Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10 ESV
So the Lord spoke to the Church at Smyrna- don’t fear death and you’ll gain the crown of life. But we do fear: we fear death, we fear persecution, we fear for our lives and the lives of those we love. We’re a fearful lot indeed. The early Church was busy sowing the seeds of the Church through their martyr’s blood; we’re busy today saving our lives, for the greater good and the gospel’s sake, so we tell ourselves.
There may be no better place to see this than in the Muslim world where more and more converts to Christ are practicing a hidden, insider faith, a practice defended by many Western missiologists as a prudent and biblical practice. But is the Insider version of faith defensible biblically?
- Is it faith that leads Muslim converts to continue to pray in Mosques and continue to identify as Muslims and therefore followers of Mohammed?
- Is it faithfulness to Jesus that leads to refusing to identify as a Christian?
- Is it losing life in order to find it that leads converts to keep faith in Jesus hidden?
I hope if I’m ever called to identify with Christ in circumstances that could be costly, I do so quickly and without reservation. (If I sat too long around the enemy’s fire I know like Peter I’d fail.) If I should fail to do so I understand it would be a failure of faith and moral courage, however anyone else might define such action.
Persecution is not new- it’s as old as Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau. And the early Church of Jesus Christ thrived under some of the worst persecution ever seen on earth.
Muslim converts to Christ, or Hindu converts, or Communist converts don’t face anything the Church hasn’t faced for millennia. Each age is called to lay on the altar of freedom it’s sons and daughters. A refusal to embrace the possibility of persecution and death for ourselves and our brothers and sisters in faith doesn’t save and promote life and the gospel, it loses and diminishes both.
If you really want to live, you must be willing to die. Life clung to and horded doesn’t lead to more life, but less. The Lord of Life knew this when He willingly suffered persecution, pain, rejection and death- and then rose from the dead never to die again.
Do we really believe Jesus is the Lord of All? Of life and death? Of the number of our days and their quality?
We protest the imprisonment of Christians in places of persecution, and it’s right to do so (Philippians 1:19). We plead with governments to judge in favor of Christians who have been wrongly imprisoned- and our Father commends that (Hebrews 13:3)
But Christians are destined for this treatment in a Satan ruled, Christ rejecting world (2Timothy 2:12) This isn’t new.
To read articles on the Insider movement it appears that many in the converting Muslim world and many in the Western Church interacting with those converts are trying to develop a new biblical philosophy of how to live out the gospel in the midst of a hostile society. I say trying to develop a new philosophy because to read articles on this movement one might think this kind of persecution was new to the Church, new and novel such that there was no clear teaching on Scripture for those facing life and death persecution. But of course, there is.
A single chapter in Matthew is enough to show that persecution today is nothing new. When Jesus sent out the disciples to the towns in Israel, He spoke past their own short-term mission trip to days that would come after His departure, days and conditions the Church has been living in ever since:
“I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…. they will deliver you over to courts and flog you…Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell…. everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword… a person’s enemies will be those of his own household… whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10
Jesus’ followers are called to refuse to love their lives, even in death, because they belong to the Lord of Life.
Some argue that Muslim converts wisely refuse to call themselves Christians because to do so would be to unnecessarily identify themselves with Western cultures and practices. But surely this is no different than early Gentile converts who identified as “Christians”, followers of a Jewish Messiah, and were therefore open to scorn and persecution for embracing a Jewish faith and culture, which culture was despised in the Roman world.
Whatever Biblical rationale or philosophic reasoning we attempt to use in order to justify Christ followers refusing to identify themselves with Jesus, it will come up short. Such life saving practices go against the plain teaching of the Scriptures and the example of the early Church.
This is the Age of the Spirit. It was the Spirit that transformed a fearful, cowering, Christ rejecting Peter, warming his hands at the enemy’s fire, into a bold, Christ proclaiming Rock in the early Church.
Better to have our lives turned inside out by the power of the Spirit, than outside in through our own life preserving fearfulness.