Practically speaking, we in the West have quite a bit to learn from our brothers and sisters who have remained faithful in the midst of extreme persecution and suffering. Their steady faithfulness to follow God and disciple their families should provide us with a model for our own lives.
But when we talk about these brothers and sisters, we must understand that we are all a part of the same church. There is no distinction between the persecuted church and the free church.
Mark Dever, Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church reminds us that we are united by saying,
The church is a people, not a place or a statistic. It’s a body, united into him who is the head. It’s a family, joined together by adoption through Christ. (What is a Healthy Church, 38)
It is reminiscent of the last stanza of the Nicene Creed, which was penned 1600 years earlier. It says,
And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
To be sure, there are distinctions worth noting between Individual churches. Most of the NT was written to individual churches that were quite different: the church at Ephesus, the church at Corinth, the church at Galatia, etc. Some of these churches had things they needed to improve upon and some of these church were more of a model for other churches. The same is still true today.
But as we are reminded through the Nicene Creed, Christ’s church is one church! In the new heaven and the new earth, we won’t be divided into Methodist/Presbyterian, or Pentecostal/Baptist or underground/free.
In fact this is how Subina Wurmbrand herself considered the underground church that she was a part of for twelve years. She said,
You won’t find its title in directories, or its building in the cities of Eastern Europe. It has no cathedrals. Its priests are in worn working clothes. They have no theological training. They know little of sectarian squabbles. The Underground Church has no name even behind the Iron Curtain. Only after we reached the West did I come to know that we were referred to by this title among the few people abroad who knew what we were doing. If I’d been asked earlier, “Have you an Underground Church in Romania?” I wouldn’t have understood the questions. We simply did our Christian duty. We paid no heed to Communist laws. And we did not need to give our attitude a name. (The Pastors Wife, Digital Copy, 72%)
The bottom-line is that Christians in Iran, Nigeria and North Korea are a part of the same church as Christians in Canada, Finland and the U.K. There is no distinction, as we often make, of church members who are persecuted and those who are not. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Essentially, we are all the persecuted church!
Glenn Penner, the late C.E.O. of VOM Canada said,
We are all the Persecuted Church and our calling is to reach out and minister to those who are suffering violence and loss for Christ’s sake since we are one Family. If we are not suffering together, we are standing together with those who are suffering (Hebrews 10:32-34).