sign of the fish

“Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated–the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11:36-38 NIV)

Our brother Judah recently asked the question that makes up our title. It occurred to me that others–especially in the West–want to know “What is the underground church?” It’s the right question at the right time.

As the passage in Hebrews 11 (above) describes, saints have endured periods of great distress. The people of God have often known times of siege. Second Timothy 3:1 warns, “There will be terrible times in the last days…” With the brutal first-century executions of innocent Christians in Rome during Nero’s reign, we can imagine why Peter wrote “The end of all things is near.” (1 Peter 4:7 NIV) There was no warning before terror struck.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Huddling together in a cave is a sign of desperation. Foraging in the desert is evidence of tough times. Living in catacombs under the city they once called home, was for Romans identified by the sign of the fish. They could exist underground or be entertainment for the Coliseum crowd that rooted for the lions.

My definition of an underground church is “a fellowship of believers who continue to serve Christ while under siege.” War has been declared for reasons beyond their control. They are hated without reason. They must endure great hardship and suffering, but they don’t have to die. If they do not move to God’s place of safety, they will not survive.

My previous post was a response to the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by radical Muslims. They were Egyptian men whose sole crime was their faith in Christ. If any Coptic pastors are reading this, I strongly encourage you to take your flocks underground, at least until the danger is past. If you think it is cowardly to leave the four-walled building you’ve called home to where the Lord can hide you, then count on more widows, orphans and more funerals, including your own. The underground church is an alternative to being the entertainment for gruesome videos loved by the terrorists.

The bottom line is this: We have made the Church bricks and mortar when the Lord meant it as people. We foolishly invest our resources and energies into a building and its upkeep. But this is war. We are under siege from now until the end of the age. One bomb and that cement, wood and glass is blown to bits. One fire and our lovely church is a heap of ashes.

The Church has always been people, but idolatrous worshipers fixate on the material. When war breaks out and its time for saints to move, we wait too long. Hearts won’t let go of the past. Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt for a similar reason. Tarry, while the enemy plots his massacre, and we are playing into his hands.

I know of churches who have armed security protecting the Sunday a.m. crowd. Security killed a man in the foyer of a large Colorado Springs, Colorado, church before the lone gunman could open fire on the worshipers. What’s this? It is one response, but how many guns is enough? What kind of weapons are needed to meet force with force? What happens when the bad guys’ plan of attack takes into account “church security”?

if the shepherd’s job is to protect the flock, wouldn’t the church be better served to head underground rather than the more guns and ammo approach? What do we have to lose beside a costly structure that devours our resources and offers a false sense of security? Imagine what great good we’d accomplish if our budget went to providing for the saints.

The biggest obstacle to Western leaders preparing their congregations for the siege is the Pre-Tribulation Rapture (PTR) doctrine. I have the 70’s “Wish We’d All Been Ready” movie scene etched in my mind: The angel’s trumpet sounded on Sunday a.m. and the members disappeared. The sign outside read “The Rapture: First Thessalonians 4:13-18“.

How many pictures of little girls in bloody dresses and bullet-riddled bodies of boys will it take before we ditch this one fictional image and act? I’m concerned about the answer because I have children and grandchildren in churches that teach PTR fiction as if it were true.

In Part Two, we will look at the amazing growth when leaders adopt the Underground Church model. (It will make us wonder what they were thinking when they ceased underground operations in the 4th century.)