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Martyrdom of St Stephen

Lesson for Evangelicals: Christianity is Its Greatest When It is Hated by the World

Evangelicals here in the United States often claim that Christians are being persecuted due to things such as gay marriage, prayer not being in the public school system and bans on public displays of Christianity, such as crosses and Christmas decorations on public government property. If you’ll notice, however, all these things are related to governmental affairs, thus they are secular and have nothing to do with the Church itself.

Political “Christian” leaders claim the things mentioned above as persecution as a means of politically motivating Christians to vote for them in elections. Add to this how our leaders use the martyrdom of Christians in other countries by ISIS as political propaganda, which in turn causes American Evangelicals to quickly yell that this proves that Christians are persecuted as they claim fellowship and shared persecution with these Christian martyrs in Syria and other areas. This in turn politically motivates Christians to vote in favor of war as well.

Ironically, these hyper-political Evangelicals will claim solidarity and shared persecution with Christians in other countries while rallying to ban refugees, many of whom are these same Christians fleeing persecution, mentioned above. Sadly, the persecution they face is real persecution. To be honest, American Christians can not claim to be persecuted, because we have never really experienced it. Banning public religious displays, public school prayers, and even gay marriage being legalized can not be legitimately claimed as persecution. And this is where the great divide between true Christianity and Evangelicalism exists.

In the early Church, Christians were constantly persecuted by both the Romans and Jews. They were the minority group and often suffered extreme forms of martyrdom, similar to Christians in other parts of the world today, maybe even worse. Yet, these early Christians did not seek to be part of Rome as American Christians seek to make America a “Christian Nation.”  The early Christians instead did not want to take part in Rome’s elections, public offices, the military, or anything that related to the pagan cultures of Roman society. These things were all secular to them and did not effect the Church. How petty would our claims of persecution seem to these early Christians compared to what they went through?

If you’re familiar with the history of Rome, you will also know that it was a hot spot for gay relations. But the early Christians did not seek to have Rome ban gay relationships. Instead they displayed Christlike behavior, keeping their own lives free from sin, while writing about sins such as homosexuality. They also sought to tell individuals about Christ and His kingdom. And in the face of extreme persecution these Christians, like Ignatius of Antioch, faced it head-on without fear, believing that it gave them a chance to show their faith in Jesus’ kingdom.  Ignatius is quoted as saying:

The Work is not of persuasiveness, but Christianity is a thing of might, whensoever it is hated by the world. – Ignatius, to the Romans, Chapter 3

It is true that real Christianity is at it’s greatest when it is hated by the world. The reason is not so that we can retaliate with hatred, vote in elections, or go to war against our enemies, but that we can display the character of Jesus by acting as He did and exercising what He said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[g] let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)

Christianity is at it’s greatest when persecution arises, even in small things that are not really persecution like banning religious displays, because we have a chance to show our love for our enemies, in loving them as ourselves. Or for showing that we do not care what the world decides to do on a secular level, such as allow gay marriage,. It is a chance to show them that we know this world is corrupt, but our kingdom, that is the Kingdom of Heaven, is perfect:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 3:20)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Col 3:1-2)

If we are wasting time claiming that we are persecuted, while ignoring those that are truly persecuted, and using this as an excuse to vote for more war, killing our enemies, and unfair bans against people because of where they are from, then we are not displaying Christ for the world to see:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5: 13-16)

Ignatius, knowing he was going to face martyrdom and even at times going into detail over how it should happen, wrote that whatever the outcome was he just wanted to be found a Christian not in word alone but in action:

Ye never grudged any one; ye were the instructors of others. And my desire is that those lessons shall hold good which as teachers ye enjoin. Only pray that I may have power within and without, so that I may not only say it but also desire it; that I may not only be called a Christian, but also be found one. For if I shall be found so, then can I also be called one, and be faithful then, when I am no more visible to the world. Nothing visible is good. For our God Jesus Christ, being in the Father, is the more plainly visible. The Work is not of persuasiveness, but Christianity is a thing of might, whensoever it is hated by the world.

So, as a proclaimed Christian, are you sitting around, moping and whining every time you feel you are persecuted? Are you overly affected by these political events that are so common in our nation? If so, I ask that you reassess your stance in Christianity. Remember the words of Jesus:

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you … If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. (John 15:18-19, 21)

Persecution is part of Christianity. Plain and simple. Jesus is very clear that we, as Christians, will be persecuted. How you react to those persecutions will define whether or not you are a true Christian. Luckily, for American Christianity at least, the persecution here, if it can even be called that, is nothing compared to what the early Church and Christians in other parts of the world are facing for their faith. So stop complaining, stand up for your faith, and for other Christians who are really facing persecution, and be a light to the world.

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