Friends in Underground Places

Preached this morning at a large underground church in Harbin. A Communist-party-member, police-officer church member picked us up in his van. There were probably close to 200 people there. We were only maybe three blocks away from a state-sponsored Three-Self church that runs a couple thousand. The church I was in is of the “Reformed” theology, meaning they hold to a literal interpretation of scripture, that scripture is their guide in faith and practice, and they believe in salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ. Not many jerseys with that color on the field here.

But there’s so much about this church that is extremely contrary to our preconceived notions of “underground church.” I know when I was in America, and I heard about “underground churches,” I pictured a few people huddled in the dark around a couple torn pages of the Bible. Not exactly my experience this morning. First of all, to be fair, the church was only halfway underground! It was the bottom floor of a building, and the steps down into the room put the floor about four feet below the earth’s surface. (I’m sure most of you are aware that underground churches aren’t really “underground”!)

Second was the size! 200 is very large for an underground church, or “house” churches as they are more frequently called here. The registered churches have the authorization, funding, and buildings to accomodate many thousands, but the house churches typically consist of a handful of people or families. But this church, located on a decent-sized street just off a main thoroughfare, has 200 people packed into a room. The size of the building was about as remarkable as the number of people they crammed into it! They were squeezed in there!

Third was the set-up. There were pews, a pulpit, a platform. There were microphones, speakers, and a keyboard. There were choir robes and song books. Let’s just say they’re not going anywhere soon! If the police knock on the door, they’re not going to quickly disguise the place as someone’s living room!

Fourth was the absence of fear. In spite of their legitimate appearance, they are completely illegal. But we heard the singing from the street. We saw the pulpit from the street! The windows were open. The door was open. I don’t know who could walk within fifty feet and NOT know there was a church in there! The people are not concerned. But it’s not because there is no danger of persecution. It’s because most of them don’t KNOW there can be persecution, and even if there was, it would almost certainly center on the leader of the church. So, there is boldness, but it resides mainly in the pastor, who told me after the service that, though they have faced arrests and persecution in the past (the church is five years old), they have had some peace for some time.

Just like the state church, unfortunately, there is a predominance of women, and an absence of men. But this church did have a much more impressive number of young people.

I preached about Nehemiah and seeing our city the way Jesus sees it. Not as customers, classmates, coworkers, neighbors, family, and friends, but as people that need to be introduced to Jesus. Pray for these brothers and sisters in Christ. They are few and far between here…

2 Comments on “Friends in Underground Places”

  1. Ben July 22, 2007 at 7:47 am #

    Those are some great thoughts. The absence of fear is just amazing to me. I’ve often wondered if the same restrictions in China were put here how many Christians would react. How empty would our churches be the next Sunday? But that’s great to hear about that. Great information I’ll be able to tell people about.

  2. Trent July 22, 2007 at 8:43 pm #

    This is incredible! When I read what God is doing I feel like I am reading chapters of Acts that got left out. It is amazing and great to know that God has an exciting ministry and life for all of us who have been redeemed. I can’t wait to share this with my young people.

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