A few months ago, I met with a pastor at another church to talk about ways his church could engage the surrounding community. His church had been experiencing some trouble and wasn’t seeing the sort of breakthrough that it wanted. He had earnestly taught about the importance of evangelism and even tried to find ways to engage church people with community people.
“So where’s the breakdown?” I asked.
“I’m not sure.” He replied, “We’re doing everything right, we’ve even had lots of people graduate from P.U.”
“Persecution University.” He offered.
“You know, we go share our faith and tell people they are going to hell and they get mad and leave or slam doors in our face or start yelling at us. It’s persecution, I just thought we would’ve been rewarded for our faithfulness by now.”
The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. Acts 5:27-42
It was this passage that originally prompted the idea to blog through the books of Acts. I’ve spent a significant amount of time reflecting on that conversation and have had several others like it. Christians in America tend to enjoy screaming about the persecution that they have to endure.
They scream, lobby for change, write their congressmen, email the News, and post the offense on Twitter.
In short, they do the exact opposite of what the apostles did. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
I’m skeptical to label anything in the American Christian landscape as persecution. The reality is that it just doesn’t happen. Often what we feel is personally jilted because we have our feelings hurt. Let’s be clear: there is a big difference between experiencing religious persecution and being an inconsiderate jerk.
Throughout the ages, whenever the church has experienced legitimate persecution, it has always grown and thrived. Christ has always remained faithful to his bride and has seen her though the darkest times. Since the church in America has continued to decline, it’s hard to define what’s happening as religious persecution.
Google: Am I being Persecuted? It’s brilliant.
So how do we traverse our difficult circumstance? Three quick options will help us.