Sharing in Christ’s Sufferings
Like many young evangelicals, I grew up with a chip on my shoulder. I had a bit of a martyr’s complex if you will. This view was incubated by the fact that from my right-wing Evangelical political worldview the country was against “us.” Due to the various agendas of the left (i.e. homosexuals, evolutionists, atheists, big-government liberals), our nation was forsaking its heritage, namely, its Christian heritage. America had turned its back on the faith of our fathers, becoming a modern Sodom and Gomorrah intent on pushing Christians out of the public sphere completely. Because of this persecution, we needed to be all the more vigilant to make sure that the army of darkness did not overrun the citadel that is a Christian America. I was becoming a culture warrior, and could not wait to head into battle against the pagans.
I began to see the error of this type of thinking when I came across the portion of John that Jesus talks about being persecuted (John 15:18-16:4). He says that we should not think it strange that the world is persecuting us, because it persecuted him first. I was deeply troubled by the fact that this seems to be something that a Christian should expect in this life. At first it seemed to only be another justification for my calling as a culture warrior. “This explains why the country is turning against us! This is why we are fighting!” But the more I pondered this, the more my battle cry echoed hollow. If we were supposed to fight against this persecution, and our persecutors, then why was there no biblical model for such an action? Suddenly the foundation for my attack against the ungodly seemed to be crumbling.
Recently I have been reading Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship with some of my closest friends, and again, the point that we keep stumbling over is this concept of persecution. However, this time, years after my first question concerning persecution, the query that keeps rising is, “why am I not being persecuted?” Every Believer should find Bonhoeffer’s example truly inspiring, but I find that it also highlights how shallow the “persecutions” are that we face here in America. Suddenly the fact that we don’t pray in school, or that some Atheist wants to remove “In God We Trust” from the dollar bill doesn’t seem as important. I am reminded of Clarence Jordan’s poignant words: “One wonders why Christians today get off so easily. Is it because unchristian Americans are that much better than unchristian Romans, or is our light so dim that the tormentor can’t see it? What are the things we do that are worthy of persecuting?”
I believe that our light is indeed dim. And it is not because the Gospel is weak, the Gospel is the same that it has been for millennia. Our light is dim because we are shinning it in the wrong places. Instead of taking our light to free the captives and loose the chains of injustice, we are trying to make a heathen world live like Christians. We are more concerned that two men are going to marry each other than we are that they both have never heard that Jesus loves them. We are more worried about that fact that they are taking God out of the classroom than the fact that He is not in many of our churches. We need to listen when Paul says, “what business is it of mine to judge those outside the church” (1 Cor. 5:12). Instead of taking our light to the Supreme Court, we need to start by taking it to my neighbor, the one who desperately needs to experience the saving grace of Christ.
It seems that somewhere along the way we Christians have allowed our mission to go off course. The ideal of social morality was used as license to make the ungodly at least appear to live out the Christian standard. When a society that doesn’t believe the Bible to apply to them feels pressured to follow its rules, they naturally push back, causing the “persecution.” In turn, many culture warriors are taught that these persecutions are coming as a result of doing God’s will. This erroneous concept can be summarized in that we think we are being persecuted and therefore should fight, when the truth is that we are fighting and are therefore persecuted. The sad reality is that we are bringing these trials down upon ourselves by not listening to the words of Christ. And the worst part is that the only observable outcome of our culture war is a whole generation that only knows that the Church is against homosexuals, against abortion, against science, against sex, alcohol, gambling and drugs. The average American has no idea that the Bible is a revelation of God’s grace, not a list of don’ts.
As followers of Christ we dare not shrink from persecution, but if the only scars we are getting come from trying to impose Christian morality on a godless society, then we would be better off just staying at home.
Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. John 15:20