In a discussion of a First Things article about Christian colleges by Carl Trueman, Rod Dreher writes:
Sometimes I hear Christians saying things along the lines of, ‘Bring it on! The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church!’ etc. These are the kind of romantics who in a different context would gas on about the cleansing power of war. They have no idea what persecution is like, and what it can do to Christian communities. In the Orthodox Church in this country, you meet people who grew up under communism, in Russia or other Eastern European nations. It’s always the same story: most of their family was lost to the faith, because the government made believing in God too difficult. Often immigrants from formerly communist countries who show up at Orthodox churches have to be catechized, because the faith was almost entirely obliterated from public life. Persecution may strengthen some Christians, but it is not something to be welcomed.”
Dreher makes a good point: The church has always rejected zealous believers who court persecution by provocative words and actions.
Yet the good points needs to be qualified in two ways. First, the government and the church aren’t the only players in a time of persecution. The major player is God, and He’s on the side of the persecuted. He answers the prayers that rise from the souls of the saints under the altar (Revelation 6); He vindicates and takes vengeance.
Second, Dreher misses one of the crucial dynamics of the “blood-seed” link. One of the reasons martyrdom strengthens the church is that it divides families. Jesus made this clear enough: He comes with a sword to divide between parent and child, brother and brother. He’s not talking about the awkward moments at family reunions when believers have to answer mocking questions from atheistic cousins. He’s talking about family members turning believing family members over to the authorities.
Families can be vehicles of the kingdom; they can also be major obstacles to the advance of the gospel. Ties of kinship and blood make people hesitate to follow Jesus with a whole heart. That’s why much of what Jesus says about families takes the form of warning and stark exhortations to “hate” father and mother for his sake.
Persecution and its aftermath shatter world-systems, and family ties are part of the world-system that gets shattered. It’s a wrenching, excruciating experience, but that travail isn’t a glitch in the system. It’s written into the program of witness.