The headlines tell the story:
- Christian churches burnt down in Kenya
- Christians murdered, churches vandalized
- Churches Torched As Thousands Rally to Wahid's Side
- Christian churches under attack
- 3 women killed in Pakistan
- Indonesian Churches Attacked: Radical Muslim Fighting Force Poised for War
- Indonesian Muslims Again Attack Churches
We have come to this day in history. Throughout the world, Christians and churches are being attacked. Terror alerts warn of "spectacular attacks that meet several criteria: high symbolic value, mass casualties, severe damage to the U.S. economy, and maximum psychological trauma." I have sat in our auditorium on Sunday mornings glancing out the large windows on either side, wondering, "What if they sent a suicide bomber or a small aircraft into full, large suburban churches here in America or another country on a Sunday morning?"
I don't mean to strike terror into the hearts of readers…of course not, but we do need to think realistically about the time in which we now live as Christians. We are quite possibly entering into a time of physical persecution of the church. This should be of no surprise. The Bible promises we will endure persecution and encourages us to persevere and be faithful, and even to delight in and boast about being persecuted for our faith.
The fact is, where true Biblical Christianity is being lived out, bombing a building cannot kill the church! The enemy can try to strike fear into the hearts of Christians so that they will not attend church services, but they cannot stop the real church from being the church. Jesus said, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18). The real church is not a building, of course, but a community.
As Christians, we have no sacred places in the world: Not Rome; Not Constantinople; Not Wittenberg; Not Bethlehem or Jerusalem; Not Dallas, or Nashville, or Chicago. Biblical Christianity, as distinguished from many other world religions, is not centered on any location or building. When a Samaritan woman questioned Jesus about the correct place to worship, He corrected her: "a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks" (John 4:23). Our sacred place is where God is present: in Christian community. Jesus said, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20).
When small groups of Christians meet in the name of Jesus ("because they are mine" in the New Living Translation) in homes, throughout neighborhoods, in businesses, in restaurants – when they are going into all the world rather than congregating in church buildings, they are the true church – a church that is next to impossible to attack.
Under circumstances of extreme persecution, where church buildings are not safe, what would small groups do?
We would, first of all, seek to know and love and praise God together. In community, we would worship Him in spirit and in truth. Under these circumstances, I doubt we would argue much over style and preferences. Living our lives together in Christian community would itself be a daily act of worship (Ro. 12:1).
We would love one another. That is how the world will know that we are His disciples – not by meeting en masse in buildings, but by how we love one another in real, authentic community.
We would dig into God's Word together, not just for the sake of Bible study (information) but for spiritual growth (transformation).