Two days ago in the Online Publication of VOM (Voice of the Martyrs Website) a headline appeared which stated; “ETHIOPIA: Persecution Changed Priorities for Members of Destroyed Churches.” The article went on to say; “After Muslim mobs destroyed 12 churches in the Alaba zone in 2019, believers waiting for their churches to be rebuilt report an increased dedication to missions and outreach in their communities. In a single day, extremists moved through the town of Alaba Kulito and destroyed 12 church buildings. Two years later, church leaders and evangelists now report that their congregations are more motivated than ever to share the Gospel with their persecutors. One congregation sent five evangelists to an unreached people group. Another evangelist reported that more people responded to the Gospel message in the previous two months than in six months of previous work. “The persecution has awakened the churches for missions. We were prioritising buildings, furnishing them and buying other materials. But now our number one priority is missions,” one of the church elders said. “After the persecution we haven’t raised funds for church buildings and other materials but for missions.” (End of report)
“The gates of Hades will not prevail against it!”
As I read this report I was reminded of what the Lord Jesus said to Peter after He had confessed that the Lord Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. “Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:17-18) The Lord Jesus was not speaking about a defensive position taken by His followers but an offensive position where His followers would carry the fight to the enemy by preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Now the rock was not Peter but the great boulder of Revelation knowledge and truth concerning the Lord Jesus Himself and, that against this truth, Satan and all his minions from Hades (Hell) would never prevail against this revelation. Peter had received this revelation supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. On refection we can also see that the Lord Jesus was never into buildings and religious structures.
Is God really into buildings or building programmes?
In Matthew chapter 24 the Lord Jesus actually prophesied the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Here in the western democracies, historically linked to Judeo-Biblical Christianity since the time of Constantine, has placed the emphasis upon buildings and infrastructure and religious ceremonies and even religious icons and relics of one sort or another. Having said this we need to ask the question “Is God really into buildings or building programmes?” We know that He planned the building of the temple because it and all of its contents and sacrifices and offerings were all pointing to the Messiah our Lord Jesus.
Once He, as the living and Eternal Word of God became flesh and tabernacled among us, became the perfect and final spotless Passover Lamb sacrificed at the cross the need for perpetual sacrifices and offerings were no longer required. When He died the curtain of the Jewish temple was torn from top to bottom signifying that the way now lay open for any man, woman, boy or girl to enter into God’s presence and enjoy a personal relationship with Him through faith in His Son and mediator the Lord Jesus and by faith in His shed blood that has atoned for sin once and for all time. (Hebrews 10:19-20) (Hebrews 9:24-28) (Hebrews 10:10-18)
God’s Temple today
God’s temple is His people. As the apostle Paul writes; “For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16b) According to the New Testament God’s Temple is made up of living stones. As Peter writes; “As you come to Him, the living stone, rejected by men but chosen and precious in God’s sight, you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “See, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and precious cornerstone; and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:4-6) When He walked this earth the Lord Jesus Himself was the living manifestation of God’s Temple in a flesh and blood body. He actually called Himself God’s Temple. (John 2:19)
The Spirit of Truth.
Now while worship methods vary, the essential thing is that God is Spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth, for such worshippers He seeks to worship Him. (John 4:23-24) Unity is not based on a conglomeration of different denominations getting together to dialogue over how to settle their religious, denominational or their doctrinal differences, but real unity in the Holy Spirit is based on the Spirit of Truth, the blessed Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth and will never sanction unbiblical doctrines and practices. (John 16:12-15) The first century Assembly of believers “devoted themselves to the apostle’s doctrines.” (Acts 242a)
Today we have apostolic doctrine in the New Testament and God has not given any minister, vicar, pastor, bishop, priest or teacher to change it or to add to it or to take away from it. (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32) (Proverbs 30:5-6) (1 Corinthians 4:6) (Revelation 22:18-19) The problem with western Christendom is that by and large it has departed from its Judeo-Hebrew roots and has Hellenised the way it interprets scripture. In the first century the believers only had the Old Testament scriptures and that was their Bible as the New Testament was still being written. Denominations with their differing doctrines and religious observances and ceremonies were never God’s intention from the start.
Worshipping in Spirit and truth
To worship Him in Spirit and in Truth is only possible if we believe in and interpret the scriptures as they were intended to be understood and interpreted and that in light of their time frame, their context and co-texts. As Paul writes to Timothy; “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
You know brothers and sisters even though God had the Jewish temple built Stephen said to the religious leaders who prided themselves on their buildings; “However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands. As the scripture says: ‘Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. What kind of house will you build for Me, says the Lord, or where will My place of repose be?” (Acts 7:48-49)
When the apostle Paul preached the Word of God in Athens, the heart of the Greco-Roman World, he told those listening; “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:24-25)
While places of worship are valid these dear faithful believers in Ethiopia realised that the persecution they experienced two years ago that saw 12 churches destroyed, has awaked the wider Body of the Messiah in the region to prioritize missions instead of having buildings and furnishings as the main emphasis for the local fellowships.
The first century believers worshipped wherever and whenever it was possible. They were at home with the Lord whether worshipping within the temple precincts, whether in their homes or wherever they could meet. In fact they did this daily knowing that the destruction of the Temple was coming as the Lord Jesus had prophesied. Their hope was not in this world or the things of this world or in the structured religious system because they knew it would be destroyed by the Romans. Their focus was not on man-made programmes for Church growth, or focused on buildings and furnishings or religious ceremonies, structures and trappings.
As we see this world rapidly moving towards its fiery judgement where are we placing our priorities? Are we still ‘married’ to a degree to the things of this world? Are we looking to our denominational structures to keep us safe? Are we seeking to strengthen each other through Spirit filled; Spirit led worship, Bible study and regular interactive fellowship?
An Empowered Community
We read in the Book of Acts what happened to the believers in Jerusalem after they had all been baptised with or filled with the Holy Spirit corporately. “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
Persecution is coming
While seeking persecution is not natural, never the less persecution of the faithful Body of the Messiah is a stark reality in today’s troubled world even as it was for the first century believers who were persecuted from without by the secular powers but also from within by the religious traditionalists within structured Judaism who rejected the Messiah. Already in the western democracies, especially connected historically to Biblical Christianity, we see laws and restraints being put in place to curtail and stifle Bible believers from preaching the unadulterated Word of God. Satan loves to use religiosity to weaken the Body of the Messiah and in these days he is pulling out all the stops to derail our faith and spiritually deceive even the very elect ones who belong to the Messiah our Lord Jesus. (Matthew 24:4, 11, 24)
Spiritual deception is a reality especially in western Christendom as we see multitudes of Churches moving away from the absolute authority of God’s Word in all matters of apostolic doctrine and Christian living. We are also told by the Lord Jesus in Matthew Chapter 24 that because of the increase of wickedness (lawlessness / Torahlessness) that the love (agape) of most believers will grow cold but that he or she who endures (has endured) to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24: 12-13) Persecution is coming to the western Church and has started already as we see secular governments passing laws that go against the Bible and against the Lord Jesus and it is going to intensify as the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus gets closer.
The power to persevere
The apostle Peter saw the fiery persecution coming under Nero and he wrote to encourage God’s people and today his words encourage us when he writes; “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of the Messiah, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of the Messiah, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14) We may not see how this is possible but if and when we have to get on board the train of persecution the Lord will give us the ticket and the full assurance that we will complete the journey with our faith fully intact even though we have been bruised and afflicted. Such is the power of the Spirit and the glory of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.
As one of the Ethiopian church elders said; “The persecution has awakened the churches for missions. We were prioritising buildings, furnishing them and buying other materials. But now our number one priority is missions. After the persecution we haven’t raised funds for church buildings and other materials but for missions.”
Power from on High
Only after the 120 on the Day of Pentecost has been baptised with the Holy Spirit corporately did they have power to fulfil the Great Commission. Before the power fell we read what they had been doing. “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” (Acts 1:14) They kept before the Lord until they had been empowered from on high by the blessed Holy Spirit and from that day the gospel of the kingdom went forth in power, firstly at Jerusalem, and then in all of Judea and Samaria and then ultimately to the ends of the earth! (Acts 1:8)