Practicing Christianity in Totalitarianism, Theory & Practice

Theory: We are entering a new—possibly final—phase of history marked by soft totalitarianism with indications we are heading into hard totalitarianism.

Our Ideal: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Matt. 10:16

Recently, I‘ve felt a calling to begin gathering ideas to enable the work of the Church to continue under new and evolving methods of persecution. The nearly 100% surrender of Churches during Easter shows many of us were caught unawares. We need to wise up! How can we be “wise as serpents“?

I believe this means that while we are not supposed to break the law, we should freely & legalistically take advantage of ambiguities in the law. Put differently: we comply with the letter of the law, but not the spirit. We need to assume that the System serves Satan. These rules will increasingly be used to stifle the Church.

We also need to engage in “lawfare,” which are legal challenges to the system with these goals: 1) overturn when possible, or 2) embarrass and expose the bias (through discovery of documents and depositions). This is another way to prick the consciences of people—to expose the evil.

Example 1: A governor’s stay-at-home order limits gatherings to 10 or less.
Response: Church service should be lead by multiple leaders at multiple areas (cordoned off) with rolling services not to exceed the cap.

Example 2: A governor’s stay-at-home order limits gatherings to 3 people, except as per “medical treatment” or “therapy.”
Response 1: Church service should be lead by leaders under the guise of “therapy,” ideally in a rented space or home.
Response 2: Nothing in the law prohibits dual roles (ex: a priest/therapist) and online learning makes it super easy to get a degree. Christians (ideally, priests and pastors) should obtain facially-valid certificates to technically comply with restrictions, while continuing work of the Church.

Again: the flaw for many in the church is to be both innocent *and* intelligent as doves! That’s not how Jesus called us to be. Souls are at stake. Be crafty.

Some other ideas:

Re-establishment of house churches. We should try but no longer assume that we can continue to use church buildings. Expect new “safety/zoning” laws to be enacted under the health codes. Bonus if clever Christians can modify use of their churches to fall under “essential” services. Church art can be reintroduced digitally (screens, projectors, etc...).

Other suggestions:

- Icons and holy items need to have a list of caretakers, preferably outside the church building itself (this protects from the dual challenge of criminal theft/destruction & from the state theft/destruction).

- Assume cell phones are used for nefarious tracking. Result: leave smartphones at home during worship & ministry. Minimize use.

- Assume email/electronic tracking. Try to move to paper/face-to-face communication. Bonus: those who infiltrate the Church will get exposed to the Gospel. Perhaps a few may be converted and become powerful allies, like Saul to Paul.

- Move to a sharing items/needs network among believers. Bonus if you can start a barter-type system (ex: eggs for car repair).

- The underground network should also involve skills-based sharing: gardening, mechanics, HVAC, medicine, law, etc...

- What is the most prized skill? Spiritual discernment. Spiritual elders are critical in planning and help avoiding traps.

- Weaning yourselves from popular culture (Movies, TV, popular music, etc...). Start now.

I welcome your suggestions. I will update things periodically. I am currently researching persecution in Iran, North Korea and China for more ideas. Stay tuned!

Remember: challenges are opportunities to show Grace.
 
Bank Accounts, Garnishments, Seizures & Debtor Prisons in the US.

Good resource: https://library.nclc.org/wage-garnishments-and-bank-account-seizures-consumer-debt-advice-nclc

Applies to churches & Christians. For example: how many have both lending & accounts with same banks? Plus, debts can be fictitious. Studies of debt collectors show many errors and omissions. Consider: the financial system will be weaponized. How can you prepare if/when you receive a debt collection or seizure? Best practices.

Also, the planned demolition of the economy will lead to these issues. Use these tools to insulate you from unnecessary financial stress (their goal: to hamper your faith).
 
Goal: If we cannot combat these restrictions, then Christians need to wear the outfits & play the roles of “essential workers.” Worth doing as future security as well. (As an aside, consider that during war priests/pastors were considered so essential that they traveled to the front lines. How bizarre & ahistorical these current restrictions!)

https://www.cisa.gov/identifying-critical-infrastructure-during-covid-19

Critical & essential, from DHS: “As defined by USA Patriot Act of 2001 (42 U.S.C. 5195c(e)), critical infrastructure includes any “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.” This definition is appropriately broad to include a wide range of stakeholders who either directly or indirectly enable the functionality of infrastructure systems.”

Essential workers, DHS: “The list of essential workers should be considered by state and local government officials as those with prioritized need for access and re-entry into, out of, and through areas where shelter-in-place, quarantine, cordons, and restricted areas. Different jurisdictions may come to different conclusions as to where essential worker accommodation is warranted based on the prevalence and density of certain infrastructure activity and assets in that area.”

List:
Chemical Sector
Commercial Facilities Sector
Communications Sector
Critical Manufacturing Sector
Dams Sector
Defense Industrial Base Sector
Emergency Services Sector
Energy Sector
Financial Services Sector
Food and Agriculture Sector
Government Facilities Sector
Healthcare and Public Health Sector
Information Technology Sector
Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste Sector
Transportation Systems Sector
Water and Wastewater Systems Sector

Obvious avenues for Christians: Food and Agriculture, healthcare & IT. Tremendous opportunities to avoid restrictions and continue ministries. Bonus: for those who can openly demonstrate compliance and their Christianity (ex: like a Meals on Wheels truck with a Bible verse). Think: the Book of Daniel. Solid & competent service.

If we are successful (which we can be), then this will anger Satan and his minions so much that they will have to force the issue: taking the mark.
 
When can we break the law?

Ideal: “They came to him and said, "Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn't we?" But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. "Why are you trying to trap me?" he asked. "Bring me a denarius and let me look at it." They brought the coin, and he asked them, "Whose image is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. Then Jesus said to them, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him.” Mark 12:14-17.

As the bureaucracy rolls forward, we must be vigilant about new requirements and changes to the law. Again, we must assume that the System ultimately serves satan. For that reason, not all laws are valid laws. Ultimately, it will be up to each person to decide the line between obedience and disobedience.

Thoughts & Examples (easy to hard).

- Question 1: The State prohibits possession of the Bible (like North Korea).

Answer: Invalid law. You are fully justified in keeping it. Other actions: lying, hiding, etc. are also justified in relation to that prohibition.

- Question 2: The State requires membership list of a Church, allegedly to “combat” the flu since so many refuse to take a vaccine.

Answer: Probably invalid request. If there are negative consequences (such as Child Protective Services being called on parents), then non-compliance is fully justified. Burn/destroy the list. Refuse to cooperate.

- Question 3: The State requires proof of a vaccination to return to work and avoid quarantine.

Answer: Depends. If it is not the Mark and does not implicate choosing Government over God, then there may be no valid Christian objection (although there may be other valid reasons to object).


These are few scenarios we can expect in the future. Christians should prepare themselves for certain types of disobedience.
 
House Churches & Civil Disobedience.

On December 26, 2019, Wang Yi was secretly tried at the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court. On December 30, the court announced that Wang Yi was sentenced to 9 years of criminal detention and fined 50,000 RMB. This is the longest sentence given to a house church pastor in a decade. Read his open letter:
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My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience

On the basis of the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the authorities God has established in China. For God deposes kings and raises up kings. This is why I submit to the historical and institutional arrangements of God in China.

As a pastor of a Christian church, I have my own understanding and views, based on the Bible, about what righteous order and good government is. At the same time, I am filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience. But changing social and political institutions is not the mission I have been called to, and it is not the goal for which God has given his people the gospel.

For all hideous realities, unrighteous politics, and arbitrary laws manifest the cross of Jesus Christ, the only means by which every Chinese person must be saved. They also manifest the fact that true hope and a perfect society will never be found in the transformation of any earthly institution or culture but only in our sins being freely forgiven by Christ and in the hope of eternal life.

As a pastor, my firm belief in the gospel, my teaching, and my rebuking of all evil proceeds from Christ’s command in the gospel and from the unfathomable love of that glorious King. Every man’s life is extremely short, and God fervently commands the church to lead and call any man to repentance who is willing to repent. Christ is eager and willing to forgive all who turn from their sins. This is the goal of all the efforts of the church in China—to testify to the world about our Christ, to testify to the Middle Kingdom about the Kingdom of Heaven, to testify to earthly, momentary lives about heavenly, eternal life. This is also the pastoral calling that I have received.

For this reason, I accept and respect the fact that this Communist regime has been allowed by God to rule temporarily. As the Lord’s servant John Calvin said, wicked rulers are the judgment of God on a wicked people, the goal being to urge God’s people to repent and turn again toward Him. For this reason, I am joyfully willing to submit myself to their enforcement of the law as though submitting to the discipline and training of the Lord.

At the same time, I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God. My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws.

But this does not mean that my personal disobedience and the disobedience of the church is in any sense “fighting for rights” or political activism in the form of civil disobedience, because I do not have the intention of changing any institutions or laws of China. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disruption of man’s sinful nature by this faithful disobedience and the testimony it bears for the cross of Christ.

As a pastor, my disobedience is one part of the gospel commission. Christ’s great commission requires of us great disobedience. The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world.

For the mission of the church is only to be the church and not to become a part of any secular institution. From a negative perspective, the church must separate itself from the world and keep itself from being institutionalized by the world. From a positive perspective, all acts of the church are attempts to prove to the world the real existence of another world. The Bible teaches us that, in all matters relating to the gospel and human conscience, we must obey God and not men. For this reason, spiritual disobedience and bodily suffering are both ways we testify to another eternal world and to another glorious King.

This is why I am not interested in changing any political or legal institutions in China. I’m not even interested in the question of when the Communist regime’s policies persecuting the church will change. Regardless of which regime I live under now or in the future, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church, violating human consciences that belong to God alone, I will continue my faithful disobedience. For the entire commission God has given me is to let more Chinese people know through my actions that the hope of humanity and society is only in the redemption of Christ, in the supernatural, gracious sovereignty of God.

If God decides to use the persecution of this Communist regime against the church to help more Chinese people to despair of their futures, to lead them through a wilderness of spiritual disillusionment and through this to make them know Jesus, if through this he continues disciplining and building up his church, then I am joyfully willing to submit to God’s plans, for his plans are always benevolent and good.

Precisely because none of my words and actions are directed toward seeking and hoping for societal and political transformation, I have no fear of any social or political power. For the Bible teaches us that God establishes governmental authorities in order to terrorize evildoers, not to terrorize doers of good. If believers in Jesus do no wrong then they should not be afraid of dark powers. Even though I am often weak, I firmly believe this is the promise of the gospel. It is what I’ve devoted all of my energy to. It is the good news that I am spreading throughout Chinese society.

I also understand that this happens to be the very reason why the Communist regime is filled with fear at a church that is no longer afraid of it.

If I am imprisoned for a long or short period of time, if I can help reduce the authorities’ fear of my faith and of my Savior, I am very joyfully willing to help them in this way. But I know that only when I renounce all the wickedness of this persecution against the church and use peaceful means to disobey, will I truly be able to help the souls of the authorities and law enforcement. I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority, and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

Regardless of what crime the government charges me with, whatever filth they fling at me, as long as this charge is related to my faith, my writings, my comments, and my teachings, it is merely a lie and temptation of demons. I categorically deny it. I will serve my sentence, but I will not serve the law. I will be executed, but I will not plead guilty.

Moreover, I must point out that persecution against the Lord’s church and against all Chinese people who believe in Jesus Christ is the most wicked and the most horrendous evil of Chinese society. This is not only a sin against Christians. It is also a sin against all non-Christians. For the government is brutally and ruthlessly threatening them and hindering them from coming to Jesus. There is no greater wickedness in the world than this.

If this regime is one day overthrown by God, it will be for no other reason than God’s righteous punishment and revenge for this evil. For on earth, there has only ever been a thousand-year church. There has never been a thousand-year government. There is only eternal faith. There is no eternal power.

Those who lock me up will one day be locked up by angels. Those who interrogate me will finally be questioned and judged by Christ. When I think of this, the Lord fills me with a natural compassion and grief toward those who are attempting to and actively imprisoning me. Pray that the Lord would use me, that he would grant me patience and wisdom, that I might take the gospel to them.

Separate me from my wife and children, ruin my reputation, destroy my life and my family – the authorities are capable of doing all of these things. However, no one in this world can force me to renounce my faith; no one can make me change my life; and no one can raise me from the dead.

And so, respectable officers, stop committing evil. This is not for my benefit but rather for yours and your children’s. I plead earnestly with you to stay your hands, for why should you be willing to pay the price of eternal damnation in hell for the sake of a lowly sinner such as I?

Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever. I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.
 
On Being Innocent as Doves and Wise as Snakes, a good example is Father Nathaniel from the book, “Everyday Saints and other stories” by Archimandrite Tikhon:

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IF someone had asked for the name of the most difficult person in the Monastery of the Pskov Caves, the answer without doubt would have been only one name: the Treasurer of the Pskov Caves Monastery, Archimandrite Father Nathaniel. What’s more, this choice would have been made unanimously by all the priests, by all the novices, all the monks, by all the ordinary civilians, by all the Communists from the local administration of the KGB, and even by all the local dissidents.

When I met him, he was a thin, elderly man with the keen, owlish, penetrating gaze of an elder. All year round he was dressed in an old and bedraggled monastic cassock with a torn hem. He usually carried an old canvas bag over his shoulders, in which just about anything might be found, ranging from moldy crumbs of dried bread given to him ages ago by some old grandmother, to perhaps one million rubles in cash. Either of these items in the eyes of this Father Treasurer of our monastery represented an extraordinary valuable that had been entrusted to our community by the Lord God Himself. All of these treasures Father Nathaniel would drag back and hide away somewhere in his innumerable secret cells and storerooms.

The finances of the monastery were completely under the control and management of Father Nathaniel. And there were plenty of funds that needed to be spent: every single day up to 400 pilgrims and 100 monks sat down at our tables to be fed—and fed well. An incalculable quantity of repairs and construction and restoration to the monastery always needed to be conducted. On top of this, our brotherhood had constant daily needs. Moreover, we needed to help the poor, to receive our guests, and to give gifts to officials and bureaucrats . . . There were innumerable further expenses.

....

Father Nathaniel proved difficult to handle even for the mighty Soviet government, especially when it rudely attempted to interfere with our monastic life. It is said that none other than Father Nathaniel gave support and subtle advice to the great Father Superior and savior of the monastery Archimandrite Alipius, when the latter was under particularly heavy pressure from the crude persecutions of the Soviet authorities. This took place at the end of the 1960s. As you may know, all citizens of the Soviet Union were required to take part in “elections.” They brought a ballot box into the refectory of the monastery, where after dinner the brotherhood, under the discontented grumbling supervision of the abbot, rendered unto Caesar what was Caesar’s.

But it turned out that the First Secretary of the Regional Communist Party Secretary for Pskov Province had found out that unheard of privileges were being given to these “savage” monks: they were being allowed to vote (unanimously, of course) for the one and only slot on the ballot, the Communist Party, over there, not at the local polling place like everyone else, but there in their obsolete historical ruin of a monastery! The First Secretary of the Communist Party was quite indignant about this and threw a fit, raging at his underlings and mercilessly rebuking them for allowing such unacceptable lenience to atavistic deviant non-working-class elements of society. He immediately demanded that from now on and forever those “black beetles” must come and “vote” for the members of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR like all good Soviet citizens, at their polls in their electoral districts strictly according to their place of residence! It was then, so people say, that Father Nathaniel whispered into the ear of the monastery’s abbot, Archimandrite Alipius, a piece of advice that was both innocent and extremely subtle in its defiance. On election day (and, as always, it was a Sunday), after the festal Liturgy was served in the monastery, from the monastery gates came streaming forth a magnificent procession of the cross, with priests bearing crosses and icons. Paired into two columns, in a long line singing hymns and in full ceremonial dress, the troops of monks paraded through the entire town towards the polling place. Their ancient banners fluttered in the wind as they marched, carrying their traditional crosses and ancient icons. But this was not all. As is the required custom before any important action, right in the middle of the polling place the entire clergy began to pray out loud. The bureaucrats were frightened to death and tried to protest against this, but Father Alipius firmly interrupted them, lecturing that they were interfering with citizens’ rights to express themselves and carry out their constitutional duties as they were required to do! Having “voted,” the monks marched back with similar ostentatious ceremony into their holy monastery. Needless to say, when the next elections came around, the ballot box was once again waiting for the monks on the table for the monastery refectory. Yet, by the same token, in his ceaselessly vigilant looking after us, Father Nathaniel always stopped us from uttering any outright expression of opposition to the Soviet regime, or from getting involved in any attempts at being a dissident. At first this seemed to us to be disgraceful. Why was our Treasurer simply kowtowing to hated authority? But gradually we began to find out that Father Nathaniel had been tested on numerous occasions by spies and agent provocateurs or plainclothes KGB operatives, ever seeking any excuse to do real damage to the monastery. And yet, even when he quite well understood that the expressions of dissenting thought were genuine, Father Nathaniel would always interrupt our beloved free opinions. And this was not only because he was thinking of how to protect the monastery. More likely he was protecting us from ourselves, from our temptation to be too passionate or fanatical in our youthful excess, which was chiefly mixed up with nothing more than pride. He had no use for mere words—even for the most heroic of words. Yet he knew all about Soviet authority, and about everything that was happening in the country—and not in the way we did, just from books and rumors.

Father Nathaniel had a very sober and yet personal relationship to Soviet authority—perhaps because of the fact that his own father, the priest Nikolai Pospelov, had been shot to death for his faith in 1937. Father Nathaniel had served as a simple soldier throughout all of World War II, and then had served as a novice of the Great Abbot of our monastery, Archimandrite Alipius. He had also been the spiritual son of the holy elder and miracle worker of the Pskov Caves Monastery, Hieroschema-monk Simeon. Both of them, seeing in him a man of impeccable honesty and remarkably lively intelligence, had appointed him, even during those most difficult years of the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church under Khrushchev, the Treasurer and presiding secretary of the monastery, effectively entrusting him with its most valuable secrets.

===

There are more bits of wisdom to be gleaned, but the most salient point is that many civil authorities are serving an antichrist agenda. The sooner church leaders come to understand this, the sooner they can wisen up. Learn to cleverly push back against petty totalitarianism. Learn from Father Nathaniel.

The work of the Church must continue.
 
Update RE the Bostock case...

"Gorsuch's Bostock opinion will live in infamy for ... open[ing] the floodgates to an unrelenting tide of future litigation against churches and religious institutions of every kind (move over, "Bake the cake!," and say hello to "Men in dresses must teach catechism!")..." https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2020/06/et_tu_gorsuch.html#ixzz6PjLv

Not many Christians seemed attuned to the challenges of institutional corruption from within (subversion) and without (by interfacing with TheSystem and its various mandates).

What is another strategy?

Churches can go mobile (think: Moses and the Israelites wandering and worshipping in the desert). If anything, this should be easier with technology than it has been in the past. Police must comply (currently) with the 4A and cannot enter private land without permission or a warrant.

Consideration should be made to diversify and anonymize funding to protect Believers as well as to frustrate civil and criminal forfeitures and penalties. Ideally, Believers should act "as water" to absorb punishments and flow around restrictions. Highly centralized finance and planning should be avoided.
 

Drakken

Sparrow
Man is bound to obey secular princes in so far as this is required by order of justice. Wherefore if the prince’s authority is not just but usurped, or if he commands what is unjust, his subjects are not bound to obey him.

—St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae
 
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