I’m sure that like me you’ve heard it said that what the church in the west needs is more persecution. Sometimes we seem to set ourselves up for what we consider to be persecution. The classic example is preaching on street corners, but protesting loudly outside theatres when something you consider blasphemous is on is also invoked as ‘responding to persecution’.
This isn’t persecution. No Christians were hurt in the making of this programme. Many will consider this kind of show to be offensive (including quite a few non-Christians), and many will ignore it, or would have done if the Christians hadn’t made such a noise about it. But it’s hardly persecution. Being crucified on the walls of your own church – that’s persecution. Having your church destroyed, being arrested for meeting, being forced to ‘convert’ – that’s persecution.
Jesus told us to, “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness…” Matt 6:33.
He also encouraged us that “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 5:10. See how easy it is to mis-read this to imply that the more you’re persecuted the more righteous you must be.
But persecution isn’t a mark of righteousness. Our righteousness comes not from what we do, but from God through faith in Jesus Christ Rom 3:21-22.
Persecution of Christians happens when the surrounding culture doesn’t like Christ and his church and all that it stands for. It’s not about us, it’s about them and their reaction. Jesus said this would happen,
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
Whatever happens, Jesus is bigger. This is the conviction of the Chinese church in the face of an immense, powerful, aggressive, secular state. Jesus is bigger. We’re on his side, and he has overcome the world.
We don’t fight back, taking militancy onto the street – we seek his righteousness, engage with people respectfully, and ultimately may have to walk the path of the suffering servant.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”Matt 5:43-45
In the UK there are growing and significant areas of conflict between Christian values and national legislation which threaten to undermine the Christian heritage of our nation. I am grateful to those with the skills to challenge much of this legislation on the grounds of justice and equality. But I am less convinced by those who hope to perpetuate a vision of Christian Britain that most people would reject as an arrogant and imperialist imposition. Was that what Jesus wanted?
If we, in the west, face greater persecution, let it be because our passion is to live out God’s righteousness, granted to us by grace through Christ.
And if we face our persecutors, God give us grace to love them and to pray for them.
[pic: Church Times, from an article about the new Sexual Orientation Regulations]