Monday, April 18, 2011

Secret Church: FBC Style

In his book, Killing Fields, Living Fields: The Unfinished Portrait of the Cambodian Church—the Church That Would Not Die, Don Cormack tells this story: In the village of Siem Riep, Cambodia, Haim, a Christian teacher, knew that the youthful black-clad Khmer Rouge soldiers now heading across the field were coming this time for him …. Haim was determined that when his turn come, he would die with dignity and without complaint. Since “Liberation” on April 17, 1975, what Cambodian had not considered this day? …. Haim’s entire family was rounded up that afternoon. They were “the old dandruff!”, “bad blood!”, “enemies of the glorious revolution!”, “CIA agents!” They were Christians.

The family spent a sleepless night comforting one another and praying for each other as they lay bound together in the dewy grass beneath a stand of friendly trees. Next morning the teenage soldiers returned and led them from their Gethsemane to their place of execution, to the nearby viel somlap, “the killing fields” ….

The family was ordered to dig a large grave for themselves. Then, consenting to Haim’s request for a moment to prepare themselves for death, father, mother, and children, hands linked, knelt together around the gaping pit. With loud cries to God, Haim began exhorting both Khmer Rouge and all those looking on from afar to repent and believe the gospel.

Then in panic, one of Haim’s youngest sons leapt to his feet, bolted into the surrounding bush and disappeared. Haim jumped up and with amazing coolness and authority prevailed upon the Khmer Rouge not to pursue the lad, but allow him to call the boy back. The knots of onlookers, peering around trees, the Khmer Rouge, and the stunned family still kneeling at the graveside, looked on in awe as Haim began calling his son, pleading with him to return and die together with his family. “What comparison, my son,” he called out, “stealing a few more days of life in the wilderness, a fugitive, wretched and alone, to joining your family here momentarily around this grave but soon around the throne of God, free forever in Paradise?” After a few minutes the bushes parted, and the lad, weeping, walked slowly back to his place with the kneeling family. “Now we are ready to go,” Haim told the Khmer Rouge.

Few of those watching doubted that as each of these Christians’ bodies toppled silently into the earthen pit which the victims themselves had prepared, their souls soared heavenward to a place prepared by their Lord.

And this kind of thing still happens to Christians in so many places in our world—always has. Churches are burned. Christians are harassed, persecuted, and martyred. Many believers have to meet in secret places just to fellowship with each other and worship Christ. Jesus said that the world would hate Christians because they hate Him. He was right on the money. Those of us who live in the West and who rarely face persecution much deeper than a little ridicule or job loss forget how costly it is to be a Christian for many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.

Secret Church is helping to change that. If you’ve read David Platt’s book, Radical, then you’ve heard of Secret Church. Platt’s congregation, the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, began doing Secret Church a few years ago. They get together on a Friday night from 6:00 pm to midnight. They do intensive Bible study, they worship, and they pray for persecuted believers and the countries in which they live. Brook Hills has over 1,000 attend their Secret Church so they meet in their spacious sanctuary.

Platt got the Secret Church idea from his experience in mission trips to countries where the church has to meet in secret lest the government or zealous citizens shut it down and do harm to church members. Such churches meet when they can and they meet for hours at a time usually in crowded, uncomfortable digs—everything from a house with drawn curtains to a cave.

I was intrigued with the concept, so we decided to try Secret Church at our place and with our people. It seemed like a good thing to try in the holy season where we contemplate Christ's suffering for us. Now we tweaked the format a bit from Brook Hills. We met last Friday, but we shortened the time frame from six hours to four. We met in our church bus barn to provide a more “secret” feel and to create discomfort for those in attendance. We did our part by choosing a room with scant light, concrete floors, no heating or cooling, no bathroom, and crowded conditions. God did his part to make us uncomfortable by sending windy, chilly night so that some wrapped themselves in a blanket to stay warm. We did provide chairs and we got as many in the barn as we would fit. I had no idea how many would come. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we ended up with 25 or 125. We ended up with just over 80, and we couldn’t have accommodated any more in that space.

So how did we fill up four hours? We decided our Bible study them would be to teach the Old Testament and its story. We broke it into four segments. Each segment included a worship song, Bible study, and information on and season of prayer for a country in which the church is persecuted. Some of those presenters shared some persecuted believer’s story out of that country. Around the two hour mark we took a break to enjoy a bowl of rice and the Lord’s Supper (see picture above).

Probably for the first time in the 175 year history of First Baptist Church of Hot Springs, we took the cup by dipping our bread in the juice. I was responsible to get the equipment for that, so I looked for some kind of glassware that had a wide enough circumference for dipping. I was proud of what I found … until it was gleefully pointed out to me that I had chosen margarita glasses for the Lord’s Supper. I’d think they’d be proud that their Baptist pastor didn’t know what a margarita glass looked like. Interestingly enough, my wife knew what they were (hmmm).

One of the highlights of the night was an exercise in which I asked everyone to close their Bible. I mentioned how in many of these countries where the church is persecuted, Bibles are hard to come by and confiscated if found by the authorities. Consequently, they are most precious. So I asked our folks how much Bible we could come up with if we had no Bible in our hands. From senior adults to children, our people started quoting Bible verses. Honestly, we had something from most every book. (My apologies, though, to Obadiah and Nahum who were glaring omissions in our memory work. We’ll try to do better next time, fellows). Still, I was proud of our people. And there’s just something about hearing children quote long passages of Scripture that stirs the heart. That was one my favorite segments.

When we were done with our four-hour study, people were saying, “Does it have to end so soon? “That four hours just flew by.” “I would have stayed even longer.” “Let’s do this again.” I think Secret Church did us some good. Our people became aware in tangible ways of the plight of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ and will now be more faithful to pray for them. Most gained some fresh insight into the Old Testament. And we came away more grateful for our blessings and our freedoms, and, I pray, more willing to use them to help those in need. If we do this again, I would do some things differently, but all in all, it was a pretty cool way to spend a Friday night.

Secret Church. Thanks, David Platt and Brook Hills, what a great idea!


  1. thank you bro. john, for sharing this post. it sounds like you accomplished a lot durring this
    service. i enjoyed reading. thanks. Patricia Midkiff

  2. John, what a tremendous experience --thank you for sharing it and challenging us to think beyond our safe places.