“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe… Come to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, Open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall!”
– U.S. President Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate of the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987
Last week, Reagan’s four most remembered words, “Tear down this wall” raced back into my mind with the Russian military invasion of the Crimean Peninsula in the Ukraine. In fact, in this same speech before a throng of 45,000 in Berlin, Reagan amplified this call, “Yes across Europe, the wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith. It cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.” Yet the Soviet Press Agency TASS denounced Reagan’s words as “Openly provocative, a war-mongering speech!” However, the “winds of change” were blowing as just 29 months later on November 9, 1989, East Germany opened the Berlin Wall!
Most historians would agree that the dismantling of the Berlin Wall directly led to the “melting” of the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain after the failed Soviet Coup in Moscow against Boris Yeltsin on August 19, 1991. As our Sovereign God would have it, the Coup perfectly coincided with the Moscow Church Planting on July 14, 1991. When “religious freedom” was embraced in Russia and the 14 satellite nations of the Soviet Union, the Spirit multiplied our 17 member mission team to have 850 baptisms that first year! By the year 2001, we had discipling churches in all 15 nations of the former Soviet Union collectively numbering 11,500 disciples!
During the week preceding the Moscow Church Planting, we endured persecution as all true disciples must in any and every nation. In fact, my life was threatened by the father of Irina who would become our first baptism! Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own… If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:18-20)
Most disciples “expect” persecution from “the world.” The false charges against God’s new SoldOut Movement include being labeled a “cult,” and our members derided as “brainwashed” and “mind-controlled.” However, these accusations pale in the light of what many of our first century brothers and sisters endured. AJ Kostenburger writes,
“The following charges were regularly leveled against the early Christians: 1) Insurrection – claiming Jesus is Lord [and King]; 2) Cannibalism – eating Christ’s body at the Lord’s Supper; 3) Immorality – ‘love feasts’ [Jude 12]… 4) Incendiaries – teaching that the elements will be dissolved and consuming fire will destroy the world [2 Peter 3:10], thus Nero fastened the blame for the Fire of Rome in 64 AD on the Christians; 5) Disintegrating Family Relationships – dividing families if a wife became a Christian, but the husband did not.”
In fact, the first century historians Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius all record the persecution of disciples to the point of death.
Of great concern is that most disciples do not expect persecution from “other Christians,” since they are unaware that Satan works through those who “masquerade as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:15) Let us not forget that Jesus experienced the strongest persecutions from the “leaders of God’s people” – the Pharisees and teachers of the law. When He is talking with the Apostles in John 16:1-3, Jesus refers to such persecutions, “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.” Being “put out of the synagogue” by the religious leaders should have signified that this individual was no longer faithful to God. Yet, Jesus taught that just the opposite was true – the religious leaders were unfaithful to God and the “disfellowshipped” person walked with God! When Jesus said, “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray,” He was keenly aware that this evil action of being “put out of the synagogue” would confuse naïve people – including true disciples, and even the Apostles!
Being “put out of the synagogue” is also addressed in John 12:42-43, “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in Jesus. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” This “ungodly punishment” made cowards of those who wanted to follow Jesus but did not want to lose the fellowship of their friends and the approval of their “spiritual leaders.”
This heart-breaking dilemma is first seen in John 9 where the former blind man’s parents answer the Jewish leaders about their son’s miraculous healing, “‘Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.” The son’s courageous response to these same Jews – “One thing I do know. I once was blind but now I see” – is in stark contrast to his parents as he stands up for Jesus and is thrown out of the synagogue! (John 9:34)
As it was in the first century so it is in our 21st century; in regards to being “led astray” by false teachers who threaten to put them “out of the synagogue,” this practice in modern terms is the act of “disfellowshipping.” In “An Open Letter To The Church” on October 17, 2006 “From the Elders and Evangelists of the Los Angeles International Church of Christ” (ICOC) to “Brothers and Sisters,” they write about God’s SoldOut Movement: “Do not attend any of their meetings. Do not engage in any conversations with them… This applies not only to your contact with Kip McKean, Sal Velasco, and Ron Harding, but also with anyone associated with this splinter group. It is important to understand that anyone who joins this faction will no longer be considered in fellowship with the LA Church.” This “disfellowshipment letter” employs exactly the same “fear tactic” – “to be put out of the synagogue” –that the Pharisees used to stop “truth seekers” from “checking out” and then following Jesus!
To those who dare “examine the Scriptures” about the Biblical convictions of the SoldOut Movement, they will find that we believe in the physical resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:6); we believe that the Bible is inspired and inerrant (2 Timothy 3:16-17); we believe that repentance and becoming a disciple must come before being baptized for the remission of sins to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 4:1-2; Acts 2:38); we believe that God’s church universal includes anyone of any fellowship who has the previous convictions, but we also believe that God desires His visible church to be built and composed of only “sold-out baptized disciples” (Acts 11:26); we believe that every disciple needs discipling relationships (Matthew 28:20); we believe that autonomy for local church government is sin and we believe that a central leadership with a central leader is God’s desire in order to build a unified movement of churches. (Acts 15:13-29) This is the only way to realize God’s will and our vision of the evangelization of the nations in this generation. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
For similar convictions in the mid 70’s, Elena & I as college students were “disfellowshipped” by many lukewarm Mainline Churches of Christ when we worshipped with the Crossroads Church of Christ who took a lonely stand for discipleship. Later, in 1988 we were “disfellowshipped” again by not only all Mainline Churches of Christ but also by our beloved Crossroads Church because we came to a conviction from the Scriptures of the need for a central leadership with a central leader to evangelize the world! Then in 2006, after three long years of tirelessly pleading with our dearly loved ICOC brothers and sisters to cast off their lukewarmness, very sadly we were again “disfellowshipped” by what was left of the ICOC largely because they had “turned back” to Mainline Church of Christ theology. Through the years, we have learned that the price of following Jesus remains the same; one will be “put out of the synagogue” and treated as a heretic.
Praise God that in the past two years so many leaders from our former movement valiantly joined God’s new movement at the cost of sacrificing friendships in our former fellowship to find revival in their friendship with God. Of note internationally, these gallant disciples include: Renato & Maria Jose Tria of Sao Paulo, Brazil and the 18 disciples that followed them; Micky Ngungu of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo and the 151 disciples that were partners in the gospel with him; Amadou & Angele Sountoura, and the 150 disciples in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Philippe & Prisca Scheidecker and Monica Vazquez of Paris; Menno & Yuklin Zoutendijk and Renee & Anita Vermaat of Amsterdam, Netherlands; Gerson & Alexandra Higgins of Caracas, Venezuela; and Slava & Elena Kapskiy of Minsk, Belarus – who have moved to Moscow to help God gather His now bruised and scattered remnant throughout the former Soviet Union.
From the United States in the past two years those daring leaders that joined God’s new movement include: Sal & Jen DiFusco and Ted & Sheila Karonis of Boston, Tim Power of Dallas, Matt & Marlo Lovacheff of Denver; Gary & Cyndee Ochs of San Francisco, Chris Bryant of LA, and Clay & Rashima Erickson of the Antelope Valley, as well as the 40 disciples that eventually followed them!
On my desk is a piece of the Berlin Wall encased in plastic. Engraved at the bottom are the words, “This is a remnant of the Berlin Wall which stood as a barrier against the free exchange of ideas, information and culture. You helped bring this wall down.” It is with this spirit to help “bring this wall down” that I write the almost weekly Good News Emails. Interestingly, the programs of Radio Free Europe from 1949 to 1995 proclaimed hope and truth to those “behind the Iron Curtain.” Likewise, the Good News Email through word and picture “broadcasts” over the man-made wall of “false disfellowshipment” that God has gathered a new movement where His “Word… [once again continues] to increase (numerically) and spread (geographically)” around the world. (Acts 12:24)
For the honor of God and for the love of His people – both fiercely faithful and those restlessly wandering – I say to my brothers of the ICOC and other fellowships of their sway, “Tear down this wall of disfellowshipment!” Tear down this wall of hostility, deceit and false accusations! As Moses challenged Pharaoh with Jehovah’s message, “Let my people go,” allow God’s people the freedom to at least “check out” His new movement. “Yes across [the world], the wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith. It cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”
Some may consider this challenge “openly provocative, a war-mongering speech!” Yet the words of the Scorpions’ song – Wind of Change – again seems so very relevant:
The future’s in the air – can feel it everywhere,
The blowing with the wind of change.
Take me to the magic of the moment on a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow
Dream away in the wind of change.
Let the word go forth that the Spirit – the true Wind of Change – is blowing across the nations! Let us remain undaunted and prayerful in scaling and breaking down the walls of “false disfellowshipment,” thus uniting God’s people around the globe into a single movement that “dreams away in the wind of change!” And to God be the glory!