In my next posting in this series I plan to move back toward the top of the chapter; in this posting I want to reflect on Part 4 and the challenge of 12:21 and 13:1 for the North American Church.
I hear Christians in America speculate about coming persecution, the end-times, and suffering for Jesus. While I’ll forgo direct comment on the foundation of most of this thinking and teaching, I will ask, “If we haven’t learned to live for Christ what makes us think that we will die for Christ?” Then I’ll ask, “If we haven’t learned to overcome evil with good in our everyday lives, if we haven’t learned to bless those who give us difficulty, if we haven’t learned to desire good and give good things (blessings) to those who oppose us, to those with whom we disagree – shall we delude ourselves into thinking that we can offer our bodies as living sacrifices with renewed minds should overt persecution burst upon us?
I have no idea whether the United States will ever see overt persecution, with no apologies to end-times speculators who have made an industry of prophecy. I can see no reason why overt persecution would be necessary considering that the professing church in this country has sold itself to the world-system and substituted any number of things (including speculative prophecy) for the Person of Jesus Christ. What concerns me is not the outer life of the church, including overt persecution; what concerns me is the soul of the Church, her inner life, for out of the heart, out of the inner life, the mouth speaks.
The mouth of the professing church in this country is not known for speaking blessing to those who oppose it. I include myself in this category and God has deeply convicted me of it – it has been, and continues to be, a journey for me – it is a mirror from which our Father will not allow me to escape. How can any critique of opposition have Biblical credibility unless it is found in the context of blessing? Show me your blessing toward those you oppose first; then I shall listen to your critique. And as for critique, is not our call to be redemptive; but is that truly our aim? Or is our aim to win?
We say we believe in prayer – but it is easier to respond to evil with evil rather than to pray for those who oppose God’s truth. Where would the Early Church have been with this attitude? It would have died in its soul; instead it chose to follow the Christ of the Cross and bear the Cross of Christ.
I am reminded of Betsy ten Boom’s response to Corrie’s question about how long they would be in the concentration camp (relying on memory), “As long as it takes. If they can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love.” Betsy was speaking of the cruel guards in the camp. Why cannot we look with compassion on those who reject the image of God, the natural law of God, the Gospel of Christ? They desperately need our compassion, they need our blessing, they need our forgiveness – and yet all too often they receive our vitriol at worst and our disengagement at best. We don’t see the inner person who is alienated from Christ; we see intellectual or economic or political opposition – we do not see a person, a soul, without Jesus Christ.
We teach witnessing “techniques” that avoid persecution. We teach witnessing the way I used to teach leasing agents to close a deal – and then we wonder why few people actually employ what are lifeless methods. Why don’t we teach the riches of the reproach of Christ? And why don’t we teach overcoming evil with good? If we follow Christ we will encounter evil and when we do God has called us to overcome evil with good.
There have been many times in history when the church has been politicized; I suppose it has been politicized since the 4th Century. What is our collective testimony today in North America? Is it primarily as a people with a political agenda? A moral agenda? A philosophical agenda? Or is it as a people who are Christ-followers and who, being Christ-followers, are a source of blessing to all around them, including those who oppose them? The Early Church flourished in the midst of extreme cultural, economic, and governmental opposition by overcoming evil with good – if we are the continuing incarnation of Jesus Christ then we should do no less.