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Persecution

Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

View Associated File

Fri, Jun 1, 2007 

Persecution

I was listening to Neal Boortz on my way to school the other day, and I heard him talking with a man whose girl-friend was described as a "Turbo-Christian".  I didn't hear who came up with the title, but everyone was using it by the time I happened to tune in.  From the discussion, I was able to discern only that the man who had called in was dealing with a woman whose faith and piety were more demanding than his own.  It sounded like she was asking - or perhaps demanding - that he respect her personal piety and conform to some degree to her morality when they were together.

I have met people who demand too much from others, and call it their "faith-commitment".  They can make others very uncomfortable.  I did not hear enough to know if this was true in this case or if this was a case of an unbeliever who was attracted to a Christian and expected her to silence her confession and set aside her morality so he could have his way with her -- and was deeply disappointed because she was unwilling.  All I heard was this obviously disparaging identifier, "Turbo-Christian" being applied to her, and in the discussion that followed, it was applied to anyone who took their faith, or the Bible, more seriously than the program's host, Neal Boortz.

He went on to ridicule those who believe in creation as taught in Scriptures.  He stated that it was his opinion that anyone who did so had such a pathetic and weak faith that they could not embrace evolution and other "proven" science.  He was on a rant, which is his forté as anyone who listens to him even briefly would know.  He generalized from whatever situation he had encountered to lambaste anyone who took the Bible as something more than a collection of quaint stories and primitive (and somewhat desperate) explanations of phenomena for which they lacked modern technical and scientific means of accounting.

This particular talk-show host takes pride in being obnoxious and offensive, so there was nothing to respond to, and he instructed his call screener to hang up on anyone who wanted to engage him in a discussion of this particular opinion, so I did not bother to even try, but it did set me to thinking about the growing hostility in our culture toward faithful Christianity, and the growing acceptance in the market of public discourse of crude and crudely stated attitudes and opinions over against those who strive to be faithful to Biblical Christianity.  Such intemperate attacks against Jews or Moslems would not be tolerated.  You could lose your job - and in some places your life, for saying about the practitioners of those faiths what is considered fair game and somewhat funny when spoken about a Christian.

I don't doubt that there are those who call themselves Christians who can make their presence felt and regretted.  I have met a few of them myself.  They claim the name, but the spirit they display is not the Holy Spirit.  The world around us generally respects that sort of "Christian" far more than the humble, believe the Bible, and show compassion to your fellow-man sort which we aspire to be.  It strikes one as odd, but only until you listen to the Biblical witness about the hatred of the world for Christ and for all those who are His.  This phenomenon which I am addressing is persecution.

It is what I would refer to as "Light-weight persecution".  Many people have faced far more destructive persecution.  Many face torture, personal public humiliation, exclusion from polite (and even common, but rude) society, and even death on the simple ground that they trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, believe that He is God, and confess Him without regard for the response of the world around them to that confession.  I would call that "heavy-duty persecution".  That sort of persecution is not common in America today.  It exists, and it is visited upon some even here, but it is the exception to the rule, not our common experience here, yet.  Changes in society suggest that the wait may not be long to see that hatred of the world for Christ acted out publicly and fearlessly even in these United States.

Until that time we have the light-weight persecution to deal with.  That sort of persecution has always been among us, at least for the last couple of centuries.  It wasn't as easily identified in the past because Christians, and those who wanted to identified as Christians but were not, were a larger percentage of the population in most places.  We hung out together, and had little exposure to the virulence of world's antipathy toward faith and all things truly of God.  Besides, when we encountered it, we were not allowed to call it persecution.  It was called "rude".  It was dismissed as a bad-humor, dismissed as an aberration, or defended as sadly necessary in a pluralistic society to avoid offending others of other faiths.  In short, we were schooled in viewing the world's animosity from the world's own perspective, and excusing prejudice and offence as long as it was aimed at a Christian or a group of Christians, and not at any group of people deserving of dignity and respect.

Even gentle and quiet persecution can be effective.  One quickly learns what sorts of statements and behaviors are acceptable - and which sort are not.  Religion is saved for the privacy of one's home, and for the confines of one's church.  Political action in the place of the Christian faith is publicly acceptable, as long as it is of the right political stripe.  Democrats campaigning in black churches is seen as laudable.  Republicans campaigning in churches is decried as the mixing of church and state, and threatening us with Theocracy!  Social service such as food-banks and housing developments are appreciated, as long as they conform to the general rules of the society, and not just to the piety and morality of the particular community of faith.  It is simply the unbridled trust in God, and the clear confession of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Jesus Christ and by grace alone that is frowned upon.  We learn the rules quickly - or suffer the consequences.

In a nation that prides itself on equality, things are not truly equal.  Christians cannot pray as a group in a public place without being sued on the grounds of violating the separation of Church and State, but Moslems have special rooms assigned on college campuses, and special prayer rooms and washing places being established at airports to accommodate their religious sensitivities.  Cartoons depicting Mohammed set Muslims off rioting, but the holiest images for Christians can be dipped in urine and painted with feces, and we are told it is art and "freedom of expression" and we dare not complain, on pains of public abuse by the likes of Rosie, or Bill Maher, or Neal Boortz.  Ridicule of a Christian, and the nobility of the act of abandoning the Christian faith, is standard fare on television and in the movies.  They tell us that they are just depicting reality, but all they are showing us is their twisted vision of how things ought to be, and how they see us.  Even when they try to show us or our faith in a neutral light, they cannot bear to get it right.

We are not called to rise up and put an end to the abuse and insults of the unbelievers, or even publicly complain about them.  I am aware that some churches teach their people to do that, but that teaching is not in accord with the Word of God.  We are called to endure these abuses, knowing that they will come, and show forth Christ and His patience and love in all that we do.  As American citizens, we can cry out about the dishonest and abusive treatment we receive in public discourse, or in our dealings with government and businesses.  We are not called to that by our faith, however.  We are called by God to be His people, to be good and honest and humble and to show the likeness of our Lord in all we do and say.

We want to set uppermost in our minds these truths: Jesus Christ deliberately bore injustice, hostility, dishonesty, and abuse of the most profound sort for us, to redeem us from our sins and win for us everlasting life.  He forgives us our sins, and He called on His Father to forgive those who heaped abuse and persecution directly on Him, saying that "they know not what they do".  And the Apostle Peter tells us that Jesus suffered as He did, leaving us an example, for us to follow in His footsteps, "WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously".  Peter even says that we were called for this purpose! We are called to suffer.  We have been called to persecution.

The early Christian Church lived in an atmosphere of prejudice and persecution, both by the people and social structures of their communities and from official government action and decree.  Nevertheless, both Peter and Paul - who were executed finally at the hands of government authority - urged and commanded that Christians be willingly subject to the government.  Peter wrote, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men."  1 Peter 2:13-15.  Paul wrote, "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves."  Romans 13:1-2.

They did not see injustice or corruption by government officials as sufficient cause to abandon God's good order in the civil realm.  Even though the government acted as their enemy, due to sin , they continued to be faithful citizens, responsible to God and responsive to government.  Our task was not to change them, but to live out the change that God works in His people by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Again, as American citizens, we have the right to work for needed change, but that task is a political, not religious calling.  Note, too, that our responsibility as Christians toward the government is not just obedience (Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed.  Titus 3:1) but also to pray for their blessing and welfare, First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  1 Tim. 2:1-2.

The situation those early Christians faced was very similar to ours.  They were deficient in technology, but the dangers and temptations they faced were very much the same.  We still follow a Lord who is hated by the world.  For a long time, society has been forced to tolerate Christ, but the conditions that enforced that reluctant tolerance appear to be changing.  Persecution is rising again.  In Islamic countries, it has always been so, and Christians die daily for their faith.  In nations which are not predominantly even nominally Christian, public attacks on Christians and their places of worship are on the rise, and the casual murder of Christians is becoming commonplace again.

Here, in these United States, it is stylish to ridicule Christians on television, on the radio, and in newspaper articles.  "Spirituality" is openly admired, and the sort of religion that is unwilling or unable to discriminate between truth and error is happily promoted on Oprah and ET.  Even our politicians have little time for a religion that claims to be absolutely true, and they label and excoriate those who are so intolerant as to say,"Look!  Here, and here alone, is the truth."  I read in the news on Tuesday about the new Bible being issued, with lots of praise being spoken about it, that "decommissions the old religion" and promotes a "new religion" without doctrine.

We are not welcome, us confessional Lutherans, in such a world.  We are placed here, however, by our God, who would have us stand firm in the faith and confess Christ, and prove by our holy living that God's people are none of the evil things which they will say about us.  We are not dim-witted.  We are not bad citizens.  We are not trouble-makers.  And we want nothing from this world but the blessing and well-being of our neighbors.  We want them to have the opportunity to know Christ, and forgiveness, and salvation.  We want to live in peace, and to be a blessing for them.  But if and when they want to stamp out our faith, and crush our spirit - and they will - we are prepared to stand firm, confess Christ faithfully, and endure all that they throw at us by the strength which our Lord will provide, and praying, even through our tears, for their forgiveness and salvation.

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish



These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.



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