Persecution January 19, 2018

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.

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  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    I have never heard of a Christian in America who desires persecution. I have read that there are church leaders in China who prefer a moderate amount of persecution to none at all. They know what persecution is like from personal experience, so their view isn’t romantic–it’s realistic: and, in a sense, biblical. Persecution does refine, purify, and strengthen. The Lord said that people who are persecuted for His sake are blessed (Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:22-23).

    We Christians in America should be aware of how much confusion and division among professed Christians can come with persecution. It is not always clear to everyone how a Christian should react when a government starts to become oppressive toward faithful obedience to Christ. It is easy to say that one should obey the law insofar as it does not require disobedience to God, but not always easy to say where the line is between when should obey and when one should not.

    We can see these things right now with the various ways that American evangelicals have been and are reacting to laws related to same-sex marriage, including ones that prohibit refusing to provide a service for a same-sex wedding. One of the ways in which some have reacted to these laws is by binding themselves to Donald Trump, in the hope that he will protect them. Others have reacted by going along with the culture and mocking and denouncing Christians who remain opposed to same-sex marriage. Yet others have reacted in other ways.

    May God have mercy and help us become prepared for persecution. We are about as prepared for it as the church of the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:14-22).

  • RustbeltRick

    Geez, Dreher’s article is ridiculous. Basically, persecution is coming. Persecution, of course, is defined as $40,000-per-year Christian colleges not being able to get their hands on federal dollars. There’s no evidence that this will remotely happen, but the article needs you to think it’s right around the corner. They specifically mention Hillsdale College as one of the targets of this horrid secular wave that surely, surely is coming.

    Here in the real world of actual things, a conservative member of Congress tried to get special favors for Hillsdale College (and no other college in the country) written into the recent tax legislation. Once that came to light, more sensible folks nixed it, but you get the idea. The alma mater of the DeVos family and the center of academic libertarian garbage, Hillsdale College, is not only not being persecuted; it is being advantaged at the highest levels.

    Dreher writes a thought piece on persecution but his only examples are two libertarian colleges (Hillsdale and Grove City) that someday, maybe, might not be treated well. I suppose for those who confuse Christian faith for libertarianism, this is a massive concern. But it’s actually nonsense. It’s also a slap in the face to those Christians around the world who really are being persecuted.