Seeking first Righteousness

Christian_demonstrationI’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]

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8 Responses to Seeking first Righteousness

  1. David says:

    I can’t remember who said it, but someone said,
    “When the church and state get together, it’s good for the state and bad for the church.”

  2. sally says:

    AMEN and Amen- well said Tim

  3. Jenelle says:

    Great post, Tim. Welcome to the Synchro-team! I appreciated how well you integrated the Scripture and links to pertinent articles. (Heavenly Man excerpts! Gnarly.) You articulated very well the difference between the reactions we might get for radically following Jesus versus legislating for a Christian Britain. (I was starting to get at that in my post for the USA, but never really got around to it.)
    I think we have mutual friends in Colchester…Stuart H? He did a 24-7 prayer mission in Italy with me last summer. Good times.

  4. Tim Abbott says:

    David,
    “When the church and state get together, it’s good for the state and bad for the church.” In general, yes – I think it depends on the manner of the getting together. The involvement of bishops in our upper house (The Lords) sort of works OK here in the UK, being a voice of conscience on moral issues which is welcomed by people of many faiths. However, that’s set to change following new proposals for the reform of The Lords.
    There are some great examples of state funding for church community projects which would probably not otherwise be possible. The downside is that this kind of funding can be short term and is subject to govenment policy in these areas which means things can change after only 3 years.
    Looking at your situation in the US, we’re often confused or amused by the absolute separation of church and state in your constitution when set against the incredible power of influence that the church seems to have, through church going politicians and lobby groups.
    One of the questions it raises here is how we should conduct ourselves should we find ourselves in a similar position of strength. Certainly, UK church involvement in the structures of state is on the wane – something I think we should adapt to gladly.

  5. Tim Abbott says:

    Sally,
    Thanks for the encouragement!

  6. Tim Abbott says:

    Jenelle,
    Stuart H? Yes, he goes to the same church as me! What a strange coincidence.
    I took part in the SynchroBlog on love back in Feb and sat out of the one on altered states of consciousness in May.
    The Christian Heritage of both our nations is strongly represented in a wide variety of ways, including values, legal systems and classic freedoms in spite of the major difference over separation of church and state. In practice, I suspect that the involvement of the Church of England in our state systems makes far less difference than the influence of Christian lobby groups in the USA. I’d be interested to know how this rates with your perception of things!

  7. Jeremiah says:

    May we never be “‘persucuted’ for doing wrong.”
    Good stuff.

  8. Tim Abbott says:

    Wow Jeremiah, that’s a really interesting point! I wonder whether we can really call it persecution if it’s because we’re “doing wrong” as you put it. I think some Christians would like to label any opposition as persecution because it somehow sanctifies their actions. However, if the offence is due to our insensitivity or arrogance rather than the gospel, the reaction is probably not persecution, simply justifiable anger or frustration.
    So, as you say, may we never be persecuted for doing wrong.

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