4th Essence

Part 3: The Nature and Significance of the Underground Church

I. Misunderstandings
At the introduction of this next topic I would like to address some misunderstandings, or misgivings concerning the underground church. Firstly let us look at some comments that appeared in a earlier publication. (DSW_03, The Narrow Path, March 2010).

“What really needs to happen here is of a totally different nature. The ones who should be “fleeing” and hiding themselves, according to Revelations 6:16, are those who must fear the Lamb, not those who are to be Lights that shine.” Page 8

“And if He hides himself for a short moment, then it is with an unwavering Spirit that does not give the adversary room to act as he would like. It is neither fleeing nor nurturing a spirit of fear. Page 9

I never intended to suggest going completely into hiding. Of course the underground church cannot encapsulate itself, but neither should it wave flags nor wander about the streets calling out, “Yoo-hoo, here we are!”

Let us examine this apparent discrepancy. What does I mean by “underground church”. This is not new terminology. It is a common term used by those who suffered persecution in the past and by those who are presently enduring it.

A brother in Christ explained it to me this way:
“If we go our way (as we think we should) into secret, or even onto the mission field, we will suffer defeat. But if HE leads us to go underground or enter the mission we will do so while proclaiming the victory that He already has won for us.”

This is of utmost important, HIS LEADING. What HE leads, He will also give the wisdom to do accordingly. I ask a question here. Should we prepare ourselves or should we allow circumstances to lead us passively?
There has been much written on this topic. So let us address the important points.

II. Underground
Some would say, “The church cannot go underground. This is not biblical.”
The term “underground” refers to something that is done or found to be undercover (not openly recognized).

Underground churches by reason of repression, whether from the religious or governing sectors, are those churches that are forced to hold worship services in secret, like in private homes. We have examples of this in the early period of Christianity when the Roman persecution forced them underground. During the period of the French Huguenots and the Bohemian brethren once persecution had started it was only possible to organize secretly. During the communist era after 1945 there were secret Christian fellowships in Eastern Europe who resisted the state-declared Atheism.

Furthermore concerning the underground church there were the secret gatherings for the purpose of baptism. Baptisms and other informal gatherings often took place in forests, caves, barns or cellars. The various families and members were notified by way of a secret network of messengers. It was difficult to keep these small churches together due to the fact that the different members were often scattered over greater distances and everything had to be kept strictly secret.

Though all ages, believers felt the need to gather for worship and the breaking of bread. In order to do this undisturbed it was often necessary to meet secretly. Undeniably there was always an element of fear present. But is this not to be expected? In larger Chinese cities worship services were held quietly. Singing and praising were done without a sound.

And of course there were often spies amongst the believers, who snuck into their meetings to gather information to betray them. God, himself allows these spies, even allowing “some to be imprisoned”, but not all of them. (Rev. 2:10) As it is there are many Christians who minister in outside of prison. This happened in all times past and will also happen in the future for us Christians here in Europe.


III. Spritual Growth and our inner Attitude
When a Muslim converts to Christianity, especially in the Arab world, their decision often brings very serious consequences along with it. There is no superficial, theatrical “conversion”. The decision to follow Christ has been thoroughly thought through with full knowledge of the resulting consequences. (See also Luke 14:27-30)

Seventeen year old Nurta Mohamed Farah from Somalia is an example. In her homeland in eastern Africa, leaving Islam is a crime guilty of death. Her parents attempted to beat her new faith out of Nurta. Nurta experienced a very difficult time of deep suffering and was finally shot to death by someone unknown.

Of course in Europe we also see genuine, sincere conversions, where the soul giving their life to Jesus is fully aware of a price that is to be paid. But the slight repressions and disadvantages we experience have very little in common with real suffering and persecution.
These brethren upon turning to Christ are already prepared for the fact that they will suffer and bare shame for His sake. Those of us here, who enjoy freedom, prosperity and security, must familiarize ourselves with these possibilities. But even here in Europe the time is coming that each Christian will have to make a clear decision as to which way they will choose.

Examining the following points, let us test the attitude of our hearts according to the Holy Scriptures.


1. I identify myself with the sufferings of the brethren worldwide and choose to suffer along with them.

As a born-again Christian I have been placed into a large family. I belong to the people of God, the bride of Christ and to His body.

In I Cor 12:26 it says:
And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

This means I cannot act as if the sufferings of my brethren are no concern of mine.
In 2009 the death of two students in Northern Yemen went through the media. They were from a bible school in Brake. They were working for a mission providing humanitarian aid. These two were criticized by the church for bringing themselves into danger by evangelizing where they were just suppose to be providing humanitarian help. From the world church one cannot expect anything else. But as a member of the body of Christ, I have no right to criticize those who have been killed because they were obeying Christ’s command.

What do I do when I read about persecution and oppression? Do I regularly pray for my brethren with all of my heart? Does it affect me in any way? Or, do I even criticize them? Do I have the attitude that as a Christian, I am a child of the King; therefore if I walk properly I need not fear persecution?

Richard Wurmbrand, who was persecuted and imprisoned for many years in Eastern Europe because of his faith, was criticized by Christians in the West. They put into question the validity and reliability of his reports.

In Rieneckers Bible Encyclopedia we read under the heading that means "to suffer vicariously with somebody":
In the New Testament we see that suffering with Christ is a very real experience that deepens fellowship with Him, who in His life endured much suffering. It was the path of His life that went from suffering unto glory into which we have been called to follow.
Those who suffer with Christ have the promise of reigning with Christ. Those who partake in the fellowship of His sufferings here on earth can fully reckon with the great comfort of fellowship with the Risen and Exalted One. In this manner the co-sufferer with Christ experiences a foretaste of the fullness that will be theirs at the appearance of Christ in His glory.
This “suffering” is not solely a matter of the individual but rather a very integrate part of co-suffering with the body of Christ (II Cor. 12:26) as a whole as it occurs for the sake of the gospel (II Tim. 1:8; 2:3). A Christian also suffers when the church is persecuted (Hebr. 10:32-34) . On the other hand the church suffers with the one member suffers (I Cor. 12:26). This suffering perfects the fellowship of disciples. And in this manner the law of Christ is being fulfilled (Gal. 6:2).


And it is toward this end that we should direct our hearts:
Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God
II Tim. 1:8


2. It would be for the wrong motive to form an underground church as a way to avoid suffering and persecution.

There are two possibilities:
  • I neither join the ecumenical movement nor a church that has adapted itself to this world. Yet, I remain a Christian without drawing real attention to myself. Maybe even being an anonymous Christian.
  • Or, I join a worldly church in order to avoid any difficulties.

Both of these possibilities are a problem as the following passages demonstrate:
But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

Matt 10:33

Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
Heb 10:38

Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
Mk 8:38

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Rev. 21:8

Underground does not necessarily mean undercover as a means to continue living in comfort in our western fullness and idleness. Nor should we look for ways to avoid harm at all costs. It is important that we allow the Holy Spirit to circumcise our hearts in order to gain the proper attitude and steadfastness.
This change of heart may be difficult for those who have an affinity toward people like Joyce Meyer (an American preacher who leans toward the prosperity gospel and other false teachings ) and the motto “let’s enjoy life”.


3. I will go the path that the Lord has prescribed for me, even if this means I will suffer.

When I hear about the brutal sufferings that brethren endure, I often have to catch my breath. Then I ask myself whether I could endure something like that.

Nurta Mohamed Farah was not only beat up by her parents, but she was chained to a tree during the day. At night she was locked up in small dark room.
Christian girls are continuously being raped in Islamic brothels.
Think about the Christian martyr in Iraq whose body was filled with salt.

A piece of Michael Sattler’s tongue was cut out. Altogether seven pieces of flesh were pulled out of his body with blistering hot pincers.

I can only cry out to God that I will have the strength to endure such things without denying my Lord.

Let us continue:


4. The Lord Himself imposes upon us suffering and persecution.

The Lord Himself said in the gospel of John, chapter 15, verse 20:
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

Furthermore:
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
Matt 10:22

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.
Matt 24:9

And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
Mark 13:13

And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake.
Luk 21:17

We will be persecuted because we belong to Jesus Christ. The world and the apostate church want a Jesus Christ to their own liking. The true church, also known as the body of Christ or the Bride, will preach the truth to them, a truth that they do not want to hear.
We can neither deny, nor ignore the fact that the world does not rejoice over Christians. For they remind them of Him who says: “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me!” (John 14:6)
If I proclaim to be a Jehovah’s Witness I will be laughed at. But if I confess to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, and proclaim that He alone is the only way to salvation, I will experience resistance and possibly serious consequences.


Following are bible passages for comfort and assurance:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 5:10

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Mat 5:12

Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
Rev 2:10

But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
Heb 10:39

Conclusion
a. Prepare your heart

Our hearts may not go undercover. Laodicea may not go undercover in order to save herself. This will have far reaching consequences as we see in the passages above.

This means we must examine ourselves. We need to find out what our hearts are holding onto. If we do not set our priorities straight now and prepare our hearts properly for the future, it can happen that we will be too unstable to go the final steps.

In Rieneckers Encyclopedia we find the following warning under “persecution”:
Persecution brings along with it, the temptation to fall away. (Mar 4:17) Or it brings a diversion toward legalism (Gal 6:12) Legalism is a self-made Piety where one is no longer persecuted for the cross of Christ.


b. Welcome Problems and Difficulties

The following picture should visualize what problems and difficulties are good for.

Surely you have seen trees that are fastened to three surrounding pylons so that they will grow nice and straight. These trees are often used to decorate an avenue. If the three pylons are removed and a big storm arises they will fall over because they were not trained to dig their roots deep into the soil.

Then you have trees that grow in the middle of open fields. They are subjected to wind and weather from the onset. They do not grow nice and straight. Much rather they grow crooked and do not always look very nice. But they have learned to take deep root. They remain firm even when big storms arise.

Problems and difficulties are allowed and sent like storms from the Lord in order to teach us to deal with them trusting in Him. Spiritual storms teach us how to deeply root ourselves into the foundation which He Himself is.

Are you afraid to have your hearts proven? In Proverbs 17:3 it says:
“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests the hearts.”


c. Set the proper priorities

Since the beginning man has been searching for lost paradise. This is visible in different ways. Some seek it through religion. Others seek it through lifestyle. Christians know that our time on earth is limited and that real paradise awaits us in heaven; whose citizens we have become. Many Christians (unfortunately I must include myself) want heaven here on earth and eternity with God as well. Our hearts can so hang on our lifestyle here that it weakens our faith so that in the end when hardships and persecutions arise, we make the wrong decisions.



IV. Persecution and Suffering in the Light of Redemption
The Lord Himself allows suffering and persecution. Our carnal nature finds no pleasure in this. We ask ourselves, what the purpose is. Our Lord knows the hearts of believers. Tribes and nations come and go. Rulers come and go. Yet our Lord will reign for eternity.

In Isaiah 40:15 we read
Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.

Our God has sovereignly led His people through all ages past. How does suffering and persecution serve God’s full purpose?


1. A short historical review

In the New Testament the early Christians were persecuted by the pious Jews who were faithful keepers of the Law. The persecution of the early church was a continuation of that which their fathers did to their own prophets of old. Paul, known then as Saul was a zealot for God and believed by persecuting the Christians he was actually serving Him.
The Romans also persecuted the Christians.

Centuries later it was again the religious establishment (then mostly the leaders of the Roman Church) that persecuted the true Church of Jesus; those who upheld the testimony of Jesus and the spirit of prophecy. (Rev. 12:17)

Presently the church experiences more persecution from the governments and people of other religions; like Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism than from others who call themselves Christians.
But in the future we will deal with a completely new alliance. There will be persecution from the “beast”, who is the antichrist, and from the “Harlot“, who is the apostate church.


2. What is the purpose of persecution?

Persecution impacts the church of Jesus and individual believers in many important and meaningful ways. I would like to emphasize a few of these.


a. The number of believers increases

As is observable in the first century of the Roman Empire the number of believers did not decrease as a result of persecution, but much rather their numbers increased. The death of one believer brought about many new conversions. As was mentioned before the decision to follow Christ was not a decision made lightly. One can see this unusual type of revival today in China for example.


b. Genuine Faith is put to the test and the believers are strengthened in their faith

“For Gold is not afraid of the fire“, is the title of a book by Ralph Toliver. This book tells the story of a Chinese family during the communist revolution. This family was mistreated many, many years. Yet, in the end the Lord turned everything around and brought forth a blessing.

In I Pet. 1:6-9 it says:
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.


A Christian who has had their faith proven and strengthend matures to become a valuable tool in God’s service.


c. Christians are snatched out of a deceitful and lethargic lifestyle

Many, many Years ago, a preacher wrote:

The number one temptation for the last Christian will be prosperity. The Bible warns that in the last: days many Christians will be halfhearted, rich, prosperous, and in need of nothing. However, I see millions of Christians being deceived by prosperity. The last Christian is going to be afflicted by prosperity and tested by it more than through poverty.

He sees how Satan reappears before God and provocatively accusing him of blessing Christians with material things, prospering them and increasing their riches. One may dispute over the details of this vision but what he goes on to write is undeniable.

“I see automobiles, clothes, motorcycles, and all kinds of materialism becoming a bigger hindrance to the Christian than drugs, sex or alcohol. I see thousands of Christians attached to and obsessed by things. They are so wrapped up in materialism that they become lukewarm, blind, weak and spiritually naked. Yet in the midst of all their materialism, they are miserable and totally dissatisfied.”
 
Further on he writes in the section titled: „Holy Ghost Swingers“

I see many of the last Christians who were once lovers of God becoming shipwrecked by their obsessive love for pleasure. Lovers of God find no pleasure in drugs, illegitimate sex, alcohol, tobacco, or smut. The devil knows that. Most of these fleshly pleasures offend and repulse the Christian. I see thousands of Christians sitting in theatres exposing themselves to degrading influences they once abhorred.
They have not given themselves over to any particular sin, but they have become very comfortable in their addiction to off-color movies, numerous parties, socials, and wine-tasting. They really love God, but they love their pleasures even more.
They are not really sinners before God—just strangers to Him. They have become so busy swinging and trying to live a liberated Christian life that they have changed drastically without knowing what they have become.
The sudden evacuation of Christians from the earth will catch many of them unawares. They have become socialized gadabouts who can't find one hour any more to talk to God in a secret closet of prayer. I see the sin of the future as the misuse of leisure time. This has nothing to do with weeks spent on vacation.
It's not the time spent touring Europe or the Holy Land.
It's not a hunting or a fishing trip. It's not hours spent surfing, boating, water skiing, or horseback riding. These things are all legitimate and good in themselves. I am talking about all the wasted time. The time that a man has for himself to choose what he will do; Time that could be spent in reading God's Word; Time that could be spent in the secret closet talking to the heavenly father.

 

And the following sentence is unfortunately all too familiar in my own life:

The last Christian, who lives so much closer to the return of Christ than the early Christians, spends the least time of all in His presence. The message of coming judgment and the return of Jesus Christ will not register with so many Christians for the same reason that the message and the pending doom did not get through to Noah's generation—because they were so in love with the pleasures of buying, selling, planting, and love-making.


d. True Christians are a warning example for the backsliding church.

He addresses the issues that on one hand genuine, sincere Pastors are being slandered while those who propagate false doctrines increase. And, as a result of these false teachings there is an increase in the number of counterfeit Jesus’ movements with “conversions” creating a large number of so-called “Jesus” people. But afterward he writes about the genuine believers:

Suffering persecution and aware of the signs of the times an army of true Jesus followers will continue to arise like commandos. They will be a part of an underground church that will be found preaching the return of Christ and the end of the age! They will be like a thorn in the side of the harlot church, and they will sting and scar the consciences of men by their devotion and spiritual power. 

Meanwhile one can also observe this happening.


Conclusion

It is encouraging to know that everything that happens to me lies in the hand of my sovereign Creator who has his plan for me. I am not at the mercy of a comfortless destiny without a meaningful goal.



V. Christians in Prison and undercover
It is an historical fact that during times of persecution Christians are mightily used in and out of prison. The Lord designates to each one their duties as He sees fit. The following is meant as an encouragement.


1. Christians as a blessing in prison

Johannes Bruder quotes Pastor Wurmbrand in his book “The undermining of Christianity” (in German). Pastor Wurmbrand said that prison cells were a mission field and that many conversions happen there. This is very encouraging. In prison there are enough people who have no more hope for their lives. There are numerous reports of the cruel interrogations and tortures they endured in these prisons. But there are also reports of hope and confidence.


2. Christians are a blessing outside of prison

Christians who have not been caught and are still free are needed. Family members of imprisoned brethren need support for example. Brethren, whose faith is weak, need to be strengthened and led on to maturity. Unstable souls need to be nurtures as is mentioned in I Pet 2:14.
Those who are not imprisoned must continue to proclaim His Word, disciple others and teach the Word of God to the believers. Bibles are needed in places where they are forbidden by law. This fact alone deserves to be a subject to be taught on.



All notes are in this Free-PDF-Dokument (434 KB)

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