Question [composite of several]: I keep reading reports about persecution of Christians in Indonesia and other places. I agree that it is horrible, but why do these people draw attention to themselves by insisting on meeting for church services? The body of Christ doesn’t need buildings or many people. One can worship and be alone with Christ in one’s heart. Christ didn’t require them to meet. They could alleviate some of the persecution by worshiping by themselves rather than gathering with others.
Response: It is true that the body of Christ needs no buildings. It is also true that one can worship the Lord all by oneself. Yet the greatest growth in the church has come during times of persecution. The Bible indicates that this is only going to increase.
The Scriptures always emphasize the importance of the collective body in ministering, exhorting, rebuking, and building up one another. The Holy Spirit inspired the author of the epistle to the Hebrews to write, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews:10:24-25).
So, contrary to your statement, Christ does indeed admonish the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews (10:24-25) to “assemble together.” Let us consider what these verses are saying. We are told to not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” as “the manner of some is.” In other words, we’re not to be like those who do forsake that unity with other believers—for any reason. If the Lord inspired the writer to exhort believers to assemble together, “and so much the more as ye see the day approaching,” then we know that He is not giving instructions that cannot be obeyed, no matter how dark the times may be.
Some ministries estimate that millions of Christians in China meet “illegally in private homes, fields, and even caves,” risking their lives to worship God outside the government-controlled churches, “obey[ing] God rather than men” (Acts:5:29). It is instructive that the house church movement in China grows in spite of periodic increase in persecution. In fact, almost everywhere that there is persecution, Christianity seems to thrive, whether in Islamic countries, Africa, India, or many other places around the world. In Sudan, according to Voice of the Martyrs:
Deliberate attempts to eliminate a viable Christian presence are extreme and include bombing of Sunday church services; destruction of churches, hospitals, schools, mission bases and Christian villages; massacres and mutilation; and murder of pastors and leaders....Despite this, the number of Christians [grew] from 1.6 million in 1980 to 11 million in 2010. (http://www.persecution.net/sudan.htm)
The Apostle Peter addressed his first letter specifically to the persecuted church, exhorting them to rejoice in the midst of their trials (1 Pt 1:6-7). He encouraged believers to show hospitality to one another and minister to one another (1 Pt 4:8-10). They would need to gather together to do that. He admonished them to “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you,...but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings....If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye...” (1 Pt 4:12-14). Great suffering, endured in the right spirit, can yield great joy, when one remembers to “[cast] all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pt 5:7).