by Murray Andrew Pura
Once upon a time there were two churches. One was big and the other was little. The big church had a massive building, an enormous parking lot, and thousands upon thousands of members. the little church met in a hotel and it was a small hotel at that. It only had a few dozen members. “Come join us!” boomed the big church. “We have hundreds of programs for every member of the family!” And family after family did join the big church. “Spend some time with us,” said the little church. “We are small enough that we can really get to know one another and together we can help one another get to know God.” Very few families joined the little church.
Magazines and newspapers wrote stories about the big church. the big church smiled. “We have found the key to spiritual success,” they said. “People will be talking about us for a hundred years. We’ll inspire millions.” No one wrote stories about the little church. Members of the big church stopped members of the little church on the street and said, “You are so small. You can’t do much with 20 or 30 people. Why don’t you join us? Then you could really make a difference.”
“But we are making a difference,” responded the members of the little church. “We pray, we worship, we love God, we love one another.”
The members of the big church shook their heads. “No one notices,” they said.
Things carried on in this manner for some time. The big church grew bigger and bigger and offered more and more programs and the little church held on for dear life. Families that wanted to be part of something large and exciting, or who wanted to get lost in the crowd, or who wanted to just sit and watch and not get involved, joined the big church. The few families that did want to get involved, that wanted to know and be known, that wanted to be part of something intimate, joined the little church. The big church shook its head at the families who became members of the little church. “I don’t know what you see in it,” the big church grumbled, “nothing is happening.”
“Perhaps,” the new members of the little church replied, “what is happening cannot be measured by the criteria you use to measure success.”
The big church snorted, “Don’t talk nonsense. Where the numbers are is where God is doing something that matters. And we have the numbers.”
One day the government of the country where the two churches were situated changed. At first business went on as usual. Or better than usual. The economy improved, unemployment dropped, taxes were cut, and the airplanes were safe and secure and departed on schedule. Everyone said, “This is marvelous.”
Then people began to disappear. Neighbours vanished. First a few at a time. Then dozens. Then hundreds. Then thousands. Shops were burned. Men and women were beaten on the street in broad daylight while police watched. Families were given notices in the mail and told to report at various bus depots. When they did so they had to line up behind hundreds of other families. everyone was loaded onto buses and the buses drove away. No one ever saw the families again.
“What is going on?” blustered the big church. “You have taken away hundreds of our members.”
“Shut up!” the police ordered. “Obey the law or we will burn down your building and load the rest of your people up on the buses.”
“What shall we do?” the leadership of the big church asked itself.
“What can we do?” it told itself. “The Bible says we must obey the law. The government has not asked us to shut down any of our programs, have they?”
“They have not asked us to stop preaching Christianity, have they?”
“They have not taken away our building or our parking lot, have they?”
“Then let us carry on with the Lord’s business. As for our families that have gone missing, the only thing we can do for them is pray.”
But the little church went to the government leaders and asked, “Where have you taken all those families?”
“That is none of your concern!” snapped the government. “You stick to your religion.”
“It is part of our religion to care about the people you have taken away,” the little church answered.
“None of your own church families have disappeared, have they?”
“Then mind your own business before some of them do.”
“All of those families you have taken away are our families,” the little church said, “because all of those families are God’s families.”
“Listen,” said the government, “you stick to your church programs and let us handle the government programs.”
“We don’t have any programs,” replied the little church. “Only people.”
Rumours began to spread through the country that the families that had been bused away were being placed in large camps surrounded by guards and barbed wire and were being executed. Soon the rumours were verified as fact by journalists who had found the camps and photographed what was happening to the thousands of missing families. People were shocked. The journalists themselves were the next ones to disappear and the TV stations or newspapers they worked for were broken into, looted and burned.
“What shall we do now?” the leadership of the big church asked itself.
“They have not tried to shut down any of our programs, have they?” it told itself.
“They have not ordered us to stop preaching Christianity, have they?”
“They have not touched our building or our parking lot, have they?”
“Then let us carry on with the Lord’s business. The best thing we can do is pray for our country and those in leadership over us.”
But the little church challenged the government. “You are murdering thousands of innocent people. In the name of God, stop this outrage!”
“We will decide who is guilty and who is innocent,” the government bristled. “I thought we told you to stick to your religion.”
“This is our religion.”
“Preaching from the Bible and praying over people is your religion. Politics is none of your concern.”
“Everything is God’s concern.”
“We’re warning you for the last time.”
“Warn us all you wish. But we must do what Christ would do. If you will not stop these massacres then we will start hiding families from your police.”
“If you do that we will put all of you on the buses with them! Stay inside the walls of your church and do your sermons and your baptisms. Leave the running of the country to us. That’s how God intended for nations to govern themselves.”
“No true church has any walls,” the little church retorted.
“Well,” growled the government, “you had better put some up and get behind them. And the sooner you do so the better.”
Week after week people and families continued to be bused far away. More TV stations were closed. More newspapers shut down. Then the government announced it was the head of all the churches and must have total obedience in all matters of church and state. It distributed outlines of what programs could be run and what beliefs could be taught. Churches that did not swear an oath to follow these new laws would have their property confiscated and their members placed on the buses.
“What shall we do now?” the leadership of the big church asked itself.
“They have not taken away our building or our parking lot, have they?” it told itself.
“We have to make sure they have no excuse to do so. Let us take the oath and obey the law of the land.”
“But what about our Christian faith?”
“We don’t need to be literalists about these matters. It’s the spirit that counts. We can let a few things go and still be true followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“What about our brothers and sisters in other churches?”
“What happens to other Christians is between themselves and God. As for ourselves, we have to carry on with the Lord’s business. We will pray for them and for our government.”
But the little church confronted the government and said, “The head of our church is Jesus Christ.”
“The head of your church,” said the government, “is us.”
“We will not take this oath.”
“If you do not take the oath you are not true Christians because the Bible commands you to obey your government.”
“Not when your laws conflict with God’s laws.”
“We will take way your property.”
“We have no property.”
“We will take away your building.”
“We have no building.”
“We will take away your lives.”
“Our lives are Christ’s.”
“Then we will give you back to him as quickly as we can.” And that very hour the police rounded up the members of the little church and loaded them on a bus that took them far away to a camp the government had designated as Rest Centre Number 12. They all perished there, every single one.
When it heard the news the big church shook its head. “There was no need for their deaths. All they had to do was obey God and obey the government. They had a skewed idea of Christianity. That’s why God kept them so small. They should have followed our example. Lord knows the Christian faith is not a faith of self-sacrifice. It is a faith of self-fulfillment.”
When it became known that the big church had taken the oath and had received praise and honour from the government for its decision, many families saw it as a safe church and left their own churches and flocked to the big one. Now it became bigger than ever. The leadership thanked God for his blessing. And when the government felt it was necessary to wage war against other nations the big church thanked God for the holy war from the pulpit and sent many of its young men and women into the fight. Everytime there was a great victory they held special services of worship and celebration. And after every service of worship and celebration they gained even more families.
“It’s God’s doing,” the big church told the nation’s one newspaper. “He is blessing our country and he is blessing us because we have obeyed his laws and obeyed the laws of the government he put in place. We will become the greatest church of the greatest nation on earth.” And the big church continued to grow bigger and bigger while its government and its country waged a war that grew bigger and bigger until the war covered the entire earth.
But one day the war turned against the country. And one day the armies of the nations it had waged war against marched over the country’s borders and forced it to surrender. Then the armies of the nations discovered the camps and the thousands of dead bodies, the millions of dead bodies, and they showed the pictures of the dead to the world and the world was horrified.
“Was this not a Christian nation?” the world asked. “Was this not a country full of churches? Was this not a state where the citizens followed the teachings of Jesus Christ? How could this have happened?” And the churches of that country stood condemned in the eyes of the entire earth.
Now it so happened that one journalist stumbled upon the story of the little church. How it had stood up to its government and demanded to know where people were being bused to, how it had cried out for its government to stop the mass slaughter, how it had refused to take an oath of ultimate obedience to the government but had chosen instead to obey Christ, even if that obedience meant death. “Here in this little church with only a few dozen members,” wrote the journalist, “we at last find that true Christianity still exists on the face of the earth.”
Millions were inspired by the story. More journalists were assigned to uncover more details. Magazines and newspapers and TV shows carried the story of the little church. Books were published. Diaries of members of the little church were discovered and printed. Films were produced. People who had been hidden by the little church and survived told their own stories with tears shining in their eyes. A hundred years later people all over the earth were still finding new hope and new faith and new inspiration in the story of the little church.
“It had to be God’s special church,” many people argued. “Look how small it was and look at what a difference it made.”
Thousands of leaders of other faiths stated simply, “If this is what Christianity was like all the time we would all be Christians.”
As for the big church, once the war was lost and millions of dead unearthed and the big church became the focus of scorn and contempt for the nations of the earth, all but 20 or 30 people left it and never returned. “God was not in the big church after all,” they complained.
“It just goes to show you,” said others, “that even if a lot of people believe in something it can still be wrong.”
“I now doubt,” grumbled a few, “that there can even be a God.”
But the handful of leaders that remained with what had been the big church sought out several of the international journalists. “Until the end of the war we were the largest church in the country,” they said. “Even before the war we were filled with people of all ages. We ran hundreds of programs. Held seven or eight services on a Sunday. Clearly we were doing something right. Don’t you want to hear our story?”
The journalists all turned away. One had just come from a tour of Rest Centre Number 12 where a memorial had been erected to the three million that had died there including all the members of the little church. He looked the leaders square in the eye. “Now that you are a small church yourself,” he said, “maybe you are fit to do something that matters.”