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The men who would not bow, budge or burn (2)

September 2018 | by Roger Carswell

The Judeo-Christian heritage, which gave us the freedoms that we have enjoyed for many decades, has now, for the most part, gone. Consecutive governments have worked at eroding the foundations and the Ten Commandments that laid those foundations.

We may not yet be experiencing persecution, but the pressure on Christians is mounting. We are going back to ‘normal’ Christianity. Certainly, if we are looking for an easy life as Christians, we have been born in the wrong era!

Conservative evangelicals have been booed and heckled at the Church of England’s synod; open-air preachers are feeling the effect of daring to speak in public about traditional Christian beliefs; ordinary believers have been intimidated into silence about their faith in the work situation.

In the place of a Christian consensus has emerged an intolerant form of humanism that boasts successive victories over the past 50 years. If we are honest, we as Christians have lost the cultural war, and the humanists in the media, government and education have won the minds and hearts of the masses.

A hostile environment

The world won’t tolerate us, even though they pretend that toleration is supposed to be a value of our society. As it hated the Lord Jesus, it will hate his followers. Intolerance always leads to hostility. This is well exemplified in the homosexual community, who want everyone to not only accept their life choices but affirm them.

Schools, which once were places of learning, creativity and imagination, have increasingly become systems of social engineering. The homosexual and transgender lobbies want children to be taught their desires, choices and activities as natural and normal. To disagree is to be called bigoted or homophobic. The goal is to silence our voice and eliminate our influence.

This dogma is being enforced by the media and government employees, who ‘are only obeying orders’. Elton John has even called for religion to be banned completely.

A normal place to be

The world hates the light, because light exposes the wickedness of the world. But let us remember that the normal place for God’s people is in the furnace. Peter, possibly remembering what is in Daniel 3 (see ET, August 2018), writes about the ‘fiery trial’ which will come upon us (1 Peter 1:7). He had experienced the rage of the religious establishment when he preached Jesus.

Dragged to their courts, the Sanhedrin were astonished at Peter and John’s courage. They took note that they had been with Jesus — though, in fact, Peter and John were still with him!

When they were threatened, the threats fell on deaf ears: a premature death did not frighten them, for they feared Him who could destroy the soul rather than those who would destroy the body. They had to obey God rather than men.

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer

A hazardous history

In fact, through the first two centuries, the early Christians hazarded their lives for Christ. They were a despised, illegal group. They knew that, at any moment, Imperial Rome might attempt to crush them out of existence. They worshipped secretly. They were thrown to the lions, burned at the stake, and crucified.

But this is not just ancient history. Missionaries of the more recent eighteenth and nineteenth centuries gave up so much of what that they and the world values in order to reach South America, and African and Asian countries.

They left home and loved ones, endured separation from their children, undertook hazardous journeys — sometimes lasting months — felt hunger, experienced rugged hardship, imprisonment, flogging, and were accused of being foreign devils, as they went to countries where there were no doctors or medical aids. In doing so, they gave up the prospect of salaried jobs, as well as the security of the West with its system of justice.

Count it all joy

Changing the metaphor, Jesus said we are sent as sheep among wolves, and yet we are taught to ‘count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds’ (James 1:2). Seven times in just ten verses in John 15, Jesus said that his followers would face hatred. The world’s system hates the Father, Jesus and us. Jesus gave three reasons why this is so: we are different from the world (v.19); we bear Christ’s name to the world (vv. 20-21); and we expose the world’s sin (vv. 22, 24).

The day of the casual Christian is over. But we must teach ourselves and our children not to fear. We need to constantly remind ourselves that we trust in the Lord. God is with us, and no trial that we will face will be faced alone.

In fact, we are not victims; we are immensely blessed. The God of the universe is our loving Father; he is watching over us; we have received salvation and been given righteousness; we have all the ‘exceeding great and precious promises’ of Scripture; the Holy Spirit lives within us; we are the apple of God’s eye, and our names are engraved upon the palm of his hand; we are seated in heavenly places with Christ himself, and we will spend eternity with him.

The burning of Thomas Cranmer in 1556

The blessings of persecution

In his book, Through many tribulations, Scott Cunningham writes that there are five aspects of persecution of believers portrayed in the book of Acts: there persecution is part of God’s plan; the rejection of God’s agents; in continuity with God’s people; an inevitable, integral consequence of following Jesus; and the occasion of divine triumph.

Persecution means that we are blessed, not cursed. It leads to us knowing Jesus better and to become more like him. Jesus said: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you’ (Matthew 5:10-12).

Do not be silent

There are three conclusions I draw from this. First, let us not be intimidated into silence about Jesus. ‘Let the redeemed of the Lord say so’ was true for the psalmist and is apt for us.

Like Peter and John, we cannot but speak of the gospel, even if it all seems too costly. ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, but not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world’, so they need to hear whatever the cost to us. Even if they are hostile to the message, they need to hear; and it may be that God will use that hearing for them to be converted.

Show compassion

Second, let us show compassion and love to our enemies. Jesus is the supreme example of practising what he preached, as he prayed for his enemies and showed no retaliation, though he suffered so much.

Can you imagine it! People spat at the lovely Lord Jesus, but he loved them, and then bore their sin in his body on the cross. Stephen was given grace to imitate his Saviour and lovingly prayed that God would not charge his murderers (Acts 7).

I was challenged, watching on YouTube American evangelist, Jay Smith, speaking to scores of Moslem men at Speakers’ Corner the Sunday after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. He endeared himself to men who were baying antagonism and lovingly pointed them to Jesus.

Only Christians can love in a Christ-like way. I pray God would enable me not to hate those who want to air­brush the gospel out of society; or even fellow-believers who have not stood for the Lord as I feel they should have. I am not to be characterised as someone insisting on my rights, showing rage and anger, but to show great grace and love to all, seeking to ‘pluck some from the fire’.

Live a faithful life

Third, the most powerful apologetic for the gospel is a faithful life. There was no other argument against Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego except that they refused to commit idolatry. They would not compromise their worship of the one true God. Their lives were consistent.

The challenge is for us to live lives characterised by love and good works, so that people will have to lie to fault us — which is exactly what they did to Jesus. Though we are sinners and often blunder, we want our lives and words to be happily married together. We cannot make the choice to either live or speak our Christianity: what God has joined together let no man put asunder!

‘When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie

My grace, all sufficient, shall be your supply;

The flame shall not hurt you. I only design

Your dross to consume, and your gold to refine.’

Roger Carswell is an itinerant evangelist and a member of the Association of Evangelists