Preaching and Persecution


Below is the beginning of a research proposal I wrote, but I never submitted it. Instead, I wrote my dissertation, which was, basically, a New Testament perspective on persecution. I would like to pursue the relationship between preaching and persecution. Is that a good topic? Or, would it be helpful for more to be said on the subject?  Read this article and let me know. . .

According to the end of Matthew’s gospel, Christ left his disciples with a mandate to make disciples of all nations.  If one interprets this Great Commission passage of Matthew in light of what has gone before in that gospel (in 4:23; 9:35; and 24:4), then he may well conclude that the disciple-making process is fueled by Christian proclamation.  The proclamation of the gospel is “to be done in no minor way but to all the nations.”[1] This preaching the gospel to all nations in order to make disciples of them is, in fact, the drive of many Christian evangelistic organizations, including the International Congress for World Evangelization, a gathering of Christians from more than 150 nations.  This congress, more commonly called the Lausanne Congress, places the Great Commission passage at the beginning of its original covenant under the first heading, “The Purposes of God.”[2] The Lausanne Congress also recognizes that the task of preaching the gospel to all nations in an effort to make disciples of them is no simple task.  Not all nations are amenable to the spread of the good news.[3]

The Christian drive for proclamation to all nations contrasted with the resistance of those nations has led the Lausanne Congress to call for a more thorough study of Christian persecution.  So, for instance, Section 1.1 of the 2004 occasional paper on persecution lists issues which have been raised repeatedly since the first meeting of Lausanne in 1974, yet still remain to be dealt with more extensively.[4] The first issue mentioned in the bulleted list of the occasional paper is “the relationship between human suffering in general, suffering for Christ’s sake, and Christ’s own suffering.”[5] The Lausanne Congress has recognized the need for distinguishing what it means to suffer for Christ’s sake (that is, to suffer persecution, cf. Matthew 5:10-12) from what it means to suffer on account of oppression or other frailties of the human condition.  The Lausanne occasional paper on persecution concludes Section 4 with this call for theological research in the area of persecution: “There is clearly a need for deeper theological reflection on the issues pertaining to suffering, persecution, martyrdom, religious freedom and human rights, and an appropriate Christian response.”[6] As the gospel is proclaimed to the nations, the problem of persecution arises.

Anyone who has read the New Testament accounts of Christ and his disciples knows that their proclamation often resulted in rejection and persecution.  Certainly, then, it is possible for faithful proclamation to yield rejection and hostility.  Of course, the reality of the presence of persecution in a context of proclamation is no proof that it was the aim of the New Testament preachers to be persecuted to death as James was in Acts 12:2.[7] Nevertheless, the end result of Christian proclamation is, at times, persecution.  This fact, in the face of a proclamation impulse and a plethora of preaching instruction concerning how to preach so that others will listen, causes some important inquiries to rise to the surface.  Why does persecution follow faithful proclamation?  And, how ought the preacher make sense of this reality that preaching provokes persecution?  This research project explores these questions, seeking to clarify the notion of provocative Christian proclamation via the lens of the New Testament concept of persecution.  In an ethical sense, the exploration is to discover how one ought to preach provocatively, knowing that the result will be some form of persecution, yet, at the same time, preach the word with complete patience and teaching in accordance with 2 Tim. 4:2.  In a theological sense, the exploration seeks to discover what is particularly provocative in the content of the proclamation.  Why is it that a pastor, missionary, or evangelist might seek to live in peace with all men, yet, at the same time, provoke persecution against himself and the church through his proclamation?

This research project is an attempt to focus sharply on the relationship between Christian persecution and Christian proclamation…


[1]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 602.

[2]Lausanne Covenant, sec. 1[on-line]; accessed 3 February  2009; available from http://www.lausanne.org/lausanne-1974/lausanne-covenant.html; Internet.

[3]Patrick Johnstone, Operation World, (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Lifestyle, 2001).

[4]Patrick Sookhdeo, “The Persecuted Church” (paper prepared for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism, Pattaya, Thailand, October 2004), no. 32 [on-line]; accessed 23 February 2009; available from http://www.lausanne.org/documents/2004forum/LOP32_IG3.pdf; Internet.

[5] Lausanne,  “The Lausanne Movement’s Statements on Persecution, sec. 1.1.

[6] Lausanne, “Questions and Issues for Reflection,” sec. 4.

[7]Contra Paul Middleton, Radical Martyrdom and Cosmic Conflict in Early Christianity Library of New Testament Studies 307 (New York: T and T Clark, 2006), 23-38.

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