A Parable from the Past: Preparing for What’s to Come

By Neil Cole

I’m often asked if I feel that our organic church movement has accomplished all that I had hoped. The answer is no. We are not the movement that I hoped for… yet. But that is partly because I have always felt that what we were doing was preparing the church for what is coming: persecution. I see our work as sowing seeds for a future harvest, and I believe that future is getting closer every day. Am I some fringe conspiracy theorist? I don’t think so, but I’m not impartial on the question. In all of history, the freedom we have experienced in our lifetime is actually an anomaly. The Bible makes clear that those who follow Christ will be hated and will endure persecution. I suspect there is good reason for my thinking, but if I am wrong and persecution doesn’t come, I have not lost anything. But if it does and we are unprepared then we have lost much. We have this generation to make a difference in and will give account of what we did with the time given to us. I feel called to prepare God’s people for a future that is less open and free, but far more fruitful.

One of the heroes of my faith is Watchman Nee. God used him (and others like him) to prepare the church in China before the Communist revolution took over. He launched the “Little Flock” movement, which was a radical departure from the Western church model that had been planted in China prior. It was smaller, simpler in structure, inexpensive and indigenous. The churches met in smaller gatherings in homes led by ordinary people with real jobs. He brought the same sort of preparation that I have been devoted to enacting.

When the communists took power they arrested the church leaders (like Nee), seized all church property, kicked out all missionaries and burned all Christian literature. The indigenous expressions of simple churches meeting in homes not only survived…they thrived. The Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong sought to eliminate all religion from society in China, but instead mobilized the church and it grew from about 2 million Christians in 1949 to over 60 million.[1] It is estimated today that there may be upwards of 80 million Christians in China.[2]

Contrast this with the church of Russia. The Russian Church was dependent upon three things: holy buildings, holy men in robes, and holy services performed by those men in those robes and in those buildings. When the communists took over Russia, they seized all the buildings and arrested, or compromised, all the leaders of the church. The church was devastated. It did not thrive. Granted, there was a remnant that struggled to survive underground, but the Christ followers were not able to see the exponential growth the Chinese church did.

I carry deep inside a feeling that everything I have been about for the past 20 years is just preparing the bride of Christ for what is to come. In fact, 100movements is birthed to prepare God’s church for what is to come. Like Nee, we have been striving to bring health and simplicity back to the church, and with that an ability to ride out any storm that may come.

In the next week I will post a few ideas on this blog about how vulnerable our churches are to persecution and what I think may take place in the next couple years to expose those vulnerabilities.

[1] Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006, p. 19

[2] Philip Yancey, “Discreet and Dynamic: Why, with No Apparent Resources, Chinese Churches Thrive,” Christianity Today, July 2004, p. 72