I hate AND love to think that the church in America might have to go underground one day. It is a scary and at the same time, an exhilarating thought. Some Christians might think I’ve lost my mind, but let me explain.
But first, is it too hard to think that the church MIGHT have to go underground at some point? I mean the true church, not the one that is approved, ok’d or will do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to keep their 503(c) status by the government. I’m talking about the church that will follow the Bible and choose to live for Jesus regardless of what the culture, government or anyone says. I mean the church that will be the church, even in the face of threats and persecution! Is it too hard to think that we could be there at some point in the near future?
It will (is) easy to blame us. I mean, come on! We are people who are unbending when it comes to just accepting what everyone (the world) is doing. We say no to abortion, homosexuality, etc.., etc.., etc.. We are just not tolerant. So why would the world want to put up with us? “Let’s remove these troublemakers and things will be easier,” you can almost hear them say! It’s happened before in other places in this world, at other times. And more importantly, Jesus warned about it.
18 “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they don’t know the One who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin. Now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 The one who hates Me also hates My Father. 24 If I had not done the works among them that no one else has done, they would not have sin. Now they have seen and hated both Me and My Father. 25 But this happened so that the statement written in their scripture might be fulfilled: They hated Me for no reason.
26 “When the Counselor comes, the One I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father—He will testify about Me. 27 You also will testify, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
John 15:18-27 (HCSB)
So back to my statement, I hate and love to think that Christians, we, might find ourselves one day having to go underground to meet, fellowship and share God’s Word.
I hate the idea because I know that many Christians won’t be able to make the transition. Church is done in a “church.” We drive there every Sunday morning. It has rows of chairs and children’s church and maybe a cafeteria and a gym.
It would come as a shock that many wouldn’t be able to handle. As a result, many will lose faith and think that God is dead. Some will argue that these people were never really Christians to begin with. Maybe, Maybe not! I just know that sometimes we have such thoughts and ideas that normalcy bias sets in and we can’t imagine anything else…or meeting together in any other way.
I love the idea that churches might have to go underground one day because it will shake the very core of American Christianity! We have built our faith around a building, great preachers, great music and great amenities (Children’s church, Youth Group, Singles, etc…). There is nothing wrong with all of this, but it has become more of “this is church” than we come together to worship and serve God!
We have come to expect that we “go to church” to get fed or to grow spiritually. We have come to expect that the pastor needs to be a great speaker, who is energetic, positive and entertaining. We go to church to “feel” it. And if we don’t, we go find another one.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t the case for ALL churches in America. However, I bet I would get more that agree with me than not!
Going underground means that we will have to be more relational. The church would more than likely meet in homes. It would be more participatory. There would probably be more prayer and seeking God.
Let’s face it, you can walk into many churches today and absent the “Good morning” from the greeters at the door, if your church does that, you don’t have to actually speak to anyone. A smile and a nob will suffice most of the time. This is good and bad. Sometimes you just want to walk in and focus on God. You might not want social club time! But most of the time we like to talk to people. We like to know that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, we want to belong. Yes, you can always get involved in some aspect of church, they always need volunteers, but some just don’t naturally gravitate to that.
In an underground or small home church setting, you can’t just get away with showing up and leaving without interacting with others. And if you don’t show up for some reason, people will know it. There is usually food and sharing and times of fellowship that you just don’t experience in a large church setting. You become part of the family, you belong.
You’ve probably heard the term “sit and get.” This is usually the case in churches where the preacher gets up to preach. There isn’t really alot of participation, outside of signing some songs. Yes, you can join a small group and get involved in ministry. But the main thrust of any church is the Sunday morning service.
Home churches or small groups are just by nature more participatory. Coming together, maybe sitting in a circle, just lends itself to times where people can ask questions and discuss spiritual matters. As this happens, it becomes easier and easier to share faith with others. It also allows others to see that they are not in it alone. The person sitting across the room is going through the same concerns, fears, situations…
Prayer in a church setting usually means the pastor or someone is called to the front, given a microphone and says a prayer. This is usually already setup before the service, again nothing wrong with that. Some churches allow for prayer at the end of the service. They will call prayer partners up and you can come up for special prayer.
In a smaller setting, prayer can be spontaneous. It can take as long as needed. Those that feel that they should pray, can.
In a larger church setting, most of the “spiritual food” is provided by the pastor. I hate to say it, but many times it is programmed, sermon series based on a given passage are easy and don’t take too much hearing from God. I know, I’ve been there and done that! There might be more available for members in small groups, but it depends on how the groups are laid out and the focus that the leader wants to share.
In a home church/small group setting, there is still usually someone in charge of providing a message or sermon or the sharing of Scripture. However, it doesn’t always have to be the same person and the discussion and sharing can always lead it where the Holy Spirit would like it to go. Again, there is freedom to discuss Scriptures more or pray more or take however long it takes.
In conclusion, the focus of this article is about a time when churches might have to go underground. In no way am I saying that churches need to do this now or that it is the only way! I have pastored a home church for many years and I currently attend a larger church, so I’m not against larger churches.
I do think that churches should really think about this topic. Certain issues are causing more an more pastors to think about what their churches would look like in a tyrannical government scenario. Pastors, elders and church officials should be thinking about contingencies so that their members are “looked after” and can continue meeting together in the faith.
In part 2, I will share some specifics, from my years of pastoring a home church, that Christians should think about when considering meeting in small congregational settings.