Nearly 150 people were present at Spring Road Church, Southampton on 16 February for the Wessex Conference. Pastor Mark Stocker chaired the conference, opening with some reflections on Psalm 117 concerning God’s faithfulness to his promises and how his greater purposes cannot be thwarted by earthly powers.
He also welcomed guest preacher, Pastor Chris Hand from Crich, who introduced his focus for the day: Persecution: its reality and our response.
In the first session, ‘Persecution in the west: the new normal’, Chris spoke from 1 Peter 4, particularly verse 12. He explained how there have always been agitators for change in society, some claiming that followers of the Bible are not merely an annoyance, but dangerously wrong to the extent that the state must restrict them. This can degenerate into all-out attempts to destroy the Church.
The apostle Peter showed that this is the norm; both Christ and his apostles warned believers to expect persecution, and this has been borne out by most countries and in most eras.
Today, western governments are increasingly approving anti-Christian laws and freedom of speech is under attack. We need to remember that the people we aim to evangelise are influenced by this and need our prayers.
Open discussion followed, highlighting that Christians in the UK have been ‘spoiled’ by lack of persecution and have lost some of our influence, our ‘saltiness’.
Comparison with the situation facing Sri Lankan believers was provided by Pastor Jeyakanth and informal fellowship was enjoyed over a splendid tea.
The second session was, ‘Persecution in the west: what kind of people do we need to be?’ Chris based his message on Revelation 1:9-20. He contended that Christians in the UK have perhaps been complacent, enjoying the hard-won benefits of our national culture as though we had a right to expect them to continue; that God would reverse the decline by sending revival.
He may, but we cannot know that. Even so, we can appeal to the remnants of those freedoms which our society still retains. On the other hand, we see a great High Priest, moving among the lampstands and wielding all authority.
This was first written by a persecuted apostle to persecuted churches. We should have confidence to speak before those in authority, to shine as lights and to focus on heaven, rather than earth, as our hope. Both addresses are available from: