Persecution Is Coming to the American Church
We’ve witnessed a dramatic shift in the culture in just the last 10 years in the United States. There’s hardly a moral tenet of Western civilization that has been left unscathed by the Progressive warriors who seek to blur the lines between Right and Wrong. Someone can now stand in the town square and proclaim that 2+2 = 5 and no one will look askance at him because truth is said to be fluid and evolving. Who is to say his equation is wrong?
We’ve seen an emerging — and virulent — strain of intolerance and bigotry in recent years directed at Christians who hold to the traditional, orthodox teachings of the faith, and there’s more bubbling up from beneath the surface of our once predominantly Christian nation. The mayhem we witnessed in Indiana after they tried to pass a religious freedom law is just the tip of the iceberg of what's to come.
Unless God intervenes, persecution is coming to those who refuse to bow the knee to the new religions of tolerance and erotic liberty. By persecution, I don’t mean that we’ll see Christians beheaded or witness ISIS-style or crucifixions of Christians in the United States. But I do believe that Christians will be marginalized in society — they’ll be fired from their jobs, lose their businesses, and we'll see efforts to enforce a Great American Christian Silencing. We may see the government seeking to muzzle (or even shutter) Christian schools and even churches as the message of the gospel becomes anathema to the prevailing culture.
How will the Christian church — with its moral absolutes and 2000-year-old traditions — fit into this new moral paradigm and how should it respond?
It's time for us to consider how the American church will respond to the new — and very foreign — cultural norms that have been foisted upon us.
The Apostle Peter, writing to the exiled church in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), has some prescient advice for the modern church and he gives us a template for how Christians are to live in the midst of a pagan culture that is diametrically opposed to their faith: be sober-minded, be holy, and be watchful.
In his first letter to the church (read the whole thing here) Peter encourages Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor (which was then firmly under Roman control) to endure suffering and persecution by devoting themselves to God and following the example of Christ.
Peter warns them to prepare their minds for action and to be sober-minded. The King James Version translates that passage, “gird up the loins of your mind,” which connotes a war of ideas for which the believer must be mentally prepared. This is more than a feel-good religion or a gospel of prosperity. Peter makes it clear that clear-headedness and right thinking -- based on biblical truth -- are essential during an age when evil prevails. Like the Christians living in Asia-Minor in the first century, American Christians in the 21st century will need to be serious and intellectually equipped for the present battles.
But intellect and a sound mind are not sufficient. Peter goes on to say:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."
He’s speaking to a church here that is likely made up mostly of former pagans, so their “former ignorance” refers to the prevailing practices of the Greco-Roman culture, which embraced dehumanizing injustices against women, children, the sick and frail as well as tolerating a wide variety of sexual perversions including pederasty, open prostitution, and erotic art and literature.
Peter tells the church to be holy, setting themselves apart from the culture in which they live by imitating their heavenly Father and reflecting the character of God in their lives. How to do that? Peter ticks off a list of some of the hallmarks of holy living in the next several verses:
- Obedience to the truth.
- A sincere brotherly love from a pure heart
- Putting away malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander
- Longing for pure spiritual milk (God's word)
- Abstaining from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul
- Keeping your conduct among the Gentiles honorable so they may see your good deeds and glorify God
- Honoring everyone
- Loving the brotherhood
- Fearing God
- Honoring the emperor
The church will only withstand the coming persecution if it is holy and obedient to the word of God and if God’s people set themselves apart from the world by their behavior and their love for one another and for their neighbors.
Peter tells the Christians to be “zealous for what is good” even if it means they must suffer for righteousness’ sake:
Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
He contrasts the standards for Christian living with the way the Gentiles (unbelievers) live, “in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” Peter says unbelievers are surprised "when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead."
Nevertheless, he warns the church to be watchful because “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Christians are to be firm in their faith and resist evil, “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” Indeed, our resolve is fortified as we see almost daily reports of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering physical persecution and death because they refuse to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ.
Surely the American church can endure unkind words and bullying — even a job loss or jail time — as we see Christians on the other side of the world enduring so much more.
Peter ends the book by encouraging the believers. “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Our time on earth is a blink of an eye compared to eternity. We can endure trials and persecution -- and the Great American Christian Silencing -- if we set our eyes above and stay watchful, keeping our minds clear and striving to imitate Christ in our lives.