One of the greatest challenges in church planting among the unreached is incorporating the newly-established church plants into the local Adventist structure. There are often significant socio-cultural, language and worldview differences, and low-trust communities can struggle to operate within the high-trust Adventist governance model. Thus, the transition from (often underground) house churches to visible Adventist congregations requires prayer, preparation, partners and due process.
But Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy reveal that just before Jesus’ return, today’s transition process will actually reverse. In other words, God’s faithful remnant will be the Church Militant rather than the Church Triumphant, and we will have to transition from a legally incorporated, highly visible and publicly respected status to being hated by all men as the Mark of the Beast is imposed, and the death decree is declared on God’s remnant. So, how then will we operate?
Unable to buy or sell, bank accounts and financial instruments will be useless. IRS tax-exempt status will be revoked, and Federal grants, student loans and credit will be frozen. Barter will replace cash. Prayer will replace bank accounts. Like the saints, we will be “strangers and foreigners on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13), constantly aware that heaven, not this world, is our true home. Accepting financial loss and social rejection, we will be called to lovingly exemplify Jesus’ teachings because we love Him and not as a reaction to government opposition.
In the final crisis, the remnant will go underground that the Gospel may be preached freely, full of both grace and truth, unhindered by state regulations over what can or cannot be preached from a public pulpit. By sharing in homes, marketplaces or public transit, the Gospel will be heard by far more than would ever have stepped inside a physical church building. Yes, buildings may open or close, but the Gospel will still shine wherever God’s saints are living, working, studying and resting. Thus we will come to experience our homes and workplaces as holy places, where God is manifest, and in this way, the darkness cannot extinguish the light (John 1:5).
Today, the primary spiritual experience for many is simply going to church once a week. The Gospel is proclaimed weekly by paid, professional preachers, and the sheep are fed. Tomorrow, each household is where the Gospel will be proclaimed, the Lord’s Supper celebrated, and new believers discipled. Daily household worship will be the spiritual focus, and members will learn to provide for themselves, learning how to preach and practice the Word of God within their household of faith. Hence equipping by pastors and teachers today for those final dark days is so important. If congregations only watch as the professionals perform every Sabbath, they will never learn how to share or live the Gospel and disciple others to Christ-like maturity.
Leadership in today’s Church Triumphant is provided by the professional few. In the Church Militant of tomorrow, with the professional few scattered or under lock and key, leadership will come (of necessity) from the amateur many. Amateur is taken from the Latin verb amare, meaning “to love.” Thus those who love Jesus, and their brothers and sisters, unto death will be willing shepherds, just as Jesus commanded Peter to “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). They will lead because they love, and in leading, they will risk all. Amateur leaders will be many and have low visibility, enabling them to survive the persecution that imprisons the professional few, providing a Christ-like role model for emulation in every household.
As this year comes to a close, and we transition to a new year, let us praise God for how He has blessed His people. In times of freedom, the Church Triumphant provides a visible witness to grace and truth. In times of oppression, the Church Militant will provide that witness never to be extinguished, though hated by all men. So today, while we can, we faithfully support and graciously work both with and through the structures God has blessed us with while always preparing for that day when darkness will fall. On that day, the physical lights may go out, but we as the light of the world will shine till Jesus comes.