Persecution and the Spirit

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : July 26, 2005

Tonight our house gathering studied parts of John 14-16 as we work our way through that Gospel.  In particular we talked about persecution, which comes up as a theme in this section.  You can’t read that passage in the West without feeling a sense of disconnect.  It would be tempting to assume that the reason we aren’t particularly persecuted in the U.S. is because we have "freedom of religion."  But if we assumed that, we’d be wrong.  I think the severity of persecution may be less here, but I believe that persecution of some form is a natural outcome of one’s fidelity to Christ. 

Take a look at these verses, and bear with me as I explain why I think persecution goes hand-in-hand with fidelity to Christ:

John 16:7-11 Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

It seems to me that if we are cooperating with the work of the Spirit (and it seems that many–if not most–churches have intensely weak pneumatological thinking and praxis) in the task of conviction (ie. showing what is wrong with the world), then people will get upset with us.  In other words, there should be a positive correlation between a culture’s resistance to the Spirit and their resistance to the Church.  Thoughts?

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11 Responses to “Persecution and the Spirit”

  1. JustinG on July 27th, 2005 11:15 am

    so are you saying that a reason that persecution is so minute here in the United States is because we are hindering the spirit and not being as culturally offensive as we should be?

  2. Van S on July 27th, 2005 12:39 pm

    I’m saying it is part of the reason. Now, I don’t think we should be offensive just for heck, but I think a robust Christianity would be offensive to our culture. However, I think our freedom of religion and our roots in Christendom are also factors in why persecution isn’t very widespread.

  3. Chris B. on July 29th, 2005 12:39 am

    How offensive ought we to be (without trying to be)? What robust qualities of Christianity ought to be stressed, and how much?

  4. Van S on July 29th, 2005 12:16 pm

    It isn’t about stressing any robust qualities of Christianity. It is about living out the robust qualities of Christianity. It isn’t as though we need to amp up what we’re already doing until people get upset. It is about doing those things that Scripture indicates are normal, but society deems as abnormal. Here’s a couple examples that pop into my head. Feel free to add or challenge:

    1) It seems we are to respectful of boundaries…in other words, we know that there is a time and a place for sharing our faith, and those boundaries are dictated by society. What if students in particular, but maybe even workers at high schools, were to share their faith? I know that is extreme sounding, especially because it involves minors, but we should at least think about it before dismissing it.

    2) Who are the Samaritans in our day with whom we should stand in solidarity? The lesbian? The muslim? The white trash racist? Christians should befriend those who are rejected by culture.

    3) How about pointing out corruption and oppression within our churches?

    While doing these things might not incite open reaction from the Government or society at large. People would get upset if we did these things.

  5. blorge on July 29th, 2005 4:36 pm

    Part of the problem is that Christians have formed a “counter culture” that is really just a “sub-culture” and thus takes on all of the characteristics of the regular culture, but with a twist. We’ve become vanilla coke when we should have become jolt.

  6. Van S on July 29th, 2005 10:03 pm

    Indeed…or perhaps we should strive to be green tea in a soda culture.

  7. JustinG on July 30th, 2005 1:27 am

    maybe Christianity’s influence on American culture is more like Crystal Pepsi or Pepsi Blue . . . it was good while it lasted but has now faded into a distant memory and possibly even forgotten!

    [i cannot even find reference to Crystal Pepsi on the Official Pepsi website]

  8. Chris B on July 30th, 2005 8:50 pm

    There are a lot of people doing options 1, 2, and 3. My mom has been practicing her faith in a public school for almost 30 years, there are a lot of teachers AND students doing that. Christians are sticking up for Samaritans all over the place in America, and I think there are lots of people trying to point out corruption and oppression. Do we just need to do it more? Or are you suggesting a qualitative change?

  9. Van S on July 30th, 2005 10:37 pm

    I’d assume that the people that do those things have experienced unkind words. I think some persecution, at least verbal persecution does happen in this country. But it is remote and softened. Partly because of the freedoms afforded us and other cultural matters. But I also think it is because too few do enough and often those that do something don’t go far enough. Let’s use the example of Christians in schools. My experience in rural Minnesota, which is a place that is by no means hostile to the Gospel, was that very few students lived out their faith demonstrably in schools. Those that did were often made fun of (a form of persecution) and often the other Christian students didn’t stand with the ones being mocked. I expect it is similar in many schools.

    In other nations, people are being persecuted for merely professing faith. In our nation, which assumes that many are Christian and that this nation has Christian roots, it will take the peculiarity of the Christian life lived to provoke a response.

    One last thought. I think many demonstrations of faith go unnoticed in this country because of the strong categorization between the social gospel and the preaching of the gospel. Many times, Christians do good deeds and they seem indistinguishable from the deeds of others. We have concluded that doing the deed itself is enough and one need not draw attention to Christ when one does the deed.

  10. Chris on July 31st, 2005 5:50 pm

    So, if I can deduce an answer to my question in your reply, you consider it a matter of degree rather than of kind in regard to the conduct of Christians that ought to engender persecution. In other words, you think people are doing the right things, just not to the proper degree.

  11. Van S on July 31st, 2005 10:58 pm

    I would say that. But I would also say that not enough people are doing the right things. And some Christians are doing the wrong things.

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