The Insanity of Obedience by Nik Ripken is one of the most vital texts for the American (and the entire Western) Church in this age. Note, Christ-followers do not seek persecution; it is inappropriate, not to mention mentally and emotionally unhealthy, to try to be persecuted. But we must recognize Paul’s inspired teaching to Timothy in the first century was clear: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)
Mr. Ripken notes the common reaction to persecution, especially in the West, falls into five categories:
- We want the persecution to stop. (Well, obviously, right?)
- We want to rescue the persecuted. (Of course!)
- We want the persecutor to be punished. (Isn’t that justice?)
- We want democracy and civil rights to usher in the Kingdom of God. (Isn’t that why He established the USA?)
- We want to give money to help and rescue the persecuted. (That’s missions, isn’t it?)
“Significantly, however, all five of these responses FAIL on biblical grounds!” (emphasis mine) He goes on to say, “Jesus told us that persecution is normal and to be expected. The only way to stop persecution is to be disobedient to His call.” (See John 15:18-27.)
Mr. Ripken interviewed hundreds of Christ-followers in various levels of persecution, from simply trying to meet secretly to avoid it, to meetings with prisoners who have been (and some who were currently being) beaten to discourage them from their faith. His findings, reported in the book, are challenging, if not life-altering!
For example, Christians in China consistently reported that being sent to prison opened doors for evangelism that would not otherwise have opened. As opposed to praying for rescue from their persecutors, they requested that we pray FOR the persecutors, many of whom come to Jesus because of their witness. They determined that the best way to stop persecution was to help the persecutor to become a brother or sister in Christ. And they plant churches among the other inmates in the prisons! From their perspective, giving money to secure their release was counterproductive. Besides, they reported, “It is impossible to replace witness with money.”
A man whose door we knocked on back in the 70s when I was involved in a door-to-door evangelism effort, looked at us two young men incredulously as we told him our purpose was to talk to him about Jesus. “What for!?” he angrily answered. “I’m a Christian. I was born here in the US!”
Of the estimated two billion (2,000,000,000) “Christians” reported in surveys, one has to wonder how many are “census Christians,” believing they are Heaven-bound because of where they live or who their parents were. The lack of persecution in America today probably has less to do with our “Christian” heritage than with the fact that an accurate message of the Gospel is not being shared, much less received.
This confusion extends to other nations where, to Muslims, it is typically believed that to be American is to be “Christian.” With American culture reaching the world through television and movies, is it any wonder that Christianity is viewed so disgustingly as it is? These people think THAT is how Christianity causes people to live, like Friends or Bel-Air! Overcoming this stereotype is usually a long process with lots of face-to-face Bible reading and explanations.
The most poignant note I wish to make in this blog is the freedom we have to share Jesus with people we meet. While we claim, here in America, that we are free, one must wonder if that is true . . . based on how many people I have shared Jesus with in the last year. With how many have you shared? And not just in blogs, but face-to-face, with personal “skin in the game.” Am I free to share? Are we free to share?
A Chinese house church leader shared this distinction of “church members” and “true followers of Jesus.” “Of that large number of believers you described, two thirds are what we would call ‘members.’ Only one-third . . . are ‘true followers of Jesus.’ Probably two-thirds of the people you mentioned regularly attend church; most have been baptized . . . contribute financially . . . But we do not consider church members to be ‘true followers of Jesus’ until they have led other people to Christ.”
Mr. Ripken makes the point that EVERY believer IS FREE to share. The only difference is in the possible consequences of that sharing. We assume in the West that God only wants what “feels” best for me, my family and my country. But what if this assumption is wrong? “It might be that Western Christianity has diminished the heart of biblical faith by removing the suffering and persecution that the New Testament promises are intrinsic to following Jesus . . . Sadly, it may be time for believers in the West to admit we are afraid.”
We must choose to obey Jesus’ call to disciple the nations, beginning at our Jerusalem and Judea (our neighborhood, our home town, our “village”), reaching out to our Samaria (those who are racially or socio-economically different from us) and to the uttermost parts of the earth. “We can either choose not to be afraid or we can choose to obey in spite of our fears.” There is no place or situation on earth over which the devil has so much control that we cannot share what we know to be true. “Believers cannot always choose safety, but they can always choose obedience.”
Consider lastly an illustration from Joseph (Genesis 37–45). If we were a “missions-minded church” in his day, what would our response to Joseph’s troubles have been? Upon hearing his brothers had thrown him in a pit, we would have sent an ‘extraction team’ to rescue him. When he was sold to the Midianite traders, we would have taken up a collection to purchase his freedom. If we found out about this when he was in Potiphar’s house, we would have sent a diplomatic delegation to press for his release from service. When we discovered he was in prison, we would have sent legal teams to argue against his unjust imprisonment.
And all our efforts of “rescue” at any stage would have left Pharaoh without a “witness” to provide for all of Egypt and Jacob’s family’s provisions that they needed to survive a famine; not to mention the blessings Egypt received as long as they did not oppress the Hebrews; not to mention the tremendous deliverance The God Who Is worked through Moses and Aaron to establish His covenant with the fledgling nation of Israel.
This is not to say we should ignore brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith. One of their greatest blessings is to know that they are NOT forgotten by the more fortunate branches in the Church; that we share in their suffering; that we give to promote the Gospel witness they provide at risk of their lives. But we must be careful to obey the Holy Ghost and not prematurely “rescue” those Father has ordained to either suffer or die for His glory. And we MUST share in their suffering, being willing to expend our lives, not just our money, for the sake of this Good News, just as they are.
So as you celebrate Independence Day here in the USA, or if you are just observing our native celebration from other countries, consider our real independence! Freedom from sin, release from its consequences, deliverance from bondage, a guaranteed resurrection from the dead . . . and freedom to share all this with anyone: from our neighbor across the street to the jailer in a Chinese prison, to the imam in a mosque to the Hindu who is burning Christian churches, to the pro-abortionist who wants to prolong abortion up to 28 days after birth, to the artificial “Christian” who warms a church chair every Sunday.
We are FREE TO SHARE OUR FAITH IN JESUS, the Savior of the world!