A few hours ago, hundreds of hands clenched into fists had risen into the air, pounding at it in time to the music. The band had played with a passion that vibrated off of the bleachers back towards the stage. Fervor had been the air this crowd breathed, the intensity almost too exquisite to bear.
Now all was silent as Bryce Newton sat on the front row of bleachers, the only remnant of the earlier gathering. Hundreds of fists in the air had belonged to the hundreds of saints gathered here in one final meeting before the new laws went into effect.
Did they get it, God?
Bryce carefully tucked his raggedy-edged pocket bible into the inside pocket of his coat, but remained sitting. By now, the rest were in hiding throughout the city. Wanted posters would go up in the next few days with their pictures. They’d be attached to phone poles, bulletin boards, gym walls, and anywhere else a responsible citizen would be looking. The American church was officially disbanded in the eyes of the law.
Do they understand what all of this is about?
Most people assumed Bryce did know, from years as a missionary taken captive and held. But he wasn’t so sure.
“So I hear tell there was a congregational meeting here tonight…”
Kelly’s lilting voice, soft and pure, pierced the silence that had taken over as she sat down beside Bryce. She rested a smooth hand on his shoulder for an instance, the squeeze from it so small he almost never knew it. Except this was Kelly Gillion. This was what she did.
“So do I.”
“I hear there was some mighty fine preaching,” she went on. Either she had no idea about the tension that poked and prodded its way through the city even now, or else she was ignoring it right now.
“Just a few words from the Lord.”
He looked over in time to the corners of Kelly’s mouth twist upwards into a smile.
“Modest looks like good on you, Figgy.” She shoved a pair of slender hands into her coat pockets. “And I have no doubt that what you told them tonight was word from the Father…”
Bryce didn’t stifle the groan in his throat. Horrible reference, Kell… horrible.
“But you have to stop doubting yourself. You said what needed to be said, your church heard it, and hopefully they’ll act upon it.”
“I wouldn’t call what happened here any kind of church gathering.”
Something caught the corner of Bryce’s eyes as he spoke, and he leaned forward to see what it was.
Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, there a church of God exists, even if it swarms with many faults.*
“I think someone who was here would disagree. Bryce…”
That hand on his shoulder again. What is it with you and touching?
“God knows what He’s doing here. And you do know better than anyone who stood out on this court tonight that what He has to say to His people will never be bound. We are His Church, His Body, His people called by His name, and He is faithful to us.
“How many church meetings in Africa did you go to where there was no building? Where God’s people danced and sang and prayed and just worshipped Him without any walls? Without any barriers?”
“This isn’t Africa.”
Bryce shook Kelly’s hand up, stood up.
“No,” she went on, “But maybe what God needed His people here to know is what He taught you in Africa – that He’s not bound to a specific place, time, denomination, or anything else. That wherever there’s more than one person gathered in His name, He’ll be there, regardless of where it is.”
“That doesn’t change things now.”
“But it gives them hope in hiding. And what’s more important for the church to have than that?”
“Honestly – I don’t know.”
The voice was so quiet as Bryce walked home that he almost missed it for all the early morning wake up sounds around him.
They are My church. My people. Do not doubt it. Do not doubt them.
Tired feet poked from around the edges of plastic garbage bags. Someone who needed hope.
You are my church. Now be it.
*John Calvin, on the Church
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