There is one issue the Church had better start dealing
with. It’s a word that many think has
little relevance in this day and time.
Persecution. It is, of course, a
key theme in the book of Acts. Beginning
with Peter and John in chapter 4 with the admonition to refrain from speaking
about Jesus and crystallizing around the martyrdom of Stephen in chapter 7 the
issue never goes away. Nor has it ever
gone away in the centuries since then.
Christian persecution is a rather strange animal. On the surface it is abhorrent. It is the intentional affliction of suffering
and/or degradation upon followers of Christ.
Yet at the same time it is the thing that seeds, grows, and brings
fruitfulness to the Church. Unfortunately,
persecution seems distant and irrelevant to many modern day Christians. That is probably because they choose not to
look at its ugly face when it comes out in public and/or they turn away from
the news reports that stream in from around the world that detail it.
History teaches that the Church’s most explosive periods of
growth have tended to coincide with the most painful periods of
persecution. Why is that? Perhaps because it tests and sifts
Christians like nothing else really can.
It’s what produces the heroes of the faith. Without persecution, the Church tends toward
apathy, lethargy, and self-inclination. And
there is a reason for this.
Ask yourself this question: What prompts Christian
persecution? Answer: When a Christian
refuses to bow, bend, or yield on a fundamental aspect of the faith. Take, for instance, the exchange between
Peter and the High Priest in Acts 5. The
High Priest: “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name [Jesus].” Peter: “We must obey God rather than
men.” Peter had a few more things to say
which resulted in this: “When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to
kill them.” That is pretty
straightforward. Do not teach in this name. We will do what we believe God wants us to do
despite what you say. We want to kill
you. For the Apostles, the name of Jesus
was non-negotiable as evidenced by Peter’s statement in 4:12- “there is no
other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Persecution ensued (see 5:40) and they were
reminded again “not to speak in the name of Jesus” whereupon these words were
written “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not
cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (5:41).
Though the Church was hurting from the persecution, yet it
did not hurt the Church. There is much
up for debate, discussion, and discernment in Christianity. The Church suffers when non-essential
doctrine(s) are quarantined from discussion.
However, there are those things that there is to be no movement on, no
watering down, and no accommodation for culture (i.e. the tenets of the
Apostle’s Creed). When Christians do not
run away from Jesus, budge from the clarity of His statements, or obscure the
clear intent of His teachings we become objects of ridicule and targets of
persecution. And we should be both proud
of standing and confident in remaining.
One thing more needs to be said. Persecution is not some knee jerk reaction to
an over the top fundamentalism. The
first great persecutor of the Church was Saul of Tarsus. Acts 8:1-3 records his approval of the murder
of Stephen and how he led the first great Christian persecution. Acts 9:1-2 furthers Saul’s story by telling
how he continued “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the
Lord” getting permission from the high priest to export his persecution. My point is that Saul had a plan. The violence he perpetrated on the first
Christians was not a spontaneous reaction of outrage from Peter’s accusation
that the Sanhedrin was responsible for killing the Savior (Acts 5:30). Rather, it was part of a calculated plan of
attack (policy) adopted by the Jewish leaders of the day against the followers
So what is the point of this essay? As the First Amendment and religious freedom
continue to come under fire in America, today’s Christian faces a choice. Either he or she can continue to kneel in
obeisance at the altar of political correctness in hopes of not feeling the
pressure to conform to the current trend of cultural hostility toward
Christianity, or, we can do what we said we would do when we were children
singing “The B-I-B-L-E, yes, that’s book for me. I stand alone on the Word of
God, the B-I-B –L-E.”
Make no mistake about it.
Shying away from trial and persecution will not make either you or your
faith more acceptable or tolerable to those who oppose it. Standing courteously but firmly on your
scripturally based convictions may seem detrimental to self and Church but
scripture and history actually bear out the opposite. The Church has always done the most for God
when it had the least opportunity and the greatest opposition. As the Apostle John puts it “they have
conquered him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their
testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation
12:11). C.S. Lewis also put it
succinctly when he wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the
form of every virtue at the testing point.”
Standing firmly on your Christian faith will not be your
downfall. Rather, it will be your
Ray Rooney, Jr.