Preparing your children and students for persecution...

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Back in 1770, converted slave-trader John Newton published his history of the church titled,  "A review of ecclesiastical history, so far as it concerns the progress, declensions and revivals of evangelical doctrine and practice : with a brief account of the spirit and methods by which vital and experimental religion have been opposed in all ages of the church.” The author of “Amazing Grace” here assumes believers in Jesus Christ whose Christian faith is living and deep will be persecuted. This was true in 1770, it’s still true today, and it was true back in the earliest centuries of the Church. Jesus promised His followers the cross and death:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 16:24, 25)

Still, the Evangelical church had such a seemingly-cheerful run of institutional and financial success the last half of the twentieth century that it is finding it hard to adjust to the growing hostility of the Western world. In a culture intent on leveling all distinctions for the sake of civic unity, the iron fists of pluralism and tolerance are silencing Christian witness. The Gospel is God’s call to repentance to those breaking His Moral Law but twenty-first century man is militant...

in denying His Law. What God calls evil he calls good, some of the most obvious examples being lesbianism, adultery, sodomy, the feminist rebellion, and the wholesale slaughter of unborn children.

Adding to the civic stench emanating from Christians is the exclusivity of the Gospel. Postmodern man is intent on restoring the pantheon of gods worshipped across the Ancient World while the Christian continues to confess that "all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens" (Psalms 96:5). As Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). 

The storm clouds are gathering and Christians need to prepare ourselves and our children. Innocence looks at the hatred directed its way, asking “What’s wrong with me? Why do they hate Christians? Why do they want to imprison and kill us?”

In his fascinating study of the persecution suffered by our brothers and sisters back in the time of the Roman Empire titled Persecution in the Early Church, British scholar and pastor Herbert Workman answers these questions concerning the Christians of the Roman Empire, and in his answers for them he also answers for us. As I read Workman’s history, I kept thinking that nothing has changed—nothing at all. Because we proclaim the One Who declared “all authority in heaven and on earth” is His; and because we call men to repentance according to His Moral Law, we cannot escape persecution and suffering. Societies that depend upon diversity, pluralism, and tolerance to keep the peace must destroy the God Who says, “Unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).

Workman opens up the reasons for the Roman Empire’s persecution of Christians. He explains why they were imprisoned and executed under the specific charges of anarchy and atheism. And as he tells the stories of faithful believers, those reading his accounts one hundred years after he wrote them will come to the realization that our future is Workman’s past. The church’s past. Once again, Christians—true Christians—will be despised. We will be the scum of the earth. We are already considered unpatriotic and soon we will be charged with anarchy. Our faith is already being declared a mental illness and soon it will be declared the hatred of all men and their gods.

Yes, you’d rather have your homeschooled children read Shakespeare or Virgil, but really; why not prepare them for persecution, instead? You don’t have to let the other mothers in your co-op know about your radical departure from developing your son or daughter's brain to developing his discipleship and Christian faith. You could make Workman a joint textbook with the New Testament book of First Peter, the one commenting on the other. You could assign a paper asking your child to give you ten pages comparing and contrasting the persecution of Christians who refused to worship the Emperor as described by Workman and the persecution of Christians who refuse to worship sexual diversity by Houston’s lesbian mayor, Annise Parker. Ask them to spend pages seven through ten prognosticating on how they expect persecution to grow in the coming twenty-five years when they will have reached the age of forty and their children will themselves be reading Workman, comparing the persecution and suffering of the Early Church to the persecution and suffering of their own church.

About a third of the way into Workman and First Peter, take a half-day field trip to your local abortuary and spend four hours there picketing, offering young mothers your help, and praying. But again, keep it a secret from the other mothers in your co-op. You do not want your children ostracized.

Which is to say, persecuted.

By the way, Clearnote Pastors College students are required to read Workman's Persecution in the Early Church. If you're a college or seminary prof, put it in your next syllabus. Make it required reading. If you're the moderator of your congregation's board of elders, get copies for all the members of your session and discuss the book, chapter by chapter, along with sections of First Peter. If you're a pastor, teach a class on Workman and First Peter. Yes, it really is that worthwhile. We've produced a new critical edition of the book that's about as accessible as any book with footnotes—not endnotes!—can be. If you're a teacher, send me a request for a review copy e-mail me and we'll be pleased to oblige.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!