About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Acts 12:1-3
There is a fair amount of debate these days over just what the accurate number is of Christians in this world who are being persecuted for their faith. A lot of that debate has to do with how we define “persecuted for their faith” and which genocidal numbers should or should not be included in that count. There is actually a pretty decent description of those numbers and that debate from this Christianity Today article last year. Our struggles here in the U.S. do not yet rise to the level of “persecution”. Indeed, I am embarrassed that we sometimes use that label to describe our culture wars here in this country, when our brothers and sisters around the world are being tortured, dismembered, and killed by political entities. Still, for our purposes here, suffice it to say, genuine followers of Christ are finding the journey more and more difficult.
I am struck, then, when I read about the early church’s responses to political persecution. And I am convicted when I compare their response to our response today. From the account of Peter’s miraculous rescue in Acts 12, here are a few observations about the natural tension between Christ followers and the world in which they are called to be salt and light:
- The battle is the Lord’s and, as with all battles He fights, He wins in the end. OK, we don’t necessarily learn that from this particular passage. In fact, this account takes place as the culture wars are only just getting started. But still, you have read the rest of the story in scripture and you know how it all ends. There is a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ that squarely confronts the darkness of this world. Jesus told us the world would hate us. But that same scriptural worldview also shows us how this tension all gets resolved in the end. We, as the church, would do well to remind each other of this, as it is our only hope.
- Our first and primary role in the battle is NOT fighting with the world’s weapons, but with prayer. Of course, I am not talking here about lip service “thoughts and prayers”, but rather the heavy lifting of passionate, heart-felt, desperately gathering together and crying out to the Lord on behalf of a lost and broken world. Our role here is coming into the presence of the Lord with broken hearts, eager to be radically changed by that very process. In truth, so much of the energy we spend spewing out arguments on social media and building political voting blocks and spreading negative publicity about “the other side” (all the weapons of this world) would be much better spent in Spirit-led, heart-wrenching prayer.
- Our second role in the battle is immediate and radical obedience. That’s what Peter did. There were no press conferences, no public relations campaigns, no embittered court battles, no political action committees, and no protests outside of Herod’s palace. There was a restful assurance that God is in control and an immediate obedience to every detail of his angelic rescuer’s instructions. Simple, radical obedience to the Word of God (rather than twisting that Word up to fit our political worldview) would go a long way toward helping the church become the church again. We must remember what it looks like to be a non-anxious, peaceful presence in the midst of the chaos and confusion that is this world.
I’m sure there are plenty of other lessons from scripture about how we as a church can more effectively represent Christ amidst the cultural divisiveness and political pressures of the world today. But are these three little points not a great start toward what it means to be salt and light?