I have solemnly stood at the edge of Broad Street in Oxford, England, where the white cobbled stone marking where martyrs were burned at the stake is now yellowed from the soot. And these two fears invade my train of thought.
I have visited the shore of the North Sea where George Wishart unwavering in his faith was killed by the wicked Cardinal Beaton in St. Andrews, Scotland. And those two haunting thoughts come back again.
I have sat in the house of John Knox and looked out the window at his view of the heretical Church of Scotland, a prospect he undoubtedly used to invoke his fiery attacks against the tyrannical Mary, Queen of Scotts. The two thoughts creep in again.
And I have stood in the hidden baptistery of the old church of Tewkesbury, a church located not 300 feet from a flowing river perfect for baptisms. Fearing imprisonment and death, no baptism was made in such a public river, however, with an unrelenting passion to live truth, a baptistery had to be made – even though hidden, and death always a possibility if discovered. And the two thoughts return causing a shiver down my spine.
They are two very terrifying thoughts.
First thought is this: for revival to happen, I fear this next generation of Christians may need to endure intense persecution. The second thought quickly chases the first: as Christians specifically in America, we may be on the brink of that intense persecution, and we are neither aware nor prepared.
It goes without saying Christians in the 15th and 16th centuries had to endure pretty severe and radical persecution for their faith. And while there may be limited records for women specifically named as martyrs in the time of the reformation, I am keenly aware that behind every man there were probably two women: wife and mother, both of whom would have had to endure the same sort of persecution. They had to unendingly stand for what they believed Scripture was saying. The Church of England and Catholicism had so added to their authority that issues like baptism, salvation by faith, and the inerrancy of Scripture were beliefs these men and women had to lay their lives down and die for. And they weren’t simply being mocked, made fun of, or called “fools.” No. Men and women like Thomas Helwys who had the courage to actually write the king a petition for religious liberty, Margaret Wilson who refused to declare the king the head of the church, and George Wishart who discipled John Knox and denounced the errors of the Papacy, were men and women who were beaten, imprisoned in the worst conditions, and ultimately killed for the passion they had for truth.
I sit with a rather large lump in my throat and wonder….where is my passion? What am I, as an American Christian woman, willing to die for? And how many of us in America would survive such a holocaust as these endured? I fear…the number would be small.
As Christian women who live fairly comfortably, we can be so lazy in our faith. Nothing is really hard for us. Sure, we have bouts of hardships where life throws us a curveball (cancer, death of a loved one, dissention among friends) and we have to pick up the pieces and walk through some deep waters, so to speak, but hard? Devastatingly hard? I’m not convinced we know what that means. In schools and universities, young women today can seem to face some pretty difficult situations because of their faith or the stand they may take for their purity, holiness, and commitment to Jesus Christ. But comparatively speaking, their persecution would stack up to just a bad day in light of being burned at the stake or imprisoned for years because of their stand.
So, why do I think we are on the brink of possible persecution?
First of all, Christ predicts it, plain and simple. In John 15, Christ says if you are living your life in obedience to him (verses 10-11), then don’t be surprised when you find persecution from the world for living out the gospel; expect it (verses 18-24)! Christ even says that if the world loves you, you’re doing something wrong…you’re not doing the Father’s work. If I make my unsaved friends comfortable by my language, by my conduct, if I make them feel at ease in my presence, it’s possible that I’m not being the kind of witness to the gospel the Lord expects me to be.
Paul further develops this idea in his second letter to Timothy. In 3:12, Paul says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” This is not merely a possibility; it is an expectation. This passage pretty much bottom-lines it for us: You live godly = You live persecuted. On the flip-side, this would leave you to conclude: You aren’t living persecuted = You aren’t living godly.
Not only does Christ predict persecution, but, secondly, the growing church experienced it. It seems that, biblically and historically speaking, for the church to experience dramatic growth it has been under the proponent of heavy persecution. Over and over again in the book of Acts and Paul’s writings, great growth in the church comes after great persecution for claiming Christ as risen. In Acts 8:1, Saul, persecutor of the church, is out raising havoc for Christians everywhere; Stephen is out raising havoc for Saul, and the city is said to be rejoicing (verse 8)…the whole city! In Acts 11 & 13, persecution seemed to be the very catalyst for growth. In 20th century European history, “underground churches” were bursting at the seams when communism in Eastern Europe finally faltered. Pouring out of the woodwork were thousands upon thousands of faithful Christians who no longer needed to feel the strong regime of communistic dictatorship. The wall had fallen and communism’s atheistic control with it. They could now worship Christ publically without fear of imprisonment and death. The church was vibrant and saw great growth under that persecution. Like a 60+ year “refiner’s fire,” communism had purified the church and cultivated passionate believers who were willing to die for the cause of Christ just to go to church, just to own a Bible.
With the rise of political reform, socialistic ideas creeping in, the inerrancy of Scripture being questioned, a lack of evangelism being stressed and a sense of complacency among our churches, it would seem the perfect storm for persecution is headed our way, and we’re worried about which iPad to get, who’s going to pick the kids up after work or which movie to go see on Friday night. We are not thinking about spreading the Gospel. Honestly evaluate yourself. How many times have you conjured up an opportunity to be a witness for Christ today? How about this week? This month? Yeah, me neither. It’s terribly convicting that the Gospel of Christ is not my main thought. It’s humbling to the core to know that the furtherance of the Gospel is the furthest thing from my mind. I am clearly not ready to be persecuted! Are you? I want to be. I want to have the courage of Phillip as the stones came hurling at his body. I want to have the joy of Silas as he sang in the prison. I want to have the stories of near-death experiences like Paul. I would love to be known for being a radical Christian like Knox or Helwys. So why then am I not seeing persecution?
Perhaps it is because, like Christ said, the world loves me too much, and I love it in return. Perhaps I find myself ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. Perhaps I turn from opportunities to witness in order to gain more Facebook friends. Perhaps I fear the persecution and close my mouth when opportunities arise in which I could face it. Perhaps I enjoy walking the line of saved but not “overly godly.”
….there’s that lump in my throat again….
How do I change then? How do I move from this place of silent Christianity to persecuted perseverance? How do I prepare to live life like George Winhart or Thomas Cranmer? The first step is living as though Romans 1:16-17 were true. I have noticed in my own life, those times when I am most excited and vocal about my relationship with Christ is during those high mountain-top experiences when I’ve just walked away from God doing something liberating in my own heart or life. The power of God is at work mightily, and I am excited about it. I have to tell anyone who will listen. However, silent moments can be devastatingly common, the moments when I cringe at the sound of someone about to ask me what I’m studying while at Panera Bread, the moments when I purposely put in my headphones when I’m at Starbucks and just don’t want to be disturbed by an inquisitive person, the moments when I sit on an 8-hour plane ride and the topic of Christ and salvation just “doesn’t happen naturally.” Those are the moments when I find myself ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. They are habitually the dry moments in my life, the moments when my walk isn’t always sunshine and daisies, when my love for God is hidden behind my love for self, or when the power of God seems like a distant memory in my past. It’s almost as though my proclamation of God is directly related to my communication with God.
The second step I saw these exemplars take was tenacity for truth. On our tour of England, we stopped at Gainsborough Old Hall, a place where John Smyth and our Pilgrim Forefathers first covenanted to form a church. Etched in the wall in one of the rooms were these words: “Trust truth only.” For them, everything went back to Scripture. It governed their lives, their decisions, their future, and their convictions. They lived their lives by its light solely devoted to one purpose: TRUTH! As Christians today we often blur the lines of our beliefs, the truths we know, and the way we live our lives, the truths we apply. The two “truths” do not always match up. Ask yourself this question: “If I were living as though God’s Word were true, what in my life would change?”
….again with the stubborn lump….
As I process these truths, two new terrifying thoughts replace the latter and I’m left with these haunting questions: Am I ready? Followed closely by: Will I be faithful? The lump in my throat now turns into tears in my eyes and I am humbled to the core.
We have a great heritage in our past. We come from a long line of men and women wholly devoted to the Gospel and its Truth! “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
When persecution comes (and if you’re living godly, it will come), let us stand firm, not ashamed of the Gospel and fighters for truth!