CultureWatch

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

Christians: No More Playing Games

Jan 4, 2021

Real persecution IS coming for believers in the West:

Those with spiritual eyes to see and ears to hear realise that so much of what passes for Christianity today in the West is merely superficial, vaporous cotton candy, lacking in any real substance and significance. So much of it is, as the saying goes, a mile wide and an inch deep.

The trouble is, as Jesus warned about in the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24-30), the real deal Christians and the fake Christians can be hard to tell apart, at least under normal circumstances. But one clear way to discern which is which occurs during times of persecution. That can separate the men from the boys real fast.

And anyone who has actually read both Scripture and church history knows that suffering, hardship and persecution is often the norm, with times of things going along smoothly actually much less frequent – at least when the church is being all that it should be, and not just playing games and being buddies with the world.

Although I make no claim to be a prophet, and even less of any claim to being divinely inspired here, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that persecution will ramp up big time in the West in the days ahead. It is of course already happening, but it seems clear that it will continue to worsen.

My basis for saying this involves 50 years as a Christian, with much of that time observing current events and being engaged in the culture wars, etc. Things WILL get worse. The only question is, how will Christians respond? As I said, it will be a welcome time of sifting, with the real and the fake believers much more easily distinguished.

To explore this matter more fully let me refer to Live Not By Lies by Rod Dreher. This is my fourth article in which I draw heavily upon his very vital new book, one which I strongly encourage all of you to read. My first piece on the volume – a book review – is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/12/30/a-review-of-live-not-by-lies-by-rod-dreher/

As I have already stated in those pieces, he makes a very convincing case that we are indeed moving into really tough times, with the West well on the way to soft totalitarianism, and then hard totalitarianism. And he buttresses his case by telling the stories of many who endured communist tyranny.

And as I also have said, these stories alone are worth the price of the book. It is because we forget history, and do not learn from these stories, that we are doomed to repeat the failures of the past. Let me share a few more of these stories. Some are almost too gruesome to recount here, so I will spare you the details of the torture and abuse they faced.

But some general truths that these resisters share will be of help to us. For example, a Slovakian dissident, Jan Simulcik, was part of the persecuted church. Dreher tells his story:

In the 1980s, this house was a headquarters for printing and distributing Christian samizdat – underground literature forbidden by the communist regime. Simulcik, now in his fifties, was part of the movement as a college student. A Catholic priest posing as a worker lived in secret in the house back then. Simulcik and a handful of other Catholic students would come there at planned intervals to sort and package samizdat documents for distribution.

He and the others of course were taking huge risks in doing this. Prison, torture, and death would likely be the result if caught. Dreher goes on to say this:

Simulcik tells me that he and his cell of several other young Catholic men were all afraid. You would have been crazy not to have fear.

“The question is, which is going to win: fear or courage? he says. “In the beginning, it was mostly a matter of fear. But once you started experiencing freedom—and you felt it, you felt freedom through the things you did— your courage grew. We experienced all this together. We helped one another to gradually build up the courage to do bigger things, like join the Candle Demonstration [the 1988 mass Christian manifestation that was a precursor to the revolution a year later that peacefully brought down communism].”

“With this courage also developed our sense of duty, and our need to be of service to other people,” the historian continues. “We could see the products of our work. We could hold these samizdat books in our hands, and we could see that people really read them and learned from them. We saw what we did as service to God and service to people. But it took years for us to see the fruit of our labor and to see our communities grow.”

Image of Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents
Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Array Amazon logo

The value of small groups of believers living in solidarity was another key to surviving persecution. Dreher discusses a Baptist pastor in Soviet Russia, Yuri Sipko, who recalls the persecution of churches there decades ago:

“The strongest strike was against the preachers and the pastors, first of all. They took the preachers and pastors to prison. Other men stood up and filled their shoes,” Sipko tells me. “Then they took their houses of prayer. Then at that point began the practice of small groups — people who lived close to one another would gather in small groups. There was no formal structure of pastors or deacons. There were just brothers and sisters who read the Bible together, prayed together, and sang.”

“When they jailed my father, my mother was left alone,” he continues. “Several other sisters were left without husbands. We all got together. We found the Bible they had hidden. The women were reading the Bible to all of us. They were telling how people should live, what we had to hope for. They prayed together, and cried.”

These small groups continued the life of the Baptist church for decades, until Gorbachev released the last Evangelical prisoners of conscience.

“Sixty years of terror, they were unable to get rid of the faith,” the pastor muses. “It was saved specifically in small groups. There was no literature, no organizations for teaching, and even movement was forbidden. Believers rewrote Biblical texts by hand. Even the songs that we sang. I even remember writing these notebooks for myself. But they preserved the true faith.”

And please remember: a lot of these stories took place not all that long ago. And in many places today (China, North Korea, many Muslim majority countries) such hardship and suffering for the faith is still happening. How does our faith stack up? Are we Western Christians simply playing games? Playing church?

Dreher quotes Sipko again as he speaks about conditions in Russia now with no more persecution:

Christianity has become a secondary foundation in people’s lives, not the main foundation. Now it’s all about career, material success, and one’s standing in society. In these small groups, when people were meeting back then, the center was Christ, and his word that was being read, and being interpreted as applicable to your own life. What am I supposed to do as a Christian? What am I doing as a Christian? I, together with my brothers, was checking my own Christianity.

Dreher reminds us that we need to heed these dissidents and their warnings: “A time of painful testing, even persecution, is coming. Lukewarm or shallow Christians will not come through with their faith intact. Christians today must dig deep into the Bible and church tradition and teach themselves how and why today’s post-Christian world, with its self-centredness, its quest for happiness and rejection of sacred order and transcendent values, is a rival religion to authentic Christianity.”

And he has a whole chapter on the “gift of suffering.” In it he says:

To recognize the value in suffering is to rediscover a core teaching of historical Christianity, and to see clearly the pilgrim path walked by every generation of Christians since the Twelve Apostles. There is nothing more important than this when building up Christian resistance to the coming totalitarianism. It is also to declare oneself a kind of savage in today’s culture—even within the culture of the church. It requires standing foursquare against much of popular Christianity, which has become a shallow self-help cult whose chief aim is not cultivating discipleship but rooting out personal anxieties. But to refuse to see suffering as a means of sanctification is to surrender, in Huxley’s withering phrase, to “Christianity without tears.”

A while ago I was discussing with a friend how anti-Christian bigotry and persecution was ramping up in Australia and the West. I mentioned that years ago I had basically decided that when push comes to shove, when various state laws mean I must disobey the government and face the consequences (job loss, fines, jail time, etc), then that is how I would respond.

I said it would do no good to wait until that time comes and then make up our minds. We need to decide now how we will proceed in such circumstances. We need to resolve now to put the Lord first, regardless of the negative repercussions.

One Soviet dissident that Dreher discusses, Viktor Popkov, endured years of harassment from the secret police, and was put into prison in 1980. He said this: “Maybe this will sound strong, but the principles and the things you confess, you need to be ready to die for them – and only then will you have the strength to resist. I don’t see any other way.”

I don’t either.

[1591 words]

16 Responses to Christians: No More Playing Games

  • Sobering and so close at hand. So very many fine young minds brainwashed with marxism glorified.

    Please pray as never before during the coming days in this gargantuan battle between good and evil.

    Curtis Bowers:
    “Elites are weaponizing Covid and the 2020 election to take us closer to their dream for the world. We must understand globalist strategy if we are to educate others and effectively fight back.”

  • true. I have spent over a year gathering material needed. I hope to be ready. do you know of any good books about the first and second century church??? they should be a tremendous guide to todays christian as they suffered greatly.

  • Thanks Paul. There are many to choose from. Here are a few for starters:

    Boer, Harry, A Short History of the Early Church. 1990.
    Bruce, F. F., The Spreading Flame. 1961.
    Chadwick, Henry, The Early Church. 1967.
    Ferguson, Everett, Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 2003.

  • thanks bill with time growing short I want to grab what I can.

  • Thanks Paul. If you are really keen, this series by Christopher Hall on the early church is very good:

    Learning Theology with the Church Fathers. IVP, 2002.
    Reading Scripture with Church Fathers. IVP, 1998.
    Worshiping with the Church Fathers. IVP, 2009.
    Living Wisely with the Church Fathers. IVP, 2017.

  • I have all 4 of those thanks and two by someone “with the reformers”.

    I think lately of a line from a song I heard in the 90’s “the darkness spreads like fear with lies no-one can hear all sense is twisted”. I cant help but think something terrible is coming and the church is clueless. one thing is for sure a great winnowing WILL occur and many will leave the faith. How many, I wonder, could have stayed if only they had been prepared not given a touchy-feely christianity but the real deal. how many “shepherds” have done more to scatter the flock than outside forces??? Bad pastors and elders have cause more damage to the name of christ than those who openly follow satan. Others make money through books and conferences and so on but are still found wanting when weighed. They care more about the collection plate than anything else. I feel very sad for what is coming and sad for those whom have been led astray by false pastors and may never get to the truth. I know a lot of people think I am wrong or at least weird for asking for God to bring judgment but I see a church that isn’t waking up not matter what is thrown at it and I see NO other way. We had a reprieve and yet we didn’t get out in force and do something for 4 years. I worry about the children raise in such a blasé compliant church. I love kids and it breaks my heart to see so many ill prepared for the world, too many Sunday Schools are a JOKE, and the leaving the church in their preteen/teen years some never to return. maybe a real harsh judgment that forces the survivors into small nations, 2-4 states each, and forces them to be there for each other and rely on God for their very survival will reinvigorate the church. An EMP would help with that too. yes it would mean pre-electricity and many deaths from causes not seen in the modern world but it would mean deep faith. I would like the American, and even western, church to get on fire but I see no way for her to even awaken from her slumber, much less burn with a passion for christ, without the heavy hand of God coming down on her and the nation. The puritans way of life was more difficult BUT their faith was FAR richer. Give me rich faith over easy life any day! (I hate the way puritan is equated to prude in our society as they had joy and fun but just not in the immoral sense).

  • Just Brilliant Bill and lights a fire in me to prepare. We have an online prayer for the persecuted every Monday night – a handful of believers from several nations gather to pray and to strengthen one another as we see the day of our Lord fast approaching.

    My second album “Church Under Fire” was dedicated spiritually and financially to the persecuted for Christ. My book shelf is full of books and testimonials of the suffering church throughout the ages. We have been a small house church now for several years as finding a church that was truly preaching the whole counsel of God’s word just got nigh to impossible. It’s not easy at first because we have been programmed to be mere spectators rather than true worshippers, but the rewards are great and the fellowship is deeper and much more meaningful!

    Thank you brother for a very timely encouragement. Off to prayer group now!

    God bless you richly.

  • I too have made a similar resolution to yours, Bill. Easy to say now, but how will I react when the chips are down? God help me!

  • God help us all David!

  • This article tugs at my heart as I read about the persecution of Christians worldwide, which is expanding. I pray that I will be strong in my faith, and find that the daily readings of Spurgeon are helping to increase my devotion to our Lord & Saviour.
    I also believe we may need to have small groups where we can worship him and have true fellowship with other saints. Perhaps the lockdown periods have given us a chance to consider this.

  • Thanks for this article, Bill. Another thing to remember is that “they” cannot touch you or harm you until your hour has come.

    There was the time they rushed Jesus up to the top of a cliff, to hurl him down, but he passed through the crowd and went on his way.

    Another time, they picked up stones to stone him with, but they could do nothing, because his hour had not yet come.

  • I’m similarly resolved too, David – and Bill. Let us also encourage and strengthen one another, and others who may be wavering.
    In some ways the waiting, the anticipation, and the imagining of what it will be like and what will be required of us, is the hardest. May God help us all! And He will.

  • I suppose it boils down to three key points. No 1 is that as Christians we must not be ignorant of what it entails in becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, or of reading the signs of the times. No 2 is that if we are Christians we will be persecuted – no ifs and buts and No 3, Jesus Christ has overcome and through the power of the Holy Spirit we also will overcome anything the World and its ruler, Satan, care to throw at us.

    Romans 8:36- 39 says, 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 3neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    David Skinner UK

  • Paul Wilson, I picked up this book today and it has some good sections on how the early church dealt with persecution, suffering, etc:

    Guy, Laurie, Introducing Early Christianity. 2004.

  • Thanks. Great timing I am just about to buy more books.

Leave a Reply