What We Must Do (2)
They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law…” Acts 6.13
A studied indifference
Some years ago Susie and I were having dinner with two other pastors and their wives, when the conversation turned to persecution and martyrdom.
I have for many years had a keen interest in the plight of the persecuted Church. Back in the early 80s I did a good bit of reading about the subject, because Malcolm Muggeridge had said that the survival and growth of the persecuted church within the Soviet empire was the single most remarkable fact of 20th century history. With that in mind, I contacted every evangelical seminary I knew of to find out if they had any reading lists or course materials on the persecuted church. None did. I wrote to every evangelical publishing house, seeking titles about Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. None had any to offer – none, that is, other than the few I already possessed. I contacted every evangelical publisher of Sunday school material, looking for resources on the persecuted church. Nothing.
Here was arguably the most important fact of 20th century history, and the Church in this country was practicing a studied indifference to it. The boot heel of Marxism was suppressing and crushing the faith of Christ in many places, and the religion of Islam was just as actively and violently opposing the spread of the Gospel in traditional Muslim lands. Believers in Jesus Christ were laying down their lives before a hostile age, precisely as generations of believers had done throughout the history of the Christian movement.
Meanwhile, in this country, we were training a new generation of pastors, Sunday school students, and readers who scarcely entertained a thought about the suffering Church. We were practicing a studied indifference to our persecuted brethren in the Lord, and postponing our own consideration of what it means to suffer and die for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and why that might be necessary for believers in a secular, narcissistic age such as ours.
Like shepherds, like sheep
So I wasn’t really surprised, when our dinner conversation turned to persecution and martyrdom, that one of the pastors opined that he wasn’t sure he was ready for that.
Asked to explain, he said, “Well, I’m just not sure that I’m willing to lay down my life for my faith. I haven’t considered that possibility just yet.”
I wasn’t shocked, but I was sorely dismayed. If pastors aren’t thinking about this, and aren’t living the Gospel as though it were more valuable than their own lives, how can they expect their people to do so? Today many pastors and church leaders, sensing the threat of persecution, are eager to have the political powers-that-be rescue them. And the people they serve are following in tow, seeking and supporting politicians who promise to protect their religious freedoms.
How unlike those believers in Marxist and Islamist lands, and how unlike Stephen.
Stephen was charged with violating God’s holy standards and place. That was the ground on which he made his defense in Acts 7. The conclusion of his address was to declare, in effect, “Guilty, as charged!”
Except that it wasn’t Stephen who was guilty, but those who were accusing him with anger and deceit. They had violated God’s Law; they had broken His covenant; they had hardened their hearts, betrayed their true traditions, and resisted His Spirit; they had killed the Righteous One.
Their response was predictable. They were completely caught off guard and outraged by being put on trial themselves, and they dragged Stephen out to the edge of the city and stoned him to death. They didn’t even trouble with the niceties of gaining Roman approval.
Our secular, unbelieving age charges the Gospel with falsehood, oppression, limiting moral freedom, meddling where it doesn’t belong, and much, much more.
In fact, it is our secular age that is the wellspring of lies, which oppresses our generation with half-truths and outright lies, which destroys morality in the name of license, and which, through its meddlesome government and schools, demands to control and rule every area of life.
It is not we who are guilty of screwing up the world, but all who are the enemies of Christ.
But if you choose to stand up to this, expose the lies and half-truths of our unbelieving age, and stand firmly on your true Christian convictions; if you choose to drag out the failings, vanities, and folly of this under-the-sun generation, then you must be prepared for the scorn, vitriol, and worse that might ensue, and not try to hide behind the skirts of fickle politicians or changeable laws.
What we must do is make up our minds to confront our secular age with the unyielding truth of the Gospel, for all of life and culture, and let the chips fall where they may. For even those chips fall where our sovereign God determines.
1. What are some of the accusations the enemies of the Gospel make against Christians and Christianity today? Is there any substance to these?
2. How have Christians tried to respond to these accusations? What’s been the result?
3. Would you say that most Christians you know are ready to die for their faith? Why or why not?
Next steps – Conversation: What evidence do you see that our society is becoming impatient with Christians who are too outspoken about their faith? Talk with some Christian friends about this. What is your church doing to prepare its members to stand like Stephen before our secular, unbelieving age?
T. M. Moore
We must be ready with the Gospel as the Lord gives us opportunities in our Personal Mission Field. Our little book, The Gospel of the Kingdom, can help you to be ready to give an answer and explanation for the hope others see in you. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.