What Must The Church Do To "Prepare The Saints"?
I just finished reading God Is Red, a book about the Church in China. The author, claiming not to be a Christian but a Chinese Dissident, curiously interviews Christians because he believes they are on the fringe of Chinese society. He is intrigued with the history of the Chinese Church: A missionary influx in the 1800’s that was thwarted by the Boxer Rebellion only to have a second wave of missionary activity in the first half of the twentieth century only to be thwarted by the Communist Chinese and their Culture Revolution. Since the Communist take over in 1949, Christianity has basically been banned unless through their sanctioned governmental Church. In spite of all the intense persucutions, amazingly the free-cell home church movement is growing with leaps and bounds.
Throughout history secular governments have tried to align themselves with religious movements. The Barons of Germany lined up behind Luther to oppose the Italian Catholic Church during the Great Reformation. Henry VIII of England founded his own church, the Anglican Church or the Church of England, which still boasts the monarchy as its head. Even in China the Chinese Catholic Church’s allegiance is to the masses and Communist party rather than to a “foreign” Pope in Italy.
I have read several of Watchman Nee’s books for his teachings are unique to the Westernized religious world. He is actually preparing the Church in China for what is to come: persecution. How do you prepare the Church for the time when its clergy system will be devastated by persecution and imprisonment? How will the Church survive if its supposed leaders are diminished and almost eliminated to the point of extinction? In spite of not being able to send “foreign” missionaries into China and with the elimination of their clergy, the Church of China has not only survived, but grown not only in numbers but in spiritual power. What prepared them for this?
Watchman Nee and other’s taught to “prepare the saints for the work of service”, even if that service was to be under a harsh atheistic Communist regime. In spite of harsh penalties, the Church, God’s people, learned how to pray, how to exercise their faith, the importance of “gathering together” for corporate worship, and for “memorizing” the Bible for the day all Bible’s would be confiscated. Because the saints had been prepared for the upcoming days of persecution, they survived.
I wonder if the Church in America would be ready for such persecution? Would they survive? Most American Christians are enabled by their clergy who pray for them, read the scriptures to them, preach or interpret the Bible for them, and visit the sick for them, break communion for them, etc. We expect our well paid professional leaders and staff to do it all for us. We want to be entertained, have excellent music available, have scripture and song lyrics projected instead of memorizing them, have our children Biblically entertained and our youth enthusiastically energized. We are instructed to have a private prayer life and a private daily Bible reading, but are banned from sharing it openly corporately, led and fed by peers. I have seen the numbers of Christians who read through the Bible in a year or less diminish over the years, and memorization of scriptures is even scarcer.
So, I have asked often before in these blogs, but will ask again: What will it take to “prepare the saints for the work of service” here in America? How do we birth, develop and release common ordinary believers in Jesus Christ to be evangelists to extend the gospel, to be pastoral to take care of the widows, the orphans, all of us in need, to be teachers of the Word not intellectually through Westernized theology, but through practical living and working out our salvation and walk through living the Word, to be prophetic to listen to the voice of God and be obedient to what they have seen and heard, and to be apostolic, being about to see the big picture of the church rather than the denominational sectarianism that divides the church in theology, scope, power, and unity? It is a monumental challenge, but a question to be taken seriously!
With power, influence, and wealth comes arrogance. Are we so arrogant to think that we will always have “religious freedom”? Study history? Are we so self-pious to think that we will never fall into apostasy, or even spiritual complacency at times? Study history? When the American economy flounders and its stance as a world power wanes, what shape will the American Church be in? We can’t ignore these questions.
We, the Church, need to face the question of how to “prepare the saints for the work of service” in the twenty-first century and beyond. What must “we” do “now” in preparation for the uncertain future that lay ahead. How do we prepare the average American Christian believer to increase his faith, learn how to hear God for himself, know how to pray effectively, learn how to lay hands on the sick and see healings, how to give benevolently, in fact sacrificially to others, etc. The challenge is there…; let’s meet it head on today!