Wednesday, 29 April 2015

"Persecution" in Canada's church.

When you look through the New Testament and get into the context and history, you'll find something consistent: the early church was steeped in persecution. The book of Acts can't be understood outside of the persecution the church faced in those stories. In series through James, the Johns, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians, I have taught that these letters were written to people in the midst of persecution.

When you look at Canada you don't see it. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that there are examples of Christians facing a certain level of persecution because of their faith. But this is far from systematic. I feel comfortable saying that as Christians in Canada we feel relatively unoppressed. 

There's no doubt about the persecution involved in Jesus' story. He was pressed by the religious class, that's a definite. But it's important to note that he grew up in a culture, and belonged to a people group, whose worldview was developed in the midst of persecution. The Jewish history of their nation being taken over by hostile enemies and their people taken away as slaves, and Jesus' context of the Roman Empire present in Jerusalem. Much of what Jesus taught was taught in the context of persecution.

This recently brought me to a rather uncomfortable thought. Christianity can't really be understood outside of the context of persecution. Or, can Christianity really be lived outside of persecution? 

Maybe this is why some Christians seem so desperate to see a church that's actually persecuted in Canada. I know this seems harsh, but whenever we get to Christmas and the "war on Chritmasers" get their thing going, I go a little bonkers. There are others who will claim that the church is persecuted for an opinion on marriage, an opinion on birth control, or whatever it may be.

But regardless of what I might accept as actual persecution of the church, right or wrong as I may be, I think that it's important to remember that once some sort of trial or persecution is perceived, then it becomes real for that individual. And I'm not saying that everyone who perceives persecution is therefore oppressed, Rather, I think that as soon as any Jesus followers perceive some sort of persecution, trial, or trouble against themselves, we need to start to ask, "How do I respond to this?"

The problem in the Canadian church is that we've been so far removed from persecution for so long that we've forgotten how to respond to persecution in a Jesus way. Instead of seeing persecution as an inevitable reality that the early church thrived in, we see persecution as something which gives us a leg up, or the moral high ground over the non-christian world. But take a look at how Jesus talked about facing troubles in his day:

And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks 
you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell 
you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of 
your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:40-45)

There's nothing here about defeating the persecutors. There's nothing here about our message winning out. There's nothing here about winning debates or having the best argument. There's nothing here about gaining a more comfortable life. Instead, Jesus teaches us how to react to any kind of trouble in a way that first defeats the evil in ourselves.

If you think about this, it should make you angry. So if someone is doing something evil to us we need to defeat the evil in ourselves? Yes. Jesus says that if someone is suing you for the last of what you have, bless them with absolutely everything you have. If someone forces you to do something you don't want to do, make sure you do more than they demand. Jesus says to give to those who you know won't pay you back. Jesus says to bless and pray for the very people who cause you trouble.

So the real issue of persecution of the church in Canada is not the debate about whether or not it's happening. Rather, we should be talking more about how Jesus would have us face these troubles, even if they are only perceived.

How does the principle of blessing our persecutors work during Christmas time, or with issues like homosexuality, abortion, premarital sex, teen pregnancy, divorce, stealing, religious rights, or any other issue you can dream of.

In all of this, there's an opportunity to love people. There's a chance for creativity and imagination to rule and a chance to find new ways to bless those who would persecute or wrong us.

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts, Devon! It can be difficult to live this out at first (and some moments are more difficult than others), but ultimately I think we find freedom and inner joy when we seek to love rather than seek to defeat those who persecute us.