The Paradox of the Persecuted Church
I've never really gotten a firm grasp on why mankind can get so upset about what people think about something. I understand that we can be upset about what people do and I believe that we should be upset about people who take actions to hurt others. I don't understand how we can use pain, ridicule, separation, or other means to persecute others just because of the way they think about life around them. How do my thoughts, my beliefs, or my theology impose on you unless I'm acting out on those beliefs?
I know that a persons' actions are the out-flowing of their heart and that you can't separate your thought life from your physical life: eventually who you are inside manifests itself on the outside. I've seen the evidence of the truth of this Scripture over and over again.
On my trip to Guinea this winter I made some friends who are members of the persecuted church. I'm not talking about the kind of persecution I've heard about in America; "Someone picked on me because I"m a Christian," or "Someone doesn't want to be my friend because I'm a Christian," or "I was told that I can't put Scripture in my cubicle." While those are forms of persecution, they're mild forms.
In Africa I met some people who were disinherited, whose lives were threatened, who was beaten, who lost their jobs, who were forced to move out of the community they've lived in their entire life, were stoned, and have lost relationships that were core in their lives - all because they believed that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; the only way to come to the Father.
The persecution they were facing came from others who believed they were serving the one true god - but who were actually following the god of a false religion. All of this persecution was found to be acceptable by those who were following this false religion, and endorsed by their families and communities.
Satan has won a great victory in the way he has structured many false religions to have family and society persecute those who are called out of the false religions and into the truth of relationship with Jesus Christ. This is keeping some from wanting to step out in obedience to faith in Jesus Christ.
Funny how we hold onto something so closely when we really don't have a hold of it at all. We think that we're in control of our lives, but we're really not. We think that if we keep ourselves in this safe bubble nothing is going to take us down, but then the bubble pops and we find that we have no control over the things we thought we had control over. We strive to earn enough money to take care of ourselves and miss the chance to truly depend on Christ. We strive to attain a level of health where we think we're never going to get seriously sick, but just one word from the doctor changes all of that. We think that we're able to plan for the future and that things will go just the way we expect them to go, but that rarely happens. We end up making the greatest error possible as we live as if this is the only view of life we need to have. Most of us miss the deeper things of life because we're so busy trying to keep track of all of the small things.
Of course, what Satan has planned for evil God uses for Good: in most cases of persecution the church of Jesus Christ grows. Why is this? One reason is because its a true church of Jesus Christ. You just don't attend a Sunday morning service and live a carnal life when you're potentially going to lose your life over your church attendance. You don't just piggy back on the teachings of a religion if you think that you might lose your life for doing so. You gotta be a true believer, and throughout the history of the church of Jesus Christ true believers spread the truth no matter the cost. Casual believers don't spread the truth even if there is little or no cost. They're going along for the ride. They're looking for what God can do for them, but they're not willing to do what God is expecting of them. True believers are willing to sacrifice their lives on the altar of relationship with Jesus Christ and trust Him with every aspect of their lives. They don't leave church on Sundays and forget about Christ until the next church service - they're depending on Him every day of their lives.
I need to live my life with the same passion those in the persecuted church live theirs. I need to have the same dependence on Him, the same passion for the lost, the same love for those who are persecuting me, and I need to have the same hope that God will care for my every need.
I know there are times when I depend more on myself than I do on Christ. I take what I've learned, what He's given me, and the passions of my heart to serve Him and apply them the way I think He would want me to. This is idolatry: putting my ideas for my life and ministry ahead of Christ's ideas for my life and ministry. I could call it a lot of things: selfishness, pride, arrogance, inadequacy, but it really is nothing more than idolatry. Sometimes I call it education, training, experience, expertise, and knowledge to make myself feel more comfortable in my idolatry. Jesus doesn't want my education - He wants relationship with me. He doesn't call those who are qualified - He qualifies those who respond to the call. I need to be sure that I'm humbling myself and bowing at the altar of Jesus Christ, allowing Him to be the one to guide my daily life.
Through this I need to remember to pray for those who are putting their lives in jeopardy for Jesus. I need to remember their passion, their hurts, the costs their paying for their faith, and I need to do what I can to help them in their journeys. I hope you're willing to join me in that.
There are a few things that I know you can do to join them. You can pray for them, certainly. You can give to support their work, their churches, and their families. You can give to the Great Commission Fund or to special projects that are being developed to help these friends who are working with an unreached people group in Guinea. The last thing that you can do is pray about the chance to go and meet them yourself. I know that we're going back to Guinea and I know that there will be a chance for you to join us.
James E. Bogoniewski, Jr.