It Started With Don’t Gather, Don’t Sing


Two summers ago I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Prague in the Czech Republic. It’s only been since 1993 that this country became free from the bonds of communism. It was amazing to see the vibrant growth and renewal throughout the city. And yet the ravages of communism were still evident. You could sit at a street corner and watch the traffic go by and all the city busses. What I realized was there were no busses made after the 1960s. There were 50s era street cars, which were quaint. But no modern busses. It was as though life stopped when the money ran out. Democracy and capitalism take awhile to take hold — people trained to fear innovation and freedom need to adjust to the light.


I had heard about the Museum of Communism in Prague, established in 2001. The description of it is, “an immersive look at life behind the Iron Curtain.” But it was much more than that. I’ve told my friends that every single US student should visit this museum. It’s a stark, educational, hold no punches, recording of the dangers of communism. What has stayed with me were the photos of priests being led away by secret police. Hundreds of priest were killed in order to control religion. At first, churches were allowed to function only under state control. The government decided who were favored priests and who were not. The government decided which liturgies could be celebrated and which could not. And those who did not comply were shot. Priests that were “approved” were paid by the government to acquire their loyalty. In 1950, the government seized all church properties. They plundered over 1,000 church buildings, stealing thousands of works of art and religious artifacts. The approved churches began to lose parishioners as they were associated with the repressive government. The end result? The Czech Republic is considered one of the least religious countries in Europe.

Czech Catholic priest Josef Toufar, the “Miracle Priest” who died from torture at the hands of the Communist secret service (StB) in 1950.

Joseph Bondarenko, a Russian evangelical minister, didn’t give in to the communist regime. He was expelled from university for illegally engaging in religious activities in the Soviet Union. He was undeterred. He was put in prison multiple times. He took to heart the lessons the disciples wrote in the New Testament. When we make serving God our priority we will have eternal blessings. Recently, when speaking with worship leader and founder of Let Us Worship, Sean Feucht, Bondarenko spoke of the signs of communism creeping into our society. He said,

“Don’t they realize what is happening now in America is exactly what happened to us in communist Russia? It started with ‘Don’t gather. Don’t sing. Spread apart. Listen to the government.’ Then it quickly turned into full on persecution and the church did not wake up in time.”

Joseph Bondarenko

You may be reading this and thinking, “that’s not going to happen in America.” In California we are told we cannot meet in our churches. We cannot sing. Indefinitely. We must listen to the government. And the majority of our pastors are compliant. Some have rebelled. The ones that rebel are vilified in our media — and by “Christians.” My friend who is not Christian doesn’t understand. She tells me if Christians think God is all mighty and who we should solely put our faith in then why aren’t all pastors rebelling?

In my Bible study group the other day we were talking about the loss of being with our church families. Praising God in community and raising our collective voices. I told them my fear is we will become like the Czech Republic. Where, once our churches are “allowed” to open, that no one or few will come. Our churches, our pastors, our faith leaders chose government over God. How can we move forward with them as our guides? They espouse “faith over fear” yet, fear is exactly what they have taught us these last six months.

The prophet Haggai was tasked to admonish the Israelites about rebuilding the temple in the year 520. But the Jews gave excuses. They said the economy wasn’t good enough. They said maybe God didn’t really want them to do it. They said they needed to take care of their own needs first. And yet, they continued to complain about the drought and their oppression. Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Haggai 1:1-4 is,

When we put God first and give Him what’s rightfully His, we open the door to spiritual enrichment and the kind of stewardship that honors God.

May we open our Christian eyes sooner, not later, to obey God’s command to rebuild His temple.

On a warm summer evening my husband and I were enjoying a walk along Prague’s Vltava River. We crossed over one of the beautiful bridges, heading to a park. We stopped in the middle to enjoy the view. I started humming along to a song I could hear off in the distance. As we got closer to the park, the music got louder. I kept thinking how familiar that song sounded. We took the steps down from the bridge into a park where a small concert was being held. And it hit me. Singing in Czech, was a band playing a Christian praise song. And all around — about 100 young people — were people singing, lifting hands in the name of our Lord. In this town that had seemingly lost its faith, faith was being re-born. He never forsakes us. He calls us back into His loving arms.

4 thoughts on “It Started With Don’t Gather, Don’t Sing

  1. “In California we are told we cannot meet in our churches…”

    I acknowledge your concerns, Kris, but the context of that order is to hopefully prevent the spread of COVID-19.

    The danger of spreading COVID at church gatherings in buildings is real. A single man infected nearly 100 people at a church in Ohio earlier this month click here. Similarly, there were two COVID outbreaks at church gatherings in Freemont, Wyoming click here.

    I’ve prayed about how God would have me respond in this pandemic, and I was reminded of Jesus’ command In Matthew 22:39 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

    What would loving your neighbor look like?

    Perhaps wearing a mask to help prevent the potential spread of COVID to your neighbor’s elderly parents?

    I know my God can keep me safe from anything, but I also remember this verse from Luke 4:12: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
    That’s why I don’t jump off cliffs.

    We are still free to worship! But, for now, not all together in a building. We’re free to gather outside and sing and praise Him! We’re free to gather for Bible studies if we keep a reasonable distance from each other and wear masks.

    There is no doubt that real Christian oppression does exist in places like North Korea, Somalia and Iraq click here.

    But being told we cannot meet inside our church buildings is different than being told we are not allowed to worship.

    Like

    1. I know you and I disagree with this. But it is not I that makes the correlation between what happened in Russia and what is happening here. You might also watch Maximo Alvarez’ moving speech during the RNC. He escaped from Cuba.

      What news stories conveniently leave out is what happened after a group of people gets Covid. There is a minimum 99% recovery rate across all age groups. And in most age groups it’s more like 99.8%. Having worked in schools I know how easily any virus such as a cold or flu spreads. And even with a dangerous virus like the seasonal flu we do not close our country — or churches. And if masks and distancing work for businesses and now schools why not churches? We have been told not to sing at church— even with masks on. Yet I can dine on a patio with 50 other people while we eat, chat and laugh.

      You might find this information interesting:

      “In Knox County, Tenn., for instance, more people died from suicide than from COVID-19 over a week period. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll that found 45 percent of adults say the pandemic has affected their mental health, while the Disaster Distress Helpline reported an 891 percent increase in March 2020 over the previous March.

      “The mandated closure of religious organizations is having a significant and detrimental secondary effect on the citizens of California. For example, the closure of religious organizations is preventing the numerous ministries and social services provided by churches to the poor, unemployed and distressed. The humanitarian and spiritual support provided by ministries are innumerable,” the Declaration of Essentiality argues.”The spiritual services of ministries are absolutely essential to the health and welfare of the people of California.”

      A recent JAMA Psychiatry study found that “religious service attendance is associated with a lower risk of death from despair among registered nurses and health care professionals. These results may be important in understanding trends in deaths from despair in the general population.”

      There’s a lot of pastors out there ignoring California’s harsh regulations against churches because they believe God, in community, is essential for saving lives and souls. A person who has never even stepped foot inside a church or opened a Bible needs a place to turn to during times of stress and despair.

      Like

      1. Thanks for the feedback Kris!
        Yes – worship is being modified but again I don’t think it’s not being taken away…

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: