She’s the meek and the mighty, the flame of valour, burning bright in the night.
- The Meek and the Mighty, a song By Farrell and Farrell about the Persecuted Church
Earlier today, I blogged on an excellent entry by the King of Fools on Christianity and politics in America. In my comments, I made the remark, “A suffering Church is a devout Church” (Actually, on further reflection, I prefer the word “pious” to “devout” in this instance).
Well, my friend Vic over at Darth Apathy saw it and remarked on it.
I’m not exactly sure what to make of Vic’s comment. It could be that he’s saying that the piety of Christians fosters a sense of martyrdom. But that implies a level of piety and devotion in the modern Church that, frankly, is far more flattering to the Church (myself intended) than I suspect Vic would ever intend, and is in any case undeserved. The other option is that he meant to imply that we intentionally play the persecution card in order to appear more pious than we truly are. There is probably some truth to this, and for that I am truly saddened. We as Christians do not, for the most part, live as we should, nor as we claim to, and for that we will have much to answer.
But in making this comment, it seems to me (and Vic is most welcome to correct me if I’m wrong) that Darth Apathy is downplaying persecution of Christians, implying that it does not occur to the extent he thinks we claim it does. And on that account, I must take a stand and disagree.
No, I’m not talking about the Church in America. Yes, we have seen our status decline in recent decades. Yes, we are reviled by many, particularly, as King of Fools points out, by those on the left, by the intelligentsia, by academia, by the media, and by the Hollywoodia. Yes, there has been a well-documented attempt by many to remove as much reference to religion and to God, especially Christianity and the Christian God, from the public sphere, particularly from schools and government property. But is this persecution? No. Not yet, at least. Compared to real persecution, we are wimps in the American Church. Wusses.
Nor am I using the persecution of Christians to excuse any behavior by Christians. We will be held accountable for our actions, and actually, held to a higher standard. There is no excuse for misrepresenting Christ. But like any sin, there is pardon.
No, what I’m talking about is real persecution – real martyrdom -- and not just historical martyrdom, but martyrdom that occurs even today. Even from a historical perspective, it is possible that the twentieth century saw the most brutal persecution of Christians of any century since the foundation of the Church. Extreme Socialist movements – Marxism, Maoism, Nazism – all had a special place in their hearts for hating Christians. Even the quote at the top of my blog is a paraphrase of a comment made by a German pastor who died at the hands of the SS (as did many Christians, notable among them Dietrich Bonhoeffer). During the Cold War, an entire ministry, Open Doors, was run devoted to supporting the Church behind the Iron Curtain. To this Day, being a professing Christian in China, North Korea, the Middle East, and many other places isd a dangerous thing.
And guess what? That’s where the Church is growing and flourishing spiritually. That’s where you will fine gold refined in the fire. When your choice is your faith or your life, only those who truly believe remain. Here, in America, where it’s still perfectly legal and socially acceptable to be a Christian, there’s no reason to value your faith. And that is why I still maintain that a suffering Church is a pious Church – in the best sense of the word.
I would encourage anyone who’s interested to check out the website of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. They have links to several ministries who support the persecuted Church, including my favorites, Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors. Or read the following books, some more modern than others, for a perspective:
Foxe's Book of Martyrs
From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya
Jesus Freaks (Volumes 1 and 2)