Saturday, July 24, 2010

Which would you prefer, persecution or thorns?

“If it became illegal to be a Christian would there be enough evidence against you to get a conviction?”

This question has been around for a while. I can't remember when I first heard it but, it is one of those phrases that you hear in Christian circles that seems almost ubiquitous. I've heard it on the lips of the study group leader, the Sunday school teacher, the Minister and piously among believers having casual conversation. It's intended purpose I suppose is to encourage holy living. But it has never done that for me. The best that it has done is point out my weaknesses and faults. Not much motivation there. Unlike in the early church.

In the first few centuries of the church it really was illegal to be a Christian. But the law was not always enforced. Sort of like some of our current laws i.e. spitting on the sidewalk but with a much harsher penalty; death. In fact many early Christians lived out their lives in harmony without persecution amidst societies that understood they were illegal. What kept them from being brought up on charges? It seems that the Roman government had made being Christian a capital offense but felt it was too trivial to enforce on a regular basis. I suppose even Rome had budget problems. This law provided much motivation for holy living because Rome would only act on the law if a Roman citizen filed a complaint against someone for being Christian. This built in tension for the early Christians provided an impetus to love their neighbors, because if their neighbors became displeased with them they could call them to the courts. (I am not saying that this is the only reason early Christians lived holy lives, just that it added motivation to their existing desire to please God)

Do today's Christians have any similar “tension” built into modern society? I know that in parts of the world there are Christians being persecuted but I am thinking mostly about my society, American society. Do we have any impetus in our culture or government that turns us toward holy living like the threat of persecution for early Christians? I don't see any. I could be missing some and I would welcome comments on this.

What I do see is the exact opposite. An impetus to live for one's self.

In the parable of the sower Jesus explains the problem I have with holy living:

Matthew 13:18-23 (New Living Translation)
18 “Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: 19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. 20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. 23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

Although many would point to the government as silencing Christians with laws about public prayer, the current battle over homeschooling in some communities, or to the media and academia with their bias against the Christian world view. I think the bigger danger is in the thorny lifestyle I have come to love more than my neighbors. I will not be pulled into the courts for my faith in Jesus but I have been pulled into the marketplace, the bazaar, the torrent of bigger, better, newer, faster, cheaper, latest technology, consumerism. This is where my challenge lies. My holy living is drowning in an ocean of stuff. I am not being asked to acknowledge Cesar as god and offer worship to him but I am being asked to worship achievements and possessions.

1 John 2 (New Living Translation)
15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.