And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
~ Colossians 1:18 (NIV)
“Our church is considering whether to relinquish our government registration,” said Pastor Sergei to our SSTS seminar group in a restricted Central Asia country. No one knew how to respond. The seminar was being conducted in this pastor’s church because it was the only one the region registered with the central government!
“Why?” someone asked.
“Here is our reasoning,” Pastor Sergei graciously replied. “We have a ‘grandfather clause’ that permits us to be registered even though we do not meet the current requirements to be registered. But I have to file a report with the government each month outlining the number of meetings, who attended and how much money we received from these meetings and people. I find it very difficult to give an accurate report, thereby possibly jeopardizing some individuals who attend our meetings, or to falsify the reports and thereby violate my conscience.
Pastor Sergei added, “I feel like I am working every day for the NSS (National Security System—former KGB). As a denomination, we are unprepared for persecution. I feel my people would be better prepared for persecution if we met in smaller cell groups and were not registered.”
To register a church in this country, three conditions must be met: a list of at least one hundred members whose last names are Russian or Koreans but no one from one of the traditional Muslim tribal groups; a vote of 100% among the church neighbors favoring a meeting in their area; and a building, but few want to rent or sell a building to a Christian group—even if the neighbors approve!
“This is why we are thinking of deregistering with the government and going underground as smaller cell churches,” concludes Pastor Sergei. Then he looks straight into your eyes and asks, “Do you agree?”
RESPONSE: Today I reaffirm that Christ is the head of His church, not temporal authorities.
PRAYER: Lord, give wisdom today to church leaders in countries where registration is so difficult and fraught with so many complexities.