Holy Men in Holy Buildings in Holy Garments

Last week’s blog was a bit of a rant against pastors defying the government over Covid precautions.

We looked at the felt need of so many to move Church back into a building. I got some pushback (which I welcome) from pastors stuck on large gatherings hardly resembling the Church in, say, Acts 14.

Let’s dig a little deeper into what I see as overdependence on buildings, bucks and bottoms in seats. Any discussion involving buildings, etc., inevitably leads to a comparison of the Church in China to that in Russia after the Communists overran each country. We’ve all drawn this contrast at one time or another.

A “heretical cult leader” in China

Hudson Taylor had the first significant breakthrough in China a century before the rise of Mao Zedong. A couple of decades before the Communist victory over the legitimate Chinese government, Watchman Nee broke with established church tradition and took a pounding for it. Cult leader, heretic, you name it he wore the names. However, he prepared the Church for the devastation to follow.

The microchurch movement led by Nee survived and thrived while the Communists government seized all church properties. They kicked out every missionary and arrested, even murdered, prominent pastors. It all looked like a dead-end for the gospel in China—until Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger flew there to reopen diplomatic relationships with the hidden empire. Among other cultural phenomena, they discovered 75 million Christians meeting “underground.” This was essentially a house church movement operating without seminaries, adequate publishing means or any form of government protection. Yet, just 30 years after Mao stamped out Christianity, it had grown by 7500 percent. This after taking more than a century to achieve the first million souls.

By contrast, the Church in Russian gathered around holy men in holy garments in sacred buildings and largely dependent on the government for support. Though it survived a similar purging, the Church in Russia did not thrive.

According to my friend, Neil Cole, in his book Rising Tides, the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong mobilized the Church rather than destroy it. According to Neil, more than 160 million believers in China give the Church about 12 percent of the population.

Russian Frustration and Loss

Back in Russia, the Church was undone by its dependency on governmental favor, religious buildings, central meetings and holy men in unique clothes. Compare this to the Church in the West (and that model which we so freely export). We depend, perhaps too much, on religious buildings, holy meetings and holy people who dress differently—be these clerical garments or expensive clothes designed to keep leaders looking “relevant” (have you seen the website, preachersnsneakers.com?).

In many ways, we’re cruising for a bruising should the government turn against us in any way. The culture has already pretty much voted against us with their feet—they’re not coming to our Sunday events.

You and Yours?

So, what about you? Could you operate for a decade without a building called a church to hold your actual church? What would you do if you lost such a privilege (it is a privilege and a valuable one—I’m not against church buildings but frustrated by our over-dependence on them. How do you define the Church? How would you determine what it takes to be a disciple of Christ? These questions are crucial to us navigating times of crisis like that which we’ve just been through or perhaps in the aftermath of an extreme weather event. How dependant are you on things which are not necessary to be the Church?

Remember, comments are always read and appreciated! Please sound off as it builds community…