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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Painting A Target

If you haven’t read it, Bernie’s previous post on this subject, Reading the Tea Leaves, may be found here.

There remains among many the rosy view that life for the church in North America will continue as it seemingly always has done. There certainly was a time in the not-too-distant past in which church attendance was commonplace, prayer at schools or before city council meetings was far from unusual and the public square welcomed, if not encouraged, Christian ideals and ideas. In those days, only a generation or so ago, a politician was respected for his or her beliefs rather than derided. Today — in Ontario at least — the political litmus test for a candidate is whether or not they marched in the last Gay Pride parade.

It isn’t even worth discussing what happened or why it happened — but those halcyon days where faith and unbelief could co-exist peacefully are very much gone.

Freedom from Religion

In 2015, true Christian belief essentially disqualifies any political office seeker. The noble concept of freedom of religion has been successfully conflated with the secularist’s dream of freedom from religion. Virtually any public display of Christian faith is met with virulent opposition and eventually shut down. The familiar scenes have played out again and again in the public school system, post-secondary education, political institutions and in the business world. The examples of aggression in the public square toward the expression of Christian values are multiple and repeated.

I take all the above as a given but if someone’s of a mind to argue, feel free; that’s what the comment button is there for. The premise of an antagonistic society is my starting point. Here’s the upshot:

It would be foolish to ignore the signs of what is to come. The respect Christianity seemingly had for a time has long ago turned to indifference and today is expressed as outright opposition. The next step is persecution. Make no mistake — it’s coming and coming soon to a city near you. Peter promised it and, as Christians of this generation, we’ll have the privilege and opportunity of living it out in the days ahead.

A Simple Illustration

When you can feel the raindrops hitting your skin and the sky overhead is an unbroken and ill-portending shade of gray, it requires no particular gift of prophecy to say “we should get indoors unless we want to get soaked”. So I claim no gift of prophecy whatsoever but it really doesn’t require one to say this:

·         The coercive public media will increasingly be used to shame, disarm and discourage specifically Christian expression.

·         The legal instruments of government will increasingly be used as tools to shut down, silence and eliminate specifically Christian beliefs.

·         The force and authority of the judicial system will increasingly be used to punish, imprison and ‘re-educate’ specifically Christians. 

It is more important now than it has been to live out Christ’s instruction that we are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves — perhaps with an increased emphasis on the “wise” bit. 

Wise as Serpents

What does Christian wisdom mean in this context? I humbly submit it means at least the following:

Corporately, we ought to use the buildings we have. Use them well, fill them often and enjoy the time we have in them. But I wouldn’t suggest we spend a penny of the Lord’s resources on building any more of them, because we won’t keep them much longer. Not in North America anyway. We cannot keep our buildings without real and faithless compromises we cannot afford. Faithful Christians will shortly be driven out of public buildings if they remain consistent with biblical teaching on women’s roles, homosexuality and sin. 

Corporately, we ought to stop applying for government grants, loans or exemptions of any kind. All we’re doing when we do that is providing a ready mechanism for state control and an easy reference point when the government decides to move against the church with the force of law. The source of the church’s ability to move forward financially never was tied to taxpayer largess — after all, the One we serve owns it all and can provide whatever He wishes. So we ought to give the government absolutely everything they ask for, in full and in detail seeking nothing in return. Hold nothing back that is legally required to be submitted to government review; beyond that, volunteer absolutely nothing at all.  

Individually, we need to break the indefensible mental connection of “tax receipt” and “good stewardship”. They are not, and never have been, synonymous things. Here’s an idea that long predates my radicalism: When you give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. That’s an important principle that somehow gets lost when held up against the promise of a nice refund cheque at year end — sent to us as long as we fill in our names and donation amounts on the dotted line and tell the treasurer, the auditor, the tax authorities and the government what it is we do with our money. 

Individually, we need to begin evaluating our ‘church choices’ on things other than the convenience of the scheduled programs, the location of the building or the amenities provided for attendees. A local meeting should be evaluated on our ability to serve our brothers and sisters effectively there and on the faithfulness of the leadership to biblical principles. Part of that will mean that we become far more comfortable with opening our homes to other church members and perhaps most especially to the lost. Soon enough, our homes will be the only place we can meet and the only place we will be enabled to speak freely, so we might as well begin getting accustomed to doing it now. The church never was a building and our buildings are increasingly becoming anchors that limit and control us in a way they never should have.  

Bring on the Tinfoil Hat

Now all the above may sound a bit like I ought to be wearing a tinfoil hat. Let me make clear that I am not advocating a David Koresh-like retreat. Christians need to be engaged with the media, engaged with the political system and, yes, engaged even with the legal system; Christian voices need to be heard despite the impending costs. That is vitally important, perhaps especially when it means persecution will surely follow. But it’s important to engage in a way that is effective rather than short-sighted. It is important to engage in a way that ensures that when Christians suffer, they are suffering for righteousness’ sake, not for selfishness’ sake. If we are to make the sacrifice of suffering, let us make sure that sacrifice counts for eternity.  

What does the true church, the persecuted church, look like in just a few years in North America? I hope it looks a bit like China does today — a largely-dead state church which lines up fully with government desires and an outlawed but highly active house-church movement that remains true to the faith. If that’s the model, the near-future North American church will consist of believers who increasingly meet in homes, not buildings. I pray it thrives on tighter, deeper fellowship and sharing than we see today. I think it will be composed solely of those who have counted the cost and considered the cost of belief more than worth paying, even when the price is very much higher than it is today.

Are you ready?

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