CultureWatch

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

The Stages of Christian Persecution

Jan 16, 2020

We need to discern the times we are in – times of persecution:

That true Christians will be despised, hated, attacked and persecuted is a given. Jesus for example said this: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)

And the Apostle Paul concurred, writing: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) You can bank on these truths – so much so, that if you are NOT getting any sort of persecution or negative responses, you may need to ask if you are really a Christian.

Yes, it is that serious. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it, “If you are suffering as a Christian, and because you are a Christian, it is one of the surest proofs you can ever have of the fact that you are a child of God.” Or as Leonard Ravenhill said, “If a Christian is not having tribulation in the world, there’s something wrong!”

And remember I started this article by speaking about “true Christians”. Fake Christians of course will know nothing about what is being discussed here. They will be getting along with the world just fine. So of course they will not experience persecution. As John R. Rice once put it, “The world never burned a casual Christian at the stake.”

Here I want to deal with the situation in the West. A few preliminary remarks: First, some will scoff when I and others speak of persecution in the West. Sure, we are not being tortured, beheaded and killed for our faith as is often the case overseas.

Not yet, at least. But when a person is forced out of his job because of his Christian beliefs, or heavily fined, or even incarcerated for periods of time, those types of suffering and hardship are very real indeed. I know some of these people, including those trying to feed their families but who have been unable to work for long periods of time because of their Christian beliefs.

The second thing to point out is that we need to see the big picture. We need to have a bit of historical awareness. It is easy to not see aright when we look only to today and to our local situation. But we need to see the bigger picture and what is happening not just now, but over a period of time.

From that sort of perspective, we find that genuine anti-Christian bigotry and persecution is not only happening in the West, but it has been ramping up for decades now. Things really are getting worse in this regard, and if we don’t wake up to what is happening, it may soon be too late for warnings like this to be penned.

For many years I and others have been trying to sound the alarm and alert people to the increasing persecution of Christians, often taking the form of the culture wars. As the culture around us becomes more and more ungodly, immoral and hostile to our faith, we can only expect to be respected less and less and vilified and harassed more and more.

As such, it is not amiss to speak in terms of the stages of persecution. If we seek to learn from the past, and from other parts of the world, we can discern an actual progression of anti-Christian activity. Sure, this is not a hard and fast formula, but it is a general overview of how things tend to escalate.

I refer to something I recently read. I looked up the original source, and it appears to have come from a piece written back in 2012. I refer to what Msgr. Charles Pope wrote on “Some thoughts on the five stages of religious persecution”. In the piece he mentions where he first heard about this and gives credit for it. Although writing as a Catholic, he of course includes all believers. As he says in his introduction:

It is rare that a respected segment of American life would become vilified and hated overnight. The usual transformation from respect to vilification goes in stages which grow in intensity. And hereby the Church, once a respected aspect of American life, along with the Protestant denominations has become increasingly marginalized and hated by many. It may help us to review these stages of persecution since it would seem that things are going to get more difficult for the Church in the years ahead. Generally, there are distinguished five basic stages of persecution.

He goes on to list these five stages. You can read what he has to say about each one, but here are the five:

1. Stereotyping the targeted group
2. Vilifying the targeted group for alleged crimes or misconduct
3. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society
4. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works
5. Persecuting the targeted group outright

He concludes his article with these words: “Unlikely you say? Alarmist? Well, stages one through four are pretty well in place. One may wish to whistle past the graveyard but it looks like we’re pretty well set for Stage V. You decide.” Have a read of the full piece here: blog.adw.org/2012/11/some-thoughts-on-the-five-stages-of-religious-persecution/

Bear in mind this was written some eight years ago. From my vantage point – dealing as I do with so many who have already fell afoul of the misotheists and Christophobes – I would say we most certainly are in Stage V. Sure, expect things to get even worse than they already are, but there is no doubt where we are now at in the West.

As I have said so often now, we have moved from being a Christian culture to a post-Christian culture to an anti-Christian culture. Long gone are the days when we could happily get along with the world and expect their blessing and endorsement of our beliefs and values.

Make no mistake, there still are some churches and denominations in the West today that DO have the full blessing and approval of the world. But they are apostate churches and church leaders. They are those who have long ago sold their birthright for the desire to be loved and accepted by the world.

They are the ones fully on the pro-abortion bandwagons, on the pro-homosexuality and trans bandwagons, and on the interfaith bandwagons. The world loves them because they have the same values and mindset as the world does. They are not counter-cultural as the true church of Jesus Christ will always be.

As one writer put it:

The only Christians who get persecuted are those who: (1) share the gospel when the government says not to (check the book of Acts) or (2) stand against evil when the majority are toeing the line (see the book of Daniel). If you haven’t already been doing these things when you had the freedom to do it, what in the world makes you think you will do it when you don’t have those freedoms? The government WILL NOT CARE if you keep the gospel inside your church walls and only vote against evil. Every oppressive government has allowed churches to meet just as long as they keep their mouths shut (Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, China even has State-controlled churches). If persecution is coming, don’t worry, you won’t see any of it so long as your Christianity is limited to your church attendance. americanvision.org/6623/president-obama-and-persecution-complexes/

But we who faithfully love and obey Christ and the Word and seek to be salt and light will always be seen as renegades, rebels and recalcitrants by the world. How could it be otherwise? All that we cherish and value the world hates. Consider a few of the obvious contrasts:
We are in the light, they are in the darkness.
We affirm life, they affirm death.
We cherish morality, they cherish immorality.
We champion truth, they champion relativism.
We are exclusive in our beliefs, they are inclusive.
We say no to self, they say yes to self.
We hail King Jesus, they crucified King Jesus.

The list could go on and on. So of course we will be targeted by the world. Increasingly we have little in common with the world. Sure, we live in the world, and we try to reach those in the world. And we seek to build bridges to our non-Christian neighbours.

But it is the height of folly to expect that we can get along with the world and be loved by the world if we are fully true to biblical truth and stand strong in our allegiance to Christ. Again, we are warned about this repeatedly in Scripture. As Jesus said in John 16:2-4:

“They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.”

It does indeed seem that the time is coming. Let me finish with two quotes. Regardless of your take on eschatology, these are well worth reading. First, David Pawson said this: “A true man of God prepares God’s people for persecution. The false teaches them how to avoid it.” Second, Corrie Ten Boom, wrote this in 1974:

There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution. In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly: ‘We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes – to stand and not faint.’ I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation, but more than sixty percent of the Body of Christ across the world has already entered into the tribulation. There is no way to escape it. We are next.

[1830 words]

15 Responses to The Stages of Christian Persecution

  • This is one of the most important messages that the Church in the West needs to hear and to heed!
    … Before it is too late!

  • Yes Bill, this is our reality. God help our children.

  • Great article Bill and very true!

  • If only these things were said from pulpits in this country. Thanks for this article.

  • I am one of many little people no one hears about who has lost a job because of their Christian faith. My case was 10 years ago and ended up in the Equal Opportunity Commission. The terms of the settlement preclude me from discussing details of the case, but I did receive an apology and a tiny payout. I had no savings and no way of maintaining my rental payments, so I ended up having to move into a motorbike shed to live for 18 months, while I looked for another job.
    I am also one of many who have experienced persecution for their faith within their very own homes. It happens. I experienced it over a period of 20 years – my kids and I have been held hostage twice because of my faith – once at the threat of an axe if we tried to leave; the other time when the persecutor was under the influence of mental health drugs where I was denied access to the phone, and all curtains closed and windows locked so I could not signal to the neighbours. Twice we were left with nothing but the clothes on our backs as all our belongings were stolen and destroyed. I was frequently denied access to money to feed and clothe the children. My mail was read before I was given it – my emails were hacked, my Bibles and Christian books (donated by friends who had some inkling of circumstances) were always thrown out. I was isolated from friends. I was abused if heard giving thanks for a meal. There was much more that I still find difficult to write down or discuss. It was made very clear many times, and usually in the foulest language possible, that my faith was the reason for what we endured, and that the persecution would continue until I gave it up.
    As a Christian, I have come through victoriously to the other side. Occasionally I experience a recurrence of the anxiety and hyper-vigilance of those days– but I have a Saviour who lifts me from that when I give it up to Him.
    My adult children have not been so fortunate though, and my relationship with two of them is now strained. As children, they clung to faith as I did to get them through those days, but they have given up what faith they had, and are now hostile to it. They believed that if I had given up my faith as demanded, that things would have changed for the better. So when I travel to visit them, the visit is short and strained – I believe they want me to come, but when I come I bring the past with me. The third child is not a believer either but he has been less impacted than the other two, so we have forged a strong relationship and my visits to him are easier. So please pray for the many families who are living this experience here in Australia – probably under our very noses within our own churches. They will not speak up about it because their family and friends have been threatened if they do.

  • Many thanks for that Anon. Praying.

  • The statement “It is rare that a respected segment of American life would become vilified and hated overnight. The usual transformation from respect to vilification goes in stages which grow in intensity” reminds me of a quote by Madison “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

  • Seems to have similarities to the stages of genocide:

    1. Classification People are divided into “them and us”.
    2. Symbolization “When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups…”
    3. Discrimination “Law or cultural power excludes groups from full civil rights: segregation or apartheid laws, denial of voting rights”.
    4. Dehumanization “One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects, or diseases.”
    5. Organization “Genocide is always organized… Special army units or militias are often trained and armed…”
    6. Polarization “Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda…”
    7. Preparation “Mass killing is planned. Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity…”
    8. Persecution “Expropriation, forced displacement, ghettos, concentration camps”.
    9.Extermination “It is ‘extermination’ to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human”.
    10. Denial “The perpetrators… deny that they committed any crimes…”

    1-4 and 6 seem to correspond to 1-4 of popes list. For those who might consider this a stretch consider that muslims in China are in concentration camps! Genocide for religious reasons is not unheard of.

  • Thank you Bill. Exceptional and timely post. Long time reader, first time poster. Love you work, read your blood daily and have all your books 🙂 I preached on this very topic last Sunday at the church I attend entitled “Cultivating a Heart for the Persecuted and Persecution“: https://gbf.org.au/index.php/sermons/other-sermons/all-sermons/message/cultivating-a-heart-for-the-persecuted-and-persecution

  • As to Corrie Ten Boom’s quote the biggest problem is many of not most Christians confuse tribulation and the tribulation. Because of this Christians expect a life of ease no hardship we have Christ. But tribulation is part of life period especially for the Christian. The tribulation however is understood to be th final seven years prior to the second coming marked by the reign of the anti-christ and has certain signs that precede it. Too often people forgot about the signs an were ready to proclaim the tribulation was at hand despite the signs not being there. Date setting has caused the church much trouble over the centuries! Christians should always be prepared for tribulation as it always comes. While I believe the church will NOT be here during THE tribulation, the final seven years, since neither I nor anyone knows when it will start we can’t just assume any tribulation we see coming on the horizon is THE tribulation and thus we won’t suffer it. We must prepare.

  • There is a quote on the show Babylon 5 that I think would fit here: “it’s easy to find something worth dying for the question is do you have something worth living for???” Many would be willing to be crucified or die some other excruciatingly painful death or Christ but how many are willing to love a excruciatingly painful life for Christ??? We would be fine being killed for Jesus but how about being humiliated??? We could sing going to the gallows or the torture chamber but can we even smile when everyone we meet family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, EVERYONE spews hatred and vitriol our way??? Could we withstand a mob following us everywhere?? Harassing our children and family???

    Sometimes dying for your faith is the easier route.

    I would think not all martyrs are killed physically some die social emotional even psychological death due to persecution long before their body ceases to function.

  • Persecution will be led by the official, institutional church, by the religious leaders, just as it was with Jesus Christ

    And Paul Wilson I believe you mean presenting oneself as a living sacrifice rather than a dead sacrifice.

    And Anon, never cease praying for your children.

    David Skinner

  • Thank you, David, for your encouragement. Much needed and appreciated. Holding onto hope can be difficult at times. I have seen frequent signs of the Lord’s hand in the life of one of my boys in particular – but I am blind to his work in the other two – trusting though that He is working in spite of my blindness and wavering hope.

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