Sunday, April 8, 2012

On Persecution


Persecution: A Biblical Perspective


καὶ πάντες δὲ οἱ θέλοντες εὐσεβῶς ζῆν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ διωχθήσονται.

Indeed, and all the ones desiring to live in a godly manner in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3:12) Diōchthēsontai, the Greek work translates persecuted in this text, is a form of diōkō. It appears 45 times in the Greek NT. The range of meaning begins with hasten, run, press on; persecute, drive away, drive out, run after, pursue. In 30 of the 45 occurrences the NAS translates it persecute. The meaning in our text is unambiguous: persecute. The immediate context strongly supports the idea that persecute is clearly in view. Paul begins the chapter with a prediction that difficult times will be the predominate character of the last days. He then points to Jannes and Jambres who opposed Moses, instructing Timothy that the false teachers and evil imposters will do the same to the gospel. Then Paul offers a word of encouragement. He say that the folly of these imposters will be obvious to all. All who? you might ask! All those who have the light of the gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit guiding them into the truth will be able to recognize imposters when they see them. Paul then references his own trials, including the persecutions he suffered, recognizing the Timothy had followed him in them all.

It is in the middle of this discourse that Paul says all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted. In some way, shape or form, genuine Christians will be persecuted for their beliefs. This is a promise of Sacred Scripture. It should take no one by surprise. Christians should expect to be persecuted. As my pastor recently pointed out, persecution is a natural part of being a believer. It is part of the package. But we don’t expect it. In fact, American Christians have adopted the philosophy that they have a “right” not to be persecuted even though Scripture promises them just the opposite. Evangelical leaders are busy propagating philosophies about how political involvement can not only preserve a quasi-theocratic state a.k.a. “a Christian nation,” but that this involvement should be undertaken with great zeal because it is the only way we can avoid persecution. Comfort is really the central concern as I see it. No one wants to sacrifice or suffer loss for the sake of the gospel. Again, the American before the Christian attitude appears in this arena as well. There is nothing wrong with wanting to live a peaceful life and to live in a society where one can share the gospel without civil interference. Paul instructed us to pray for civil leaders to that end. However, the same Paul who told us to pray for such tranquility also informs us that the avoidance of persecution, for those who desire to live godly, is a fruitless endeavor.

Scripture informs us to make the most of our time because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:16) Jesus said that we must work while it is day, because the night comes when no one can work. (John 9:4) Time is finite. We all have the same amount of time each day and what we do with it is extremely important. Every minute you spend “not sharing” the gospel, not teaching the faith, not making disciples is one less minute you have to do those things. If I have 7 days this week in which to work and engage in those things that the Lord has called me to, then every day I spend engaged in something else is a day lost. I am not arguing that you should spend every waking minute involved in bible study, evangelism, and other ministerial activities. What I am asking is this: if I spend 15 hours each week involved in political activism aimed at avoiding persecution, is that the best use of my time? Is that something Scripture teaches, endorses, encourages, or even permits? I think this is a good question for us to ponder. Since we only have so much time in a day, week, month, year or lifetime, how should we spend it in light of the teachings of Scripture? Some evangelical leaders think the Church should spend its time on political reform for pragmatic purposes while others have theological reasons for this suggestion. The majority think this way because they have been given over to American ideology.

The problem with this attitude is that it is distinctly American. Here is how it works. First, the single most important factor in American ideology is freedom! Above all else, freedom must be protected! Now, I admit, freedom is a great blessing. But from a spiritual perspective, do we really know if persecution or loss of freedom is perhaps a greater blessing? Because freedom is the sacred American idol, Christians believe that somehow, it is God’s will that they do everything in their power to preserve it to extreme degrees. Yet there is absolutely no reason for us to draw such a conclusion based on exegetical investigations of the text. In fact, the writers of Scripture enjoyed no such freedom when they penned the New Testament. Therefore, the idea that it is the duty of the Christian church to preserve religious freedom in America through political activism is not only unsupported by Scripture, it seems to run contrary to the promise Scripture made that we should expect persecution if we desire to live godly in Christ Jesus. This is not fatalism. The Church should proclaim the truth, preaching against sin, including the sin of tyranny. The difference is found in the mechanism. My detractors would use political activism while I suggest that Bible teaches we use preaching. Moreover, the preaching is not for the purpose of influencing in a political sense, although that would be the natural result if conversion ensues. Preaching is for the purpose of regeneration, personal salvation. If you want to see an elected official do a 180 on abortion or homosexuality, give him the gospel and if God regenerates his heart, there will be a 180 unlike anything you could ever see with political activism.

The record of Jesus’ very first comment about the subject of persecution is located in Matthew 5:11. There He says, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” Jesus did not see persecution as something to be avoided, or even feared. Rather, it seems that Jesus saw persecution as something to be embraced, and even celebrated. He went so far as to say that we are exceptionally blessed when men persecute us for His sake. Jesus’ view on persecution was quite radical compared to our own. He said that we are to rejoice and be glad when we are persecuted. (Matt. 5:12) Is this the attitude of the Church? I can say that it clearly is not the attitude of the American Church. The sad truth is that you cannot tell the difference between America and the American Church and that is exceptionally disturbing. There is a natural antithesis between the Church and the culture. That antithesis is becoming more and more difficult to detect in the West. The Church and culture have blended into mirror images of one another.

There are a number of ancillary issues in Western culture that have led to a noticeable decline in religious persecution. The most telling is the marriage between Christian theology and cultural ideology. The Church has abandoned the concept that the gospel is offensive and foolish to the world. She has forgotten that her members are in fact, peculiar, unique, dissimilar from the cultural. Her acceptance of tolerance has led to the purging of any true preaching of repentance. But such preaching necessarily involves making a judgment of sorts and this contradicts the very foundations of western thinking on the idea of tolerance and moral relativism. In essence, rather than looking like the bride of Christ as she should, the visible Church looks more like the bride of western thought. However, it seems the culture is ready to push the limits of what this Church is even able to handle, with its policy of murdering innocent babies in the womb and calling it abortion and its views on homosexual behavior. With these shifts, we can see the elements of persecution arising as the church is slower to accept these views than the culture would like for her to be. Unfortunately, however, the weakened state of the visible church with her weak views of God, Christ, man, Scripture, and the Gospel virtually ensure that she will eventually integrate these beliefs into her own theology.

For the true church, however, the true bride of Christ, persecution is just beginning in the west. And this is not a bad thing in my opinion. Persecution will cause the Church to once again focus on the right things. It brings with it the possibility of narrowing the scope of mission, which I believe the church desperately needs. And what is this mission? It is to honor God by making disciples through being faithful witness to the gospel of her resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. This witness emerges in her praxis, her theology, and her message! For this witness, she is willing to lay down her life and spill her last drop of blood. She will not be silenced. This is the glorious Church of God that has been called out by God the Father, redeemed by Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, and empowered and preserved by God the Holy Spirit. She will not sit down and shut up despite the persecution and insults of a god-hating culture like the one that is now America. She will lift her voice against the butchery that is abortion, the deviance that is sexual license parading about as love, which includes adulterers, fornicators, and homosexual wickedness. She will do so with compassion and love, but with somberness and seriousness and great fear.

Persecution will help us separate the imposters from the genuine. The sad truth is that the overwhelming majority of people in the west who call themselves "Christian" are deviant imposters. There is very little that is actually Christian about them. A casual examination of their ideology and behavior quickly reveals that they despise God’s law in a variety of areas. Genuine believers delight in God’s law while imposters despise it. For example, a professing homosexual Christian despises God’s law of marriage and sexual relations. This is also true for the Christian who practices illicit divorce. The Christian who considers abortion acceptable despises God’s law of life and His prohibition against murder not to mention His freedom.

Persecution is clearly increasing in western culture. Christians are made fun of for believing the Bible. They are called bigots because they oppose homosexuality and gay marriage. We are called oppressive because we deny that a woman has the right to murder her baby in the womb because it is an inconvenience for her to have him/her. This persecution is a blessing according to Christ, not cause for alarm. We should respond with deliberate focus on our message and our behavior. We should respond by rejoicing, not by seeking ways to avoid it. When we change our message because the world finds it offensive, silly, or stupid, we are allowing persecution for the gospel to change the gospel. When scholars change their views to gain academic respectability, they are compromising under pressure to persecution. The first step in responding to persecution rightly is being able to recognize it when it comes. Insults, angry rants, name-calling, and polarizing tactics are all strategies of persecution. We respond by firming up our message, making sure our answers are biblically sound, rejoicing, and giving the gospel with compassion, love, respect, and gentleness in the hope that God will grant the gift of repentance.

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