Friday, December 21, 2012

The Answer to Persecution: Faithfulness to Scripture

These aren’t the best of times. However, we’ve been warned about them:

  • But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
Well, what are we to do? Separate from society? Tweak our faith in order to make it more acceptable? Paul suggested neither of these two options. Instead, he counseled Timothy to:

  • Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus... Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist. (2 Tim. 3:14-15, 4:2-6)
Sadly, as the prevailing culture has rejects Scripture and disparages the church, Christians have also hastened to pick up stones. Emergent Church guru and, Tony Jones, approvingly posted this letter by a Wheaton graduate on his blog:

  • What seems clear is that evangelicalism has come full circle, and is now being forced to come to terms with its fundamentalist roots. Those who cling to the failed religious beliefs of the past will slowly fade into irrelevance, and those who struggle to embrace a new and more meaningful faith, as [Rob] Bell seems to be doing, will carry on a tradition that is anti-establishment, radically inclusive, and deeply loving.
What the beliefs of the past “the failed religious beliefs?” Is “irrelevance” God’s criterion?  Christian moderns tend to take a limper view of Scripture. Jones himself argues that Scripture has to change with the times:

  • Many supporters of the marriage amendment referred to marriage between a man and a woman as “biblical marriage,” but anyone who possesses even a passing acquaintance with the Hebrew and Christian scriptures can recognize that marriage evolves in those texts.
This means that Scripture lacks unchanging, objective, and transcendent truths. It enables modernity to become the ultimate authority, and Scripture is expected to submit. Consequently, the modern Christian is free to construe Scripture to coincide with his own lifestyle and culture. He can now be culturally relevant and acceptable.  

Paul prophesied that “They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” And evidently, our Lord is allowing this to happen for His own good purposes. Therefore, we must not despair.

How then should we address our hostile culture? “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.” Consequently, we will “endure hardships.” However, this doesn’t mean that we have failed. Instead, faithfulness is not a matter of learning and applying modern church-growth techniques. Success in God eyes is not synonymous with numbers. Pastoring a mega-church might not constitute spiritual success. Instead, persecution might be a more accurate measure of Godly success. Paul prepared Timothy for the inevitable persecution:

  • In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3:12)
Compromise can allay persecution. If we tell people that “Christ works for me,” rather than “Christ is truth,” we can retain our popularity. One highly gifted pastor confided to me that his interfaith ministry remained dead until he added a how-to-win-friends technique:

  • I affirmed the Rabbi and the Imam in their relationship with God. I would tell them, “I can see that you have a deep and vibrant faith with your God.
After this pastor affirmed their faith, his ministry predictably boomed, and his theology changed accordingly. I have visited many churches that affirmed whatever ideas, faith or lifestyle came through their door. They preached an all-inclusive “love.” Everything was acceptable to them (except Evangelical Christianity). And from appearances, this seems to work. These churches were filled with hugs, soft-fuzzies and every form of affirmation, and people felt accepted there, at least at that time.

However, we are not called to what works but to what pleases God:

  • You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
This might seem extreme. However, His ways are not always our ways. Consequently, faithfulness will bring contempt and not the friendship of the world. However, in the minds of many, the contempt of the world means that we failed. We conclude that if people don’t like us, there is something unlikable about us. If the culture is offended by us, well, we must have been offensive.

While sometimes, we are offensive and insensitive, persecution naturally results from the offensive nature of our Gospel:

  1. We are all sinners who deserve death, even the best of us. Even one sin can condemn us. (James 2:10; Matthew 5:21-22).
  2. None can save themselves. (Romans 3:10-20)
  3. There is only one way to be saved, and that’s through faith in Jesus. (John 3:16)
  4. Therefore, some are “in” and some are “out.” Some are children of the light and some are of the darkness. (John 3:19-21)
  5. Those who don’t believe face eternal condemnation (John 3:17-18).
All of these truths are offensive to humankind, especially the modern variety. Consequently, Paul prepared Timothy by using himself as an object lesson:

  • For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. (2 Tim. 4:6)
Sadly, when we see a Christian “being poured out” as Paul had been, we conclude that, somehow, he had brought this fate upon himself. Surely, he could have handled himself more diplomatically or sensitively.

Instead, these difficult times require a return to the basics. Paul encouraged Timothy to “continue” in the “holy Scriptures,” the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), not in the latest, most acceptable techniques. Lord, cause me to be centered on You and Your Gospel!

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