I am not an alarmist, nor am I a prophet. But as I listen to and read a cross-section of materials emanating from the Western (primarily American) church I am aware that there are those who recognize a trend toward the persecution of Christians in the West. The form of the persecution will be different perhaps than other parts of the world. At some point it may converge with global persecution and take on more violent forms.
In the premier issue of the Journal of Lutheran Mission are papers and responses from a Summit on Lutheran Missions held in San Antonio, Texas on November 2013. In an article titled “What will Happen to Missouri [referring to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod]?” The Rev. Randall L. Golter, executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission, comments regarding the possible coming persecution: “Headed our way may very well be the cleansing and purifying by the Lord Himself, so that the idols fabricated every day by the church are exposed and she remains useful for His purpose of making Christians.”
It is a rather sobering and, I believe, realistic statement. Would God allow persecution to come upon Western churches to purify the church? God allows persecution as a means of fulfilling His mission in the world. Persecution has many purposes, in fact, and purification is one of them. The question is, can we clean-up our act now and avoid persecution (something like Nineveh after the preaching of Jonah)? This is preferable to Israel and Judah’s response that led them into captivity. Perhaps we should purify and cleanse ourselves and the church so when persecution comes we will be better prepared for it. Whatever the question and whatever the future, it is always appropriate to search our hearts and practices and allow God to cleanse and purify us now. Even a non-prophet like me can see the wisdom of that. Has not the time come?
Rather than being entirely focused on the possibilities of persecution for the West in the future, it seems wise to consider seriously standing with those who are already being persecuted. There is an attitude that says that if it does not affect me, then it is not my problem. As Christians, one body that is global in scope, persecution that produces pain in one part should be felt by the rest of the body (I Cor. 12:26). If we feel no pain, are we truly connected to the body of Christ? Is there a spiritual numbness that doesn’t allow the pain to be felt?
A recent news story from my own denomination told about an attack on one of our churches in India on July 16th. Suspects entered the church around 2:30 p.m. during a youth service, ransacked the church, physically harmed the pastor and several of the youth, and broke the steeple and other church furniture. They then threatened church personnel with "dire consequences” if the church did not close down. I wonder how many around the world felt their pain upon hearing that news?
Someday, perhaps not as far down the road as we may think, their pain will be our pain and the word will go out to them to pray for us. In the meantime, it seems reasonable and fair that we pray for them.
YOUR TURN: Do you believe persecution will come to American Christians? What are you doing now to prepare yourself to stand strong in your faith when and if persecution does come?
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.