By Don Ruhl
Why is it that there have been times and places when the church has been persecuted to the point of blood, but at others the church has not been persecuted in this way? (Heb. 12:4). Sometimes the world likes the church, and at other times the world hates the church. There are times when the church declares boldly the sin of the world and the world responds with a persecution of blood, but there are times when the church imitates the world, so the world does not try to harm the church; for why would the world harm what is in that case its brother?
There are individual Christians who are persecuted. Christians are always being persecuted, either in non-violent or in violent ways throughout the world. However, what I am addressing in this article is this: Why is the church as a whole in this country not being persecuted to the point of blood?
The Forms Of Persecution In America Today
There are Christians, and churches, receiving at the present time non-violent forms of persecution. Some have not been promoted when they should have been. Both television and the movies frequently show Christians or the church in a bad light, and of course these mediums of communication often blaspheme the name of God and Jesus Christ or use them in vain. There are people who enter congregations and attempt to make them as much like the world as possible. Some Christians receive phone calls and letters of persecution.
The Bible predicts these kinds of persecution. In Matthew 5:10–12 Jesus pronounces a blessing upon those who are persecuted verbally: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus did not say that not being physically persecuted makes a Christian any less a disciple of His than someone who is. If your persecution comes in non-violent ways, then you have the blessing of Christ. You are going to heaven and a reward is waiting for you. You are numbered with the prophets who also received non-violent forms of persecution.
Second Timothy 3:12 affirms that persecution will happen for every Christian living godly, but what is said there does not necessarily include the spilling of the Christian’s blood: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
However, there is something wrong if we have compromised in order to avoid persecution. Galatians 6:12 reveals that the Judaizers were preaching false doctrine because they were trying to avoid persecution: “As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these try to compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.”
Yet, Christians are often curious about why the early centuries of Christianity seem to be different than now. We read of the first few centuries of Christianity and it is obvious that the heavy hand of persecution was raised against those who stood for righteousness in the name of Jesus Christ. The persecution came from both the Jews and the Roman Empire and even later when the Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire.
It seems to bother us that they were persecuted so severely—being thrown to the lions, burned at the stake—because it seems to tell us that we are less than what we should be.
While it is true that the church in America is being persecuted in some ways, it is also true that the church is doing some things and not doing others that keeps the world from wanting to persecute us. Terry Hightower has asked some pertinent questions: “Why is [the church] not being hated and everywhere spoken against as in the first century (Acts 28:22), turning the world upside down with truth (Acts 17:6)?” (Embattled Christianity: A Call To Alarm The Church To Humanism, San Antonio, Texas: Shenandoah Church of Christ, The Third Annual Shenandoah Lectures, February 1989, p. 330).
Moreover, it is apparent that Jesus, the apostles and the prophets were persecuted. Why? John 7:7 is the testimony of Jesus as to why He was persecuted, and I think that the same thing can be said for the apostles of the New Testament and the prophets of the Old Testament: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” That is, Jesus did come to bloodshed in striving against sin (Heb. 12:4).
On a church-wide basis we do not suffer the spilling of blood, because there are many ways in which our land is still favorable to Christianity. There are laws which favor us and protect us, that is, protect what we want to do. The Constitution supports our right to exist, though the way parts of the Constitution are sometimes interpreted we should not be surprised if this protection is someday taken away. Plus, there is a general attitude of pluralism in our society, the belief that anybody can do what they want in America, just so long as you do not hurt anyone else. However, the very nature of the church is to evangelize and to expose the wickedness of society (Eph. 5:11). Therefore the more liberal our country becomes the more it will perceive us as a threat.
In Revelation 12:13–17 the Bible tells about the persecution of the devil—represented as a dragon—and he is fighting the woman who brought forth Christ. This woman is God’s people, first representing Israel, and now representing the church. Watch as the dragon persecutes the church and the earth helps the woman:
Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Thus the earth helped the church as a whole. However, Satan still sought individual Christians. This probably describes our situation with our enemies at the present. The devil uses certain individuals and groups to hurt us, but we have protection from some in society. However, that could easily change.
The next five chapters in Revelation show how the devil gathered other resources for his fight against the church until finally in chapter 17 he got the world to fight the church. I do not mean that Revelation is discussing our situation, only that our situation parallels what was happening in Revelation.
The Country Is Moving From Favor To Neutrality To Hostility
I think that we would all agree that through most of its history, the United States of America has been favorable toward Christianity and the church. However, you can ask almost any preacher, whether liberal or conservative, and most of them will agree that the country has moved from a position of favor to neutrality and is starting to breech the position of hostility.
The nation perceives us as a minor threat at the moment. There are some organizations who see us as a threat, but the average citizen does not, or at least the threat is seen as somewhat minor by them.
In Acts 17:6 after Paul and Silas had been preaching in other places they came to Thessalonica, and when the Jews who would not be persuaded that Jesus Christ is the Son of God heard that these two preachers were in town here is what they said: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” Could we be accused of turning the world upside down? While the world does see the promotion of the Bible and its related doctrines as a threat, yet the world does not see us as a threat because we are not promoting the Bible and its related doctrines in a way that is threatening to the world. We present it as an alternative. We tell people that if they are looking, then they should check us out. We are so afraid of offending people, or turning them away never to return again.
The marquee at one church is typical of the way we approach people with the gospel: “If you are going the wrong way, God allows U-turns.” God does not just allow U-turns, He demands them! He tells us to turn or burn. Repent or perish. This is why in Romans 1:14–17 Paul was stressing his urgency to preach the gospel to the church and to the people in Rome, for as he says in verse 18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness”
However, we do not approach the world with that belief, hence with Paul’s urgency in verses 14 and 15, when he said: “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.” Most of us really do not believe that people outside of the church are lost with the wrath of God hanging over their heads. We approach people with the idea that Christianity is merely something that is of our personal taste. We give people the impression that they can take it or leave it, nothing suffered either way.
The Church Is Not Persecuted To Blood Because We Offer The World’s Solutions, So Why Should The World Persecute Us?
We offer psychology, entertainment, twelve step programs, churches tailored to their taste, you name it. Thus the world congratulates us rather than persecutes us. If the world likes something or thinks that something will solve its problems, then what most churches do is dress that thing up in Christian garb and say that the people can still have what they perceive to be the solution, but that we have offered the best one because we put Christ in it.
For centuries the church has had the answer to the problems of living. We have not lost it. Why do we think that the world can offer better solutions? People often tell me that the Bible is fine for people who do not have serious problems, but for those who do, they need something that can really get to the root, as though the word of the living God cannot get to the deepest part of men and women! Have we forgotten Hebrews 4:12? “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Is there anything invented by man that is capable of surpassing what this passage says?
The World Does Not Have To Persecute Us, Because We Defeat Ourselves
We convince ourselves that no one will listen. When it comes time for the church to discuss any kind of evangelistic work either that the church should do together or what individuals should do, listen to the doubt. When I worked at a dairy I would often be among the cows and out of fun I would say, “Boo!” You should have see the cows run! What is so funny about it is that they could have easily killed me! That is the way it is with the church! The world says, “Boo!” and we go flying all over the place and stay away from people. When the truth is God is our heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is our Commander-in-Chief and the world will suffer horribly if it persecutes us. We sound like Israel just before it was to enter the land of Canaan the first time, when they said that they were like grasshoppers in the sight of the Canaanites and in their own sight.
We Believe The Constitution Gives All Of Our Enemies The Right To Exist
We believe that what we teach is just our interpretation. We even have people in the church who have convinced us that we really cannot know the truth. I have had several friends who wanted to go to the same school of preaching that I went to, but I now discourage them. The reason is the two men running the school are not even sure that God exists!
The World Does Not Have To Attack Us, Because The World Is Attacking Us From Within Through Compromise And Liberalism
Generally speaking when you find someone advocating compromise you have found someone who is trying to make us like the world. The world does not want to persecute us to the point of blood, because many members of the church—and whole churches—are worldly and the world loves its own. In John 15:18, 19 Jesus said matter-of-factly why we are persecuted and why we are not persecuted: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
For you to see for yourselves how worldly some Christians are and some churches are, ask yourself this question, and use yourself as the comparison or congregations with which you have been familiar: How much would someone from the world have to change, if they were going to be just like us?
What Are We Doing That Would Prompt The World To Hurt Us Physically?
That is, what are we doing, or what are you doing, that the world figures the only way to stop you and me is to threaten physical harm or to carry it out? If you were the world or the devil would you be afraid of us? Would you perceive us as a threat to your way of life? Are we everywhere spoken against?
In Acts 28:22 some Jews in Rome approached Paul and they were curious about the church, and they were hoping that Paul could inform them about the church, but notice what they said the rumor was: “But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”
If We Were Persecuted To The Point Of Blood, What Would We Do?
Compromise? Wonder what we did wrong? Pave our parking lot? Modernize our building? Make our services more entertaining? Use less Scripture in our sermons and classes and ministering to one another? Teach that what is written outside of the gospels is not really important?
We must really frighten the devil! The world must really tremble! Make no mistake about it: The world is doing some things to try to stop us, but my point is that they only have to go so far and we easily stop. Our boldness is short-lived. Rededicate yourself to following Jesus Christ totally.
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