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The Providential Purpose of Persecution

The following is an excerpt from Brannon's new book, What Every Christian Should Know: Understanding and Defending Biblical Truths. For full details and to order please click here:
http://www.worldviewweekend.com/products/books/what-every-christian-shou...

 

I am under growing conviction that this next generation, especially young people who are currently high school and college students, will increasingly see persecution. As of this writing, I’m 46 years old and was raised at a time when America enjoyed a great deal of religious liberty. When I was young, though, I heard people like Francis Schaeffer predict that persecution would come to America, and I remember thinking, “How could that ever happen here?”

Now, many of Schaeffer’s predictions have come to pass. Americans regularly endure “soft” persecution for their biblical beliefs. For instance, New York City plans to levy fines of up to $250,000 against ministries, businesses, or individuals who do not correctly describe someone who is transgender. If a person was a “he” at one time but now claims to be a “she,” you can be fined $250,000 for referring to the person as “he.” It appears to apply primarily to organizations or businesses which communicate with constituents, and I guess if your transgender database isn’t up to date and you send out a “Dear Sir” letter, you could be in big trouble.

Other forms of soft persecution include things such as being ridiculed for naming the name of Christ or for standing by our biblical convictions. We often run afoul these days of what our postmodern world considers to be “intolerance.” Christians are accused of being bigoted or narrow-minded because we believe in the exclusivity of Jesus. We take seriously His words in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” That’s not a tolerant position in today’s world. It’s not the wide path the world wants to think is acceptable. To a mindset that says, “Truth and reality are created by man, not by God,” it’s inexcusably intolerant to say that Christ is the only way to God.

The history of persecuted peoples suggests that this is how it starts. Then the soft persecution gets a little harder. Financial persecution follows. In 2015, for instance, a husband and wife who owned a bakery had to pay more than $100,000 because they refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony. That sort of fine can put an end to a family business. So, persecution often starts with name calling and ostracizing, and then it gets financial. That’s still not full-blown “hard” persecution in which people are imprisoned, tortured, or killed, but the trend is clearly in that direction. As hard as it is to grasp, though, persecution has a significant, positive purpose in the life of the Church.

 

A Legacy of Persecution

 

The problem of Christians being persecuted for their faith began with the Church itself. In Acts 7:54-60, the Bible records the story of Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr:

 

When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man is standing at the right hand of God.”

 

Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

 

And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

 

Stephen dies, but rather than satisfying the persecutors, the mistreatment of Christians intensifies. Acts 8:1-4 recounts how the story proceeds: 

 

Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

 

As for Saul, he made havoc of the Church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word. (emphasis mine)

 

As terrible as we may think persecution like this is, I believe there are specific reasons why persecution is of benefit to the Gospel. I’ve identified ten that I want to share with you. 

 

1) Persecution preserves the Church. 

 

Opponents of our faith through the centuries have believed that if they persecute the Church, it will collapse. Christianity will cease to exist. In the twentieth century, Chinese communists under Mao Tse-tung thought they could destroy Christianity in China. Yet they failed. In 1970, after two decades of torment by Chairman Mao, there were 1.5 million Christians in China. And 20 years after that, the church had grown to more than 40 times that number—65 million believers! 

As the persecution increased, Christianity spread. People began to take note of the Christians’ faith, and the testimony of persecuted believers spread throughout China. It’s the Acts 8:3-4 story played out on a modern stage. Compare what happened after the death of Stephen:

 

As for Saul, he made havoc of the Church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word. (emphasis mine)

 

The believers scattered, and they planted churches all over the very pagan Roman Empire. That recurring theme is why it is said that the blood of martyrs is water for the seed of the Gospel. Persecution preserves and grows the Church!

 

2) Persecution preaches the Gospel. 

 

Believers who spread out as a result of persecution preach the Gospel wherever they go, and the persecution also creates great preachers. Saul, who supervised the stoning of Stephen, became the great apostle Paul, evangelist and writer of much of the New Testament. In Philippians, a book Paul wrote while in prison for preaching Christ, he explains this principle of Gospel expansion through persecution: 

 

But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the Gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the Word without fear. (1:12-14)

 

What things have happened to Paul? Prison. Chains—probably chained to a wall in prison. But he claims it actually furthered the Gospel. In fact, it has been spread even among the imperial guards in Rome.

Not only that, other believers—both in prison and out—hear of this and become more bold in their faith. They appear to be thinking, “If Paul can endure this, I can endure this as well. If Paul can take a stand for Christ, he’s an example that I want to follow; I’ll take a stand, too. If God can give Paul the grace, He’ll give me the grace.” 

To read this full chapter and the 10 reasons God allows persecution please order Brannon's new book by click here:
http://www.worldviewweekend.com/products/books/what-every-christian-shou...

 

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