"church" really going to persecute the Church?
Just in case you're new to all this stuff, we should probably define our terms. There is the organized structure of "religion" that most folks refer to as the "church" and then there is the Biblical and pure Body of Christ that is the true Church. One is Man-made and the other is established by God and consists of those who are "called out." In the Greek it is called Ekklesia (or Ecclesia, in English). Certain subsets may overlap, but they ARE NOT interchangeable!
It should be clear from history that every major move of God (or even cultural change) is most ferociously opposed by the established religious structures themselves. I don't see how anyone can historically deny that. Besides it being the nature of Man to fight back when his comfort zone is assaulted. Remember Judges 6-8 and the story of Gideon. Under cover of darkness he knocked down one altar to Baal and built on it's spot an altar to God and in the morning when everyone woke up, all the men of the tribe wanted to kill him. Sometimes it's just the shock of the change that freaks us out, not so much the right or wrong of the change itself. (One chapter later they want Gideon to be king and they convert all the rest of the altars in Israel.) But we need to expect that people don't like their boats rocked.
Let's just look at this from a purely pragmatic, financial standpoint. The Bible says that the "love of money is the root of all evil." There's more discussion about money than almost anything else in the Bible. And almost all of it is warning us about it's dangers and pitfalls. Let's first approach the possibilities on a purely financial basis.
If you have any comprehension of what $250 BILLION dollars can do, you might begin to understand the market forces at work here. That's the annual income of the Church - not even including it's total asset value which is surely in the TRILLIONS! We've got giant denominational buildings and hospitals and retreat centers and mission boards and printing presses and lots and lots of paid staff. All that overhead requires stability, and preferrably, constant growth.
If you start to do ANYTHING that would potentially threaten the income stream of certain segments of the "church," there will be all kinds of forces that will try to stop you. Consider this, Driftwood Super Church (for example) is building a giant new building. It is warm and soft and friendly and seeker sensitive. Everybody leaves feeling good. The pastor even has a best selling book and is on TV regularly. But members of the congregation start to wonder how much treasure in heaven they are really accumulating for all their investment into Driftwood (read this). They begin to look down at their weekly check and realize that it would make more of an eternal difference on lives if they spent it on native missionaries and feeding the hungry and clothing the naked - instead of a new JumboTron and a fountain out front. So ... they keep coming to church but they give their money elsewhere to hyper-efficient organizations working on the front lines.
What if 10% of them got that thought in their head? The annual budget would come up five weeks short. Not only that, but you now have NON-PAYING customers taking up seats - using resources, flushing the toilets, talking to staff, using up bulletins, occupying parking spots, requiring volunteers to watch their kids. In essence you have doubled the damage of the revenue shortfall. You've withheld revenue AND you've kept a paying customer out of the seats. That shiny new pastor that keeps the seats filled by tickling everyone's ears starts looking a lot less shiny.
What if it's enough to stall a building campaign in progress? Now you've got Teamsters and construction workers mad at you. Shouldn't be surprising if some of those construction companies and banks are owned by the deacons and elders in the churches. With the massive debt load in most of our churches (another tip-off that there might be a structural problem here), maybe even banks have to start foreclosing. You've got chair suppliers, hymnal printers, sound system installers, roofers, stained glass artists, banner makers, architects and dozens of others who could stand to lose out.
What if Simon & Schuster's newest best-selling pastor/author starts to have trouble keeping his church out of hock? If there was an attitudinal and financial shift within the church - even 10% - that's a potential revenue loss of tens of millions for Sony, Viacom, Fox News, Time Warner and many other high power organizations.
And ... there are all kinds out there. If this is a war, you have to come to the conclusion that some of the "Christian" leaders are double-agents, because they're doing more harm than good. It's bad enough that you might be assaulted by people who love Jesus and are just shocked and surprised - but we also need to acknowledge that the forces of darkness are hard at work inside our own ranks and they are MUCH more ruthless. What response should you expect from some of the most eggregious televangelist, Bentley-driving, crying all the time, gotta have money to stay on the air, taking pennies from widows, buy-a-miracle-for-your-donation variety? They've got millions of dollars at their disposal and apparently very little morality to constrain them. How hard would it be for them to take you out?
And that's just barely scratching the surface of the macro-economics at play here.
What about the theological response? Since what we're advocating is a return to the pure Word of God and a commitment to listen to God only and let Him be our teacher - we are implicitly devalueing a seminary education and setting a level playing field among all who love Jesus. In fact, we're saying that it's entirely possible that a 13 year old girl or a guy fresh out of jail or a shut-in 90 year old widow might know Jesus better than a guy with a Doctorate. We didn't set out to devalue a seminary education, it's just that most of what they teach is man-made theory and not necessarily useful for hearing the voice of God better. (In fact, many church leaders will think you're nuts if you say you actually hear the voice of God and do what He tells you!)
By some accounts more than 60% of professional Christian clergy in this country do not believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God. So we're assaulting their sensibilities by trying to take it literally. They will say the idea of City Churches is impossible in today's world. They will insist that there are problems in the church but either; 1) THEIR denomination is not so bad, or 2) the Biblical solution (repent and act like One Body) is not the way to go. Nearly all of them will disagree with the premise that a paid clergy is unnecessary and/or unBiblical.
The religious establishment will fight tooth and nail. They will call you a cult, they will warn their members against you, they will call all the other pastors they know, they will conduct media campaigns to run you out of town. I've talked to a lot of pastors about the "Apology to the World" and the Scary Stats and Scary Scriptures and the conclusions that I've come to. Many don't like it, some don't like me, some think I'm just disgruntled and mad at the church - but none of them have ever honestly argued about the theology or the scriptural validity or the veracity of the statistics. No one has ever shown me where in the Bible there are multiple churches in one town. No one has ever shown me in the Bible where one person has a better pipeline of information to God than another so he should stand up front and everybody should sit quietly and listen to that guy talk once a week.
What about the personal response? Surely there will be people in the churches that see there is a problem with the output we are getting here, with the return-on-investment that we are seeing. Odds are good that the first ones to get it will be business professionals that run companies and know how to make a payroll and keep their books balanced. And odds are good people like that are already sitting on the Board (or Committee or Elders or whatever). These are high visibility, highly respected members that may start to react in visible and forceful ways to make things change. There are all kinds of interpersonal dynamics and relationships at risk here. Hurt feelings, betrayal, confrontation of all kinds may ensue. Without holiness of heart and a commitment to love unconditionally, the result could be depression, frustration, exhaustion, resignation or worse. (This might help.)
And that doesn't even BEGIN to diagnose the possible responses from the "world" and government to a true New Testament Christianity spreading widely! What if all the Christians emptied their retirement accounts and gave it to the poor? Wouldn't the stock market melt down? THEN you'd see some real persecution!
Oh! And if persecution actually did start in America if the day came when jack-booted storm troopers came to arrest all the Christians ... maybe we'll wish we had rethought the whole church-wide pictorial directory thing.
Just a thought.