Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Christian Persecution -- A Slow Martyrdom

By now you are probably overly familiar (read sick and tired) of the debate. You've probably already made up your mind on the topic of homosexuality, and no amount of research, data, testimony or opinion will alter your perspective. For me personally, the one thing that hardens my diamond-hard perspective on the topic is when homosexuals rant on about the Bible as if they've spent more than seven minutes thinking about what it says.  As if they might be equally familiar with what it says as someone who actually believes it.

And I'm guessing that your point of view has been formulated by a host of issues: your combined understanding of Scripture, God, fundamentalism, sexuality, morality, parental influences, Biblical scholarship, hermeneutics, legalism and modern culture, to name some; and no matter where you fall in with these categories, it's important to realize that the Biblical issue on homosexuality is really about one thing: whether or not practicing homosexuals should be viewed as living under God’s condemnation or living under God's protective love.

If you are a Christian, you believe what Scripture says, because you believe that the author of it is truthful.  That's the basis for all of your conviction on what it says about anything.  Your understanding of any Biblical topic is never based on your subjective opinion, or on the lop-sided rants of pagans.  Everyone has an opinion, which is most of the problem: simply having an opinion on the topic doesn't get you any closer to the answers.

I’m reminded once again of  the prolific volume of verbal persecution/backlash that continues to flood the blogosphere on the topic of homosexuality after a recent event at the National High School Journalism convention. The stated purpose of that gathering was to bring awareness of the problem of bullying in high schools to high school students. What ensued was  … well, take a look for yourself, but I'll input a Caution: !Content Warning! before you view the video here
 
How odd that an enraged homosexual attempts to justify his homosexual behavior at the expense of research, cultural norms, science, Biblical mandate and class. Many attending were embarrassed on a multitude of levels.  In fact
here is a young attendees response to Dan's onslaught. Dan Savage is an outspoken homosexual who, in the middle of his discussion on the problem of bullying at high schools, ironically turns into a powerful, outspoken adult bully himself, taunting, jeering, belittling, humiliating and swearing at Christianity.  That in itself is not an odd response for homosexuals as I understand it.  

What is particularly odd is that he doesn't ever get (and neither does anyone else apparently that feels the need to defend homosexuality), that he demonstrates an amazing capacity to do exactly what he complains others are doing to him --- without ever recognizing it!  One student in the audience, Rick Tuttle, remarked, “I thought this would be about anti-bullying … It turned into a pointed attack on Christian beliefs" by an adult bully.  Of course, if you aren't a Christian, Dan is simply telling the truth. 

Dan has a favorite answer to the question of "Why must homosexuality be right."  The answer is "because the Bible says it's wrong."  Let's face it.  There is so much more to this issue than simply talking about what the book of Leviticus says about homosexuality. I'm sorry that my inability to convince those who seek to defend homosexuality will fall to the ground here.  I know that you are convinced beyond a shadow that all Christians are bullies, that we hate fags, and that you are the victims in this battle.  I get it.

But here's a fascinating look at persecution.  We can't expect non-Christians to get anything about the Bible.  Most everything they say or think about it is utterly humanistic, and every bit of their view is completely lacking in historical context.  And so we shouldn't expect that their comments about Christianity amount to anything other than a form of persecution; in fact, their taunting rants are (wait for it …..) what the Bible says is the only thing we should expect from them!

 Most often in Scripture, the idea of persecution is not the violent death-threatening press release persecutions we’ve come to think they are in other countries. Though violent, anti-Christian persecution is prevalent in the world (see here), Biblical persecution is generally not the burnings, death and torture that most historians tend to focus their attention on.

Christians are subject to a rather subtle kind of persecution.  Charles Spurgeon referred to this kind of persecution as ‘slow martyrdom.’ It’s a kind of verbal alienation, an estrangement and being ostracized from society. This verbal alienation is manifested in the way non Christians speak to Christians. This kind of persecution is becoming more and more prolific --- as witnessed on the video clip -- and we should be getting more and more prepared for it.

Generally, when Scripture speaks about Christians being persecuted, it refers to spoken, verbal persecutions.  The same kind of persecution Dan Savage unwittingly articulated in the video.
Here are just a few examples:

1 Peter 2:12 — having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

1 Peter 3:15 — and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who insult your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.

1 Peter 4:4 — In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.

Interestingly, the Christians of 1 Peter seem to be wondering: “how can we be struggling so with how the world treats us in light of our great blessings in Christ?” They’re asking: “In light of the fact that that we have come to Christ in faith, why are we being chastised, reproached, reviled, disgraced, heaped upon with insults, taunted, ridiculed, provoked, blamed, denounced by the people of this world? This stuff wasn’t happening before we came to Christ. But now that we’ve received these rich spiritual blessings from God, the flood gates have opened, and there’s this real tension and struggle with those around us who are not Christians, and we want to know if this is normal?"

And Peter’s answer is YES! This (slow martyrdom) are the sufferings that men endure simply by virtue of the fact that they say they are Christians …. The short answer is: The reason that you are struggling in this manner is that God has willed such treatment to be so for those who believe. (I said short, not simple).

There’s a simple way to test how the unbelieving world really feels about you: Try going to work someday where your unbelieving co-workers are, or when you are hanging around unbelieving members of your family – and try to convince them, honestly and with all the humility you can muster up -- that you would have to agree that the Biblical assessment that you are a saint honestly describes you – and see what happens.

Whatever you say or do from that point on is misrepresented and from morning to night, it seems there will always be room for a little more taunting.  But don't fret.  It's just as Spurgeon said:

"Ah, Brothers and Sisters, you need not fear, you can bear witness for the Truth of God whatever is said—you must bear with the slanderer and forbear. If they throw anything in your teeth, still stand up for your Lord Jesus.  Don’t yield a single inch, and the day shall come when you shall have honor even in the eyes of those who in the world once laughed at you and tried to put you to open shame with their taunting and jeering." 

Here is the practical reason you should bear up under the verbal jeering about God and Scripture. 

 


William Williams (1717-1781) was a farmer’s son who had intended to be a doctor until hearing the charismatic Methodist preacher Howell Harris. One night, at the age of 20, Williams and some friends had intended to attend one of Harris’ revival meetings for the purpose of jeering and publicly humiliating Harris during his sermon. They found much fodder for ridicule when he preached about being lost and God saving men from their sins. Part way through the sermon, Williams and his friends let loose with their taunts and jeering.

Howell Harris addressed their taunts during the sermon and asked that they remain and join him in prayer. Amid sarcastic remarks Williams' friends left, but Williams said he wasn’t done having fun yet and would catch up with them later at school.

When the preacher saw that Williams was staying, he cried out loud to God the Holy Spirit to save his lost soul. And when Williams came forward and knelt down for prayer that night, the entire congregation began to shout praises to God.

That night William Williams stopped pursuing a medical career. For the next 48 years he made all of Wales his mission field. He became a painstaking theologian of the Calvinist doctrines of grace.

He established many local Methodist fellowships among the Welsh people. He wrote over 800 hymns that profoundly affected the spiritual life of the people of Wales and was given the nickname of the 'Sweet Songster.'  The most famous hymn he wrote was entitled, "Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer."  No hymn is more closely associated with Wales than this one. It has become an unofficial national song for the Wales rugby team. It was sung at opening of the beautiful state of the art Millennium Stadium in 1999, as well as at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.

He wrote both prose and poetry for the purpose of promoting the spiritual development of his fellow Methodists. By the time of his death he had published almost ninety books and pamphlets.  But there is something very providential in this story as well.  Interestingly, Howell Harris had wanted to use the power of hymns to bring his religious message to the people of Wales for some time, but was hampered by a lack of material in the difficult Welsh language.  God in His providence saw fit to provide Harris with just such a person in a young 20 year old scoffer William Williams, a native of Wales.

Williams' tombstone read: “Author of several works in prose and verse, he waits here the coming of the Morning Star, which shall usher in the glories of the first resurrection; when at the sound of the Archangel trumpet, the sleeping dust shall be re-animated, and death forever shall be swallowed up in victory.”

There is a message here for all Christians. Don’t be dismayed by scoffers.  Don’t take their ridicule personally.  They’re only doing what unbelief makes them do. But think of this: Behind all that public jeering and taunting may be a deep seated insecurity which is manifesting a need for God in their life. Look at that taunting and jeering as an opportunity to share the love, grace and mercy found only in Christ.  Who knows … your patience in this 'slow martyrdom' may help bring another William Williams into the Kingdom of God.

No comments: