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EDITORIAL
Inspirational Words or Inspired Ones?
Weblog by Glenn Penner
Glenn Penner of VOM - Canada
10-Sep-2005
"Stop praying for persecution in China to end, for it is through persecution that the church has grown."

For those of us who work with persecuted Christians, it is not that unusual to be struck by statements made by those whose experience of God is rather different from our own. Recently I read a column by an author who had been impacted by a rather unusual statement made during a recent interview between a reporter with his denomination and a prominent leader in the rapidly expanding Chinese house church movement. Apparently, just as the reporter was wrapping up the interview, he asked the Chinese church leader how people could pray for the church in China. The Chinese pastor is said to have responded, ""Stop praying for persecution in China to end, for it is through persecution that the church has grown."

In response, the columnist wrote:

"'What astounding faith!' I thought when I heard the story. However, my admiration of his faith was quickly tempered by what he said next. 'We, in fact, are praying that the American church might taste the same persecution,' he said, 'so revival would come to the American church like we have seen in China.'

Once I recovered from the shock of such a profound statement, I thought about the irony: We in America keep praying for God to bless us - and Christians in other nations are praying God will allow us to experience persecution so that we’ll act like the blessing we were made to be. I shudder at the thought that we are on the road to persecution, brought on because of our own arrogance."

Two comments are necessary in response to these comments. First, one must not automatically assume that the Chinese church leader is right when he states that persecution is what has brought growth to the church in China. An equally good (and perhaps even stronger) argument could be made that it is the growth of the church that has resulted in its persecution by those opposed to the spread of the gospel. There is little biblical or empirical evidence to support Tertullian's often misquoted phrase, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." I respect Tertullian, as well as this particular Chinese church leader (I am fairly certain that I know who he is). But they are not infallible.

Second, this columnist seems to be implying that persecution is one of the ways that God punishes His people for sin when he states that the American church may be "on the road to persecution, brought on because of our own arrogance." There is no biblical evidence to support this statement. He is unfortunately confusing God's judgment with the cost of discipleship. Persecution is the price that God's people experience due to their faithfulness in bringing the gospel to a fallen world. It is not God's punishment or disciplinary process. Taking his statement as it stands, one might be led to believe the persecuted suffer due to sin in their lives or because they have done something wrong. I doubt that this is what he was wanting to imply, but this columnist's observations do reflect common misunderstandings concerning persecution. They also remind us that a theology of persecution cannot be based on the words or perceptions of persecuted believers, as inspirational as they may be; it must be based on the inspired Word of God.

(Glenn Penner is the Communications Director of The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada and author of the book "In the Shadow of the Cross: A Biblical Theology of Persecution and Discipleship," which can be ordered online from www.persecution.net)
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Jim Dykstra