|Persecution is a strange topic for most of us. To be sure, there are still Christians who face injustice and suffering today. These are direct consequences of their belief in God. The stories are painful to hear, much less endure.
Pray for the persecuted church! I encourage you to make those prayers a priority in your local congregation.
As you do, it makes it hard to accept many of the cries of persecution coming from our country. As you’ve heard me say many times before, we are not persecuted. You’re right to recognize the Christian faith has lost some of its entitlement. But that’s a loss of privilege, not maltreatment. There are challenges to religious freedom we need to follow and address. But those apply to all religions, not only ours.
Pile on to that another conversation. If we have faced persecution, we haven’t responded all that well to it. It feels like many Christians want to fight fire with infernos. We’ll scorch everything if we sense any potential infringement on our rights. I’ll let you reflect on what that might mean.
Many early Christians responded differently.
We’ve affirmed the widespread, ongoing persecution of Christians is a myth. Persecution was typically localized and sporadic, although there were exceptions. Many Christians embraced persecution. No, they weren’t itching to be murdered. But they understood their circumstance as a way to honor the Lord’s sacrifice. When they suffered as he did, they glorified Jesus even in their death.
Let’s not speculate what we would do if we were in that situation. Instead, let’s pray we would have the strength to hold onto our faith and not deny Jesus.
Other early Christians did not take persecution well. This sparked an early controversy of the church. We created labels for people who confessed Jesus in spite of persecution and for those who did not. Confessors were those who did not offer worship to other gods or the emperor. They confessed Christ and endured the torture that ensued. Others lapsed from the faith when confronted. They did not persevere and were called the lapsi.
The controversy began in a time of peace. How would you receive those who had lapsed if they wanted to return to the church? Would you make them offer certain forms of penance? Be rebaptized? Would you reject them from the fellowship altogether? These were the sides of the controversy.
So, why does this warrant a devotional for us?
Maybe it doesn’t. You’re gracious enough to let me wander from time to time.
But it may also offer a chance to reflect on what expectations we have of one another as the body of Christ. Some of what I hear and read online from Christians does not honor Christ. It does not glorify God. How, then, do I respond? Do I sever ties with people who won’t see the harm they do? Do we act like character and witness don’t matter?
In many ways, Christians still find ways to deny the lordship of Jesus. What should our response be?
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