I don’t really think the world of church-ianity has firm grasp on what this word really means or what it means to be persecuted.
Bear with me, here. I’m wading into waters that I normally don’t go into and serving up a side of grilled sacred cow at the same time. I’ve really been wondering if I should post this at all. Honestly, this is one post that I’ve been chewing on for months. According to the “revisions” marker… about eight months (seriously Tom…eight months! WTF?! Hey! I’m a bit pendantic…I’ll admit that. I think too much, or overthink…) and I still don’t think my thoughts are clear on the matter! I’ll be using a lot of the inclusive “we” here, meaning Christians, specifically in America and the world of church-ianity that we (see, there it is!) have created.
So, like I said, I don’t think we have a firm grasp on what this word means, or what it means to be persecuted.
Take for example the “persecution defense”.
I don’t really know if this is the “proper” name for it, but I’m calling it that.
I’ve heard it so many times pouring forth from church goers. Because they are having some sort of hardship or someone disagrees with their faith or set of beliefs, they come to the conclusion that they are being “tested” or “persecuted by the devil” in order to see if they’ll “stray”. The enemy (or worse…God) is tempting them, pushing them to see if they’ll “stand fast”. Maybe they have made a declaration of faith recently, or they have made or some sort of prayer they are “standing on”, or other reasons, there are a plethora of them and then hardship comes.
The oft cited line is something to the effect of, “I must be doing something right otherwise this wouldn’t be happening!”. So, because someone disagrees with your specific theology, or because you stumbled upon some hard times… you think it’s confirmation of doing something right? How’s that working out?
I’ll grant that this could be the case, persecutions do arise for the sake of the Word, Jesus (He’s the Word, not the bible). But this ‘defense’ or reasoning – yes, that’s a better term, reasoning – is a slippery slope. Cults and organizations worldwide and throughout history who have done great harm to their fellow man have also used this reasoning. Hell, I’ve known Mormon missionaries who have thrown around the “persecuted” card just because someone doesn’t agree with them or made fun of them as they went down the street. No, ‘yeah buts’ about it, this “persecution defense” is a weak and poor litmus test for one’s decisions, choices, actions. I’ve done this myself! I know it’s a weak litmus test.
The exact polar opposite reasoning is just as weak, “I must be doing something right because all is well!”.
You were blessed with a mind as well as a heart to use to their fullest potential, use both. This post, for example, could release a flood of hate-mail and comments my way because it down-right pissed some people off or because I decided to run my mouth off in a certain direction. But is that enough evidence that I am doing “something” right or wrong?
There needs to be something better in the reasoning.
We shouldn’t glibly use persecution as a reason certain things happen, I believe it takes away from the real value of what persecution is and makes a mockery of what people go through who are actually being persecuted whether spiritually or politically, or whatever.
I wish I had a solid solution to this. A good part of the solution lies in the fact that we have a heart and a mind to use. We need to use both! Depending on how you lean in your conclusions, you can come to some really messed up views of God and life. Some hardships or “persecutions” arise at very coincidental times in your life, but that doesn’t mean that you, God, or the devil caused it. Maybe we should just pause and go to the Father about these things and wait for Him to answer? Anyway…moving on.
The Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines persecution as:
The act or practice of persecuting; the infliction of pain, punishment or death upon others unjustly, particularly for adhering to a religious creed or mode of worship, either by way of penalty or for compelling them to renounce their principles.
Of interesting note, it goes on to say, “Historians enumerate ten persecutions suffered by the Christians, beginning with that of Nero, A.D. 31, and ending with that of Diocletian, A.D. 303 to 313.” Granted, this is based on information from 1828, but I’m focusing on the definition, I just thought you might enjoy the small historical note.
Considering the definition above, how much of the “persecution” in western church-ianity is really persecution?
Don’t you think the legions of the enemy have better things to do than waste their time with your car not starting? Seriously, maybe your car didn’t start when you were trying to get out of the house for that “important meeting” because you let the check engine light stay on… for three months. Maybe? I know, that example is trivial, but have you heard what comes out of the mouths of “us” Christians sometimes regarding what “the devil” or “the world” is supposedly doing to persecute them? By the way, who is more powerful anyways? God, or the devil? Just curious…
Again, don’t you think the legions of the enemy, which has been at war with creation for well over 2000 years would have more of an imagination and more cunning in knowing how to really persecute their enemy? Just a bit? Don’t you think God is a bit better than you at thwarting the enemies plans in the first place? Seems like He has a premium on Sovereignty, the last time I checked.
So now, I’m a bit puzzled at “our” reaction when a real world example of something close to persecution actually arises.
When one of “our own” is actually being persecuted abroad for his or her faith, I’ve noticed an almost counter-intuitive stance being taken. We don’t pray for God to strengthen and sustain them during this trial and we don’t rejoice that they have been counted worthy to suffer in a like-manner to Jesus. Nope. We don’t pray that God uses this to bring forth more people into the family. Nope. I’m sure there are many good hearted people who do those things, but what comes across is WAY different. We petition our government, start social media pages, have people change their profile pictures and wall photos to support “our cause” (seriously, click the link it is an excellent article!) and have speaking engagements in order to “create awareness” to free that person. We pray that God has “his way” in bringing those people home. Inferring that it isn’t God’s will for them to be there…? (So then…are they really being persecuted?)
What if that’s not God’s way?
Just what if, all you are doing is actually praying against what God is trying to do through that person who is actually going through real persecution?
I’ve never been persecuted. So I don’t know the first thing about what it looks, feels, or smells like. Would I want to come home if I was thousands of miles away, in hostile territory, getting beaten for being a Christian? Absolutely! Without a second thought. I want to live a relative life of ease, I know that about myself. I want to watch my kids grow up and I want to grow old with my wife. I have no daydreams or dillusions of grandeur about being some super-martyr. Nope.
However if I was chosen to go out as one truly being persecuted, I would hope that what God has done in me would sustain me and that I could say to Him, as William Wallace said in Braveheart, “Give me the strength, the die well.” I would hope to be counted worthy to suffer, that I would feel and know His Presence in a better way than I do now and that I would have the right words to speak at the right moment and God would use those words to turn my Saul-like persecutors into the next Pauls. I would hope that my family had the strength to go on and that I would be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses praying for me and more importantly, for God’s will to be done through me whether through life or in death. I would hope, that if “the duty fell” to me, I would do it well. I would think I would be appalled at some of the “movements” happening in the states “for me”.
But, as they say: It’s all theory until you get in the ring.
Listen, the early church suffered far, far greater trials, tribulations, and real persecutions for their faith. I’ve heard different accounts where believers had even gone so far as to fight with other believers for the honor to suffer, a little weird to my thinking, but still. Our church culture has yet to see such persecution. What’s more, they (the early believers) took persecution with joy because they felt they were counted worthy to suffer in a similar manner as their Lord. Let the last two sentences hang in the air a moment, let it sink it. It’s worth a thought, at least.
Our church culture has yet to see such persecution. What’s more, they (the early believers) took persecution with joy because they felt they were counted worthy to suffer in a similar manner as their Lord.
Maybe we have been deceived. Maybe we have become like the Pharisees when Jesus said in Matthew 23:23
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
We are preoccupied with all this other “stuff” when the “weightier matters” are neglected. We have bought into a christianity that is full of sound and fury, yet signifies nothing. A church-ianity that is more of a clanging symbol next to people with migraines than a triage center for the broken.
Maybe, just maybe, that knocking we hear is the knocking of our Savior asking to come in and for us to “sup with Him”, for we have locked him out on the street. Maybe we’ve traded the rich banquet of christianity for a tv dinner. Willingly. Maybe we’ve given up our birthright as sons who inherit all in exchange for the role of a slave who will have his position taken away one day.
We don’t love the very ones that need our love and compassion the most. We aren’t Christ to the very ones that need to see Christ in us the most.
We don’t preach the Finished Work of the Cross, we don’t preach Grace, we don’t preach what God has done on our behalf and how He can transform our lives. Rather we preach a weak gospel of sin management and cleaning ourselves up before coming to Christ and how you can fall from grace for just saying “heck-darn” and we are preoccupied with the next Christian movie to come out and the next meeting regarding “end-times” and having a revolution of “morals”.
We tip poorly, if anything, when we bring in a church group to a restaurant. We expect the server to get every jot and tittle of our petty orders right in the midst of trying to answer the impatient questions of the everyone at the table who keep distracting the servers because they seem to have forgotten that order taking is a one-at-a-time deal. Worse than that, we leave a fucking “gospel tract” (seriously, WTF people?) that has more fear mongering than you care to admit to, instead of a tip.
We bitch and moan to the volunteers serving us at a church dinner function because they have the nerve to not serve coffee! (Ask me how I know.)
Our Pastor’s and leaders lose it when the audio/visual equipment is on the fritz and it fucks up the 7 point video presentation that they had to show us.
Our “worship pastors” don’t even know, or don’t even remember, or can’t define what worship is like without lights, smoke machines, lasers, ambient lighting, with three divas belting it out in what appears to be a “the loudest voice is the most anointed” contest and at least two electric guitar solos in each song. Forget the whole life as worship, we’ve got a God-cert to put on! 1, 2, 3!
We turn a blind eye to celebrity pastors who pimp out their newly released “best-selling” books and audio-series, or when they are abusing their staff, or mishandling money… all in the name of “showing unity within the body” to non-believers. We seem to think that criticizing our own or holding them accountable isn’t really showing the world the Gospel? To which I say: WTF?? Seriously, I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone share an article where someone comments like they are Mr. Mackey from Southpark. “Umm, division is bad, m’kay? Showing the world the faults of Pastor X is bad, m’kay? We need to show people the luuuuv of Jeezus, m’kay?”
I could rant like this for at least another 1500 words… I’ll spare you, dear reader.
How can we call ourselves Christ-like?
I’m talking to me here, too. I’m not excluding myself in this.
Maybe we haven’t seen that kind of persecution, because we aren’t worthy enough to walk that line, we don’t have it in us. We aren’t like Christ at all…
At least not yet.
May we have Him in us and may we be like him in all of life.
May we be counted worthy…