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Better Late than Never

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

The Western church must recover its missional calling.

The contemporary Church finds itself in the throes of global persecution. Open Doors’, an organization that supports persecuted Christians in over 60 countries, list of the 50 most hostile countries to Christianity covers three continents: Africa, Asia, and South America.[1] But we see early signs of trouble for believers in continents that encompass the countries of the West: Europe and North America.

There is increasing pressure on born again Christians in the West to check their faith before they leave their homes. For example, a Christian nursery worker in the United Kingdom was fired for her affirmation of a biblical worldview of marriage.[2] And in the United States, Mary Eberstadt, in her 2016 Time op-ed titled “Regular Christians Are No Longer Welcome in American Culture,” states:

Some of the faithful have paid unexpected prices for their beliefs lately: the teacher in New Jersey suspended for giving a student a Bible; the football coach in Washington placed on leave for saying a prayer on the field at the end of a game; the fire chief in Atlanta fired for self-publishing a book defending Christian moral teaching; the Marine court-martialed for pasting a Bible verse above her desk; and other examples of the new intolerance.

As we can see, the Church is facing escalating duress, whether it is the majority or minority religion. But the Apostle Peter exhorts us to “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Pet. 4:12-13 NASB).

The important lesson we can apply today from Peter’s imperative is that we should not be surprised by the shifting religio-political landscape of the West. Some Christian thought leaders refer to today’s time as post-Christendom.[3] It refers to the privileged relationship Christians in western nations enjoyed with their governments and the social influence they wielded within Western culture no longer exist, ergo post-Christian.

Interestingly, Peter is writing this to believers approximately 250 years before the church became the favored religion under Constantine I, emperor of Rome. In a sense, the Western church is beginning to find itself right where it started – the social outcasts of a secular, syncretistic, and polytheistic society.

Peter commands persecuted Christ-followers to not be surprised. Our hardships, suffering, and persecution because of our faith in Jesus should not come as a shock; It is to be expected. Jesus warned us that persecution comes with following Him (John 15:18-21). Why else would He use the imagery of us picking up our crosses and following Him as He carries His cross (Matt. 16:24-25)? In other words, He invites us to follow Him as a procession of people who are marching to their deaths.

But the cross is incomplete without the crown. And this is where Peter wants our ultimate focus to be: sharing in Jesus’s glory. We often forget that Jesus endured the cross and despised its shame because of the glory that awaited Him (Heb. 12;2). His resurrection is our resurrection, and His glorification is our glorification. Therefore, we can rejoice in the midst of our suffering because we have a glory that awaits us.

Just as the coronavirus reminded us of what is important in life – our relationship with God, family, community – so the increase in persecution is reminding the Western church of its purpose. God elected us to be missional, not magisterial in the present culture.

Many scholars believe God allowed the early church in Jerusalem to experience persecution because they failed to be missional in Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts. 1:8; cf. 8:1). If losing our cultural majesty results in us recovering our missional calling, then it is all for the better. Our brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, and South America are already carrying their crosses, but we in the West are just falling in line.

Rev. Isaac Hayes is the president of Healing of the Soul Ministries. He is also an Assistant Pastor at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, IL, and a doctoral student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. Follow Rev. Hayes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @RevIsaacHayes.

[1] [2] [3]

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