Listen: Murray Noble chats to Laura Bennett
Church right now sure doesn’t look anything like what we’re used to.
Thousands of Christians are meeting online in virtual ‘rooms’, watching worship services and messages online, and linking with their pastors and friends from a distance. But while this is unusual for Western believers, the persecuted church have been practising their faith in fractured settings for centuries.
Open Doors has worked with persecuted churches for over 65 years, supporting communities in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and beyond. With a mission to help people follow Jesus no matter the cost, Open Doors persecution research Murray Noble says this mission now extends to Australia and New Zealand—with their House Church digital resource.
“Often when a lot of people think ‘house church’ they think China,” Murray said, “and it is true, there’s a lot of house churches in China, but it’s actually all throughout the world. We see people meeting in cafes in North Africa, and in Central Asia meeting in groups of three, because groups of four are too risky.
“There are plenty of stories where the persecuted church can teach us that faith can still be alive and growing, and faith communities can be built – even in times of isolation and scattered-ness.”
Through the House Church by Open Doors resource hub, churches that lack the ability to stream online, or that want their people to fellowship in more tangible ways at home, now have a treasure trove of tools for house meetings.
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“As soon as we heard that churches couldn’t meet in buildings anymore, we knew we had to step up,” said Murray. “In House Church by Open Doors, there’s video lessons from our CEO [Mike Gore]… a kids session, discussion questions, and a run sheet to help you navigate the intricacies of running church in your own home.
“We aren’t trying to replace church sermons; if your church is great at doing online material we really encourage you to continue with that and join your community… [House Church] is just extra resources.”
Church is Not About a Big Building
Although it’s nothing new for modern life to be immersed in an online world, experiencing church in that way without the traditional ‘gathering’ flies in the face of what’s become a common expectation of church – that in be in a building, with hundreds of other people.
“[That concept of church] is a very interesting, almost ‘Western’, ideal that we have, that church has to be big and has to be in the church building itself,” said Murray. “But the Bible tells us that where two or more are gathered together God’s, presence is there (Matt 18:20), and I think that’s a beautiful thing that the church is going to realise in this time.
“I know my family has grown closer… as we do church services on a Sunday together, and I think other families will also [realise] as time goes on that God is in their midst as they meet together.”
While COVID-19 isn’t a form of religious persecution, Murray believes it’s going to help us identify with persecuted Christians in a much more personal way as our churches meet in different settings.
“… [The pandemic] is pushing us into similar situations where face isolation and uncertainty,” Murray said. “And it’s really important to seek God in that, and see that in hardship faith deepens and courageous faith is built.
“I know our church has seen people that haven’t been to church in decades tuning in for that live-stream… and saying, ‘I want to hear about God in this time’, because it’s an uncertain time.
“[Having church at home] is an amazing opportunity for the Australian church to say, ‘let’s share the gospel with those that need it most’.”
The House Church by Open Doors resource is available now.