The Suffering Church
This year I will be meeting with a group of persecuted pastors in a country I cannot name, men who have learned that zeal for the Gospel can lead to hazardous consequences.
I will teach them that an important aspect of love for the brethren is the willingness to risk reputation, property, and life itself. I will share with them what Acts and 1 Thessalonians and Philippians teach about suffering: that it is the rule, and not the exception, of Christian living. I will hold up as examples the sixteenth century Anabaptists, whose willingness to lose their loves for others was so profound that the Anabaptist faith has been characterized as a “theology of martyrdom.” These Dissenters even offered to take the place of imprisoned brothers. Yet despite all these stresses, a complete church developed.
Anabaptism went beyond the Reformation in adding to Luther’s marks of a church (proper preaching and the sacraments) holy living, brotherly love, witnessing, and suffering. For the Anabaptists it was impossible to speak of faith without practicing sacrificial Christian love. According to the Hutterian Peter Walpot, in Protestantism “each looks to his advantage, to his own favor and greed, that he gathers to himself and fills his sack.” Contrariwise, the Anabaptists suffered seizure of goods, lengthy imprisonments, even capital punishment.
Why? And why should believers today suffer persecution for the cause of Christ? Simply because a believer ought at all times to be prepared before God and man to share his possessions, his wealth, all he has, however little it may be, to meet the needs of others. And the greatest need of others will always be the Gospel.
I will put it plainly. In certain areas of the world, if you take the Gospel seriously you will be hunted down, possibly to the death. You may be questioned by the authorities under the threat and actual use of torture. Are you prepared for individual suffering? Am I?
Those of us who today refuse obedience in such matters may well face a sterner judgment on another Day.
September 11, 2007
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.