Philippians 3:10 speaks of the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Housechurches have grown in China in recent decades, and are growing today in Iran. In both countries the housechurch structure enables the church to thrive under persecution, just as the early church grew and presented a witness under persecution. In some places Christianity has violent enemies who target church buildings, particularly at festivals and on Sundays. Observance of a church calendar is a matter of private conscience (Colossians 2:16), while churches that meet in private homes on weekdays can continue more easily and safely. Brother Yun wrote that the Chinese movement of believers “won’t build a single church building anywhere, but the Lord will be building up his church of living stones, with Jesus as the cornerstone” (in his jointly authored book Back to Jerusalem, p.50, quoting 1 Peter 2:4-6).
Persecution is on the horizon in Western countries. It draws nearer with each restriction on free speech and State approval of immoral practice, as people react against the gospel pricking their conscience. Rod Dreher’s book Live Not by Lies (a phrase of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s) is based on interviews with Christians who lived under persecution in Eastern Europe before 1990, and live now in Western Europe or America. They recognise the pattern in the West today and give a clear warning. The challenge will be to see the purification of the church brought by persecution through the eyes of faith: to understand that it is Jesus Christ cleansing his bride, not abandoning her. That is why judgement begins at the church (1 Peter 4:17). Satan can do no more than act as God’s proxy in this cleansing, for Christ has promised that the gates of hades (meaning death) will not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18).
Persecution is the norm theologically and historically; the recent history of the West is an exception. Under persecution, do not feel “It’s not fair”, for it is ridiculous to expect Satan to fight clean. At the Last Supper, Jesus warned (in John’s gospel) that his followers would face persecution. The right attitude to persecution is to be glad that you are worth persecuting (Matthew 5:10-11), for many churchgoers today are not.
Mainstream churches are, or have been, religions of state, and are not forms of Christianity adapted to persecution. They include many committed followers of Jesus Christ, but they will be divided over whether to cooperate with persecuting authorities (which may demand membership lists) in the hope of hanging on to buildings, charitable status and so on. Church 14-26 will be able to reassure other believers who are in confusion, and be ready for spiritual battle. In that hour, be glad that you are alive to make a difference!
Under persecution, each 14-26 group or study group should arrange its next meeting at its previous meeting, should not discuss anything on social media, and should vary the pattern of when and in whose home to meet. Persons attending meetings should leave their mobile phones at home to prevent tracking.