July 9, 2015

Persecution and the Church

"Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Micah 4:2).
Today as I sat down to write my blog post, I remembered this verse. Well, not exactly...I remembered Psalm 122:1 where David said, "I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” It is funny how certain verses stick in my mind more so than others. For example, I am able to remember the Psalms more than most other verses. I guess it is because I read them every day, and of all of Scripture, I have studied and meditated on them more frequently. I mean, I have read Psalms in whole or in part at least a half-dozen times. I still enjoy them, and my heart is encouraged as I read the plea or cry of David for the Lord's mercy and forgiveness.

I have a personal preference for David, as a major figure in the Bible, I mean. His life was extraordinary for sure, but it was also marked with great humility and suffering as a result of his disobedience to the law of the Lord. I guess I feel an affinity for the man, who struggled to please God, to honor and obey Him, yet always seemed to be falling short in his attempt. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be a great ruler over the nation of Israel, especially in the time when he lived. I cannot imagine the things he witnessed, the wars he fought, and the family squabbles he endured. In truth, I simply cannot imagine what it would be like to have that much power, responsibility or pressure -- and to not only govern yourself and your household -- but to figuratively sit over the 'church' (the temple) and be the one who enforced the law that ensured the kingdom followed after the Lord, rather than their own way. Great power, great authority, and great responsibility. It is true that God is the One who places people in these positions, and it is God to whom they will eventually pay their due (whether they believe this or not).

I have been thinking about the Psalms lately, and I have been praying over them the past couple days. In fact, I have been specifically focusing on Psalm 95 and 67 lately, and the Lord has really pressed upon my heart the need to reconnect deeply with His word. I am not sure why, well other than because it is good for me (of course, of course!) But, I also think it is part-and-parcel with the times, I mean, given the events taking place in our world, in the church, and in culture. Our world is changing at an amazing rate, and we are witnessing the end times (I believe). Though I have no knowledge of what will be, time wise, I can see and I can sense that the world is not improving, but that it is deteriorating quickly. This stresses me, and it bothers me to see the way the church is not standing firm against the outcry of public opinion. Christians are being mocked in the USA, and they are beginning to experience persecution. I am stressed over what I see in Internet postings by Christians and non-Christians alike. I see such hatred, such polarization, such meanness, and this bothers me because it tells me that there are many in the church who do not understand the nature of events, the timing of the Lord's return, and the fact that the Apostles were clear in previewing what to expect. God will not be mocked. The Lord's return is imminent, and we, the Church, must be prepared for that day.

"Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13).

We must realize that persecution is coming, and that we will be targeted, singled out, and pressed in hard ways -- this is all predicted in Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:12 states, "Indeed all who delight in piety and are determined to live a devoted and godly life in Christ Jesus will meet with persecution [will be made to suffer because of their religious stand]." In fact, no one who loves the Lord Jesus will be safe from some form of persecution. John MacArthur (1985) writes about persecution in this excellent study guide found here (click through to all four parts). It gives good insight, and it helps to place persecution in proper focus. One of the most important points MacArthur addresses is the nature of persecution today, and what he believes is Satan's approach to it. He writes, "Today, Satan usually directs persecution not to a person's physical body, but to his ego" (para. 3). He elaborates by saying that here in America, Christian's do not face physical persecution (though this is changing), but rather they face "status persecution" or the type of persecution that threatens a person's status. He asserts, Satan "threatens a believer by saying, 'If you witness, you might lose your job, your status--or someone might think you are strange.' The techniques Satan uses today have a tremendous effect in a subtle way. He has found that it is very effective to kill the church by making it complacent, indolent, fat, rich, and socially oriented. The church has watered down its theology to accommodate the world" (para. 3).

MacArthur completed this study guide back in 1985 -- some 30 years ago -- and yet, his warning is on point today. In his view, "When a Christian falls in love with the world, then he no longer stands against it" is exactly what we are seeing in the church today in 2015. Furthermore, he attributes a successful volley to Satan's court when he says, "Satan benefits from...more than if that Christian had been physically killed: Since the Christian's positive effect on the world has been nullified, Satan now has him on his side" (para. 5). Ouch! I doubt many Christian's would welcome this pronouncement, especially if someone said to them that because they worry more about their bruised ego they no longer stand with Christ! Yet, there is a resemblance of truth to this statement for we know that "When you confront the world, it will react violently" (para. 6). Yes, this violent reaction by the world has been seen most recently in the Supreme Courts decision to make same-sex marriage legal. The polarization and secularization of the church is clearly evident in this one social issue. Christians are taking sides, and while many have not refrained from taking a Biblical view, many have chosen to remain silent because they fear further attack. So while MacArthur states, "Some people succumb to Satan's persecution and never confront the world because they want to save their egos from being persecuted" (para. 6), there are still many strong believers who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe the Bible stands against and for the authority and integrity of the Word of God.

Many people believe that revival is coming, that persecution will result in a great awakening. I am not sure if this is true, but I do agree with MacArthur when he writes,
Persecution always results in growth. It removes deadweight from the church. For example, if there are a few true Christians in a large group of people who are persecuted because of Christ, only they will be willing to endure. In the church today, there are tares sown among the wheat (Mt. 13:24-26). The easiest way to get rid of the tares is to have the church pay the price of following Christ. The tares will eventually leave, because they aren't committed to Christ and don't really want to get involved. So, persecution purifies the church--it removes the waste. When persecution occurs, false believers leave and God is able to work freely through the true believers that are left.
I believe that a reaping is about to occur, and this reaping will set the stage for the Lord's return. The true church is made up of Christ followers who ardently follow the Lord. These are the believers who will stand against the onslaught and who will choose to remain committed even in the face of great persecution. While I have never held the view that the Church will face persecution like Daniel speaks about during the tribulation (I am a pretribulationalist), I do believe that many believers will be persecuted worldwide for their faith in Jesus Christ. Some will be martyred, which we are already seeing in the Middle East and other pagan nations. Most American Christians will face loss of status, which MacArthur alludes to in this study guide. This is happening now -- with Christians being sued, taken to court, and fined -- because they refused to honor same-sex marriage or contribute to its promotion and publication.

MacArthur suggests that Christians take the following approach when they face persecution, "When you are persecuted, be submissive. Yield yourself to the control of the Holy Spirit, and boldly use the opportunities that you have to preach the gospel." I agree with this approach in theory. I think it is important to stand for your faith, to voice your belief, and to not fall away in fear. Yet, I also believe that submission to violence or to persecution must be managed, if possible. To me, submission is not giving into the violence, but rather it is a humble attitude that boldly proclaims, "My God is bigger, and He is in control." Yes, when we face persecution, we must stand boldly in our faith, and we must rest and abide in the Holy Spirit (John 15:1-5). The Lord is coming soon, and we must remain faithful, not shrinking back against the clamor of the world, but rather with steady gaze, we must remain alert, and we must watch for His return.

"And he said to me, 'These words are faithful and true'; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place. 'And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book'" (Revelation 22:6-7 NIV).

References

MacArthur, J. (1985). How to handle persecution: Study notes, Acts 4:1-32 ; 8:1-8 ; 16:19-40. Panorama City, Ca: Word of Grace Communications.

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