CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

When They Start Shutting Down the Churches

Jul 10, 2016

I am not an inspired prophet so I cannot tell you what will happen next week or next year. But anyone with an eye on Scripture and an eye on the surrounding culture knows pretty clearly the direction things are moving in. When it comes to religious freedom, to Christian persecution, and anti-Christian bigotry, all three are hotting up big time in the West.

I have been documenting all this for years now. Of course I realise that most of my words – and those of others engaged in a watchman on the wall sort of ministry – are falling on deaf ears. But some are taking heed. Some are awake to what is happening.

And the watchman must keep speaking out and sounding the alarm, regardless of what sort of reception there is. Indeed, the blood will be on his hands if he does not blow the trumpet, as Ezekiel 3 and 33 make clear. So I will keep on warning people while I still can.

persecution 14And one thing I will keep warning about is this: the church is in a precarious state in the West. Sure, we still have plenty of freedoms and plenty of opportunities. But how long this will be the case is a moot point. Christians suffering in other countries know all about how persecution works, and how radical discipleship must become the norm.

There can be no more easy believism, no more cheap grace, and no more carnal Christianity when the persecution comes in hot and heavy. Indeed, persecution separates the sheep from the goats – the men from the boys. Only those who are the real deal with Christ will stand during times of hardship and persecution.

Let me say right now, at the risk of getting some eschatology pugilists all bent out of shape, that I am not banking on being whisked away and never facing hardship and suffering. But that particular debate should not be had here – wait till I write some articles on it where I can carefully make that case. Those who want to have a big fight over this here will have to wait till then before their comments will be printed.

For those who are still with me (and have not dismissed me as a heretic and the antichrist!), let me offer some pre-persecution advice. The church as we know it will increasingly be under threat, and increasingly home churches and other types of fellowship will become the norm. So how do we act in such times, or prepare for such situations?

In the normal course of events the church is usually tended to by trained professionals: clergy, pastors, counsellors, and so on. But in times of growing affliction and persecution such leadership positions may be much more tenuous and undefined. Then every believer will have to lift his game and pull his own weight.

Those who may think of themselves as spiritual nobodies may well be thrust into various leadership positions. All believers will need to take their faith seriously, and we all will have to stop playing games and get real as to what it means to be a hated and despised follower of Christ.

Let me look at a few things we can now be doing. As to Scripture, we know that in hard-core anti-Christian countries Bibles are banned. There may come a day in the West where a complete ban happens as well. But in the meantime we are already seeing many places declaring the Bible to be a book full of hate speech, and treated accordingly.

As things hot up, we must now be preparing for any such worst possible outcomes. Thus memorising Scripture is something we should be doing now. And simply reading it on a daily basis would be a good start for many believers. We take for granted having Bibles freely available now, but one day we will wish we had not.

As to preaching, more and more of us will be moving into this role in difficult days ahead. Preaching and teaching may well be offices and giftings which some especially exercise today, but a day may be coming where we will all need to be able to teach one another and proclaim carefully the Word of God. So we should be immersing ourselves in Scripture and good theology now while we still have the chance.

As to counselling and discipleship, again, some have this as a specialised ministry now. Many pastors and counsellors have training in this area, and rightly so. But a time may come when we all must be counsellors. We all should be, as the title of the old Jay Adams book put it, ‘competent to counsel’.

Even though I have no formal training in pastoral work or counselling, I find that increasingly I am doing it nonetheless, especially online. I am regularly offering counsel and help to others. Many come to me asking for advice, for prayer, for counsel, and so on.

I cannot just pass them off to others – although specialised needs may well require specialised counsel. But as things continue to hot up, we all must be prepared to counsel and disciple others. And a simple definition of discipleship is one person who knows a bit more than another sharing his knowledge and wisdom with that other person.

We all should be involved in discipling and mentoring right now. We should be receiving discipleship and mentoring from those spiritually more mature than us, and we should be offering it to those less spiritually mature than us. We should be receiving and giving in this area.

Other issues of course arise here. Right now all sort of churches, Christian ministries, and parachurch groups receive government funding of one form or another. Maybe it is having just tax-exempt status. But as governments in the West become increasingly secular and hostile to all things Christian, it may be time now to wean ourselves off the government teat.

We need to learn to really trust God, not the state, for where our funding comes from. The sooner we do this, the better prepared we will be for those times coming where we will be forced to provide for ourselves without any government help.

Let me close with some very wise words by someone who knows all about surviving in a hostile, anti-Christian environment. Corrie ten Boom made it through the murderous Nazi regime, and is well placed to offer us some guidance here. After the war she went to minister in Asia and learned much there. What she said must be taken carefully to heart by all of us, including all church leaders and pastors:

I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution. In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly: “We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes – to stand and not faint.”

Again, those who want to now hate on me because I may have a differing point of view on their pet end times theories are invited to take their zeal to rebut me elsewhere thanks. There is room to move on how we understand last days’ scenarios, and those who want to go to the wall over their fav eschatology beliefs, or want to attack me for daring to differ, are invited to not comment here until I write more fully and directly on these issues thanks.

But for the others who still have an ear to hear, I believe we are already clearly seeing increased persecution all over the West. And from my vantage point it will continue to get worse. Thus we should be doing all that is necessary now so that as things continue to go downhill, we will be able to stand and faithfully represent our Lord Jesus Christ.

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29 Responses to When They Start Shutting Down the Churches

  • Let me be the first to comment here. As I said, I know there are some believers who will want to tar and feather me, or worse, for daring to suggest that there may be various ways of looking at end times truth. Those who think I am a heretic who should be burned at the stake can take it elsewhere thanks. And there are at least two main problems with such reactions: these folks will miss the main point of the article as they go bonkers on this side issue, and they will take a secondary issue and seek to turn it into a primary issue. This happens to me all the time and I so tire of it to be honest.

    As I said, I will need to write a few lengthy articles full of scripture and theology to even properly introduce some of these complex and nuanced hot potato issues. So if all your hot buttons have been pressed, well, maybe go out for a walk with the dog! But don’t come here seeking to pick a fight, expecting to get into print when I just said this particular article is not the proper place to debate various views of the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium, and so on. Thanks for respecting my wishes.

    And I already have done some generic pieces on the millennium elsewhere: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/11/30/on-the-millennium-part-one/

    And you don’t need to tell me I should read such and such a book since I likely already have – from all the various different viewpoints. Indeed, I used to lecture in eschatology so I do know a bit about it thanks. One older bibliography I did on this can be found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/11/10/recommended-reading-on-eschatology/

  • Bill, it’s so sad that you have to pre-empt the hate attacks from fellow Christians who disagree wth you. I have had the same experience, even when presenting my arguments in a reasonable and respectful manner and backing them up with Scripture. Many people are so caught up (sorry, bad pun) by their pet theories that they are deaf to reason. I’m looking forward to your article on the end times. I know it will be scripturally sound and well-balanced, and I pray that your detractors will realise this too. God bless.

  • I have just read a book that is both frightening and exciting. It is “Secret Believers” by Brother Andrew. It tells the story of persecuted muslims who have converted to christianity who live in muslim majority countries.

    One story tells of two young men who used to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood were angry at their “betrayal” and when they found them they shot one in the head and carved the other to bits whilst alive. They paid the ultimate price for their faith in God.

    The book makes it clear that to be a believer in these countries it is all or nothing. No fence sitters. If and when Islam takes over Australia, we will face the same prospect as Islam takes no prisoners.

  • Sure, we still have plenty of freedoms and plenty of opportunities. But how long this will be the case is a moot point.

    “Moot” means not arguable, because both sides in a legal case agree, or because it is irrelevant.

    Are you saying that the time for such freedoms is likely to be short but we just don’t know how long? So “be the case is unknown” or “we just don’t know how long.”

  • Thanks John but no, moot means subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty. Thus I am correct to say that how long we enjoy religious freedom in the West is uncertain or unclear. We just do not know for sure how long such freedoms will be with us.

  • I am not too sure what there is to argue about here. Persecution is increasing and becoming more in your face than ever before. One of my concerns is that even though this tidal wave of persecution is coming the foundations are being white anted by the touchy feely brigade who think all is peace and prosperity but will soon see their safe place quickly disappear.

  • Thank you Bill.
    Just the other day I reread Calvary Road , Thank you for bring that to me again. I have been studying Ezra & Nehemiah . We need Nehemiah’s . Thank you for stirring my faith.
    I can SEE where we are in God’s Word and appreciate your blogs.
    Praying that you continue to Blow the Trumpet in Zion.
    Sincerely In the Blessed Hope.
    Val Turland.

  • You are so right. Churches need to get organised to repel attacks on faith and reason as well as for social and worship purposes.

  • I’ve always thought as the time got short to Jesus’s return that our rights as Christians we take for granted here in the west would diminish. It’s heartbreaking to see Holy koran’s as they call them in the White House replacing our Lord’s word. Mr Turnbull talked about being grateful for the peaceful right to vote in our parliament. Why are we not more grateful for our right to worship in our churches, or own as many bibles as we like or preach Jesus publicly or privately to our hearts content? Jesus is our most precious free right in our western nations and we are tossing that right away little by little 😔

  • Thanks, Bill. We do, indeed, need to be able to stand the heat of persecution for our beliefs, indeed, face death knowing that death in faith is better than life in denying it. Only by standing firm can we give others hope in the tough times that are upon us (and have been encroaching on us for a long time).

  • I don’t have a pet theory on end times, so I’m not likely to take much issue with you on that anyway! But I don’t understand why that should be an issue. Is anyone claiming that we won’t suffer persecution because of their end-times views? Then what about those in other countries in times past—especially including 20th-century communist countries—who suffered enormous persecution? Why can’t that also happen to us, without affecting any end-times views?

    But I will make one point. I don’t see that we will ever have Bibles banned, i.e. to the point that we can’t get hold of them. In these days with the Internet, our own printers, memory sticks, etc., even if the sale of Bibles is banned, there is no way that any government will be able to stop the distribution of Bibles.

    But what I see the evil one doing is changing tactics. He’s tried banning Bibles and banning Christianity, and although it might have had some short-term success, it didn’t work in the long run. Instead, he tries more subtle means, like vilifying it, calling it hate speech, etc. It won’t be banned—it will be demonised (no pun intended). The tactics are more subtle, and this is what is catching and will catch many Christians out—the lack of a straightforward, frontal assault, so they don’t see the attack coming until it’s too late. The enemy is not attacking our house with bulldozers—he’s white-anting it so that we don’t realise what’s happening (unless we know what to look for).

  • Thanks Philip. Yes there are in fact many who insist that “we won’t suffer persecution because of their end-times views”! But now you are raising the very debate I wanted not to enter into here! Suffice it to say that at one point I was a gung-ho pre-mil, pre-trib rapture theorist who felt that if you did not hold to this view, you were a rank heretic and should not be fellowshipped with. I have obviously shifted from that stance, and now think there is room to move in various end times views. All have some pros and cons, all can be discussed with some theological freedom to move, and all are in my view secondary issues: one’s view of eschatology will not determine your salvation! And of course there are plenty of disagreements even amongst those who do insist there will be a coming 7-year period known as the Great Tribulation, including pre-tribs, mid-tribs and post tribs! But as I say, all this can be debated in depth elsewhere. And yes there are still many today who will get quite upset with me if I dare to say there are other legitimate points of view on this issue!

  • Amen Bill. Unless you get bogged down in trying to calculate the timing, which is a pointless and unscriptural exercise anyway, it is reasonably simple. The only tribulation that the people of God are slated to bypass is when the plagues are poured out from the new, God-created Temple. (Rev 14-16)

    Two scriptures come to mind:-

    Dan 11:32 And he will ruin by flattery those who do evil against the covenant. But the people who know their God will be strong and will work.
    Dan 11:33 And those who understand among the people shall teach many; yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by exile, and spoil, for days.
    Dan 11:34 And when they stumble, they shall be helped with a little help, but many will join them, with hypocrisy.
    Dan 11:35 And many of those who understand shall stumble, to refine and purge them, and to make white, to the time of the end. Because it is still for the appointed time.

    and

    Joh 9:4 I must work the works of Him who sent Me, while it is day. Night comes when no man can work.
    Joh 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.
    (MKJV)

    Nowhere do the scriptures remotely say that it is all plain sailing ahead

  • Wow, you echo my own thoughts exactly. I actually wrote a short story ten years ago discussing these things, for a dog magazine. Yup, they published it, they wouldn’t now I guess.

    Perhaps our families being forced to share housing, and churches not meeting their mortgages, will prove a good thing in the long run. We have advantages non Christians cannot imagine,

    In my story, the family takes in an older man well versed in scripture. This of course is of benefit to the whole group. He had been institutionalized by his daughter for being a believer – she declared him senile.

    So grab up those prayer warriors, teachers, all of them, and hold them close!

  • We left the establish church and denominational structure over 25 years ago – we have met as a small house group since then. I agree with Bill’s observations.
    If I may share my own experience…
    When you leave the church system you will be challenged right to the core of your beliefs. You will have no support infrastructure or led routine, familiarity, and back seat believerism option and even denominational doctrine to hide behind.
    It’s just you, God, (Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit) the Bible and a handful of fellow Christian pilgrims.
    You will have to relearn many things. Cherished denominational doctrines will fall as you rediscover scriptural truths and uncover the true doctrinal foundation of your faith and what it means to be a Christian.
    It is a hard and at times painful journey at many levels as you ultimately have to trust God for everything including your daily provision.
    Wave after wave of strange tribulation will wash over you, your family and your loved ones, but even though you may loose your footing for a while you find it again and keep looking to the Lord and hold on to his promises found in the Bible as you have nothing else.
    Some may say, well isn’t that what a Christian should be. I agree, but until you as an individual are stripped back to a bare faith, how can you stand true when persecution in all its direct and subtle forms arrives at your door.
    You will not recognise the choice being put before you to bend the knee to compromise or idolatry in its modern guises and therefore will be swallowed into the spirit of the world. By God’s grace the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to see it coming and to stand firm against it no matter what the cost. The peace of God that passeth all understanding will be your prize as you are led into unfamiliar territory.
    “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Psalm 32:8)

  • Bill, I totally agree with you that we should not be too dogmatic regarding our end-times viewpoint, however the viewpoint we take will obviously affect the way we perceive the amount of persecution that the church will go through until the end of the age. Some viewpoints will infer that we will go through more persecution, others less or maybe none at all. It seems to be clearly obvious that you favour a post tribulation view regarding end-times events and this affects your thinking on the amount of persecution and suffering the church will face in these last days. I’m hoping that you also will not be too dogmatic about your eschatological views and keep an open mind to other potential possibilities and scenarios! Love your work brother!

  • Thanks Kevin. But if you read my comments above and some of the links you will find that you may be making unwarranted theological assumptions about me. As I say there and elsewhere I am actually open to various views on various end times issues. And of course to even talk about a specific forthcoming 7-year period of tribulation (known as the Great Tribulation) presupposes that one of the various millennial views is correct. One can only hold to this sort of trib view (whether pre, mid or post) if one first holds to a pre-mill view! But as I say in those other articles, I think there is room to move there as well! So it may be foolish to try to pin someone down on a trib view without first even establishing their mill view, if any!

    And my generic view on all this is rather clear: regardless of one’s pet end times viewpoint, the Bible everywhere speaks about suffering, tribulation, affliction and hardship as being the lot of all believers in all times and all places. So for me it is rather silly to put all one’s emphasis and focus on a possible 7-year period which may or may not be still forthcoming, and which if it does, we may or may not even go through! But again, this is the sort of debate I wanted to avoid here, until I first laid things out in much more detail. Otherwise many people will be scratching their heads and have no idea what is being discussed here!

    But as I have said so often now, we need to develop a theology of suffering. Forget about a possible 7-year Trib. Most Western Christians simply think they can and should be exempt from most if not all suffering, and I think they are quite wrong in this. See for example my recent article: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/07/09/gods-suffering-servants/

  • There are churches in Europe that have been re-purposed into condos, homes and retail stores. The one that is most concerning is one church that has been turned into an indoor skatepark: www.thisiscolossal.com/2015/12/skate-church-okuda-san-miguel/

    A demonic perversion (Red Bulls advert can be seen, which promotes an extreme sports death culture, too)

  • Yep, it’s well on the way.  Now we have a blossoming lefty in Kirribilli and a radical lefty circling with sweet little nothings like “We will work together where we can.” This is the next move; both socialists pretend to be the saviours from nation retarding division. And sleepy Australia gets on with paying the mortgage and the power bills while the cultural Marxists carry on secularising us and disqualifying every one who says homosexuality is sin, and it’s murder to kill babies in their mothers’ body etc. etc. etc.. I think I was considered too negative when I asked an eldership if they were building a religious playpen or a Lions’ lair. Spurgeon where are you? “Defend a lion?” He was talking about the Bible. I think we should be pre-empting persecution by proclaiming Christ. But is “harvest past, the summer ended and we are not saved?” Christ our Passover is sacrificed let us celebrate the festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and the truth, Christ is RISEN that means we are free – to be persecuted if that glorifies Christ says Peter (2 Peter4:19)!

  • Personally I can’t understand why anyone can argue with this. Instead of reading books on end times we need to read what the Bible says on the topic at hand, starting with 2 Tim 3 :12. Persecution should be expected if you are genuine in your faith.

  • This is a sobering warning and going by the rate of change, we should not be surprised if or when the Bible will be banned in Western nations.

  • Sorry Guys my church has already been shut down- due to economics rent too high, land sold to be redeveloped.

  • Thanks Bill, for the whole article and in particular your exhorting us to memorize Scripture. I agree wholeheartedly with you that it is wonderful preparation, and this is irrespective of whatever end-times views people might hold. E.g. when I had emergency eye surgery a few years ago, the immediate post-op period that night in hospital with eyes bandaged was very distressful for me. Rendered unable to read , I sought comfort in memorized Scriptures but, alas, I couldn’t recall many! Thankfully the largest of my Scriptural memory fragments, the short-and-easily-recalled Psalm 23, sufficed to console me, but in that time of personal ‘trial’ I resolved to seriously work on expanding my inventory once well enough to read again.

    A second example that comes to mind is the experience of four American POWs captured by the Japanese during WW2. Individually, their ‘memory Scriptures’ were ‘lacking’. However, much to their surprise and grateful relief, by communal effort to ‘pool’ what they could recall of Scripture enabled them eventually to remember much of the New Testament, and large slabs of the Old. So even though they had no Bibles, thanks to even the little that each individual could recall meant that sufficient of God’s Word was available to them in that time and place of need.

  • Just a recommendation for a quick (yet profoundly deep) read on suffering as part of the Christian walk, I’ve just finished reading Horatius Bonar’s ‘When God’s Children Suffer.’

    He writes to believers as family –
    ‘It is of family matters that we speak, and in these each member has a common interest. The “household of faith has many concerns, and not the least of these are its sorrows. These are the lot of all; and there is no member of the household but has his share in these, either in personal suffering or in helping to bear the burden of others.’

    He writes of the unsaved –
    ‘But though standing afar off from the saints and unable to mingle its sympathies with theirs, the world still has sorrows of its own, deep and many. To grieve, and yet have no comforter; to be wounded and yet have no healer; to be weary and yet know no resting place – this is the world’s hard lot.’

    And about Bonar himself and his reason for writing –
    ‘It is written by one who is seeking himself to profit by trial, and trembles lest it should pass by as the wind over the rock, leaving it as hard as ever; by one who would in every sorrow draw near to God that he may know Him more, and who is not unwilling to confess that as yet he knows but little.’

  • Bil, I agree with you wholeheartedly. In our western world, we have become ‘comfortable’. During our service this morning, we were told this – ‘Western countries have become so comfortable with their Christianity, that they love life more than they love God, so when threatened, they will choose life’. Unfortunately, in many cases this is true. We are now witnessing our freedom of worship being eroded in all sorts of small ways – eg, the call to tax the income of Churches, the careful selection of Biblical verses or stories to be condemned as ‘hate speech’. The preferencing of Islam by our (?) leaders. All these things are simply precursors to real persecution.
    Thank you for your continued Biblical stance Bill.

  • I`m with you, thanks Bill. I have heard many very good speakers on many views of the End Times, and I can agree with them all, but prefer to council people I meet with, with, just make sure you are right with God now.

  • Agree with you Bill. As a Catholic, I can see it happening in the Catholic system. There is a fear that if too much noise is made on issues of morality, then funding for schools and hospitals may be lost. The Andrews government and the Greens are ramping up the pressure to remove restrictions on who may be employed at faith based schools. Catholic hospitals and their medical staff will be threatened to comply with end of life ideologies or face prosecution and de-registration. The clergy hide behind the curtain and speak in muffled tones with counter advice to ‘not bring politics inside the church door’. Whilst the white flag has not been raised just yet, I suspect it is closer than most would believe.

  • Thanks Pat. Yes I document more of Andrews’ ugly anti-Christian agenda in my brand new article:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2016/10/25/australias-leading-cultural-marxist/

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