She sat in her classroom and listened with growing unease as the teacher spoke of the new plan the Soviet government had for schools. Among other education reforms was the mandate for the teaching that there is no God. It was part of Stalin’s first five-year plan, adopted in 1928. Before the lesson was over, the teacher overtly promoted atheism. Then she got personal.
“How many of you believe in God?” she asked. Her question was not rhetorical. Methodically she went around the room and asked each of those young students whether or not they believed in God. To a person they said no. Until she came to the nervous girl.
“Do you believe in God?”
“Yes,” the girl’s voice was quiet but steady.
“Do you believe that God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth?” the materialistic teacher asked, her voice betraying both disdain and mockery.
The girl was surprised that the teacher knew that much about the Bible.
“That’s what the Bible says,” she responded, “and that’s what we believe.”
Then the teacher turned to the rest of the class and told them how stupid it was to believe the Bible since science had proved that it was nothing but a fairy tale that only the old and uneducated still clung to.
That girl was my mother. The five-year plan subsequently ruined her father and his business, leaving the family in poverty. But God used evil for good. Inconsistent with the practice of keeping people from leaving their Soviet experiment, the government allowed the family to emigrate. They came to the United States. But they were the exception. Believers all over the Soviet Union faced the continual pressure from the government at all levels. They were persecuted, imprisoned, fired from good jobs, denied the opportunity to go to college, harassed in their worship gatherings and overtly treated as lower classed citizens. If there was forced equality in this “Marxist paradise” it didn’t extend to believers.
Well, equality did extend to some believers. If they registered their church with the government; if they accepted the governmental authority over their congregation, including accepting government appointed pastors and priests; if they kept the guidelines about baptism and wouldn’t baptize anyone younger than eighteen years old; if they would not teach children the Bible, then they could function normally in the brave new Soviet society. In the 1960’s there was an American preacher who was documenting these compromises. His name was Carl McIntire and he was regularly demeaned as a hate-monger by the American press and also by mainstream Christianity (first in the magazine Christian Century, and later in the more evangelical Christianity Today). McIntire accused the World Council of Churches of colluding with the Soviets and allowing their approved ministers to populate their organization. He also documented that many of these soviet ministers were actually KGB agents. There were a lot of professed believers who accepted the government’s terms.
But those who didn’t were forced underground. Like early believers who worshipped in catacombs, they worshipped in secret, often changing locations and meeting times to keep ahead of the officials who, like dogs on the trail of their prey, kept sniffing out any hint of independence from these non-conformists. So there were people claiming to be Christians on both sides of this issue. Those who conformed and those who did not.
Harlan Popov was one of those who did not. He was imprisoned because of it. Interestingly, when he later came to the U.S. to speak of his torture in prison, some members of the press refused to accept his assessment of the Soviets because “he was prejudiced as a witness because he had been incarcerated.” Such is the tortured logic of compromise.
Sixty years later Christians were still being imprisoned for their faith. My brother’s father-in-law was imprisoned for teaching music to church leaders, including some who were young. When he was released (as a result of Reagan’s and Thatcher’s pressure on Gorbachev), he came to the U.S. What was probably the most difficult thing for him, as well as for the underground church he left back in Russia, was to forgive. Not his prison guards or even the communists. He had no trouble with that. But it was the members of the registered churches and their leaders who had enjoyed the benefits of Soviet pastors, oversight, restrictions, guidelines, and in doing it made it more difficult for those who saw the church as under God’s, not the state’s, authority. These who compromised with the communists emboldened their persecution of these believers who would not compromise. It was hard to forgive those “fellow travelers” who had so overtly sided with their persecutors.
Now we are engaged in a culture that is bent on making the church, again, into its own politically correct, bland, saltless image. And we have Christians who are taking the side of the enemies of godliness, as they did in Germany, in Russia, in ancient Rome, in any time in history where the world persecuted sincere believers.
If we cannot see that this push to mainstream same-sex “marriage” is a direct attack on God and His truth, we are blind. If we take the side that “it’s the law of the land so we must submit” then we are compromising with the devil.
When a believer is put in prison for conscience sake, it is no time to throw stones. It is time to be Biblical. “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body” (Heb.13:3).
Some say Kim Davis should not have stood against the court’s injunction. She chose the wrong battle. How silly to appeal to a non-Christian government. Well, Paul did too. Paul knew what it was to be in bonds. And for what? He had appealed to Caesar. And if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have gone to Rome where he was martyred. If he hadn’t appealed to Caesar, he would have been set free (Acts 26:32). If Paul did that in our day he would be accused of choosing the wrong battle and standing for the wrong thing.
In every age it seems there is pressure on the church to compromise. And there are always arguments made, even purportedly Biblical arguments, for accepting the compromised position. Even when the author of confusion has made it look like a tangled mess, we should step back and look at the side for which we are arguing. Whose side are we on? Whose arguments are we defending? What will be the outcome?
It was too little too late, but when Carl McIntire died, Christianity Today had a piece in which the author confessed to his former skepticism of Carl McIntire’s documentation of communist collusion with the registered church in Russia. “He was right,” wrote the columnist. It is too bad that the columnist had not had clearer vision when he was joining in the demonization of one who was decrying the compromise of the church. It may have kept the American church from going so fast down the wrong road. We’ll see how many in our day stay on that same disastrous course, or wake up to reality and see in which direction they are really going.