Over the past few years my heart has really been stirred by thoughts of what the underground Christian church has to go through to gather together. I have read statistics that there are upwards of 200 million Christians who face some kind of daily persecution in the over 50 countries that are closed to Christianity. Of those 200 million, on average 300 die per hour because of their faith in Christ Jesus. As I compare what many Christians around the world have to face to what Christians in the United States have to face, I can honestly think of only one way we can relate, and that is how we meet.
Sure, here in the U.S. we build big expensive church buildings and make them as comfortable and luxurious as we can so we can remove ourselves from culture by retreating inside the building for every event. In many places of persecution this is exactly what Christians have to do. They have to find a place to meet that is private with the hopes and prayers that the authorities do not find them. In some ways comparatively we are exactly the same. However, in reality we are so far apart with our reasons why we do this.
I find it very troubling that too many of us are scared to live out our Christian faith in the public arena. We are afraid to read and study the Bible in public so we retreat to study in privacy. We are afraid to gather with other believers and pray out in the open so we gather at our home. We fight tooth and nail for the religious liberties given to us by our country’s constitution, yet we never act upon them. No, we would rather retreat to our safe place.
This is not the way it should be or the way the early Christians in the book of Acts operated. Admittedly there were times that they got together in private to pray and encourage each other, and there are times we should do the same, but as we read in the book of Acts the Christians were out in the synagogues proclaiming the name of Jesus or around the temple breaking bread and celebrating the gospel. The synagogues and the temple were NOT the first Christian church building; in fact they were anything but that. Rather it was at these places where the people who crucified Jesus met. This was in many ways a dangerous place, which is what we see in the book of Acts. By not retreating back to their private homes the early Christians found themselves in prison or facing death. Yet they continued to proclaim and live out the gospel in the public arena.
What if we did that here? What if instead of having yet another Bible study at the church building, we met at a restaurant with our Bibles opened? What if instead of having a prayer meeting in someone’s home we passionately prayed together in a coffee shop? What if we did not play it safe? What if we did not continue to retreat? My guess is we soon would get a little bit of a taste of what the persecuted church has to go through. My guess is we would also see the gospel advance.