Date: April 17, 2019
- by Elizabeth Kendal
In every war there is a pivotal, decisive battle which, while not ending the war, does determine its outcome. Whilst most people 'on the ground' - soldiers and civilians - will have no idea that the strategic dynamic has actually shifted, those in charge know exactly what has happened. Cognisant of the truth and with nothing to lose, the commanders of the losing side will unleash a response that is desperate, ferocious and punitive - a response aimed largely at maximising their enemy's pain.
In the great cosmic drama of which we are a part, the pivotal, decisive battle was fought and won by the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross; his victory evidenced by his resurrection. Despite this, the enemies of Christ resist their end and fight more violently than ever. However, no matter how challenging the Church's present reality might be, the outcome is assured, for 'all the promises of God find their "Yes" in [Christ]' (2 Corinthians 1:20). It is precisely because the promised Saviour/Redeemer fulfilled the task for which he was sent, that God's promise to Abraham - that through his descendant 'all the families of the earth shall be blessed' (Genesis 12: 1-3) - is coming to pass. For 2000 years, the Kingdom of God has been growing and spreading throughout the whole earth bringing blessing to the nations and families of the world (Matthew 13:31,32). It would be folly to think that such growth would go unchallenged. By the end of the 14th Century, the early Church that had grown and spread across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, had been reduced to a persecuted, subjugated remnant. During the past 200 years - but especially the past 50-60 years - the Church has grown phenomenally throughout Asia, Africa and South America. Today, God is doing a new work through which unprecedented numbers of Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Unsurprisingly, this growth is not going unchallenged either.
Now it is true that God does intervene with miracles. Indeed, amazing stories are often told of people coming to faith through dreams and visions and miraculous healings and provisions. However, it is mostly the case that God works through his servants and ambassadors, through us, his Church. We are commanded to 'go and make disciples' (Matthew 28:16-20). The lost hear the Gospel of grace and the Church grows as believers obediently 'scatter the seed' (Matthew 13:1-23). The harassed and helpless find abundant and eternal life when the Church reaches out with sacrificial love. Generally, when the Church steps out in obedience and faith, God steps in with amazing grace.
Though the decisive battle was fought and won by Christ on the Cross, the forces of evil continue to fight, resisting their end with 'the energy of despair'. Using every weapon in their arsenal, they fight with desperation and furious hatred. They fight covertly: exploiting weakness and tempting believers into sin, or even just diverting them from their divine calling.
The forces of evil also fight overtly: unleashing repression, facilitating crippling discrimination and inciting violent persecution. Persecution is the devil's response to Kingdom growth, not the other way around! Which asks the question: has God provided the Church with a means to respond to persecution, a means that is redemptive, a means that might actually facilitate Kingdom growth, subverting Satan's plot and turning it on its head?
The first thing the Church must do is remember that Jesus Christ fought and won the pivotal, decisive battle on the Cross. Consequently, the outcome is already certain. The Church must realise that precisely because persecution is a response to Kingdom growth, it is not a signal that it is time to disengage or retreat. On the contrary, persecution signals the exact opposite! Persecution signals that it is time to get involved, time to step out in obedience and faith to 'sow seed' and support those sowers doing dangerous work on the front-line and behind enemy lines. To support the persecuted Church is to support God's mission in hostile territory. Thanks to the unprecedented openness and connectedness of today's world, today's Church can know of persecution and respond rapidly for the saving of many lives.
God does intervene with miracles, and amazing stories emerge daily of miraculous deliverance, provision and intervention. Generally, however, as it is with salvation, so it is with survival - God mostly chooses to work through us, his Church. The persecuted Church in the Middle East or Africa or Asia, or anywhere you wish to name, will survive and grow as we speak out (Proverbs 31:8,9), as we give generously (James 2:15,16) and as we commit to faithful, intercessory prayer (Ephesians 6:12-18) [see: http://www.elizabethkendal.com/action/].
Furthermore, as we love and support our brothers and sisters across ethnic and denominational lines, Christ's High Priestly prayer in the garden is answered: 'Father ... I pray ... that they may all be one just as you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me ... that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me' (from John 17:20-26 ESV). We might think we cannot make a difference, but that is a lie of the devil. Practical sacrificial love for the persecuted Church is actually one of the most subversive, redemptive, sanctifying and missional things we can do.
Merciful Father, we pray for churches that are essentially dead because they have failed to feed on your Word, failed to exercise their faith and failed to pass on the truth to the next generation. May the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead revive your Church. Compassionate Father, we pray for churches that have retreated behind locked doors and locked lips for fear of persecution. May the Holy Spirit who gives wisdom and guidance (Matthew 10:16-20) give your Church power and courage to act (Acts 2). Gracious Father, we pray for churches that have neglected or even resisted your command to love the Body of Christ (Galatians 6:2), even when it is poor, needy and despised, bleeding, imprisoned and struggling to survive. May the love of Jesus Christ be shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5) ... that we might be one, that the world might believe (John 17:20-26).