I recently posted a question on Facebook which asked: 'If tomorrow all ministers were to be arrested and all church buildings closed; what would happen to the church? How would members respond?'
The question was designed to provoke thought in regards to how the church would cope without 1) 'official' leaders 2) buildings.
This was not (from my point of view) a buildings/ministers = the spawn of Satan type discussion. It was more aimed at exploring issues like 1) Is the church actually prepared if we end up in a real secularised and totalitarian regime which prohibits faithful public worship. 2) issues surrounding vacant and declining churches who are dependent upon pulpit supply from other churches (a common feature in many denominations).
The discussion was lively and drew in a number of folks-- here are some of the highlights from the discussion:
"Some ministers need to be arrested for allowing such errors in the pulpits. Mind you, it was through persecution that the early church took the gospel to other nations. One is a result of judgement the other a result of grace."
"End to nominalism, ernest beseeching of a move of Spirit by faithful, house cells, exponential growth. See China under communism."
"Don't need paid ministers - don't need a designated building. just need Hebrews 10 v 25. Don't see a problem these are men made modern issues."
"A mass outbreak of cults, those who believe anyone can preach the gospel would do just that. We need ministers as they are called to preach and to teach, they have the real "gifts of the spirit" but failing that everyone would flock to the church of scotland, they wont get jailed as they are playing for the other team by all accounts!! I apologise for the sarcasm but this road we are on is very uncomfortable to say the least."
"for me they (pastors) are crucial, i am not an advocate for the "Everyone has the gift of preaching and teaching the word" thoughts that i hear thrown around, not all Christians can teach, preach, evangelise etc. only those who are called should take that responsibility upon them and for their Parish. As for buildings, im a traditionalist and like to go to Church, but we could survive in homes and halls as that's not really too much of a burdon but not having a minister to me would be a detrimental situation for any flock."
"Other leaders would naturally evolve. All Indians and no chiefs leads to chaos. Even in family worship you a leader, the father. The church is an organism as is society, the family all naturally with heads. However biblical eschatology informs us that a time will come at the end when the scene will be just as you depict John. No church institute no buildings just individual families and Christians. But that is just prior to the end, the suffering will be immense."
"I agree that 1) new leaders would emerge, 2) leadership is needed -- but obviously without the trimmings such as accreditation, ordination, (at least as we now know these things), seminary, stipends, manses etc. it is clear that the concept of leadership could change. I agree that not every Christian has the gift of preaching-- but surely every christian should be able to help edify other believers? Or is edification dependent upon our traditional concept of minister and preaching? Remember that Paul planted churches which did not have recognised elders until much later on."
"Well this is what Ministers should be preparing Christians for, suffering and life under totalitarian regime. Sadly they aren't. Sadly many professing Christians 'will' go withe state religion. When the Son of man comes will he find faith on the earth? Not much."
"A historical perspective might be appropriate. For not only did the early church suffer periodic vociferous and violent opposition and oppression but here in Scotland the pre-Reformation Protestants suffered in a similar manner, as did the Covenanters and others. Think too of the church elsewhere in the world over the last century suffering severe persecution under Totalitarian Communist regimes or Islamism. The church did not turn from biblical models of ministry. Christ has established a government in His church but in the absence of duly ordained men the saints can meet for mutual edification, prayer etc as the privy kirks did here in Scotland. God has continued to provide for His church in such times and He will continue to do so."
"we have so many cults because of people going off on their own interpretations of scripture that we would be in grave danger, my belief is that as a Church we should have a mentoring and discipleship culture, one where we nurture leaders and in particular those with gifting s in preaching and teaching, they should be closely monitored, nurtured and mentored throughout an "Apprenticeship" allowing them to grow under the stewardship of their own minster and elders until they have been prepared to go alone. this is a pro-active approach to safeguarding our very existence and also a very structured safeguarded way of producing sound clergymen!. we are discussing something that is very real, almost tangible and no easy answers."
"there is a church institute and that's not to be despised, we should all from Scripture be able to recognise the true and belong to it. However the picture you paint John is an end-time scenario when there will be no church institute. Calvin advocated if the situation was as bad as bad as the OP suggests, then the believer must remove himself even to another country in order to belong to the true church."
"The natural conclusion to some of the pro ordained/ establishment views, if taken to natural end would come to a restoration of the east/west orthodox schism. It is a bit laughable to see pro-constantinianism from minority Protestant denoms who would (I suspect) not be looking to Rome for validation if their ministry and authenticity.
The Chinese underground church ( for example) managed to be led quite well by the discerning 'laity' (read: priesthood of all believers) to the extent of the largest growth of any church in Christian history ( if statistics are to be believed).
Some perhaps have an inflated sense of their weight on the world stage? How very British.."
"I think getting back to the opening question - the most important thing is to ensure that churches have a plurality of elders. Though the minister will tend to be first among equals, he is but one. This distinction gets lost in most Presbyterian settings and also many of our Baptist one's."
"why ministers? - they are fnot always the most radical presenters of the gospel."
"A model I have seen:
The usual operation goes something like- discerning and capable brothers come to the fore. They all take the priesthood of all believers very seriously but some more than others. The capable are recognised by church as such and promoted to deacons and among the able the Spirit raises teachers, prophets, evang etc etc with more than one gifting may be attributed to a Saint.
Among communicating cells a particular teacher may arise who will naturally develop a following and ministry whilst being careful not to invoke any sectarianism less offence to The Spirit is caused. This is an attempt to model what happened when Paul converted some, moved on and then returned to see what The Spirit had birthed. Biblical literalism and practical application are paramount, academic theology is not deemed to be necessary for an effective walk, on the contrary, theology CAN but not always cloud a persons trust in the direct intervention of God, raising questions where none are required.
In a nut-shell!
Certainly subject to cults and abuse which is why it is so imperative that every born again Saint is faithful to the study of the Word, Prayer and practices discernment to provide accountability within the local church."
"In order for any church to stay grounded, especially a persecuted church, it needs to be rooted in the church of the past. It needs to be trinitarian, it needs to be sola scriptura, it needs to be Christ alone -- or it will drift into cult status."
"my tuppenceworth on the Original Post question- i would expect (and hope) the true believers to 1) fall on their knees together to seek renewed guidance and power from the Lord, 2) they would seek the Lord in his word to get guidance and knowledge of him. 3) stuff others have been saying about other leaders rising through the holy Spirit's leading. I really think the church would be refined as many start to take God seriously because they have to, and for others, the love of many would grow cold and they would just continue to agree with the world and follow it. I do not actually think we are too far off from the OP situation- perhaps 15-35 years before either our freedoms such as they are disappear completely, or our civilisation crumbles (as all civilisations have done) and a weaker civilisation takes over. Islam, anyone? maybe, but who knows for sure? i can't tel the future."
"If your original question implys a comprehensive persecution of Christians as in New Testament times when people met in secret then I think that initially members of congregations who are not nominal but are truly seeking God would stick with who and what they know but just in secret. As persecution increases this will further weed out the wheat from the chaff and over time (perhaps quite a long time) denominational differences would become irrelevant and only Gospel centred Christians would continue to meet together. This is a very simplified answer to the original question as I believe that there would be a wilderness period before getting to the end stage of my previous statement."
"i think in a sort of funny way, the op situation is happening just now anyway, in terms of there being much less opportunity to learn solid uncompromising biblical truth anywhere, whether in churches or in "biblical" training institutions. i can't really see any young spiritual giants taking to the fore (can't see very many older ones preaching uncompromising truth either). I reckon they must all be either slammed down by the existing trainers and leaders, or just being sapped by everything around them being so pale and weak. where are God's generals in Scotland today? even the UK as a whole? can anybody name a Spurgeon? a JC Ryle? a CT Studd? a John Knox? a Martyn Lloyd-Jones?"
"Reflections as a result of this thread: There is a greater need for equipping the body of Christ to be active in edifying each other and making disciples; Ministers must seek to develop the gifts of their congregations and eldership team; We need to realise that our unity is essentially in Christ-- not church government (not saying government is not important); we need to be prepared for the fact that one day this may not be a hypothetical situation, but a haunting reality; and as David reminded us-- we need to be seeking God, on our faces, afresh."
"Shouldn't the congregation be in a state of Spiritual connection such that, while comforting, the pastor/minister is superfluous to the functioning of the church. With no pastor or building, the church should continue to function as a worshiping body just in a different location..."
"If all ministers were to be arrested and churches closed would the believer be equipped to continue? Given the history of this country and the blood shed by the covenanters (who it should be noted would have been sure of their theology given the brutal torture they endured for what they believed) as well as Christians worldwide who throughout the ages have faced everything from arrest to crucifixion, from lions to being hung/strung/drawn & quartered whilst alive - there has always been a people of God who continue. I'm not entirely sure how the Covenanters established their ways - ie. Were they ready for the persecution with a list of possible preachers who could lead/teach the people or pre-set groups etc, I don't know but believers gathered whether in homes or hillsides, codes made to pass messages & meetings, leaders and teachers arose in the midst and brave men took the risk to preach despite it becoming a capital offence and considered treason. I have heard and read many testimonies of those here and abroad who have met in secret or confined alone it has been the word of God has been the enduring factor. The people who know their God shall be strong. Surely (in finishing), when old Alan Cameron was shown the head and hands of his son, Richard, a great covenanter, and asked if he knew them? " I know them, he answered, I know them, they are my son's, my own dear son's. It is the Lord. Good is the will of the Lord, who cannot wrong me or mine, but has made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days" - surely He knew the Lord and the word of God held him fast. So too, will God keep us in whatever lies ahead and Grant us His grace to endure or make a way for us to flee to safety as Calvin suggests...although I do have fear for modern Christianity but that's a whole other post..."