Friday, December 20, 2013

Putting The Persecuted Church On A Pedestal

There is a tendency in online Christian discussions to play the trump card of the persecuted church. I have done it too and I shouldn't. How it works goes something like this. Someone raises a culturally specific issue in America. Someone else gets outraged and says: "Well if we had real persecution here.... ". The outraged individual sits back, smugly confident in his morally superior position. The point apparently is that none of the cultural trends that impact the church in America are worthy of discussion because we are not persecuted and therefore any concern we raise is irrelevant.

I get that the church is not persecuted in any meaningful sense in America and that we get wound up at stuff that Chinese or Libyan Christians wouldn't understand.

I would also point out that we who live in America are there because that is where God placed us and until He moves to call us somewhere else this is the nation, these are the people we are called to minister to. Integral to that is understanding how the culture sees the church. Using the persecuted church in other countries as a way of quashing discussion in this country doesn't do the persecuted church any good. All it does it give the person laying down the persecution card a cheap "victory".

How the culture views Christianity and the church and how we live impacts our witness. As the prevailing culture becomes more hostile to overtly presented Christian, it has a real impact on the church. We don't have to couch this in terms of culture wars, I am not calling for a boycott of the A&E channel (there really aren't any shows on that channel I would watch and we don't have cable anyway). I am also not saying that we should pretend that nothing is shifting around us. There are going to be real consequences for speaking the truth in love, even when done in a less crude and more nuanced way than Phil Robertson.

I honestly don't care if Duck Dynasty leaves A&E or goes off the air or whatever. The family has plenty of money and freely admits they don't need the show. Millionaire TV stars are probably not the epitome of the church. Nor am I interested in boycotts or letter writing campaigns or protesting outside of the headquarters of A&E. I do care about the shifting cultural landscape that we are seeing, a shift that is accelerating even faster than I expected. I am very concerned that the church often looks befuddled or angry when this sort of thing happens because we are utterly unprepared thanks to generations of failure to equip the saints and I am likewise irritated by the pseudo-pious dismissal because the church in America is not sufficiently persecuted to warrant raising our awareness. We should anticipate a hostile response from the world when we shine the light of Christ. John wrote:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." (John 3:19-21)

The darkness of the world will hate the truth. It cannot be any other way. When the light of the Gospel that saves from sin confronts the lost they either turn from wickedness or they turn from the light. How we respond to the hatred of the world matters. Yes we must choose our fights but at some point we must choose how and where we respond.

We can have and ought to have discussions in the church about the proper way to respond to a changing culture. We can also do that without wielding the persecuted church like a club.


Aussie John said...


You are so right!

May I suggest we need to recognize another type of persecution within the circles which identify as "church",and is rife today.

"Persecution" is abuse, ill treatment, and ill use of people.

What I have observed in my many years is more subtle than that which we are used to hearing about, and is spiritually, and psychologically destructive, and more widespread than we would care to admit.

It is often, but not only, inflicted by those who claim to be leaders.

Arthur Sido said...

That is a good point, there is often a lot of mistreatment perpetrated on the church by religious leaders of various stripes. When we look back at the history of the church it seems that the majority of the persecution was carried out by religious leaders seeking to usurp the authority of Christ and doing so in His name.