I seem to have a recurring disagreement with fellow Christians. I don’t like disagreements. I try to avoid them, but, when it comes to the persecuted church, I keep having them.
The conversation typically goes something like this: We are engaged in talking about some current event related to Christian persecution. The brother or sister in Christ then says, “they have it so bad over there. It really costs them to be a Christian.” –Which of course is true.
Then I usually say, well, we are all persecuted if we follow Christ. We share the same kind of persecution—even if it is not to the same degree. That line—we share the same kind of persecution—usually provokes an almost hostile response, and I am not sure why (feel free to explain below). Rather than attempting to probe deeply into the spiritual psyche of those who revile my position, I think I’d rather lay out 5 reasons it is important to understand persecution as something which impacts all Christians–including American Christians.
First, the plain teaching of Jesus and the New Testament favors (a) calling all persecution by the same name, and (b) expects all Christians to suffer it. In other words, the New Testament promises that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Granted, this little promise does not make its way into the “The Book of Bible Promises” available at your local Wal-Mart, but it is clearly stated in 2 Timothy 3:12:
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
Christians in the New Testament are promised persecution. Jesus explains the reason for this persecution in Matthew 5:10-12. Basically, the persecution happens because Christ is present with His people (“on account of me” in Matthew 5:11). Just as the world hated Christ then, the world will hate him (via his people) even now (see also John 15). Whether the persecution is imprisonment (as in Acts 5) or being falsely accused (Matthew 5) or being mocked (Acts 17) or being executed by the sword (Acts 12)—in each instance, there is Christian persecution—a hostile, retaliatory action against the presence of Christ. Both Jesus and the New Testament make this point clearly.
Second, those who wish to make a distinction between torture and name-calling are correct in so doing with regard to the severity of the crime. Who could doubt that it is worse to be lacerated with an electrical cable than to be laughed at during a family meal? Nevertheless, as was just pointed out above, the difference is in degree of persecution–not in whether or not persecution was suffered.
Many, hoping to maintain the distance between “real” persecution and the “light” afflictions we suffer in America, sadly end up injecting an artificial distance between Christians in America and Christians in the rest of the world. The priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17 works against such a bifurcation within the body of Christ. It is our Lord’s desire for us to be one—even as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.
In trying to maintain the distance between the suffering of American Christians and the suffering of brothers and sisters in Nigeria, for example, some leaders speak of persecution as though it is worthy of the name only if it is of a particularly fantastic variety: prison, torture, beatings, death. Persecution ends up being a pertinent category only for “those” Christians over “there” in other parts of the world. This, it seems to me, artificially divides the body of Christ. Indeed, we are commanded in Hebrews 13:3 to remember the persecuted as though we are in prison with them since we ourselves are one in body with them. The New Testament calls for us to close the gap in the body of Christ by identifying in united fashion with the persecuted. We can’t do that if we separate ourselves into “those over there” who suffer persecution and “us over here” who do not. That is an artificial, unbiblical distinction.
… There are 3 more reasons to go… stay tuned
No disagreement from me! Until recently, I too held the perspective you speak of…that persecution happens elsewhere. Not here in Australia (or in the USA and other ‘western’ nations). Then I began to experience it firsthand, in many different forms…some subtle, some obvious. As the Lord brought me out of my rebellious wanderings and opened my eyes and ears, it began. I realised that in living as a worldly Christian (or maybe not yet regenerated), I was barely an offense to anyone. That should have been my clue to my true spiritual state!
In a short few years, I like countless others before me have lost much to follow Christ (in my case, a spouse), and no doubt will suffer more in the future. That is what all believers can expect. But oh, how much we gain…Christ, his forgiveness, his love and his righteousness!
During this time, I have felt very blessed to connect with and learn more many brothers and sisters in Christ overseas. I have found that many are suffering for the Gospel, although not necessarily through forms of violence. However, regular criticism and ridicule, job losses or discrimination at work or school, rejection by churches embracing false doctrine, and the loss of an unbelieving spouse or friends are just some of the daily experiences of true believers. It is this very suffering that should help us feel a strong bond with our brethren that are suffering abuse, violence and even death, and to love them and pray earnestly for them. It is an awesome mystery, being united in Christ.
Thank you for your online shepherding, Greg. This weary sheep appreciates it greatly.
Wow, Narrowing Path, I cannot thank you enough for sharing your experiences. I’m so glad to hear from you because I honestly get quite a bit of pushback when I explain this dynamic to folks. Your experience tells the story well. I am so sorry for your loss, but I am very thankful for your faithfulness. May the Lord Himself continue to bless you and keep you in Christ.
Reblogged this on The Narrowing Path.