(February 12, 2020) Dr Jim McClure, straight shooting theologian, shares more on this timely subject…
Last month (link: The Early Days) I referred to the great price Christians in the early church had to pay for being followers of Jesus Christ. For 2000 years Christians have been opposed, intimidated, abused and slaughtered because of their commitment to Jesus Christ.
The reason has been an age-old conflict in which Satan continually attempts to destroy us and the work of God in and through us.
History is repeating itself
While many of the accounts of past persecution of Christians are horrendous, we actually see much the same kind of thing repeating itself today. Christians are in the ‘firing line’ (metaphorically and literally) throughout the world today.
The number of Christians in Sri Lanka who were killed when worshipping on Easter Day last year was sufficiently large that the world media had really no alternative but to mention it – but literally hundreds of other acts of persecution and killing of Christians throughout the world today are wholly ignored by most of the world media. There are more Christians being killed today than ever before in history!
Surprisingly The Guardian newspaper included an April 22, 2019 article titled, ‘As the Sri Lanka attacks show, Christians worldwide face serious persecution.’ The writer wrote: ‘We are living though one of the most serious phases of Christian persecution in history, and most people refuse to acknowledge it.
‘During the past century, Christianity has been all but driven out of the Middle East, the place of its birth. … From 1894 to 1924, the Turkish authorities systematically murdered some 2.5 million Christians. Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, Christians have been driven from the Middle East with bombs and bullets, and with hardly a bat squeak of protest from the secular west. … Christianity remains the world’s most persecuted religion. … all around the world Christians are subject to real and sustained violence for the profession of their faith …’
Another publication, Open Doors 2019 World Watch List, makes these comments:
- Research … indicates that each day, a staggering 11 Christians are killed for their faith in the top 50 countries ranked on the World Watch List.
- Across Asia and the Middle East, 1 in 3 Christians experience ‘high’ levels of persecution.
Alarming increasing hostility
n Western countries also hostility towards Christians is increasing at an alarming rate. The evil doctrine of political correctness stands opposed to the clear teaching of the Bible and, as we have seen in recent days, to choose to live by what God has revealed is interpreted by a God-rejecting culture as bigotry, superstition and downright obstructive stubbornness. The toxic so-called ‘Progressive’ policies of the atheistic Marxist ‘Left’ fly-in-the-face of Christian values which are constantly being ridiculed and Jesus is regularly being portrayed as a ‘figure-of-fun’ and God is mocked as ‘a big invisible sky fairy.’
Today Christians are being scorned because we have committed our lives to a man who lived 2000 years ago and whose name is now commonly used as a swear word. We are considered to be fools because we believe in a heaven and a hell. We are derided because we embrace the teachings of an ancient book as God’s word which, we claim, gives us the guidelines and values for living.
The atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, has made it a life ambition to spread his hateful message as widely as possible. He has written, ‘The god of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.’ Atheism has found a strange ally in Islam as it attempts to destroy both Christianity and Judaism. And the secular media take every opportunity to give wide and sustained coverage to anything that disparages Christians and Christianity.
In today’s world,
- The contents of the Bible are being reported as ‘hate speech’,
- The compassionate appeal to people to rethink the aborting of their unborn children is called ‘harassment’,
- The affirmation of the obvious reality, that has been recognised in all generations and in all cultures, that there are only two genders, male and female, is called ‘intolerance’,
- The affirmation of one’s commitment to God is furiously attacked as ‘bigotry’,
- The stating of one’s trust in the teaching of the Bible is ridiculed as ‘irrational and anti-science.’
Alternatively, and ironically, those who oppose Christians are portrayed as tolerant, loving, compassionate, caring and inclusive while they vigorously attack, denounce and try to silence those who disagree with them.
And the situation isn’t helped by some ‘trendy’ Christians who make every effort to present themselves as ‘caring’ and ‘tolerant of all things’ (regardless of how perverted they may be) and embracing the belief that all religions lead to God!
But rejecting the plain teaching of scripture, re-writing historic Christian values and revising Christian doctrine, is fundamentally a denial of Christ and a slight to the millions of Christians throughout the past 2000 years who have shown courageous integrity in their faith in Jesus – and have often been martyred as a consequence.
We shouldn’t be surprised
The persecution of Christians should not come as a surprise to us – in fact we should be surprised if the world loved us! The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that this hostile environment for Christians is not unexpected. Rather it is inevitable. As Christians seek to worship God and to live by his values, Satan does all that he can to disrupt that. We face a powerful enemy out to eliminate us. We are living in a war zone and we need to recognise that.
The Bible describes this conflict as a spiritual war and it relentlessly tries to eliminate us and silence the message of God’s redemptive love through Jesus. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:11-12, ‘… take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’
Throughout the New Testament this warning is clearly spelt out –
- Jesus: ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me…’ (Matthew 5:11-12).
- Jesus: ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you’ (John 15:18-19).
- Paul: ‘In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Timothy 3:12).
- Peter: ‘However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name’ (1 Peter 4:16).
- John: ‘Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you’ (1 John 3:13).
- James: ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything’ (James 1:2-4).
So what lies at the heart of this? Why this relentless hostility? Why has it persisted for so long? The late theologian, John Stott, has accurately put his finger on it when he wrote, ‘Persecution is simply the clash between two irreconcilable value-systems.’
Stott was referring to the clash between the kingdom of Jesus Christ (John 18:36) and the kingdom of Satan (Matthew 12:26) – and this is what lies at the heart of the matter. The apostle John made this arresting statement, ‘We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil on’ (1 John 5:19). This, then, is the clash – the kingdom of Jesus is in conflict with the kingdom of Satan.
Inevitably, therefore, there is a clash between the two and we are witnessing the ongoing effect of this today. Regrettably a limp form of ‘Christianity’, which offers apologies to anyone who is offended by biblical teaching, is being propagated by many church leaders today.
Recently in England the two most senior leaders in the Church of England, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, publically apologised for a statement on human sexuality that had been given a week earlier by the ‘House of Bishops of the Church of England.’ The view presented by that statement upheld the biblical position on biblical sexual morality. The Archbishops’ public response to this was, ‘We as Archbishops, alongside the bishops of the Church of England, apologise and take responsibility for releasing a statement last week which we acknowledge has jeopardised trust. We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.’
Tozer’s words so pertinent today
The prophetic words of A W Tozer, who died in 1963, are so pertinent to what is happening today. In the book Tozer Speaks to Students he wrote, ‘That is the kind of unholy, unscriptural, hybrid mongrel Christianity that we are propagating at great expense and time and labour in our day. The Christianity of the cross never tries to please the world but dare to stand on its two legs and let the world come round!’
Tozer also commented, ‘There was a day when the world followed the church. She took the initiative; she was aggressive. But it has changed now, and we are down on our knees imitating the world.’
How often the modern church gives credence to Tozer’s challenging words. Today the secular world stands in hostile arrogance and aggressive defiance to God and his word. How often today we are witnessing that those who embrace the so-called ‘inclusive’ and ‘tolerant’ contemporary secular values, which supposedly extol the values of ‘tolerance’ and ‘inclusiveness’, actually demonstrate hostile exclusiveness and venomous intolerance towards those with whom they disagree. And support for much of that exclusiveness and intolerance is coming from church leaders!
For example, Franklin Graham has planned an 8-city preaching tour of the United Kingdom for this year.
- To date the cities of Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Glasgow, Birmingham, Newport, Milton Keynes and London have cancelled permission given to him to conduct those evangelistic rallies at commercial venues following protests by LGBTQ+ activists, petitions and requests from local councils!
- The Anglican Bishop of Sheffield, who supports the ban, has commented, ‘Mr Graham’s rhetoric is repeatedly and unnecessarily inflammatory, and, in my opinion, represents a risk to the social cohesion of our city.’
- The Anglican Bishop of Liverpool has described the event as a ‘divisive impact’ on the city and further commented, ‘There is no room in it (Franklin Graham’s preaching) for angry politics, walls, exclusion, fear of the other.’
- The Reverend Bryan Kerr, a Church of Scotland minister, also opposes Franklin Graham’s visit to Scotland by launching a petition which stated that it ‘did not ‘sit comfortably with many Christians in Scotland.’ He further commented that he supported the Bishop of Sheffield’s comments regarding the ‘risk to social cohesion’ and further stated, ‘The same is true for Glasgow and Scotland as a whole.’
Time to affirm our commitment!
In view of this and other attacks on Christian witness and values we need regularly and more boldly to affirm our commitment to Jesus Christ.
Christian preachers and teachers particularly, urgently, boldly and uncompromisingly need to be uncompromisingly faithful in proclaiming the ‘whole counsel of God’ and equip our present generation of believers for the continuing attacks on Christianity and on those who have made their faith commitment to follow Jesus all the way.
Jesus said, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it’ (Mark 8:34-35). There is an unmistakable, indisputable and unavoidable challenge in these words.
Jesus set the example for us by taking up his cross and being crucified on it for our salvation. In today’s increasingly materialistic, humanistic, God-hating society, as Christians we have to recognise that there really is a cost in discipleship. And some of those consequences may include:
- Condemnation – for having the impudence to contradict the prevailing tide of what is deemed to be culturally acceptable.
- Humiliation – being shamefully exposed for daring to disagree with the status quo.
- Suffering – by experiencing rejection and pain and worse for failing to comply.
- Martyrdom – as a result of boldly and uncompromisingly witnessing regardless of the consequences or the hostile judgment of others.
Embracing fundamental principles
In the face of all this there are two fundamental principles that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, need to embrace:
- 1Corinthians 16:13, ‘Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.’
- Matthew 5:44, the command of Jesus – ‘I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.’
What challenging principles that we need wholly to embrace!
Our risen and glorified Saviour gave this warning and made this promise: ‘Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. … Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life’ (Revelation 2:10).
Now is the time for us to –
‘Sound the battle cry!
See, the foe is nigh;
Raise the standard high for the Lord;
Gird your armour on, stand firm every one;
Rest your cause on his holy word.’
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books such as the enlightening Grace Revisited and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
Grace Revisited is highly recommended – as are Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, Overview of the Old and New Testaments, Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, The Masonic Deception, Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments and Interpreting the Letter of James. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org