What Are Your Thoughts About the Future for Christians in America?


As usual, Wanda’s café was crowded during the lunch hour, so my student and I decided to head outdoors under the breezeway to enjoy our fresh-grilled meals, which, in my case, included a side order of crispy fries sprinkled with that patented bay seasoning lightly coating them, giving them a salty, spicy kick to accompany the ham and melted Swiss on ciabatta—Sorry! I digress…

WandasSign Conversation PersecutionAs we enjoyed our meals outside, in the cool of the shade, Jordan and I spoke—as best we could envision it—of the future of Christianity in America. Neither of us felt any hint of an Eeyore complex, where we lived under a cloud of gloomy expectations; yet we invariably returned again and again to the concept of Christian suffering. Regardless of where our topic began—he was asking me questions related to a research project he was conducting—we always came full circle back to the idea that the future of Christianity in the next half century would be markedly different from that of its recent past. The future of Christianity in America includes increased marginalization and, most likely, increased persecution.

This sentiment is one that is “felt” or “sensed” at the grassroots level in evangelical churches because Christians are feeling isolated and silenced at work.  However, it still is not fully on the radar of Christian academics. Increasingly, as a result of the Supreme Court DOMA decision last summer, academics are realizing that conflict over the sinfulness of homosexual behavior is on the horizon. Dr. Mohler made the point plainly this past week with his post, “No Third Way.” His message in that post was that churches will be forced to decide one way or the other on the acceptableness (or sinfulness) of homosexual practice. There will be no third way of holding firmly to the truth of Scripture while also keeping in step with the cultural norms of sexual practice.

Still, even with prominent evangelicals beginning to notice the clash ahead, I think that too few scholars are paying attention to persecution itself. I have presented a paper on the topic at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in the past. And, Lord willing, I may do so again this November. ETS is the largest annual gathering of evangelical scholars in the U.S. Even if my paper is accepted, it will represent only the slightest exposure in the overall scheme of Christian academic research.

At the ETS annual meeting, there will be about 700 papers presented. There will not be even 7 papers at ETS which discuss persecution in the New Testament. There will be dozens of papers discussing the biblical doctrine of inerrancy and authority (as there ought to be). There will be dozens more discussing the doctrine of ecclesiology (and rightly so). But there will also be a great many papers dealing with esoteric, navel-gazing topics which amount to nothing more than “straw,” as Thomas Aquinas put it.

Meanwhile, Meriam Ibrahim is likely to be killed in Sudan for maintaining her faith in Christ. Asia Bibi has been separated from her husband and children for 1,250 days, locked in a Pakistani prison with the death sentence hanging over her head. Christians in Eritrea are confined in metal cargo containers, being allowed so little room that they cannot even lie down for sleeping.  Christ’s sheep are being slaughtered by the wolves of the world, and we’re mired in conversations about how Christians might best care for whales.

–I’m not opposed to whale care. I love whales. I paid a hefty sum of money at Newport Beach so my family and I could see these massive creatures. They truly are an awesome feature in the splendor of God’s creation. They are living beings and, thus, warrant our proper stewardship of them. Yet, they are not people. They are not human beings created in the image of God, and, more importantly, they are not the threatened and oppressed church of God which was purchased by Him at the cost of His own blood!

I expect that more and more Christians in America will soon be wrestling with what it means to lose a job on account of Christian faith. More and more, we will be faced with needy Christians in our churches—Christian teachers who get fired because of Christian convictions. Christian churches that are smaller, poorer, and, likely, pastored by a bi-vocational minister.

We all need to be thinking and speaking soberly about what persecution means. Why does persecution happen to the righteous? Why do all of the China Christians persecutedNew Testament writers (with the possible exception of Jude) think that persecution is a topic which they need to address in their sacred writings? How should Christians respond to suffering on account of Christ? What do the blessings—which Jesus, Peter, John, and James reference—mean for those who suffer for the sake of righteousness? Christian scholars can help us answer these soon-to-be pertinent questions.

In the face of an ever-intensifying fury against Christ and His church, there is an urgent need for writing and thinking about persecution and pastoral ministry.  I think now is the time to focus on such work.

Christians are losing their freedoms at a record pace all over the world. They are on the verge of being extinct throughout the Middle East. And we all—I, too—have been guilty of a little too much whale-watching.  We need to focus more attention where Christ is intensely at work—caring for his abused Bride and suffering Body, loving His Church.

If Jordan and I had any foresight at all, then a new day for Christianity is rising quickly in the west. Fading like a distant dream is the vision of a moral majority. In its place is a moral—and persecuted—minority.  The future of Christianity will look less and less like the evangelicalism of 1994 and more and more like that found in Acts 14 and Hebrews 10 and 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 12.

“Do not be deceived. Anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

I’m curious. Do you agree with me and Jordan? Is there a growing sense of persecution increasing in the U.S.? Does this seem right to you?

Can Christians Persecute Christians?


One of the most enjoyable aspects of earning a Ph.D. is sitting through courses known as “colloquium.” Basically, a colloquium is a gathering of Ph.D.’s (and Ph.D. wanna-be’s) for the purpose of debating ideas and pushing one another to think more thoroughly on a given subject, whether the subject is a theological perspective on art or a discussion of the impact of Second-temple Judaism on the writings of the apostles.

 

John Bunyan

John Bunyan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One day, the subject of our colloquium turned to persecution, and I was asked rather bluntly by a professor whether or not Christians could persecute Christians. I had not thought of the question before. It is a question which has rolled around in my head ever since. My answer now is roughly the same as my answer then, “yes.” But the yes needs some serious qualification.

 

First, let me explain why the answer is “yes.”  Then, I will offer some necessary qualifications. From history and experience, the answer must be yes. After all, it was Anglican leaders who persecuted John Bunyan, keeping him in prison for a dozen years because he dared preach the gospel without the approval of Anglican leaders. Likewise, King Henry VIII was the head of the Church of England when William Tyndale was persecuted to death at his behest.

 

More to the point, I have a pastor friend who told me of a Sunday service in which he dared to question the dubious (but popular) seven-year timeline of a Tribulation Rapture.  For his efforts, he was rewarded with the wrath of a 78 year-old, angry deacon. Not content to debate the text of Scripture with my pastor friend, the aging gentleman instead made his way to the front of the sanctuary, holding onto and pushing off of pew after pew, until he finally reached my friend and punched him across the jaw with all his might. Fortunately, there was not much punch left in the deacon’s punch, but the point was made all the same.

 

The point (it seems to me) is that the flesh of all men—even professing believers—gets very comfortable with its religious outlook. And the flesh today is no more subdued by the righteousness of Christ than it was a thousand years ago. Anytime the righteousness of Christ is proclaimed or displayed by faith, then the flesh must harden (as Pharaoh’s heart did) or break (as David’s heart did once confronted by Nathan).

 

My friend is not alone in stirring up wrath in his congregation. I cannot believe it seems unusual to have people angry enough to fight. If the word of righteousness goes out, then surely not every heart will be broken. Some will get angry—including some who profess faith. Oftentimes, religious people are the most ready to lash out against others who teach the way of Christ more accurately. I know of three men who faced the wrath of a congregation because they dared to suggest that professing Christians with white-colored skin are exactly equal to professing Christians with black-colored skin.

 

And now that I think about it, in my 15 years of preaching ministry, I have been invited to fight on at least 3 different occasions as a direct result of maintaining the righteousness of Christ. The pastorate is not a place for wimps, but it is a place for peace-loving men—like Christ—to proclaim the righteousness of Christ, and face persecution (like Christ). So, yes, even in the midst of those who should believe all that you are saying, persecution is quite possible.

 

Part Two: Distinctions…

 

Out of Town


Please pray for us, as we will be out of the country for the next 2 weeks.  A group of 4 of us will be going to the Philippines to conduct evangelism and pastoral training.  We are expecting 600 pastors at the conference and hope that the Lord will make us useful for edifying these fellow shepherds, thereby strengthening Filipino churches.