Why True Christians are Persecuted
Why is it that the Gospel of Love, when it is preached in its purity, is always persecuted? And why is it that so many churches -- the great majority, in fact -- when they preach love, are left alone? The answer is: they are preaching two different kinds of love -- the one of God, and the other of man.
"I am sending you out like sheep before wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On My account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother, and father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matt.10:16-23, NIV).
"You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matt.24:9-13, NIV).
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt.5:11-12, NIV).
"If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also" (John 15:20, NIV).
Persecution is the harassment or injury that is deliberately inflicted on persons because of social status, racial origin, or religious faith and beliefs. The purpose of persecution amongst the religious is simple -- to stamp out people and their beliefs to stop those beliefs spreading amongst new converts.
Persecution, when it rears its ugly head, takes many forms, and initially consists of verbal abuse, ridicule, and insult (2 Chr.36:16; Ac.19:9). This then normally proceeds to economic pressures (Rev.13:16-17), bodily injury (Matt.27:29,30; Ac.5:40), imprisonment (Lk. 21:12; Ac.16:22-24), hatred, and even death (Matt.24:9; Ac.12:2). All kinds of people indulge in it -- religious authorities (Mk.3:6; Ac.24:1,27), uninformed people (Gen.21:8-9; Gal.4:29), ignorant people (1 Tim.1:13), or unreasoning, fanatical mobs (Lk. 4:28-29; Ac.14:19; 17:5). Yet all these people are only agents of more powerful and sinister instigators -- unseen, wicked spiritual forces (Eph.6:11-12).
Persecution is one of the stages in the process that leads to murder. It is a characteristic of the spirit of murder. Jesus said: "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him" (1 Jn.3:15). And our "brother" is, of course, our neighbour, as Jesus taught in the parable of the Samartian (Lk.10:30ff). And our neighbour is every human being.
Anybody who hates is a murderer and belongs to the evil one. Why do people hate? For one simple reason only -- they are afraid that their own wickedness will be exposed: "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" (John 3:29, NIV).
Nobody will hate a Christian Church that is worldly. The world -- its false system or moral values, economic bondage, and willful blindness -- will always take care of, and protect, the like-minded. Many Churches who were once hated and persecuted by the world because they stood for the light, are now accepted by the world because they have compromised the teachings of Jesus with the world, and are even instruments of persecution themselves. The Lutheran Church, once persecuted by the Catholics, has itself persecuted peoples of different religious persuasion. And some, like the Jehovah's Witnesses and Moonies, persecute their own members when they depart from their faith. Jews have persecuted Christians and have themselves been persecuted in return. Moslems, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and others have all persecuted each other, murdering in the name of religion. Religionists have persecuted atheists, and atheists (like nazis and communists) have persecuted religionists. Humans seem to have a tendency to hatred, persecution, and evil generally.
As anybody who has studied the New Testament knows, Christians are commanded not to be of the world system -- its traditions, its immorality, its politics, and so on. Christians have been called out of the world -- "in" it physically, but completely removed from its false spirituality: "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you OUT of the world" (John 15:19). If we belong -- truly belong -- to Christ then we know for certain that the world will hate us (Lk.21:17).
To create a work of art takes time, patience, talent and dedication. To destroy it takes only a a few seconds plus some hatred. The local Lutheran Church near where I live was recently burned down by Satanists -- a beautiful structure that gave me and countless others great pleasure. It was created as a labour of love to honour God. It was destroyed in minutes by those filled with hate.
It is difficult to build people and things up, as those who try to negotiate peace settlements between warring nations know only too well. Look at Bosnia/Yugoslavia, Israel/Palestine, and Cambodia, to name but three. Wars are hard to stop but only too east to start. Healing ethnic wounds is a long and painful process; starting an ethnic conflict is easy.
There was once a Christian who worked in a factory. Someone who hated him deliberately spread false rumours around and caused him great mental and emotional suffering. One day the evil man repented of his hatred and rumour-mongering when he heard that the Christian he had been persecuting had suffered a physical breakdown because of the stress he had caused, and was now bed-bound. So he went to visit him. The persecutor said to the sick man: "Can you ever forgive me for the harm I have done you?" He received the reply: "Yes, I freely forgive you, but on one condition." "Name it," said he who had persecuted the Christian, "and I will do it." So the Christian told him to take his feather pillow, rip it open, and shake its contents out of the window. Puzzled, the man did as he was told, and presently the whole garden and street was covered in thousands of tiny feathers blowing all over the place. "Now," said the Christian, "go and pick up all the feathers." Only then did the wicked man realise the consequences of all the evil he had done.
Our duty as Christians is to forgive those who wrong us, but we must instruct them too, so that they can see the terrible consequences of hatred. The trouble is, you cannot instruct people who hate. It is blind. "'They hated Me without reason'" (John 15:25), Jesus said. It will not hear. It possesses the one who succumbs to it such that he becomes irrational. Only when the Word of God touches them, and they are able to repent, can they finally see.
When attacked by those acting out of blind hatred, Jesus often remained silent and ignored them. He knew that nothing He said would make any difference because they were in the bonds of Satan. Other times He turned the question and made His persecutors face themselves. This often caused them to become even more angry so that those around could see who their true master was -- the devil. He never entered into a personal defence of His teachings because He knew it was pointless. This is what we, as New Covenant Christians, do as well. The Lord Jesus taught His disciples to "be self-controlled and alert" for "your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pet.5:9, NIV). You do not talk to a roaring lion because it won't listen. So we don't bother to talk to such either. We have better things to do.
Jesus taught His followers to bless, never curse: "When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it" (1 Cor.4:12, NIV). He taught them to love, never hate. And He repeatedly and consistently taught that anyone -- even those claiming to be Christians -- who descended into hatred or persecuted others -- were not His disciples, but followers of the devil. For this reason, New Covenant Christians never get into heated debates. We talk only with calm and open people who are willing to respect differing points-of-view in a spirit of tolerance and love.
Jesus Himself provoked great hatred, not because He hated, but because He loved. True love provokes hatred. Hard to believe? Yes, it is hard to believe in our modern world because the word "love" has become twisted to mean almost everything but true Christian love -- it has been reduced to mere sentimentality and sex. "Love", in the modern world, is just letting things be as they are and doing what others do. For Jesus and His disciples, love was a power that led to the reformation of a man's personality to enable him to love as God loves. Just as a broken glass is useless for drinking from, so also is a damaged personality useless as a dispenser of love. In order to love, a soul must first be healed. And in order to be healed, a soul must be confronted and be made accountable. "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin" (John 15:22, NIV).
The trouble is, people don't want to be healed. People don't want to change. They want things to remain exactly as they are. Jesus doesn't exactly fit the model of love that the modern, secular world has. His love was forgiving but it was also disciplinary. His love was not partial either -- He treated everyone alike. No family group, no nation, no religious group was treated differently -- as far as He was concerned, His family consisted of those who did God's will. For Jesus, blood was not thicker than water: "Pointing to His disciples, He said: 'Here are My mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father is My brother and sister and mother" (Matt.12:49-50).
Jesus loved everyone equally. He was not partial. He never did favours for anyone. There was no partisanship. In the world, people owe their allegiances to family clans, racial groupings, political parties, social groups, sports clubs, philosophical systems, etc.. Those who are "outside" the grouping are in someway "excluded". This in its turn creates an artificial sense of "specialness" which is known as self-righteousness. Those who do not conform to the "clan" or the "group" are judged and, were it not for the law, would (and often do) persecute those on the "outside".
Each worldly system is therefore made up of interest groups or parties. These form around national "groups" with their special interests. When one nation is threatened by another, clan rivalries are temporarily buried and former antagonists cooperate for a season. We thus have the extraordinary situation of those who formerly hated one another cooperating to hate what was perceived as a mutual threat. Liberal democracies cooperated with communism to defeat fascism before the war; and after the war the liberal democracies cooperated with fascist régimes to defeat communism. Liberal democracies go to war to preserve their financial interests (Kuwaiti oil) but not moral principles (Bosnia).
All of this, in Jesus' eyes, is hypocrisy. Wherever there was hypocrisy in the society of His day, He spared no pains to expose it. And wherever He exposed hypocrisy and immorality, a wave a hatred followed, which eventually massed together to murder Him on a cross. Russian journalists know only too well the price they must pay to expose the corruption in their own country with frequent assassinations. Christians are no different.
Jesus would not conform to the hypocrisy of His day. He would not conform to the norms and traditions of men. Without the slightest hint of compromise, He declared to the religious leaders of the first century AD: "You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men" (Mk.7:8, NIV). He refused to do anything other than obey the law His Father in Heaven had given Him, and His disciples refused to do anything else either. The reason that the early Christian Church was persecuted so much was because it would not compromise the truth, and the reason it is so little persecuted today is because it has done just the opposite. The Church has been swallowed up by the world system. And that is why New Covenant Christians have left the traditional churches in order to be true to the Gospel.
People are by nature lazy. Change is not something that excites the average man or woman. People don't like the boat to be rocked. They would rather that things remained as they were. Into every generation that behaves in this way, God sends His messengers to shake them up. And these messengers have always been persecuted. The world's solution: destroy the messengers.
Yes, indeed, but destroy yourself in the process, because whosoever hates has declared their allegiance to the father of hate and of lies, the devil (John 8:44). For what is their fate? "...the cowardly, the unbelieving, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and liars -- their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death" (Rev.21:8, NIV). Extinction. Annihilation. That is the fate of the devil's servants. I hope that you, the reader, will never meet such a fate.
The New Covenant Church of God has covenanted, as a people, to walk in all the ways of the Lord irrespective of the opinions and traditions of the surrounding cultures we find ourselves in. Our wish is to live in peace with all men and women; but we will not yield to force or surrender the liberty that we have in Christ for any person or system. We will be free, respect other's rights to be free (even if we do not agree with them), and defend their right to be free too.
We have, as a result, received much persecution which has had the opposite affect intended by our persecutors: it has, rather, strengthened our resolve to be true to Christ. For we have seen the shallowness and emptiness of those who have persecuted us. There is nothing in them that attracts us to them. There is nothing in them we would wish to imitate. Theirs is a dead spiritual world. Their condition is to be greatly pitied.
We have witnessed those claiming to be Christians filled with blind hatred who, having failed to persuade us to follow in their traditions, have turned to coercion, threats, and all manner of wickedness. And in so doing, they have exposed the darkness that truly is in them, and sent a signal to all who can discern the love of Christ that they are, in truth, the children of the devil.
In attacking us and trying to break us up they have believed they would eradicate our beliefs. But they have failed to learn the lesson of history that persecution only strengthens a people. Look how the Jews survived centuries of persecution and pogroms! Only true love changes a way a man thinks -- force a man to change his mind against his will and he will continue to think the way he used to. The communists tried that -- when communism fell, millions spontaneously returned to their spiritual roots.
In dragging Christians before the courts, their persecutors have only given them publicity and the opportunity to preach Christ -- "this will result in your being witnesses" (Lk.21:13), something all true Christians desire to do. One pastor in communist Romania who was told that he would be shot if he did not stop preaching the Gospel, declared: "Kill me, and my sermons will speak seven times louder!" They wisely let him go.
In many instances, our enemies have turned to persecution in order to conceal their own sin, a well-known device used by dictators. General Galtieri, one-time ruler of Argentina, invaded the Falkland Islands in order to distract his dissatisfied people away from fascist oppression and economic ruin by appealing to patriotism. Hitler did the same, as have all despots. Nationalism and patriotism are typically the last resorts of cowards and liars. Even Stalin, the great hater of religion, recruited the Russian Orthodox Church to stir the Soviet people up against the nazi invader.
The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is: "REPENT! for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matt.3:2, NIV). Those who do not repent, Jesus will denounce (Matt.11:20).
New Covenant Christians have no hatred for anyone, even though we may stumble from time to time. We have been tried and tested, and are being tried and tested, and will be tried and tested, and have discovered the peace and power of the love of God. We love our persecutors, even if we hate what they do, because of the suffering they cause. We love them, not because of any personal righteousness, but because Christ first loved us and empowers us to love (1 John 4:19). Our persecutions have greatly strengthened us. Though we have lost much that the world treasures, we know that we have an infinitely more precious reward in heaven (Mark 10:29-30). "That is why, for Christ's sake, (we) delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties", not because we love these things but because Christ strengthens us, refines us, beautifies us, and makes us into new people through them -- "for when (we are) weak, then (we are) strong" (2 Cor.12:10, NIV).
Any Church that is left alone by the world belongs to the world, for the world has not changed -- it is no angel of light, even though it may be portrayed as such in the media. Persecution of God's people "is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result (we) will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which (we) are suffering" (2 Thes.1:5, NIV). Let no-one be mistaken -- we are not seeking out persecution or martyrdom, it is the last thing we desire -- we desire to live in peace with all people. But let no-one be under any illusion either -- we will suffer what we must for the Gospel's sake for this is the will of the Master, and our will, for we love Him.
Let those who seek to persecute us know this also -- that we will not be divided as a people. "When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another" (Matt.10:23, NIV). And this we will do, if necessary.
If anyone claiming to be a Christian disputes these things, perhaps it is time for them to discover the true Christ, and not the watered-down, artificial version created by the churches of men, by studying the Bible for themselves, ignoring the interpretations of men.
If we can help you come to know the real Jesus, please get in contact with us right away. We would love to help you discover the joy and peace that we have found, through Him who died for us and came alive again. Amen.
This page was created on 30 December 1997
Updated on 21 February 1998
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