Underground church

In recent posts across my circle of blog friends, a lot has been said about worship. A statement I’ve seen several times referring to methods of worship, and comparing them to the underground churches in other countries has been in my head reminding me of the pain and sacrifice many Christians endure around the world in order to worship together. Here we see people in China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, North Korea, and other facist controlled nations having to choose between life and acknowledging Jesus Christ as their Savior. I think of the strength that their faith in Christ must give them, and their “take the whole world, but give me Jesus” resolve they must have.

I’ve looked at websites today that show the torture of Christians in China. I’ve seen pictures of underground church services in other nations (with the faces distorted to protect their identity) where you can see the glow of God’s Glory coming through. You can tell how intense the worship is, and how hungry these people are for God. There are no video projectors, no sound equipment, synthesizers, just the cry of their hearts.

Then I think about us, here in the United States where we are free to worship with the level of passion we choose with no fear of (real) persecution (I’m sorry, somebody calling us “holy rollers,” or “holier than thou” is not persecution!). In many churches, we have projectors so people can sing “off the wall.” We have hymnals for people who want to sing old stuff out of a book. We have PA systems that we complain about being too loud, or complain it’s not loud enough. We have air conditioning and padded seats. We have an espresso bar in the foyer, and computer generated bulletins to keep us up to date on when the next church-wide picnic’s going to be. We have the most anointed, skilled musicians to usher us into an atmosphere of worship. We have a pastor with a Doctorate in Theology to break down the Word of God for us and bring us a rhema Word from the Lord every service. In some American churches it’s not so technologically advanced, or so loaded with the comforts above, yet the atmosphere is still the same.

The common denominator that I see among American churches is not traditional vs contemporary, or energy vs peaceful. The problem I see is that through our complacency in our freedom, Americans are not “getting” how real God is, and how vital of a role that Christ plays in our lives. Most American Christians don’t seem to have a “take the whole world, but give me Jesus” attitude in their every day lives. We have pews that are full of people whose every day life is not being adjusted to reflect a lifestyle of one who is being transformed by the renewing of their mind. I talk to people like that all the time. I’m not “judging” their relationship with God. I am, however, trying to show the extreme contrast between “comfortable” American Christians and those who risk everything just to say “I love You, Jesus.”

The answer, of course is not to remove all of the things we have been so blessed to be able to have – these things should be able to be used aid in the presentation of the Gospel to an A.D.D. media-minded world. It is not to shut down worship services where we can worship as passionately and loudly as we want (we should do it even more, taking full advantage of this freedom to worship). I believe that the problem in most church attendees is that we see many “decisions”, but few persuasions.

We spend so much time between the denominations arguing, “once saved always saved” and “the backslidden condition” doctrines that we have forgotten about the root of the entire path: Be so in love with Jesus, that when you do slip into sin, that you refuse to let it sever your love relationship with with Him.

Paul said in Romans 8:38-39
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

His point goes way deper than whether a loose life will seperate you from the love of God or not. When we truely believe what Christ did for us at the Cross, repent (turn AWAY from sin), and acknowledge Him as our Lord and Savior, it’s a forever life-changing event. Paul’s conversion gives us a prime example of that. When one has truely given their lives to Christ, their lives are to be so changed that they absolutely are persuaded that NOTHING is going to get between them and God. There will never be anything that can tear them away from the love of God (or even their love of Him). This is the attitude of the believers in an underground church, as I believe it should be the attitude of us “free” believers.

added 11:00 pm
It has been brought to my attention some error in what I have communicated – mainly in the last few paragraphs. After reading the section, I’m not even sure if it fits in the subject matter. However, my point about Paul’s statements in Romans 8 is that WE should refuse to allow anything to disrupt our relationship with God. I personally am not convinced of the once saved always saved school of thought (however I’m not convinced that one act of sin will send us to hell). I’m trying to communicate that it’s time that believers strengthen their persuasion to NOT allow things to come between them and God. We should also be mindful that a relationship with Christ envolves more than just going to church and being a good person.

Maybe it would be better to say the following instead of going into the persuation topic:
Let’s not let the freedom, prosperity, and all of our stuff in our lives and in our church services spoil us to the point that it’s all about those things and not about a deep love for Christ. Let’s be thankful for what we have at our disposal, stop complaining about how those things are used and keep the main thing the main thing.


7 thoughts on “Underground church

  1. Mark W. says:

    Food for thought: Doesn’t your argument make you a victim of the same “problem” that you are describing? It sounds as if you are saying that 1) Nothing can come between a true believer and God, 2) underground churches demonstrate this, and 3) American “free” churches do not. Therefore, your argument dictates that “free” (American) churches are false churches, and that they are false BECAUSE they have padded seats and PA systems, etc. I’m sure you’re not trying to make this claim (right?), but that’s how it has come out.

    I’m unconvinced that underground churches are spiritually better – mostly they are different. All things being equal, Christians in underground churches are probably more apt to struggle with bitterness, submission to authority, doubt, anger…you get the idea. We all have our struggles. They have theirs.

    From what I’ve seen, most American Christians don’t really fight over the color of the church carpeting (though we’ve all heard this story, I’m sure). Individuals in “free” churches also experience real struggles for faith, and my lot isn’t to question how spiritual I could be if I were given someone else’s problems (we all tend to think we could expertly handle those), the real issue is whether or not I can handle the ones I’ve actually been given. That’s what will produce a true (“persuaded”) believer, not guilt over having superficial conveniences instead of necessary civil disobedience. Those who are underground do not wish it to be that way for anyone, and neither do I.

  2. Jim says:

    I believe the common denominator would have to be the true ‘cry of the heart’. Those in underground churches have but this to offer, therefore their entire acts of worship become a personal sacrifice. Those of us in ‘free’ churches have a huge tendency to overlook this…because in many, many congregations we really are more concerned about carpet colors and such. It’s almost a complacency in today’s church. Is it in every church, not by any stretch of the imagination. However it is so prevalent that those that are lacking in complacency become almost imaginary in nature.
    It is my prayer that we somehow overcome this issue and get to the true ‘business’ at hand: Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul, body and strength. And then love your neighbor as yourself. Then together, we can blend our voices in that same cry of the heart.

  3. TJ says:

    Mark – you really have a way of making people think about how they say something, don’t you! (it’s a good thing). I should really work on being more clear when I dive into such a subject.

    After re-reading my last paragraph (for about the fourth time) I agree that it did come across more absolute than I intended, thus brining you, and many other analytical readers to the same conclusion that you have come to. What to do? (I should read it about 5 more times before posting I suppose!). I hope I can clear some of this up.

    My statements are to those who have complacent attitude toward their walk with God. This is not a general statement of all American Christians. I believe there is real temptation to not treat our relationship with Christ as the most important thing. We’ve all been there – I know I have.

    My reason for using the underground church for comparison, is to show how important these precious people hold their relationship with God. It can serve as inspiration to us to hold our relationships with God as dearly as they – it is not meant to show a desire to give up the freedom, conveniences and prosperity we’ve been so blessed with and suffer like they do. Yes, we all have our own struggles in life, but for some reason, the more “stuff” we have, it seems like church people gripe more about the “stuff” than true spiritual struggles. You may be blessed to not hear of people complaining about petty things – I hear these complaints all the time in my church, and hear of the same kind of complaints in other churches of all denominations and sizes. However, this doesn’t make most American churches “false” churches – just spoiled and distracted!

  4. Mark W. says:

    I do hope that my comments are taken simply as a way to further contemplate these important issues: a friendly devils-advocate type thing, not an attack.

    On the topic of American churches, I guess I am most uncomfortable with things being oversimplified: take your comment about people “complaining about petty things.” I think that most arguments that happen in churches are not actually about petty things, but about important things with relational and spiritual significance. For instance, that bickering about the color of the carpeting is most likely more about a church member’s broken promise, unacknowledged insult, or some such behavior between people that needs to be resolved, and it is our faith and learning from scriptures that is supposed to teach us how to live and act in such matters.

    Heaping such things into the category of “petty” and “material” in most cases misrepresents the real cause: the important spiritual and relational struggles happening below the surface.

    Rather than squabbling over petty things, the most harmful thing churches do is better described as a failure to successfully address and resolve conflicts between Christians, or adequately teach members how to do this for themselves.

  5. TJ says:

    Mark – Your devil’s advocate approach is always welcome here. Being involved in ministry most of my life, the church issues I have addressed are some of those “DSL is not Cable ARRRGGHHHs” for me.

    You are right on about what you said about teaching Christians how to adequately deal with issues themselves.

    I see the issues that we either don’t deal with (or deal with poorly) among members in our churches are creating a stumblingblock at the church door for saved and unsaved alike.

    As always, thanks for your comments!

  6. dean says:

    tj… great post. i believe history bears this fact out: whenever the Church has experienced its greatest growth, it was when it was under persecution. the 1st century church didnt really jump start like one would have thought after pentecost, until the death of stephen, when the Christians in jerusalem came under persecution and were scattered abroad.

    biblical history aside, a look at the church down through the years will reveal this same truth… persecution strengthens the Church. the efforts of those who would seek to wipe Her out only serve to strengthen Her.

    so as mark said at the end of his first comment, its probably true that no one WANTS to be underground (or persecuted to the point of having to flee to friendlier confines), but that seems to have served God’s purpose down through the centuries.

    i have a very good friend who lives in lebanon,and is a member of an evangelical church there. while a fair percentage of the population in lebanon is Christian in certain areas compared to other arab countries, this church has come under great persecution in the last 3-4 months. not by a secular government, and not by muslim extremists, but by the maronite bishop in the area, and the local maronite church (maronites are a catholic sect which claims to have roots back to the antioch church, and they wield great political power). through it all, my friend has stayed in touch with me by email, and his testimony is amazing! he ends almost every email with this: “i count it an honor to suffer for the cause of Christ.” while i dont want to make any blanket statements, i would be very surprised to find that the average american church member would have such an attitude.

    i believe prosperity has spoiled Christians in america in large part… and i sometimes find myself sliding into that mentality if i’m not careful. is freedom bad? not at all. is prosperity bad? not necessarily. its the availing of ourselves of freedom and prosperity WITHOUT RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY that hurts the cause of Christ far more than persecution ever will.

  7. Jeff Noble says:

    Wow. Great post and followups here. This is another illustration about the beauty of blogs.

    I’d chime in and say that one thing that both the persecuted and “comfortable” church lack is the sense of timelessness. We all live in the “now” to a fault – whether it’s being consumed by the police unearthing your meeting site or whether the preacher will finish in time for you to get home and watch the game.

    We’re unconnected with the past, with those who have gone before. We think that all that God is doing, He’s doing in “my” little life. However, we are part of an epic.

    Hebrews 11 – the faith chapter – tried to remind its readers about the part that those who have gone before have played in His Story (history) and the relevance their lives have for ours.

    Just a thought that probably needs expounding in its own entry when one of us has the time.

    Keep up the great writing.

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