On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the Apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria1.
Just as the early Church in the region of Jerusalem came under great persecution so the Church in North Korea2 has come under the same pressures. As with many underground church movements across the world the North Korean church has principles that ensure its growth, and continued existence. When there is great pressure from many forces outside the Church the real success of the Church is built upon Biblical principles that are outlined in the Book of Acts3. The Church truly has no other blueprint for its growth, structure and daily life. The Church in the West4 needs to re-learn much from other expressions of Biblical Christianity in the world that are under great pressure but bearing great fruit in the Gospel.
Principle 1 - A Cost To Be Part Of The Church
The Gospel call is free to all to accept and believe5. Jesus Christ said that we are to come freely to His message of salvation. Yet to associate ourselves with Jesus Christ and His followers has a cost6. This is not a message preached or understood in nations where there is not immediate persecution upon becoming a believer. The early church in Acts had great success by the Holy Spirit to bring in many souls even 3000 people during the first day of the Church7. And later on in that passage is stated: The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved8. Yet in the midst of this revival when they were meeting publicly in Solomon's Colonnade9, we see that: No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people10. Whether it is was understood by all or not there was a sense that to join this group would mean persecution, mis-understanding and even death as those rebelling against the religious system of the day.
Jesus Christ Himself was more interested in disciples than converts11. When the largest crowds would gather He would speak the hardest sayings and most would leave following Him12. Paul the Apostle stated to Timothy who was a young elder and apostle of many Churches: In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted13. Thus, we should have our aim to make disciples and not just coverts to our Churches14. And to allow the Holy Spirit of God to add people to the Church so that they will be able to understand and count the cost in following Jesus Christ. Jesus said that if we could follow Him we must deny ourselves and take up our Cross and follow Him15, such a following will cost us greatly.
Principle 2 - The Lord's Day is Everyday!
There is a great doctrinal split in many evangelical churches over what day is the Lord's day, meaning which day did the early Church meet to worship. This freedom to even try and attempt to practice a specific day is not even possible in North Korea where if they are found worshipping Jesus Christ, will be arrested and even killed for their testimony. Thus they meet at all different times and in different places. And as we look at the book of Acts we can imagine that the early Church especially under times of persecution would meet from home to home at various times16.
Though were possible in the early Church they would meet on the first day of the week17. Yet that was not the only meeting of the Church and there is no Scriptural evidence for this. This is something I believe we need to be open to as believers in Jesus Christ in the West, to learn to meet often, regularly and not even at the set time on Sunday. When we even meet as 2-3 individuals at homes we can have a time of bible reading, discussion and a time of prayer and even worship.
Principle 3 - We are a Body Together
Another lesson that we can learn is that each of us as believers in Jesus Christ are disciples and are even ground in this way. Though some can be called to Apostleship, Shepherding as a leader, etc in the end all of us are still simple servants of the Lord18. The North Korean church cannot afford the luxury or un-biblical practice of having ministries leaders for every special doctrine and para-church ministries that specialize on specific callings. Each church member in North Korea is a generalist who understands and walks in normal Christianity.
In the west the abundance of para-church organizations simply speaks to the apostasy and unhealthiness of the local church19. The local church if healthy and biblical does not need the existence of para-church organizations for in itself it is self-sufficient with the Lord. God has made the body of Christ in such a way that each member supports each other and that as we learn from each other we become balanced and not extreme on one doctrine or one idea. And ontop of this every single believer in the North Korean Church takes turns teaching the verses they have memorized by heart. Thus sermons are preached from the heart of these precious saints.
Principle 4 - Sharing Scripture With Each Other
This practice is necessary in the North Korean Church for there are not an abundance of Bibles. So each week members in the underground Church share scripture verses and lines of hymns written on pieces of paper. Most Christian in North American have 5-10 Bibles in their homes, in North Korea each believer, on averaged has 10 verses on a piece of toilet paper. These are passed around as precious items in which build up and edify the body.
Also this is a biblical practice where we are encouraged to speak to one another with psalms, hymns20 and to the practice of public reading of scripture21. Where in the case of the North Korean church they need share these with each other, like passing notes in a classroom! We can learn from this practice and actively share Scriptures more in our emails, letters, text messages and in person with each other. Such constant sharing of Scriptures with each other in the body of Christ builds us up in the most holy faith.
Principle 5 - Meeting In Homes
The the West we have access to large church buildings to meet, yet it is strange how little these buildings are used only primarily for a few hours a day or even week!22 The North Korean Church as other underground networks of churches meet as often as possible and in any place possible that is private namely their homes. If their group gets to be over two dozen people they split to form another House Church.
May we begin to learn to meet together in small groups of believers sharing the word with each other and praying as often as possible and from house to house23. In the end we can say: "what do buildings matter?" for the Church is the building of God where He comes by His Spirit24. This dependence on Church buildings to meet is unhealthy and could prove problematic when persecution comes to the West.
Principle 6 - Memorization Of The Scriptures
In underground Churches the need to memorize Scripture is not an option but a necessity. When Bibles are scarce and in-prisonment likely the believer desires to prepare for such trials but storing up the word of God in their hearts. Also this is a great blessing to share Scriptures with others in everyday life without having a physical Bible present. Such believers become "living bibles25" where the Word of God is always present.
We can learn much from this discipline here in the West. I believe to study and memorize the word of God shows our true love for these Scriptures that we have in abundance. Do we really desire to read the word above eating, entertainment and the many other things that occupy our time in the West? While we have freedom's may God instil in His Church a greater love and desire for the Word.
Principle 7 - Hearing And Obeying
For the Church in North Korea to hear the word must mean obedience. The Bible to them is a roadmap for living, it is their life. It dictates to them what they do. To just listen to a sermon shared or scripture shared and then saying "That was a nice message" is foreign to these believers. They desire to obey everything they hear.
In the West we need to hear the exhortation of James again: Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says26. Daily we need to come to the Lord asking Him to put everything into practice we hear. Such a Church that does this is a fruitful Church that will bring the Gospel to the people through their lives of obedience as well as proclaiming the message of the Gospel.
Principle 8 - Measuring Growth Of The Church
In North Korea the Church is intimate and each member knows and observes the walks of each other. There is not like in the West just an one hour service where everyone faces the front but rather a face to face meeting many times a week. Such meetings build accountability to each one's progress in the faith.
Paul the Apostle shares with the young Timothy: Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress27. It is possible for others to see your growth in the Lord. Thus meeting in homes and in more intimate meetings not just once a week will allow us to encourage each other to growth authentically in our walks with the Lord and not hid in the back of a large public church meeting.
Principle 9 - The Unbiblical Practice of Sunday School
In the West, sunday school is even a term that is understood by many to be the separation of the children from the adults during part of a service. Such a practice not only hinders the growth of the children in the Lord but does not allow them to see the vibrant faith of the adults.
The early church in Acts did not have separate meeting for children but rather had them all in the service. To have a child share a scripture verse or short prayer can be a greatly edifying practice even for adults. The churches in countries where there is persecution do not have even the liberty to have separate meetings for children with colouring crayons. May we repent of this unbiblical practice and allow the children to witness the moving of God's Spirit as the Church meets and teaches.
Principle 10 - Everyone Can Lead A Church Meeting
The practice of the priesthood of all believers28 is something vital to the growth and expansion of the Church especially in persecuted countries. North Korean Christians all are expected to be leaders in many ways, to share the word, pray, and preach the Gospel. One of the reasons for the continued existence and growth of the underground North Korean church is that they have not been dependent on a few leaders in the Church but have rather emphasized the raising up of all to be servant leaders who are able to edify and build the Church.
Though the Church in North Korea recognizes some who God has specifically gifted as leaders, they are esteemed but not idolized. We can learn much from this model in the West where the majority of the body of Christ is in-active and just receiving from the small group of leaders who teach them weekly from pulpits, podcasts or television programs. There greatly needs to be a raising up of the lay-leader's in the West. A good starting place is for many to step out in faith and lead a small house church that meets a few times a week where everyone is to share and grow in the Lord.
Principle 11 - Giving To The Poor And Missions
The tithe in the West firstly goes to the building and than the pastoral staff. After such an expenditure very little is left for missions, giving to the poor and other needs. The underground Church in North Korea does not have pastors with large salaries or buildings they need to pay for. So all the monies given are able to go to the poor, the needs of the church members themselves and other mission opportunities. Giving to the poor is not an option in the New Testament but rather one of the chief ways Jesus Christ emphasized dealing with money29. Also the Apostles followed this pattern and emphasized this as one of the traditions and tenets of the Church30.
In the West we must learn quickly how powerful an opportunity there is for us. If some churches literally started and instead of having a building and a full-time paid pastor they used their resources to reach out to the poor there would be an abundant harvest of people reached for the Lord31.
Principle 12 - Doing Missions Often And Trusting The Lord
The Church in North Korea shares the Gospel much and under great liability. For they can easily be arrested and put in jail and worse put to death for their bold stand for the Gospel message. They go out in faith trusting the Lord for their needs32, some will give up their jobs and security preaching the Gospel across their country. In the west it is inconceivable to our minds that some young people or older people who give up their home, job and comforts of life and travel preaching the Good News to everyone they meet, trusting the Lord for their daily provision. Yet this is exactly what some do in North Korea and God does provide! Thus we can learn from the underground Church in North Korea to trust our God again afresh, He is able to do abundantly above what we can ask think or imagine33.
We trust so much in wealth and freedom instead of putting our full confidence in the Lord. We rely on fancy tools and not on the Holy Spirit of God absolutely!
May we choose to suffer for the Gospel here and take steps in our lives to practically, meet more as the body of Christ, preach the Gospel, have a deeper reverence for the Word of God, repent of our idolization of Christian leaders, and trust God afresh to be a part of His growing church.
1 Acts 8:1
2 I am not an expert on the underground church movement in North Korea. I stand indebted to Eric Foley who has worked in their midst, learned from them and is sharing the riches of their expression of the body of Christ with us in the West.
3 Acts Of The Apostles.
4 North America.
5 Ephesians 2:8
6 2 Timothy 3:12
7 Acts 2:41
8 Acts 2:47
9 Acts 5:12
10 Acts 5:13
11 Matthew 4:19
12 John 6:66
13 2 Timothy 3:12
14 2 Timothy 2:2
15 Matthew 16:24
16 Acts 2:46
17 Acts 20:7
18 1 Corinthians 3:5
19 We are not speaking against all para-church organizations yet believe that if the local Church in the West was 100% healthy there would just be the callings of Apostles, prophets, teachers, etc to strengthen the believers.
20 Ephesians 5:19
21 1 Timothy 4:13
22 Of course there are exceptions to this but very few church buildings we have seen been used as efficiently as they could be.
23 Acts 20:20
24 1 Corinthians 3:16
25 Eric Foley
26 James 1:22
27 1 Timothy 4:15
28 1 Peter 2:5
29 Matthew 19:21
30 Galatians 2:10
31 Luke 4:18
32 Luke 12:22
33 Ephesians 3:20
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon