Jesus was an itinerant preacher. He didn’t have a home synagogue or church, and he clearly wasn’t interested in building one. He moved from place to place as God guided him, going where he was needed when he was needed. He preached in the wilderness, on boats, in the town square, in synagogues, in the temple – wherever God led him. If he was in danger of getting arrested in one place, he went to another. He didn’t hang around where he wasn’t welcome. He didn’t force himself on people, and he didn’t bait law enforcement.
Setting up a permanent gathering site was never part of Jesus’ teachings.
When we read in Acts about the church in various cities like Rome and Corinth, we should be aware that the mentioned church was not an actual building; it was the believers living in those cities. The church (read “believers”) met in different locations, depending on the security risk. Again – there was no one permanent gathering site, mainly because most of the church was being persecuted and the members were constantly in hiding or on the run.
Which brings me to the point of this blog. I’ve been hearing a lot of stories lately about ‘churches’ getting shut down and fined, and pastors getting arrested for violating lockdown mandates. As much as I want to sympathize with the pastors, I just cannot. Jesus taught his followers ONLY TO GO WHERE THEY ARE WELCOME. He told them if they aren’t welcome in one town, go to the next. Fleeing persecution is part and parcel of being a follower of Jesus and preaching the Word – that is, part and parcel of being a Christian. And since it is part and parcel of being a Christian, you need to know how to avoid the main pitfalls of persecution, which today are being arrested, fined, or imprisoned. Because if you don’t avoid them, you won’t survive as a Christian.
Reports from all over the world indicate that we are again entering a time of widespread persecution. This means we have to be especially wise. If we’re threatened with arrest or fines for meeting in a particular place, we meet somewhere else. Remember that the early church lived under constant threat not only of arrest and imprisonment, but of torture and execution. These believers were always on the run and living in hiding. They gathered wherever they felt it was safe to do so, but they did it secretly. THEY DID IT SECRETLY. If they knew their gathering would get them arrested, they kept quiet about it or moved to a different location. They were wise, not foolish. They followed Jesus’ example of how to avoid arrest.
These ‘church buildings’ where pastors are being arrested should never have been designated as such. There is no reason to have a church building. Jesus never had one. The church is the people, not a building. The pastors and church members getting themselves arrested during the lockdowns are not heroes. They are not acting wisely or following Jesus’ example. They are acting the opposite of wise. Instead of defying local mandates, they need to adopt the methods of the early church and go underground. If the church members feel the need to meet to worship, they need to do it in secret, in houses or in a location other than the publicly known ‘church building’. Worshiping at a site where you’ve been threatened with arrest or fines for worshiping there is just plain pig-headed and not in any way reflective of the teachings of Jesus.
So this is my advice for those who are purposely getting arrested: READ SCRIPTURE. Get to know Jesus’ teachings on persecution and how to deal with it. Don’t be a sitting duck. If the early church had refused to go into hiding or flee from threats of arrest, Christianity may never have survived. Fleeing and secrecy are long-standing survival tools used by the church throughout the ages, and they need to be dusted off now and put into action. You’re not doing anyone any good if you’re sitting in a jail cell or selling everything you have to pay a fine.
So, to sum up:
1) The people – not a building – are the church.
2) Doing what you can to avoid potential arrest, fleeing, going into hiding, and worshiping in secret are all longstanding traditions of Jesus’ followers.
3) Being persecuted is part of what it means to be a Christian and shouldn’t be fought against. Instead, those who are experiencing persecution should flee to where the Word is welcome and where they are safe to worship and gather, even if only in secret. This is how, as Christians, we live to fight another day.
Jesus clearly demonstrated, through his teachings and by avoiding certain areas during his ministry years, that you are to stand your spiritual ground, not your physical ground. If Jesus didn’t have or didn’t encourage the building of permanent physical meeting sites, neither should we. Our permanent meeting site, as born-again believers, is God’s Holy Spirit, and he is anywhere we are.
No building required.