18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
John 15:18-19

Jesus said that Christians should expect persecution. But in general, Christians in 21st century America are not being persecuted. I know that I’m not. I can only think of a few possibilities.

1. Maybe Jesus was wrong.

2. Maybe we are living in such a sanctified time that most people are saved, and the fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven is just around the corner, at least in America. Everybody loves Jesus, pretty much, so we aren’t being really persecuted.

3. Maybe when people say things like “Organized religion is a crutch for the weak” and say or write nasty things about us, and hold ugly signs about Christians, maybe _that_ is what Jesus meant by “persecution”. Sometimes they even make fun of us in movies and on TV.

I don’t really think any of those options could be correct. Instead, maybe what Jesus said explains it: If ye were of the world, the world would love his own.

Could it be that we are not being persecuted, not because America is so godly, but because Christians are worldly? There’s no real reason to persecute us. No reason to persecute me. I’m not all that different from anyone else. There’s sort of a fuzzy middle ground in our experience that includes the upper-lower, middle, and lower-upper classes; moral people who have only been divorced once or twice max, who don’t swear too much (or in Christians’ cases, not at all, right?), who don’t go to really trashy movies, are heterosexual, don’t have abortions, don’t beat their kids, don’t run around on their spouses, and so on. Just sort of normal middle-class America. Good morals, love their families, keep their grass mowed types. Sometimes say grace before a meal, at least at Thanksgiving.

I fit right in.

God calls me to “be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15) and I’m not. There is not a difference between me and a moral pagan, at least not a difference that could be reasonably described in the terms of “light” vs “a crooked and perverse nation”.

Either God was exaggerating, or our nation is not “crooked and perverse”, or maybe – just _maybe_ – I’m not “blameless and harmless”, “without rebuke”, shining “as lights in the world”.

It’s a simple test. If you’re doing what’s right, you ought to be hated by the ungodly. I feel like I’m failing this test. I don’t stand out, and I don’t think it’s because we’ve managed to dispel the darkness.

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11 Responses to Persecution

  1. Kyle says:

    Actually, I think a lot of that lack of persecution happens because we don’t *talk* about it. We can be as “holy” as we want, and as long as we don’t “shove it down their throats” by talking about it and implying that they should be holy too, no one ever gets offended. No offense = no persecution

  2. Karl Thienes says:

    “But in general, Christians in 21st century America are not being persecuted…”

    It depends on how narrow one defines “persecution.” From a patristic pov, the spiritual warfare that all Christians must wage is being fought, if at all, by today’s modern Christians with a) less awareness b) less ecclesial tools c) a lack of training and spiritual guidance.

    Thus, the problem isn’t that we aren’t being persecuted–it is that we don’t even realize that we are in a war, and thus are losing our souls to the demonic forces who wish to have us, as Lewis said, “take the slow and gradual road” down.

  3. Luke says:

    “We can be as “holy” as we want, and as long as we don’t “shove it down their throats” by talking about it and implying that they should be holy too, no one ever gets offended. ”

    I don’t really think that you can live a holy life without people knowing it. Living a truly holy life speaks loud and clear with out words. People will know that you are different from them. And they will judge you for it. If people cannot notice that you are different just in everyday action, then you are not living a truly holy life.

  4. Josiah says:

    I want to basically echo Kyle but I also recognize Luke’s point. I see the judging Luke mentions looking very different when you are not actively insisting that others change their ways (repent, be holy as He is holy, etc.)

    I think the more you live out in your own life what you believe the more likely you are to be persecuted. At that level however, the persecution may be as simple as avoidance, annoyance, marginalization, or exclusion.

    The persecution really comes when you call others to the same life that you are demonstrating, just as Paul and the other apostles did. That’s when you get called names–Bible thumper, right-winger, radical, bigot, etc. That’s when people actively oppose you both in word and deed.

    (That persecution can come from within the visible body of Christ, in my opinion.)

  5. Jared says:

    I think it may be a mistake to expect our persecution in the West today to be the same sort experienced by Near/Middle East Christians in the early first century. Our culture is set up differently. While I agree of course with the notion that Western Christianity has lost potency in part because of our comforts, I think it may not be a fair application of the text to make “how much you are hated” the litmus test for one’s spiritual maturity or zeal.

    I actually think Christians and Christian culture are hated in America today. The manifestation of this hate is just different now. Would anyone doubt that American culture now is at odds with the Christian worldview? We are not being physically attacked or arrested or thrown to the lions, but Christians in America are frequently despised.

    And to buttress my “different culture” point, there are plenty of places around the world right now where Christians are being arrested, attacked, and killed for their faith. It doesn’t happen here because we are, for the most part and in a legal sense, a “civil” society.

    I have felt “hated” for my faith numerous times, but I thank God I live in a time and place where the manifestation of that hatred is considerably more bearable than that of Jesus’ first-century audience. I think every Christian whose faith is evident has experienced some sort of persecution, even if incredibly minor compared to biblical persecution.
    I think that, in our culture at least, your #3 option is mostly correct.

    Nevertheless, I think to expect a palpable hatred from others to be the authentication of your personal holiness is to do an inappropriate backwards reading of the text. There are much better, more clear measuring sticks for our faith — the fruits of the Spirit, the Sermon on the Mount, etc.

  6. theophilus says:

    Good post and good observations on it. I would just add (at the risk of redundancy) that there are various ways to “persecute” Christians and Christianity, and we’re called to simultaneously attract unbelievers with our lifestyle, worldview and commitment to Christ, even as those qualities are the very things that Christ says will repel unbelievers. But I think the other comments here are probably stated more eloquently than mine.

  7. We can be as ?holy? as we want, and as long as we don?t ?shove it down their throats? by talking about it

    I don?t really think that you can live a holy life without people knowing it.

    I agree with Luke, that the description of “holiness” Kyle used is not biblical holiness. Ephesians 5:11-13 says we have a responsibility to “reprove” deeds of darkness.

    The world is generally OK with us being moral, as long as we don’t actually expect morality from them. If we hide our light under a bushel, then there’s no real problem is there? And whether that reproof in Eph 5:11-13 is verbal or in our deeds (as Josiah pointed out), one would expect it to be opposed.

    Karl, Jared, and Theophilus make the point that persecution will not look the same in all cultures, and I partially agree. We are not being slaughtered or imprisoned, like some Christians are.

    It is completely possible in my mind for persecution to take a form other than physical violence. What I _meant_ to say (and apparently didn’t!) is that I don’t think the level of opposition we get in these ways, rises anywhere near the level where it could realistically be called “persecution”. At least, not for most of us.

    And why should we be persecuted? We don’t pose a clear threat to much of anybody.

    Jared, obviously nobody should use a perceived level of persecution as an authentication of holiness. But when Jesus says “You’ll be persecuted” and we aren’t, I believe it should cause some concern.

    Theophilus makes the point we?re called to simultaneously attract unbelievers with our lifestyle, worldview and commitment to Christ, even as those qualities are the very things that Christ says will repel unbelievers.

    This is a good observation. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 says that Christians are the stench of death to the unregenerate non-elect, and the aroma of life to the elect. We smell the same, but it’s the nature of the “smeller” that determines his response to it – does it attract or repel him.

    I’m afraid that we are not repelling anyone because we do not stink to them – because we don’t smell very much at all.

  8. Jared says:

    But when Jesus says ?You?ll be persecuted? and we aren?t, I believe it should cause some concern.

    Well, that takes for granted that we aren’t. Comparitively speaking, considering the sort of opposition Jesus’ initial audience faced, I suppose we aren’t. But because we don’t, I don’t think it necessarily follows that the problem lay with us. Oh, we have our problems to be sure, and being merely moral and not explicitly Christian is certainly one of them, but maybe the lack of real, tangible persecution is not a fault of ours, but a credit to Western civilization.

    Still, the balance may be shifting. Presently in Canada there is valid concern that merely reading certain portions of Scripture in public can constitute hate speech, a crime with very real legal ramifications. And in other nations, Christians are routinely “really” persecuted for their faith.

    American Christianity has plenty of faults, but I’m not sure that “not being old-school persecuted” is really one of them. Anyways, I guess I object to your primary assertion — that we aren’t being persecuted. It depends on your definition of persecution, I guess.

    Good stuff here from all, btw.

  9. Chris P. says:

    I believe you are right in your stating that none of the three options are viable. In John 15:18 Jesus says, ” If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. ESV
    If we break this down:
    1. The world hates Jesus first and foremost.
    2. HE chooses us out of the world.
    3. Now that we belong to Him,and no longer participate in worldly pursuits, the world hates us.
    So if we aren’t being hated,there are a couple of possibilities. Either we aren’t chosen by Him, or we are carnal, and are not walking as more than conquerors. I believe the second is most likely as I shudder to think of the first.
    This supports Karl’s statement as to our unfitness in spiritual warfare. The church is for the most part ignorant of the concepts of warfare, and the weaponry we have at our disposal. It also supports Roberts’ comments regarding the fact that we don’t smell like death to the dying. IOW, they are not in the least convicted by our presence, which should lead to either their repentance or their hatred.
    Finally, Josiah is right on in his observations. I will go a bit further, and say persecution comes from those who “claim” to be the Body of Christ. Didn’t mean to be so long. Good post and very thoughtful commentary.

  10. Chris P. says:

    I didn’t mean to be redundant by including the same scripture sight that you gave. Just a mental warp. Sorry.

  11. Jared says:

    I’m not sure the issue is whether or not the world hates us or not. The issue seems to be whether we should expect the hate today to resemble the sort of hate Jesus’ initial audience experienced. It’s my contention that comparing backwards from our culture’s hatred of Christians to theirs as some sort of “holiness” litmus test is not sound.
    If the measure of holiness in America today is how closely we get to the persecution experienced by Jesus’ followers, it might not be an exaggeration to say there are no holy Christians in America.

    We have plenty of problems, not the least of which are some of the ones Robert and others are pointing out. There is a difference between being a moral pagan and truly following Jesus, there is a difference between a comfortable Christianity and a biblical discipleship. No argument here.

    I just think the standard being asserted here is faulty in its premise. The Bible gives much more clear and more straightforward measures of a Christian’s spiritual maturity and faith — the fruit we bear, if we exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, how well we reflect the description of kingdom life in the Sermon on the Mount, etc.

    We are hated today; you don’t have to be physically and or verbally assaulted for your faith to realize that, and you certainly don’t have to experience those things to be considered holy.

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