Massive cultural change is taking place in the western world, and it is going against Christians. The mocking portrayal of Christians and churches on television entertainement programs shows where the future is going. In a violent country this could lead to nasty persecution once people realise that Christians are a weak minority. There might be a lot of revenge to implement.

Christians should not grumble. The change has come, because they have failed to preach the gospel. They are the cause of the problem they are grumbling about, because it is evidence that they have failed to their job.

Many Christians believe that Christianity spreads best while Christians are being persecuted. This is a nice thought, but it is not universally true. Christians can respond to persecution in four distinct ways.

  1. The church often responds to persecution by accommodating with the political powers. It survives, but it becomes irrelevant. It finds a place of safety by retreating from the public square and becoming a cultural ghetto isolated from the rest of society. When it is stops being a threat to the dominant cutlure, it can be ignored. The Coptic Church in Egypt is an example.

  2. In many situations, the church has been wiped out by persecution. That has happened in many places at different times throughout history. The city of Carthage was a strong Christian centre in the early days of the church, but there is no church there now. Augustine was an important leader and theologian in Africa during the fifth century. The church in Algeria where he was based is long gone, destroyed by a hostile culture.

  3. The church often responds to persecution by taking up weapons and fighting back. This happened in many places during the Reformation. Persecution led to war between the political authorities and Christian leaders and their followers. Often Christians were on both sides of these destructive and violent wars. Unfortunately, when Christians engage in war, the gospel suffers.

    If Christians in the United States are persecuted in the future, the violent, warring military spirit is so strong, that there is a high risk that they will respond to persecution by getting out their guns and starting to fight. A fight between Christian warlords and their followers would be disastrous for the gospel.

  4. The church can respond to persecution by becoming stronger and growing. The New Testament Church was strengthened by persecution.

The fourth option is the best option, but we cannot just take it for granted. We must not just assume that it will happen.

Persecution is not a trivial issue. Even if those who are prepared survive and are strengthened, and the gospel spreads rapidly, there will be huge collateral damage for Christians who are not prepared. The pain of those who are confused and do not understand what is happening will be terrible. We cannot be glib about their situation.

Conditions

What are the conditions under which persecution strengthens the church?

Having said all this, the church should not focus on preparing for persecution. That would probably lead to retreat from the world and create negative attitudes to people. Rather we should focus on serving Jesus and preparing for the victory of his kingdom. Fortunately, the Christians who obey Jesus and walk in the Spirit and seek the victory of the Kingdom, will also be prepared for persecution, if it should come.

In my book called Being Church Where We Live, I describe a different way of being church. The aim is to develop a model that can support the victory of the gospel and coming of the Kingdom of God. A bonus with this approach is that it is also persecution proof should that happen.