Sunday, June 17, 2012
The American Persecution of Christianity: A Christian Response
American culture has been in a state of rapid transformation for several decades now. What once was a culture that upheld principles that were primarily Judeo-Christian in nature is now a culture that holds most of these very same principles in utter contempt. I think it is safe to say that an argument to this end is unnecessary. Most readers will concede the point that our culture is rapidly moving toward wholesale secularism as quickly as it can get there. It is common for Christians to find themselves the victims of persecution in non-Christian cultures. Perhaps victim is a poor selection of words. After all, Jesus said we are blessed to be the recipients of hostilities in His name, not victims. In addition, Peter and John rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer beatings for the name of Jesus Christ! Persecution is spiritually healthy for genuine believers. History demonstrates that the Church thrives under threat of insult, pain, and even death. No doubt it is during these times that God’s grace becomes more obvious to sinners like us who are prone to take it for granted. The question then is how should modern, western, free Christians respond to persecution? I believe the Americanization of Christianity has resulted in a very unbiblical attitude among Christian Americans at least as it relates to the issue of persecution.
Christian Americans have become used to a culture that no longer is. They miss it. They want it back. American culture has lost all regard for tradition, for truth, for the sacred, not that these things are the same or even equivalents. American culture determines for itself what deserves respect, and appreciation, and Biblical truth is no longer on that list. Science and the individual are at the top of the list. The Bible is just a book and not a very good one at that. Who is to blame for this situation? First of all, unregenerate men are bound to revolt against God’s law over time even in cases where that law served as the basis of their upbringing. Unregenerate hold God is deep contempt. This is what sin does to the sinner. American culture, even in the zenith of its high moral standards, was idolatrous. As we say in the south, the chickens are indeed coming home to roost. It is not shocking that American culture has lost all regard for the high moral teachings of Scripture and no longer take it seriously. The church led the way on this front. When the church began placing science and self in the magistrate’s seat over faith and Scripture, the outcome was easily predictable. When the church began to reinterpret Scripture in unnatural ways simply because in certain places, such as Gen. 1-11, it did not harmonize with the philosophical presuppositions of idolatrous scientists, how could the culture resist the already present urge to loosen its own grip on those traditions? The result of years of this kind of behavior in the Christian community has been devastating. Any hint of moral principle with the Bible as its basis in American culture is all but gone. The evaporation of that condition is now leading to rapidly escalating persecution in a culture that once sang the old children’s hymn “because the Bible told me so.” The Bible has been replaced with me, myself, and I. American’s do not argue issues based on fact any longer. They argue issues based on what they want the truth to be. If facts get in the way of that desire, they are summarily dismissed for the inconvenience they are.
Christians, genuine Christians, are narrow-minded, intolerant bigots, filled with hate. Who do we hate? According to American culture, we hate women because we deny them their reproductive rights by condemning the practice of abortion. We hate gay people because we deny them the right to be gay and to marry in the same sex. We hate people of other religions because we insist that unless you believe in Jesus Christ, you will surely face eternal damnation. I have lost unregenerate friends recently because they have adopted more and more of modern secular thinking. Secularism is advancing rapidly in our culture. My position has always been what it presently is on the homosexual issue. My friend’s position has morphed into a full acceptance of the view that modern culture seems to approve. The degree of intimidation and manipulation by unregenerate people on unregenerate people is progressing to extreme levels. The result is that Christians are more and more subject to insult, disdain, humiliation, and other forms of level one persecution. The second level of persecution will come in the form of lost opportunity economically. There will be job loss and employment screening to prevent Christians from entering certain work cultures. Level three will come in the form of legislation. This will result in fines and misdemeanors. The environment is poised to evolve into one of extreme outward hostility toward the God that is and toward His Son Jesus Christ. Christians must prepare themselves for the coming persecution of a secular culture that detests the God of Scripture.
How did Jesus instruct the Church to respond to persecution?
10 μακάριοι οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. 11 μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ διώξωσιν καὶ εἴπωσιν πᾶν πονηρὸν καθʼ ὑμῶν [ψευδόμενοι] ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ. 12 χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὅτι ὁ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς· οὕτως γὰρ ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν.
Blessed are the ones being persecuted for righteousness sake, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men insult you and harass and speak all kinds of evil things against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be overjoyed, because your reward is extensive in heaven; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Christian Americans need to change their paradigm and join the rest of the world’s Christians. What do I mean by that? The degree of persecution suffered by the Church at the hands of wicked men has been much worse in other parts of the world where there was no “Christian culture” so to speak. While it has taken some time, the melting pot of American culture has finally purged itself of most of its Christian influence. The question that I am addressing concerns how Christian Americans should think about and respond to this new state of reality in their environment. We love our home. Most of us genuinely love our country. Paul loved his people, the Jews, as well. While he almost could wish he could go to hell for them, he fully acknowledged that they were enemies of the gospel. American culture is clearly an enemy of and hostile to the Christian faith. How should we respond to what we see taking shape?
First, we should recognize that Jesus Himself issued these specific beatitudes for a reason. Moreover, He said that men would hate us and persecute us for His sake. Paul told Timothy that as many as desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. We are blessed, not because of the persecution per se, but because we have an inheritance in heaven and persecution serves as an indication that we are His. It is not the only indication, but it is one. Keep in mind that Jesus is talking about genuine believers here, not CINOs (Christians in Name Only). The genuine believer takes comfort in the words of Christ in the midst of persecution, knowing he/she belongs to the Master.
Second, it is a fact that men are going to insult us, and harass us and speak evil against us because of Christ. There is a textual issue in the text concerning the word ψευδόμενοι . There is considerable doubt about its appearance in the original text. This has little bearing on the meaning of the text. Of course we acknowledge that Jesus would not consider it persecution if we were guilty of the evil of which people claim. The idea is that people will lie about us and twist the truth just as they did with our Lord in order to crucify Him. The Christian position on numerous moral issues in modern American culture is vituperated repeatedly by American media as it shapes the weakened American mind to accept new secular principles and ideas about morality. How should we respond? Should we “take back” American culture? This mindset is not an inch removed from the thinking of the Crusaders even though it may not be carried out with violence. The Church was never given the task to remove sin and the hostile disposition toward God from the world. She was told to preach the gospel, baptize converts, and make disciples. Christian Americans have no biblical warrant to insert themselves into the political process in the name of Christ while they attempt to build a culture or society that meets their preference. Such thinking is far more the product of American philosophy than it is biblical theology. How do Christian Americans respond to persecution in American culture? They rally, organize, and attempt to stamp it out through manipulation, intimidation, boycotts, and legislation. This is not in keeping with the teachings of Christ on how He wants His body to respond to persecution.
Jesus said, rejoice and be overjoyed! He did not say, organize, contact your local political leaders, go down to the capital or city hall, anything like that. He said we should rejoice and be very happy and joyous that we are suffering for Him! Christian Americans are busy trying to turn the clock back. They are busy trying to create a morality of Christianity in a culture that is not Christian. And even if they should succeed, what will they have accomplished in God’s eyes? The Jewish culture of Christ’s day was far removed from atheism. The Jews were highly religious with moral principles based on and going far beyond the Mosaic Law. In one story we learn they were about to stone a woman for adultery. American culture isn’t even close to being this moral, so to speak. Yet, Jesus and His apostles preached about the hypocrisy and self-righteousness of their culture and their answer was not political or social reform. It was repentance.
The longer Christian Americans take to get back to the basics of preaching the simple and clear gospel of Scripture, the longer they will continue in this egregious error of distraction. Christians should expect persecution because Jesus and the authors of Scripture inform us that we should. It should came as no surprise that men hate us because we love Him! We should rejoice in this persecution and realize that it serves to confirm the truthfulness of Scripture and indicates genuineness of faith. Finally, we should recognize that it is a great privilege to stand in the stead of Christ to be inflicted by the hate of sinners toward their Creator. They are taking out their anger and hostility toward God on us just as Christ stood in our stead and took God’s wrath in our place. When they insult us, they are insulting Christ. It is not our face they see when they slap, but rather, the face of God. It is the God in us that they hate, not us. We do not have enough good of our own worth hating. Make no mistake about it: it is the holiness of God, given to us by grace that men hate. We must respond as Christ commands. That does not include political activism to abolish persecution and ensure our religious freedom. That sounds like a wonderful idea. The problem is that it does not adhere to Scripture’s teachings. Our influence comes through the preaching of the cross and the godliness of our living. These are the two activities that serve to demonstrate the truthfulness and power of the gospel.
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