PERSECUTED CHURCH REVISITED
by Morris Inch
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PERSECUTED CHURCH REVISITED
While I have previously addressed the topic of the persecuted church, it continues to draw my prayerful attention. No doubt in some measure due to being associated with regions where this is prevalent. As in the Middle East and northeastern Nigeria. So that it does not simply concern statistics, while pertinent, but persons.
Several observations would seem in order, by way of summary and additional consideration. First, Christians are most persecuted. As a result, it is said that there were more Christian martyrs the last century than all the previous centuries combined. The numbers greatly multiply when the persecution stops short of actually taking the life of adherents. As when a church building is burned or Christians beaten.
Second, much of this persecution is obviously from those of Muslim faith. Now I have lived among Muslims, and know that they are not monolithic. Even so, some years ago I attended a panel discussion among representatives of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths. It soon became evident that the Muslim tradition is most disposed toward religious coercion, Jewish faith significantly less so, and the Christian faith least so. While three traditions have employed coercion on occasion, which gave rise to a wide range of explanations.
Third, a recent assembly of Christian leaders concluded that secularism is more threatening. those less so—as in the United States. “The most recent decision to require most religious institutions—including Catholic hospitals and schools—to pay for contraception, sterilizations and the ‘morning after’ pill is simply the most current case in point,” James White of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary faculty observes. “For many this was about government coercion of religious individuals and institutions.”
This invites two related considerations. Secularism in America fails to recognize that church extends to its members. So that by enforcing unacceptable practices on private institutions restricts the free exercise of religion. While the church is us.
Then, too, the American situation increasingly resembles that under oppressive Communism. Which leads White to conclude: “There is real concern that the growing instance that faith be privatized has not become a demand for faith to be compromised. It’s not enough that your beliefs can’t influence society, you must also embrace society’s beliefs.”
Fourth, this led one Middle Eastern Christian to observe: “The persecuted church is you.” Since we are all of one fellowship. As a result, when one suffers all sense the pain. And when one rejoices, all rejoice with him or her. So that we are the persecuted church.
Fifth, the persecution we experience helps us identify with Christ in his suffering. Along with that of the martyrs. Thus inciting Terullian to conclude: “Hence we shrink not from the grapple with your utmost rage, and condemnation gives us more pleasure than acquittal. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion—to which free-will and not force should lead us—the sacrificial victims even being required of a willing mind” (To Scapula, I-II).
Finally, several of White’s additional comments are also noteworthy. “The developing fear is that government will make people choose between obeying the law and following their faith.” As when religious liberty conflicts with political correctness. For instance, when “A Christian counselor was penalized for refusing to advise gay couples.”
Or when “A court clerk in New York was told to issue same-sex couples licenses, despite religious reservations.” Otherwise, to be fired. While presumably an accommodation could have been allowed, without denying the application.
Or when “A wedding photographer was sued for refusing to shoot a same-sex wedding.” While presumably the option should have been allowed. Thus in keeping with the free exercise of religion guarantee.
“In each case, the Christian(s) involved were not attempting to impose their religious views on others. They simply didn’t want to be forced to participate or offer tacit support for something they felt was in violation of their religious conscience.” In this regard, a secular establishment is no more acceptable than its religious counterpart.
“The argument is, of course, that such stands are discriminatory. But this is disingenuous. For example, refusing to serve a person of color has little in common with refusing to support a particular lifestyle that your religious beliefs deem immoral.” Then, too, there are legitimate concerns with health and social issues not necessarily tied to religious convictions.
“Even further, the argument which states ‘if you don’t want to serve the public, don’t open a business saying you will serve the public’ is equally flawed. And frightening.” Since it pits economic enterprise against religious convictions.
And “What aspect of religious life isn’t, in one sense or another ‘public’? A worship service is a service to the public, is it not? Does that mean it, too, should be subject to government oversight in terms of what it is forced to accommodate and how it is demanded to operate? Will it come to the point that to maintain integrity, all public events of a religious nature will have to become non-public, and thus effectively any and all outreach?” While that may be the intent of some, it is in violation of our religious liberties. And in opposition to Jesus’ mandate that his disciples witness to all nations (cf. Acts 1:8).
In conclusion, the persecuted church is indeed us. Since we belong to one fellowship. Whether in more flagrant manner or less so. Calling for us to bear up one another in prayer, and protest concerning emerging persecution. Not by way of retaliation, but out of compassion—even for those who threaten the exercise of our faith. Thus allowing for others what they may deny to us.
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