Does Jesus Want His Church to be Persecuted?

persecution_of_pauliciansThis past Sunday, I preached on Matthew 1-2 and talked about how Jesus didn’t come to save us from what we wish he would have. He didn’t come to save us from our messed-up families, our human enemies, persecution, or even everyday life.  He came to save us from our sin. But, as sometimes happens when preaching, I started to think about point three in particular.

If Jesus didn’t come to save us from persecution, does that mean he wants his church to undergo persecution? If the babies in Bethlehem, the blood on the sand of Roman arenas, the fire-stakes in Europe tell us anything, they say that wherever Jesus comes to make a difference, earthly power comes to make a bloody example. The history of the church is largely a history of persecution. Persecution seems inevitable for the people of God who proclaim a message that threatens the basis of power in this world.

The questions stands: does Jesus want the church to be persecuted?

Tertullian said “The blood of the saints is the seed of the church.” This statement is often quoted, usually assumed, but infrequently examined. The results that seem to accompany persecution are hard to dismiss: strengthened faith, growing church, message going forth. Maybe Jesus does want his church to be persecuted if it produces growth. Maybe I should want the church to be persecuted? That’s dangerous reasoning. While God seems to frequently grant growth to churches enduring persecution, it’s not always the case. Maybe the better way of seeing things is to think of the church attracting persecution rather than persecution launching the church. Because persecution doesn’t always grow the church. In fact, sometimes it stamps it out. North Africa was a Christian stronghold, producing many of the great minds in church history and yet the church practically died out there under persecution. Doesn’t seem like something Jesus would want for his church.

What we need to realize is that Jesus doesn’t want persecution for the church, but he does want obedience from the church. Sometimes the church strays, sometimes it doesn’t, but Jesus’ desire for his followers is constant: obedience to his commands. And those commands are pretty simple: Love God, Love Others, and Make Disciples. 

Persecution can produce obedience, but it can also hamper it. Sometimes persecution comes because the church is being faithful, sometimes it comes because it isn’t.

It’s shaky ground as a church growth strategy to say the least.

But persecution isn’t the only option on the table. Something else is also accompanied by strengthened faith, church growth, and the proclamation of the gospel in the life of the church. And, as a bonus, it doesn’t require jail time or bloodshed: it’s called revival.

Revival is defined by Earl Cairns as “the work of the Holy Spirit in restoring the people of God to a more vital spiritual life, witness, and work by prayer and the Word after repentance in crisis for their spiritual decline.”

If revival produces results similar to those we associate with persecution, why in the world would we want persecution? Let’s seek revival!

But before we get too hasty, we need to recognize that revival also requires loss. It even requires death. But not the bloody kind: it’s more involved than that. Revival requires us to die to the American Dream, to die to selfish ambition, to die to consumerist church practices. Revival requires placing everything we have, including our lives, before God and saying, “Here it is Lord, use it however you want.”

Revival is what happens when the church seeks refining on its own, when it recognizes its weaknesses and begs God to overcome them.

Persecution often happens when the church needs revival but doesn’t seek it.

Correlation does not equal causation. Nonetheless, look at the early church in Acts. They were doing some amazing things, Acts 2:42-47. But they weren’t doing the one thing Jesus told them they would do when he left: “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They kept hanging out in Jerusalem. So God allowed persecution and it drove them out. One of the places they went was Antioch. They started a church there and that church got it. Instead of waiting around, they gathered in prayer and fasting, seeking the Lord (dare I say seeking revival?). And the result was Paul and Barnabas being sent out on mission, launching the cycle of missions, evangelism, and discipleship that has marked faithful churches ever since. Same result as the Jerusalem persecution (the gospel going out according to Jesus’ promise) but much better circumstances.

The question for us, the modern church, is are we willing to die? That’s really the fundamental element of being Christian: deny ourselves, plan on dying (the plain meaning of “take up your cross”), and follow Christ. Once we do that, it’s simply a matter of whether we die seeking revival or to die enduring persecution. We’re not guaranteed one or the other: that’s up to God. But seeking revival and obedience is definitely preferable from my perspective.

Does Jesus want his church to be persecuted? No, but he wants us to be obedient. If we’re not willing to die for the revival that produces obedience, he may ask us to die in the persecution that requires it.

3 Links to Think On: August 15th

forward-thinking-bannerIs the Church Good for Society? – Dean Inserra reflects on research indicating that fewer Americans think the church is improving society. Challenging and hopefully catalytic.

5 Things Christians Need to Stop Doing – Included in the list: Stop being so weird online. Stop handling conflict so poorly. He addresses it to the church, but it’s good for personal reflection (at least it was for me:)

Is There a Difference Between Preaching and Teaching? – This is a bit more niche, but Zach Hoag explains the difference between preaching and teaching in a church-centric fashion. Good stuff here!

Bonus: Worship Band Sliced to Pieces – If you aren’t familiar with the Babylon Bee, you should be. It’s Christian satire site (so don’t take it too seriously) but there’s always a good laugh to be had!

The Bloody Truth: Jesus, His Church, and Persecution

persecution_of_pauliciansJesus didn’t come to save us from what we wish he would have. He didn’t come to save us from our messed-up families, our human enemies, persecution, or even everyday life.  He came to save us from our sin. 

But if Jesus didn’t come to save us from persecution, does that mean he wants his church to undergo persecution? If the babies in Bethlehem, the blood on the sand of Roman arenas, the fire-stakes in Europe tell us anything, they say that wherever Jesus comes to make a difference, earthly power comes to make a bloody example. The history of the church is largely a history of persecution. Persecution seems inevitable for the people of God who proclaim a message that threatens the basis of power in this world.

The questions stands: does Jesus want the church to be persecuted?

Tertullian said “The blood of the saints is the seed of the church.” This statement is often quoted, usually assumed, but infrequently examined. The results that seem to accompany persecution are hard to dismiss: strengthened faith, growing church, message going forth. Maybe Jesus does want his church to be persecuted if it produces growth. Maybe I should want the church to be persecuted? That’s dangerous reasoning. While God seems to frequently grant growth to churches enduring persecution, it’s not always the case. Maybe the better way of seeing things is to think of the church attracting persecution rather than persecution launching the church. Because persecution doesn’t always grow the church. In fact, sometimes it stamps it out. North Africa was a Christian stronghold, producing many of the great minds in church history and yet the church practically died out there under persecution. Doesn’t seem like something Jesus would want for his church.

What we need to realize is that Jesus doesn’t want persecution for the church, but he does want obedience from the church. Sometimes the church strays, sometimes it doesn’t, but Jesus’ desire for his followers is constant: obedience to his commands. And those commands are pretty simple: Love God, Love Others, and Make Disciples. 

Persecution can produce obedience, but it can also hamper it. Sometimes persecution comes because the church is being faithful, sometimes it comes because it isn’t. It’s shaky ground as a church growth strategy to say the least.

But persecution isn’t the only option on the table. Something else is also accompanied by strengthened faith, church growth, and the proclamation of the gospel in the life of the church. And, as a bonus, it doesn’t require jail time or bloodshed: it’s called revival.

Revival is defined by Earl Cairns as “the work of the Holy Spirit in restoring the people of God to a more vital spiritual life, witness, and work by prayer and the Word after repentance in crisis for their spiritual decline.”

If revival produces results similar to those we associate with persecution, why in the world would we want persecution? Let’s seek revival!

But before we get too hasty, we need to recognize that revival also requires loss. It even requires death. But not the bloody kind: it’s more involved than that. Revival requires us to die to the American Dream, to die to selfish ambition, to die to consumerist church practices. Revival requires placing everything we have, including our lives, before God and saying, “Here it is Lord, use it however you want.”

Revival is what happens when the church seeks refining on its own, when it recognizes its weaknesses and begs God to overcome them. Persecution often happens when the church needs revival but doesn’t seek it.

Correlation does not equal causation. Nonetheless, look at the early church in Acts. They were doing some amazing things, Acts 2:42-47. But they weren’t doing the one thing Jesus told them they would do when he left: “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They kept hanging out in Jerusalem. So God allowed persecution and it drove them out. One of the places they went was Antioch. They started a church there and that church got it. Instead of waiting around, they gathered in prayer and fasting, seeking the Lord (dare I say seeking revival?). And the result was Paul and Barnabas being sent out on mission. That in turn launched the cycle of missions, evangelism, and discipleship that has marked faithful churches ever since. Same result as the Jerusalem persecution (the gospel going out according to Jesus’ promise) but much better circumstances.

The question for us, the modern church, is are we willing to die? That’s really the fundamental element of being Christian: deny ourselves, plan on dying (the plain meaning of “take up your cross”), and follow Christ. Once we do that, it’s simply a matter of whether we die seeking revival or to die enduring persecution. We’re not guaranteed one or the other: that’s up to God. But seeking revival and obedience is definitely preferable from my perspective.

Does Jesus want his church to be persecuted? No, but he wants us to be obedient. If we’re not willing to die for the revival that produces obedience, he may ask us to die in the persecution that requires it.

3 Links to Think On

forward-thinking-banner

So, as I make my occasional forays around the wild and wonderful Internet land, I often come across articles that make me think. Enjoy!

Stop Renting Your Church Home – Church membership is old hat, church attendance is declining. Aaron Earls at Facts & Trends examines the difference between “renting” and “buying”a church home.

Can We Hope Again? – Trevin Wax advocates a distinctly Christian alternative to the distraction and distress our current situation often engenders: hope.

2016 Political Rhetoric – I value words. I love words. I believe that words matter. I’ve expressed before that I am both #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary, so this isn’t an endorsement or a new denouncement, but a fascinating look at the rhetorical tendencies of our major party political candidates, especially as they relate to evangelical Christian voters.

Bonus: Being a Lifeguard For the Best Swimmers In the World is Boring

7 Reasons for Christian Confidence (No Matter Who Wins the 2016 Election)

ConfidenceOne of the most unfortunate byproducts of the debacle that is America’s 2016 is the hand-wringing epidemic that has swept through Christian circles. This condition seems to have several sources, but a particularly significant one is the political situation. Evangelicals are being asked to choose between a lying, manipulative, untrustworthy nominee on one side and a lying, manipulative, untrustworthy candidate on the other. Then there’s a significant splinter group lambasting those who choose one of these candidates and being lambasted for copping out (Full disclosure: I’m with them. #NeverTrump, #NeverHillary, and #GiantMeteor2016). This political angst fomenting in the Christian community combined with the continued spiritual and numerical decline of most churches, the corresponding rise of secularism, and the constantly looming specter of domestic terrorism is a recipe for despair.

If you forget to include the Sovereign Lord of the Universe that is.

As much as the current context would lead Christians to doom and gloom, that is the last place we actually should go. I recently explored the book of 1 John with the church that I pastor and in chapter five God gives us at least seven reminders of the basis for Christian confidence, confidence that is the antidote for the plague of despair over current events.

1. Jesus has already won. (1 John 5:4-5)

And he invites us into his victory! That’s what faith is: living in light of Jesus’ universe-altering triumph over Satan, sin, and death. When we wring our hands, tremble at the polls, or allow the nervous tension of uncertainty to rob us of joy, we are willfully ignoring the fact that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, victory won.

2. Our faith is grounded in historical reality, not emotionalism. (1 John 5:6-10)

This is a crucial point. How you feel will change, often, precipitously, and without warning. The emotive response to crisis is strong but, as Christians, we ought to remember that emotions are not reality: Jesus is. Jesus’ sojourn on earth, his birth, his baptism, his commendation by the Spirit of God, the real blood he shed, the real grave he was placed in, the fish he ate, and the real clouds he ascended into are all reminders that what matters is what is real, not what we feel. If we ground our response to negativity in the historical reality of Jesus’ life, teaching, death, and resurrection, we will find no cause for weeping, but for rejoicing!

3. We will live forever. (1 John 5:11-13)

Sometimes I think we forget this. Eternal life is a kind of safety net for the Christian life. This life neither contains nor completes us. So Christian, your political party nominated a lying, hateful, untrustworthy candidate for the most important political office in the land? That’s ok, you’re going to live forever! Your church might lose its tax-exempt status? You’re going to live forever! There’s a people group who’s never heard the gospel but they might kill you if you go tell them? You’re going to live forever! Eternity flips the script! Instead of needing peace, security, and comfort in this life, we just need to remember that we get those things forever in the presence of God.

4. God hears our prayers. (1 John 5:14-15)

But let’s not just wait for the great by-and-by. Christians ought to be supremely confident because God hears our prayers. How unfathomable is the privilege of barging into the throne room of the King of Kings who oversees all the intricate workings of a UNIVERSE to pray about the specific details of your life? To pray for lost car keys. For church decisions. For mere elections. And we’re not interrupting; we’re invited to come! That’s a confidence booster if ever there was one.

5. We are being sanctified together. (1 John 5:16-18)

Another reason for confidence is that as much a wreck as the world may be, we are part of it. We’re all tangled up and we’re messes in the mess, but that’s not how we’re going to stay. The assurance that as Christians we can get untangled is a beautiful thing. And we are in it together. There is no lone ranger, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps vibe here. That doesn’t build confidence, that brings discouragement. Instead, we are assured that when we fall, brothers and sisters will be there to pick us up. Or if they fall, we’re there to pick them up.

6. God is our Father. (1 John 5:19)

The image that comes to mind here is of kids on a playground. The bully swaggers over to the nerd and threatens to take his lunch money. But just at that moment, the nerd’s 6’6″, 300, All-Pro lineman dad pulls up. When it comes to confidence, there’s not much in us to inspire us. But our Dad is awesome! We walk in this world as a bunch of puny shrimps, but we’re puny shrimps whose Dad can beat up their dad. Confidence!

7. We’ve been set free from ignorance, death, and idols. (1 John 5:20-21)

Often what I’ve found is that when I fail to live confidently and give in to the worry that can consume me, it’s because instead of placing my confidence in God, I’ve mistakenly placed it in what I know, how I live, or in an idol. But I don’t have to stay there. I don’t have to constantly barge up against my ignorance, I don’t have to live in fear of death, and I don’t have to go to those things that I think will protect me but really will slowly kill me. I can, in faith, in confidence, look to Jesus, who is the only truth, the only victor over death, and the one who has overcome.

Christian, walk in confidence no matter what is going on in your life, what happens in the world, or who wins the 2016 election!