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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christian Persecution and the War of Worldviews

May 10, 2015

Exactly 75 years ago today Dutch citizens woke to the sounds of airplanes overhead, gunfire, and Nazi paratroopers landing in Amsterdam. This was the beginning of five hellish years of Nazi occupation. And plenty of other European cities experienced the same thing back then.

And almost exactly 70 years ago, the Nazis were routed and Victory in Europe Day was celebrated. March 8, 1945 was a day of tremendous celebration and rejoicing. And all this serves as a perfect picture of the world we find ourselves in.

The Christian believes that we are living in enemy-occupied territory, and one day Christ will return and bring all the insurgency and rebellion to an end. In the meantime we are his foot soldiers, fighting on his behalf. And since the world hated Christ, it will always hate us.

Thus there has always been an ongoing war between God and his people, and those who hate God and his people. Yesterday I picked up two new books, both by Bryan Litfin. The first, After Acts (Moody, 2015) picks up the story where Acts 28 leaves off.

He fills in the details of what happened to the apostles, and for the most part it was not a pleasant ending, with martyrdom the lot of most of them. Separating fact from myth, he recounts how James was stoned to death in Jerusalem around 62AD; Peter was crucified (perhaps upside down) in Rome in 65, and Paul was put to the sword for the crime of treason in around 66.

blandina 2His other book, Early Christian Martyr Stories (Baker, 2014) tells of the horrific torture and death of countless Christians in the early days of the faith. It was not just brave Christian men who met this fate, but plenty of women and children as well. Blandina was just one such woman who underwent suffering that most of us will never experience. Consider this account:

Blandina was filled with such strength that the torturers, who worked in shifts from dawn to dusk tormenting Blandina with every possible method, were exhausted and finally gave up. They admitted they were beaten, that there was nothing left to do to her that hadn’t been done already. In fact they marvelled she was still alive with her entire body ripped open and broken in every place. The men acknowledged that even one form of torture should have released her soul, not to mention such terrible ones like the many they applied. But instead this blessed woman, like a well-trained athlete, kept growing stronger throughout her confession. Blandina was refreshed and experienced rest and relief from her agony by exclaiming, “I am a Christian! We don’t do anything wrong!”

Today we also have persecution taking place. Indeed, there have been more Christian martyrs in the past century than in the entire church age. In the West persecution is also on the rise, but obviously not as severe – so far.

In my book Strained Relations I document nearly 200 cases of Western believers losing their jobs, being fined, or even imprisoned for standing up for their Christian convictions. This is getting worse all the time, as a full-scale assault on Christianity is now occurring throughout the Western world.

I want to draw together both these situations (that of the early church and that of the contemporary West) by noting a few things Litfin said in his volume about the martyrs. Early on he explains that the persecution was mainly due to a “clash of worldviews”.

It was a clash of religious ideologies which was at the core of this persecution. The Romans were not secular but quite religious, and the real sticking point was “the cultural imperative to pay homage to the emperor’s divinity in the imperial cult. . . . Devotion to the emperor’s divine spirit soon became a central aspect of the broader state religion. This served as a very effective social adhesive.”

The early Christians saw themselves as a community of spiritually emancipated slaves, now serving the one true Lord. How could they serve the false lord of the imperial cult? Emperor worship and their newfound faith were diametrically opposed.

All this to say, it was the collision of two religious worldviews that ultimately led to persecution – though this had a legal element as well. The Roman governors considered themselves to be prosecuting Christians as criminal before the law. . . . Legal prosecution cannot be bracketed off from religious persecution. The law itself was religions. It was designed to advance a particular cult system. . . . The Christians’ repudiation of their culture’s values therefore constituted a real and present danger. The pagans referred to them as “atheists” – people with no connection to the gods. Such individuals were like cancer cells on the face of a steadfastly religious society. . . . The persecution of the early church made absolute legal sense – not because the Christians were proven to have committed specific crimes, but because the church’s intrinsic worldview aimed a sharp dagger at the throbbing religious heart of the Roman Empire.

No one who is even halfway awake today can fail to see the tremendous similarities between ancient Rome and the West today. Indeed, are things that much different today in the secular West when it comes to dealing with Christianity? What we find happening now seems to be a mirror image of what was happening back then.

Consider our modern secular state: It too has a new untouchable religion: secular humanism. It too sees as a grave threat anyone who will not bow to its religion. It too sees social cohesion and conformity as very important values, and it too sees the recalcitrant Christians as troublemakers, rebels and threats to the security of the state.

By refusing to worship at the altars of multiculturalism, moral relativism, political correctness, the homosexual agenda, and so on, biblical Christians are viewed as the enemy and must be treated accordingly. That is why we are seeing one case after another of state-based persecution and prosecution of Christians in the West.

And if the current Supreme Court case on homosexual marriage turns out as expected, then this may well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, with devout Christians being forced into wholesale rebellion against the evil dictates of the state, with civil disobedience the only viable option.

Just as wholesale persecution back then quickly weeded out the wheat from the chaff, so too we are seeing the same thing today. Those who are real followers of Jesus Christ, those who still hold to the authority of Scripture are quickly distinguishing themselves from all the nominal believers, all the apostates, and all the false shepherds who are siding with the world on one issue after another.

A real sifting is now taking place, and as state-sponsored persecution of Christianity continues to worsen, this will separate the men from the boys; the true disciples of Christ from all the fakes. So in that sense this persecution is a good thing. It is a good thing to weed out the wolves amongst us.

As things grow increasingly dark in the West, and as anti-Christian bigotry and persecution escalates, what we need above all else are brave and faithful men and women who will not give in an inch. We need champions in the faith who will exclaim to their tormenters and haters, “I am a Christian! We don’t do anything wrong!”

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13 Responses to Christian Persecution and the War of Worldviews

  • Bill the world certainly has had and is still having grotesque displays of satanic wrath against the Christian believers.

    Dr. Bernie Power’s Christian outreach yesterday displayed the kind of opposition facing such events in street witnessing today in Australia.

    A drunk claiming to be a Christian tried to shut down my preaching with slanderous ‘name calling’ and stand-over intimidation. No physical abuse occurred and he eventually walked off.

    Another man in an angry rage smashed up the tracks display on the outreach table. Two Muslims from their dowah table across the tram tracks came and assisted in the clean-up which was a sight to see.

    Another Muslim who was a stranger to the Christian outreach team became aggressive and threatening but no physical harm came to the team members.

    Another week I was loudly and offensively slandered by man when I was preaching the gospel.

    Another Christian sharing the gospel in the public space somewhere in Australia in recent times had petrol thrown over him and set alight. He was slightly burnt from the incident. This is the worst incident I can remember occurring against a Christian witness.

    Other crimes against Christians are occurring in Australia behind the media blackout. These centre around Muslim converts to Christianity and then persecuted by the family and in some cases murdered in an ‘honor killing’. Some have come to the outreach table dressed as a Muslim but confess they are now Christians but are not able to let it be known at this time. May God give them courage in their Christian walk.

    So yes Christians have it good in Australia at the moment comparing to the horrors Christians are enduring in other parts of the world except for the Muslim converts.

  • Should this persecution, which is slowly but with increasing pace rearing its ugly head continue,it certainly will separate the “sheep from the goats”. But it is under this sort of oppression that the church has a knack of growing and growing stronger. The vine is being pruned of the deadwood and the vine dresser is doing His job. Increasingly, apathy is not an option. I read blogs form atheist and they are increasingly intolerant. They seem to be utterly ignorant of Christianity and the Christian God and their opinions and views seem to be informed by the likes of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. Theirs is a vehement hatred and intolerance and they completely dismiss believers as uneducated idiots, yet they will not engage in reasoned debate- because they know their atheist faith is unreasonable and can be logically disproven quite simply.

  • Amen and amen! We see eye to eye. I cannot agree more.

  • If only persecution would give Christians a common enemy and make them set aside any differences they may have among themselves.
    Persecution could give Christians a unity of purpose and for those uncertain about the Christian religion the fact that its members are willing to sacrifice so much for Christ would speak volumes.

    In trying to put out the smoldering embers of Christianity via persecution, Nero and others only fanned those flames into a raging inferno.

  • For too long, western Christians have been apathetic and complacent in their Christianity. Many have spoken of a revival coming to the western world, perhaps persecution is how God will bring that revival about. The pruning process is painful, but when perhaps when we are refined by fire, the western church will join the rest of God’s body in becoming the city on the hill once again.

  • Absolutely brilliant Bill and 100% correct. The “chief” stone in Psalms 118:22 and referred to in Isaiah 28:16 and Daniel 2:35 and Matthew 21:42 is literally a “shake” stone and it is not known as that for no reason – so we are in for a bumpy ride that will not only show that many of the Jews rejected that stone but many so called Christians as well. We will not be saying “worthy is the Lamb” for no reason.

    When we see machinations like the CEO of Apple, not writing a letter to the local government official as we would have to or even using his own funds to promote a change in government attitude but using his control of the Apple behemoth to extort law changes out of Indiana, then we know that we are effectively back in pre-Christian Rome. So much for the Christian principle of equality.

  • @ Michael Weeks

    A suggestion on how to respond to Apple. Demand to know why they oppose Indiana’s laws so much but have no problem doing business with Saudi Arabia, where homosexuals are reportedly killed outright.

  • The truth is that humanism, secularism, materialism and Marxism are not objective and free of superstition, but pagan in origin, going back to the idolatries to the Tower of Babylon, Greece and Rome. All these are symbolically synthesised in the painting by Peter Bruegel, whose painting inspired the European Union [1]
    Often as with the Green Party of which Peter Tatchell is a member there is a connection with the worship of Mother Earth and fertility cults. It is these that the government are imposing on us. The homosexual Labour MP Chris Bryant far from wanting to ban religion in political life wants to convert the Chapel connected with Parliament, St Mary’s Undercroft into a multi-faith chapel [2]. The queer arm of the secularist are threatening to invade the Church and force it to conduct pagan weddings – gay weddings being only one of many that are soon to appear.

    [1] www.biblelight.net/Tower-of-Babel.htm.
    [2] www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9934892/Plan-for-Westminster-chapel-to-host-gay-weddings.html

    David Skinner UK

  • “The Romans were not secular but quite religious”. Bill, this statement gives the false and misleading impression that secularism is not a religion Actually, all worldview are RELIGIOUS, in particular “Secularism”. As every worldview is founded on “metaphysical” religious beliefs that are beyond science and physics, Secularism and all godless worldviews are founded on the unproven “blind faith” beliefs of “metaphysical” naturalism/materialism. In fact, the word “Secular” was first used by hard-core socialist and atheist George Jacob Holyoake in 1751 as a substitute (and code word) for “atheism”. Because he rightly noted that “atheism” was a “negative word”. The Atheists, Communists, Socialists and secular Humanists well understood that atheistic “Secularism” produced exactly the same results, and led to exactly the same outcome. Namely, the judicial and State imposition of the atheistic worldview on the nation, and a godless lifestyle on the culture: A godless worldview “Without God, spirituality and traditional religion. The “new faith” and religion would be godless secular Humanism. In summary, the godless left used Scientism (Naturalism, Darwinism and deep-time dating), masquerading is science, to decimate the Genesis account of origins. And thus all else that was founded on Genesis. Namely, the entire Judeo-Christian worldview.

    The godless left likewise used atheistic “Secularism”, deceptively masquerading as a non-religious neutral worldview, to eradicate Christianity from all public institutions and the State. The extent of the naivety and tragic lack of discernment of Christians and socio-political conservatives would prove to be very costly. Not only did the Christian world largely embrace the SCIENTISM of godless naturalism, but also naively swallowed the “lie” that atheistic Secularism was not a religion: Thus Christians and conservatives were in “self-destruct” mode. And have only themselves to blame for current developments, and the dominion of the godless leftist worldview in science and every aspect of western culture. The Christian and conservative world has been effectively aiding and abetting the godless leftist in their decimation of theism and the Judeo-Christian worldview for over 50 years by joining the Humanist choir in ridiculing the steadfast mindset of Young earth creationist, and other Christians who give priority to Biblical Revelation over and above the atheism and scientism of mainstream science.
    Thus, driving the leftist Humanist Hurst to their own funeral. Meaning, Christians largely have themselves to blame for current developments, Their tragic lack of discernment as to what is going on has proved very costly. Very costly! Sorry, someone had to say it!

  • At the moment I am reading The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back, An Old Heresy for the New Age by Peter Jones, maybe you have seen it Bill.
    It covers a lot of topics as mentioned here and refers to ancient texts such as Nag Hammadi and Gospel of Thomas where a lot of gnostic ideas come from and how the early church leaders had to deal with these heresies. and how similar these ideas are today with humanism and so on.

  • Yes it is a good book Anthony.

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