If I were to ask you, “Where is the church growing faster? America or North Korea?”, how would you answer? The correct answer is North Korea.
If I were to ask you, “Where is the church growing faster? South Korea or North Korea?”, how would you answer? The correct answer is North Korea.
The church in America and the church in South Korea are in decline. The church in North Korea is continuing to grow. If American pastors and South Korean pastors are eager to see their churches grow, why do they continue to look for church growth strategies in America and South Korea? Why not emulate the North Korean church?
Why does the North Korean church continue to grow while the American and South Korean churches continue to decline?
Because in North Korea, the body is understood as the primary tool for Christian ministry. Anywhere where the body is understood as the primary tool for Christian ministry, the church is continuing to grow. Anywhere where money and materials other than the body are the primary tools for ministry, church decline is inevitable.
As my brothers and sisters at VOM Canada say, “A cross-centered gospel requires a cross-bearing witness.” The cross can only be borne by the body. Where the body is the primary tool for ministry, the cross is the primary tool of the body. This is the meaning of the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:1 (NIV),
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.
God is incarnational. Therefore, the body will always be at the center of Christian ministry. This is why the great church father Tertullian said that martyrdom, not apologetics, is the seed of the church.
The reason why suffering–any kind of suffering–is such a powerful spur to deep relationship with Christ is that in suffering the body necessarily searches for its purpose. The only purpose in which the body can come fully and completely to rest is in service to Christ. The physical realm was built for this, and our bodies somehow know this.
In North Korea, where there is much suffering, bodies can only come fully and completely to rest in service to Christ.
Consider the story of Mrs. Ahn.
Mrs Ahn’s husband was a communist party official in North Korea and a smuggler, part of a black market supply train bringing goods in from China. Neither Mrs. Ahn nor her husband were Christian.
She would watch as through their house passed crates of Jack Daniels and cigarettes, radios and pornographic DVDs. She was especially curious about the books her husband would smuggle, as he never brought those in the house but instead buried them in the yard. When she asked to see one, he said, “Don’t ever look in that book! It’s far too dangerous.”
Human nature being what it is, her husband’s reluctance made her press all the more. Eventually her husband relented, and one night they read the Bible together while under a blanket with a candle.
Their suspicious behavior was quickly reported by their neighbors. Since her husband was a communist party official, his denial was accepted as truth; however, Mrs. Ahn was put into prison for further interrogation.
They asked her who introduced her to Christianity, and she said, truthfully, “I don’t know what Christianity is!” They broke one of her knuckles with an iron rod.
“What was the name of the missionary who gave you the Christian book?” they asked. Again, truthfully, she answered, “I don’t know what a missionary is!” And they broke another knuckle.
In this way they broke all 10 of her knuckles. And then they broke her jaw, which is why her face is slanted sideways. And then they broke her skull, which is why she has to wear a wig.
When at last her husband managed to bribe her way out of prison by selling their TV set, she escaped to China, and the first thing she asked was, “Would somebody please tell me who Jesus is?” She had not made it far enough along in the Bible to know in whose name she was being persecuted. But God used that persecution to bring her to eternal freedom. Suffering always raises for the body the question for which service to Christ is to the body the only permanently satisfying answer.
But in America and South Korea, the body is not honored as the primary tool for Christian ministry. The dividends of the body are accorded this role. Things like money: Money, which is produced by our labor; buildings, which are produced by our money; pastors, which are produced by our buildings. Meanwhile, the body remains restless (and, note, prone to sin). This is why Jesus loves the rich young ruler enough to tell him, “Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come and follow me.” Until as a Christian you only have your body as a tool for ministry, you will inevitably try to press anything else into God’s hands for his use. And your body will continue to wander.
In North Korea, intense suffering means bodies are in constant motion, desperately seeking their purpose. Ten broken knuckles can set a body lurching toward Christ. In Christ, and only in Christ, does a body find its purpose. Only as a tool for ministry can a body ever come to rest. Or as the Apostle Peter taught us, “Whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.”
Until the American church and the South Korean church stop substituting tools other than the body for primary use in Christian ministry, the church in those countries will continue to decline (and Christians in those countries will not be done with sin).
As long as the North Korean church continues to use the body as the primary tool for Christian ministry, the church in that country will continue to grow, and to teach us how God intends for ministry to be done.