Friday, July 24, 2015

Persecution and the Church

Last week in a post about Christian Culture in America, I commented that in such a violent country it could lead to nasty persecution once people realise that Christians are a weak minority. There might be a lot of revenge to implement.

One commenter responded that “Christianity spreads best while Christians are being persecuted”.

This is a nice thought, but it is not universally true. Assuming that persecution will strengthen the gospel is wishful thinking. I learned this from the Christchurch earthquake. Christchurch was a city a strong but declining Christian heritage. A severe earthquake was just the thing that you would expect to shake up the church and open people up to the gospel. Yet the opposite occurred. The shaking has weakened the church, because it was not prepared to deal with a crisis.

Christians can respond to persecution in four distinct ways.

  1. The church often responds to persecution by accommodating with the political powers. It survives, but it becomes irrelevant. It finds a place of safety by retreating from the public square and becomes a cultural ghetto isolated from the rest of society. When it is stops being a threat to the dominant cutlure, it can be ignored. The Coptic Church in Egypt is an example.

  2. In many situations the church has been wiped out been persecution. That has happened in many places at different times throughout history. The city of Carthage was a strong Christian centre in the early days of the church, but there is no church there now. Augustine was an important leader and theologian in Africa during the fifth century. The church in Algeria where he was based is long gone, destroyed by a hostile culture.

  3. The church often responds to persecution by taking up weapons and fighting back. This happened in many places during the Reformation. Persecution led to war between the political authorities and Christians leaders and their followers. Often Christians were on both sides of these destructive and violent wars. Unfortunately, when Christians engage in war, the gospel sufferer.

    If Christians in the United States are persecuted in the future, the violent, warring military spirit is so strong, that there is a high risk that they will respond to persecution by getting out their guns and starting to fight. A fight between Christian warlords and their followers would be disastrous for the gospel.

  4. The church can respond to persecution by becoming stronger and growing. The New Testament Church was strengthened by persecution.

The fourth option is the best option, but we cannot just take it for granted. We must not just assume that it will happen.

Persecution is not a trivial issue. Even if those who are prepared survive and are strengthened, and the gospel spreads rapid, there will be huge collateral damage for Christians who are not prepared.. The pain of those who are confused and do not understand what is happening will be terrible. We cannot be glib about their situation.

Thinking about persecution got me wondering. What are the conditions under which persecution strengthens the church? I will list some in my next post.

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