devil cannot get you with something bad, he will get you with something good – and that is a tough battle to win.
Paul wrote about apostasy in the last days, a falling away from the true gospel:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons… 1 Timothy 4:1
It is not my intention to criticize the church – far from it – but we live in extremely critical times, and we must put our hand in our bosom and recognize our problems. The Laodicean church is in full manifestation. The church in the free world has become financially rich, yet spiritually bankrupt. Motivational speeches replace the full gospel message; there is no call to the altar, and repentance is a little-understood ancient word. How do we survive the celebrity pastors, false apostles, prophets, and teachers, entertaining worship, prayerless congregations, and brandname Christianity of the modern era?
Add to that the range of topics declared taboo in church, even though Scripture has much to say about them. Political correctness reduces the gospel to a form of sub-culture that has little (if any) impact on the world. We are in for a painful correction if we are interested in entering through the narrow gate.
Thank God, there has always been a remnant that remained faithful through the ages. There is a remnant today, but it is not found where everybody is looking. It doesn’t attract the masses, but you may find them in homes and small gatherings where discipleship is strong and accountability high. The church started in small groups in the homes of believers, and might very well end there when persecution rises. (Covid-19 might even force it upon us.) This is how the church thrives under persecution today. Bad times can become good times, if planned properly. The Holy Spirit is an innovative genius; He has been here since the beginning, He knows the future, and how to navigate a safe passage through the most perilous of times.
I have seen, over and over again, that the power of the gospel is in its simplicity, not in beautiful cathedrals, fancy programs, or by seeking the appreciation of the world.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
Simple underground churches follow the pattern of the first church, and see the same results that the first Christians saw.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:46,47
The gospel has everything that the world needs, for it is God’s power unto salvation.
Be encouraged; the road ahead of us is much shorter than the one behind us!
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