Scripture’s encouragement for the persecuted church

Meredith Flynn —  August 14, 2014

COMMENTARY | Chip Faulkner

As a missionary with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, I served among people groups in which genuine Christ-followers made up a very low percentage of the population, and where governments were not supportive of evangelical churches or the public proclamation of the gospel. The level of persecution, while not extremely severe, was certainly more intense than what the majority of evangelical churches in America are facing.

Still, it doesn’t take much of a spiritual barometer to sense the cultural storm building here towards those who preach and apply Scriptural standards.

Callout_Aug14_edited-1At a recent meeting of pastors and Christian leaders in our area, we discussed how many politicians and governing bodies in our nation and state are taking a strong stance against Christian values—such as biblical marriage. The pastors and ministry leaders did not express fear or panic at the awareness of growing persecution, but there was concern that we must be better prepared to respond correctly to mounting attack.  

After that meeting, I came back to the office and began making notes that turned into a Bible study on persecution. Authentic followers of Christ Jesus that “desire to live a godly life” will be persecuted for their faith (2 Tim. 3:12). Since the New Testament was written to believers and local churches in a sensual society similar to that of modern America, we can appreciate the relevance of the Word in an era of mounting persecution.

First, we should be prepared. Jesus forewarned of persecution by saying that his disciples would be “delivered up” by their relatives and close friends (Luke 21:12-16). So, let us “not be surprised” at the fiery trials that come our way, and we should “rejoice and be glad” to suffer for the name of Christ (1 Peter 4:12-16).  

As Christian facing inevitable persecution, we also should be prayerful. Our human nature is to desire revenge and retaliation, but Jesus commands that we “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44-45). Remember that the weapons at our disposal are “not of the world” (2 Cor. 10:4). Trials develop spiritual maturity in intercession. Suffering for the faith increases our empathy and specifies our prayer.

It is important that we be proactive. Since persecution is new to most American believers, we need to sharpen our skills in strategically and fearlessly going on the offense with the gospel. Churches are feeling threatened by the rapidly changing culture. There will be a temptation for churches to react with a “fort” mentality and seek safety behind closed doors.

However, similar to the Christians in pagan Rome, we must take the initiative in “blessing those who persecute you” (Rom. 12:14). Just like the Father sent the Son into the world, we are sent into the world as salt and light (John 17:18; Matt. 5:13-16).

As children of God, we are to be pure. Granted, wickedness is getting darker in our society, but if we are “blameless and innocent” we have the opportunity to “shine as lights” (Phil. 2:14-15). The distinctions of our Christian worldview, values and morals certainly draw attack, yet this persecution will result in a purer church. God does his best work through clean vessels.

In seasons of persecution, it is vital that genuine believers and true churches draw closer together and be in partnership (Phil 1:6). Persecution will sadly reveal that the majority of members on church rolls are phony professors. Likewise, persecution will expose the startling number of false prophets currently serving as church leaders. When it costs everything to follow Christ, many will deny the gospel and join the ranks in assailing the saints. As church attendance wanes and income falls, it will be imperative to pool our resources and draw encouragement from one another (Phil. 1:3-6).

May we Christians also be positive. The apocalyptic literature in the Bible is there to encourage us. Read it and rejoice because God wins in the end! Jesus actually said we are considered “blessed” to be persecuted and that you will receive the “kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10-11). Even if we “suffer for righteousness’ sake” we should not be fearful or troubled as we positively defend our hope with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:14-15).

Finally, we should persevere in the surpassing power of our Savior. If we remain “steadfast under trial” and “faithful unto death” we will receive the “crown of life” (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10). Echoing the testimony of Paul: “When persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat” (1 Cor. 4:11-13).

The first waves of persecution are only beginning to wash across our country. Even though the price of proclaiming truth will prove enormous, may we go with our Savior “outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (Heb. 13:12-15).

Chip Faulkner pastors First Baptist Church, Bethalto.

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.