Christian persecution – we typically shudder to think of it and feel heavy hearts when we hear of it happening (and it is happening today, in China, India, North Korea, the Sudan, etc. More on that at the end of this post.) But I am starting to think that our natural, self-protective reaction to persecution is the worst thing for us, and betrays an attitude that is consumed with self rather than with the things of God.
What has sparked my thinking is some reading I’ve been doing about the history of Christianity. At first, the church, as Jesus established it (a grass-roots type movement of people who had been forgiven and transformed by the power of God) thrived numerically and grew spiritually vibrant, even in times of very heavy persecution. Then, with the rise of Constantine as emperor of Rome (306 to 324 AD), things began to change. Whether for political expedience or personal conviction, Constantine became a Christian and officially reversed the trend of persecution toward Christians. As the church became more acceptable to society and the government, Christians were able for the first time to build church buildings, have public worship, and gain some status in the community. And gain status they did!
It was a very short matter of time before the hierarchies of the church (priests, bishops, archbishops, metropolitans, etc.) became a matter or normalcy for the organized church – and the politics and structures began to overshadow the life-changing truths of the gospel. Many, if not most church leaders became as much political movers and shakers as they were spiritual leaders, perhaps even more so. It seems, at least at first glance, that acceptance within the culture brought about status, which resulted in decay of the ideals that the church was intended to convey and spread. Constantine may have been the WORST thing for the true church it seems…
Fast forward to today. While various American Christians complain of unequal treatment under the law (and that is undoubtedly true in some cases), we would do well to examine where we are in light of what happened in the early church. Throughout the history of our nation, religious freedom has been a battle cry and we have enjoyed a great time of freedom and prosperity as Christians… unparalleled in world history in fact. But what has happened to our faith, “once and for all delivered to the saints”? Overall, it’s become placid, unattractive, and impotent, rather than vibrant and life-changing. Our acceptance in the culture has brought about success, which has resulted in decay. Sound familiar?
And here we are in 2008. And Christians in other, less-successful regions of the world are undergoing intense suffering and persecution for their faith – and the church there is thriving spiritually as it did in the first century. Which would we rather have – relative acceptance and freedom as Christians with a faith that is lukewarm at best, or persecution and a faith that is burning with red-hot passion for Jesus? Which is more important in your eyes? In God’s eyes?
I wonder sometimes, in my most un-fashionable moments, if persecution here and now is what we NEED in order to wake the church from its long slumber? Would that more clearly separate the pretenders and wanna-be believers from those who authentically live their faith day by day? What else would motivate and demand that we stand clearly and without apology for the Christ who gave His life for us? I think so. We’re too comfortable, too “fat and happy” – and the world around us continues to go to hell in a very large hand-basket.
All this leads me to this – we NEED persecution as a church. And my prayers are changing as a result of that realization. Whereas I’ve been accustomed to praying for protection and safety, I’m beginning to pray for challenge, and opposition, and courage, and faith, and boldness in the face of difficulty. How could we be more like Christ than to share in His sufferings? Afterall, He hung on a cross for His faith, and we are called to do the same. Believers around the world are testifying of those truths with their own blood, even today.
To see some video footage of this persecution going on in India – check out this link. (At first there’s a commercial for India tourism, then the news video of the persecution… ironic, huh?)