The setting begins about AD 44-45 and you have just entered adulthood; you are married and have started a family. Someone comes to your city and tells you the Good News and you believe. You become a follower of The Way which teaches that Jesus Christ is God and that he came to earth to live a perfect life, to suffer and be executed for no sin except the sins of the world and to rise again to a new life; and that believing in this Jesus Christ will bring to the believer a new life, an eternal life. You believed and became a child of God. People have begun to call believers such as you, Christians.
Imagine as a believer in Jesus Christ you are living in a nation that has a strange kind of religious freedom. The ruler is considered divine and you can worship your god(s) as long as you also worshiped and offered sacrifices to the official gods of the nation you lived it. The nation coveres a huge amount of land and rules over thousands and thousands of people from diverse origins and groups. Some religions are more tolerated than others but your faith and the religion that grew out of it has been pronounced by your government to be an “illegal superstition,” a crime under the law.
Some accuse people of your faith of practicing cannibalism because you observe the sacrament of Holy Communion. Symbolically eating the flesh and blood of Christ is misunderstood and condemned. This is just one of the fears that the people who do not believe and the government uses these fears to attempt to wipe out all who believe as you believe. Blamed for many things, you have become an enemy of the state just because you believe in Jesus Christ. There is no public church you can run to for safety. There are no mega churches where you can go and be told that God loves you and will take care of you, and if you support them God will make you rich and all you need to do is just do good for yourself because God wants you to be happy.
In fact, anything that you say to anyone about your faith is likely to be reported to authorities or your neighbors themselves will take up the cause of persecuting you – it is not pretty and it is not easy and it costs a great deal to be a Christian. You and all who believe as you do are challenged each day because not only do you not have a public church, you have to meet in secret. You have no bible to carry with you and no iPhone or tablet with you favorite version of the Bible. In fact the whole Bible does not exist. Imagine how many without the Authorized King James would manage their study. “Biblical scholars” are very few and very far between. Your faith is outlawed and has no standing and no influence on the government. But you are okay and you are at peace. You do not allow anxiety to disrupt your heart and mind because you know in your heart what you believe and you know that God is with you, you’ve been taught his promises. You have decided that living for Jesus and, if necessary, to suffer and die for Him is better than the pagan and godless world around you. The society around you which you left behind when you believed is so perverse – immorality is more common than morality with women abused and used and babies are killed at will when born sometimes left out on the side of the road to die exposed to the elements – especially baby girls.
There is no Moral Majority no Council of Evangelicals, no Focus on the Family around to push an evangelical conservative and religious agenda with the government of your nation. In fact if you were even to be presented with such a concept it would seem totally absurd and contrary to what you are learning from the small body of believer in your town. They are teaching with help of the Holy Spirit from the Holy Scriptures available, and from the letters and other writings that are circulating around the country among the churches. The disciples of Jesus Christ, now apostles of his message are teaching you how to live in a hostile and violent culture. It is not a safe vocation because some of the government officials see it as illegal activity. Some of them eventually are arrested, put in prison, tried and put to death for their practice of teaching. Others are persecuted because the wave upon wave of persecution from the government which is sent throughout the nation. None of these teachers are teaching how to influence the government unless it is through the effort of preaching the Gospel to all including the soldiers. God works through them to save even some of those government employees.
Actually for the next 300 years, those who are followers of The Way, the body of Christian believers which call themselves the Church, experience times of respite and then times of persecution. Depending on who the head of state is, Christians are either hunted or left alone but always, no matter what the circumstances, the message continues to be preached and the body of believers grows in spiritual maturity and strength. Some of the writings that have been circulating become accepted as part of a new portion of scripture. Sometime in the mid 3rd century, around AD 250, what comprised the Holy Scriptures had been agreed upon by most of the leaders of the Church built on faith in Jesus Christ.
The First Promise and Covenant and now a Second – a Fulfilled Promise and Covenant come together or The Old Testament and a New Testament as we have come to know the complete Bible. By late 4th century – AD 397 – what is the bible we have today is settled by the leaders of the Church. Yet, the ordinary person still does not have a personal copy. There still is only one version and it is not the KJV.
The first Apostles and evangelists and teachers teach others to be teachers. By the time the last of the first apostles passes from earth to heaven around AD 100, the church has become exactly what Jesus said it would, a force that even the gates of hell could not prevail against. And the gates of hell have been trying to prevail against the Church ever since. The force behind the gates of hell is Satan and his minions of demons – fallen angels with their commitment to destruction of Christ’s followers which is strong but not stronger than faith in Jesus Christ. There have been multiple times and ways that the enemy has successfully damaged the Church leading many off its original mission of going to all nations and making disciples of all people. If there is one tactic that is used more than any other it is to undermine the belief, the faith of the believer. Plant doubt and erode a believers faith and they become easier prey than those who stand firm in the faith and use their belief to counter the lies that come at them from the enemy, Satan. This remains true. The same faith that enabled and empowered believers in AD 45 or 60 or 90 is ours and just as able to empower us
Over the next 2000 years, the process of spreading the Good News and adding new people who become Followers of the Way into the Church continues and grows and it spreads across the earth. The true Church is always a threat to those in power and so it encounters many times of severe persecution throughout the world. The faithful are given a break from time to time as it was recorded in Acts 9:31, “So the church throughout … enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” But as long as the true Church spread the message and fulfilled its mission, it posed a threat to the unbelieving world even when the unbelievers are falsely and deceitfully cloaked as the church.
A key element to a continued increase was the times of not always enjoying peace. In fact persecutions have been a part of the process and necessary for the church to grow. When the church enjoys periods of no persecution for too long, it becomes lazy and it loses its way. It gets involved in becoming part of the power structure and the government and forgets The Way that it is to follow. The season of peace and then tribulation is followed by growth and then again peace and more tribulation and more growth have been happening all over the world in different places at different time. Once in the jungle in Ecuador five followers of The Way lost their lives trying to bring the message of Christ’s love and forgiveness to a people who had never heard the message before. They were speared to death on the beach that served as a landing strip right next to their small airplane. The people they were trying to reach and who killed them ended up accepting the effort came to know the salvation of Jesus Christ as well as many more. The blood of these believers was used by God to reach an unreached people and bring many into the Church.
It is evident that the season of peace and freedom for those who are followers of The Way, or claim to be Christians in America is coming to an end. Religious freedom has been ours for nearly 200 years, for the most part. Over the past 20 years and even more because it began probably 50 years ago, the focus of the organized churches in America has shifted. This has been in response to the shift in our culture as we have disposed of pleasing God as a primary influence and we have turned to pleasing ourselves. We are doing what is right in our own eyes just as the reprobate Children of Israel did over and over again after settling in the Promised Land. And, guess what? We are about to reap in fistfuls the same judgements God sent to his chosen people.
As the church in America, or the American evangelical church has diluted its mission it has effectively and essentially turned away from following Christ’s commandment. In place of what it has turned away from is the effort to save America and the American Way of Life. We hold our freedom given by the Constitution so dear that we overlook what our primary mission is. And we have come to believe that we can’t be followers of The Way unless we have those freedoms secure and intact.
Not every person or every church by any means but as a corporate organization across America, the church has become mostly apostate, and in some cases cold and dead. Going through the motions and pretending to know the steps, our churches are now more involved in entertainment and helping their congregation feel comfortable than they are in rooting out sin and teaching righteousness and calling sinners to repentance. Oh and lest we forget singing God Bless America instead of preaching Americans believe and repent and be a Blessing to God.
When our churches should be preparing their congregations for the storm that is coming and in some places already here, they are being negligent. Massive “ministries” are built to reach the world for Christ, or so they say. Evangelical Christianity is now big business. Radio, TV, Internet, and Email are all employed and books, resource of the month, DVD sets of sermons and lessons are peddled. There is a massive amount of money that must be raised they say. Stand “shoulder to shoulder” in their effort to spread the message – what message? The honest efforts that have integrity and are accountable to God and are supported by the gifts and offerings of God’s people are lost amid the charlatans and the peddlers. Money is siphoned off for grandiose demonstration and productions and programs, huge assemblies in key major cities across the nations and ostentatious buildings. What would be the result of honest independent audits of these ministries. Some are good and do it with a pure heart but many are shills for making the ministers rich.
Many in the American Church find their mission in trying to exert political change. They are working to “turn our country around,” or to “restore family values,” or “stop the slide into the slough” of our culture. They ring the alarm of things that are going wrong but they continue to forget the simple purpose God gave just as he departed to heaven, “make disciples of all nations.” Restoring America’s values is more important than reaching the lost and making disciples. So, they compromise with the world and they let sin slide. Again massive amounts of money are solicited and collected to help the right politicians get elected and when they are elected, they fail to do what they were elected for. Of course, because God is not in that movement for that is not the mission of the Church – evangelical or not.
This result is the reason for this blog. We need to get ready for the result.
The Church cannot correct the state when it needs to correct itself first. Shouting about same-sex marriage as the death of traditional marriage while we have allowed the sanctity of marriage to be eroded and destroyed from our very pulpits is simply an example. If we truly want to restore the family, why are we not equally obsessed, as Christians, with the sin of single parenting, absent fathers, abandoned families? When our Church leaders have for years be excusing their marriage failures as “led by God” how can we be so concerned that two people of the same-sex choose to unite? When a professing Christian has an affair, divorces and then marries again and then has another affair, another divorce, and marries again, and then has a third divorce, and is yet the leader of a church – we as a whole are disgraced. This kind of profession of faith is nothing but a sham with no shame.
No, I am not in favor of same-sex relationships and marriages. I am opposed to that because God is opposed to it. But I certainly do not see that as more dangerous to our society than the permissive heterosexual activity that has been so rampant within our churches for several generations with the result that our youth have no sense of what God wants of them or what sex was designed for. Co-habitation is so common that it is now considered accepted even by many in the church because we do not want to offend and we do not want to lose those members. Nothing is said about it and nothing is done about it. God gave marriage and the sexual union as a beautiful model of his relationship with us and for the purpose made clear in Scripture which was never rescinded.
No wonder we have evangelical leaders in our nation endorsing a man who while married to his first wife, hand an affair, divorced her and married his mistress and then had an affair and divorced his second wife and married his second mistress. They endorse a man who opened casinos and established strip shows and clubs in them. They not only endorse but they actually perpetrate a lie about him being a Christian or becoming a Christian when by his own confession has never asked God for forgiveness for anything. These evangelical leaders have endorsed a different gospel and a different requirement for salvation. And yet they remain in their pulpits teaching the Word.
No wonder our country is in such turmoil with such division and we Christians are seeing a new swell of persecution. The world is facing the growth of a religion of evil that teaches hate and killing of all who do not convert to them and yet has no clue how to confront it. Split in as many ways as possible they will appease, accommodate and misunderstand while evil is exercised all around them. But they will unite in their disdain and hate and active persecution and even eventually will get to killing those who stand for Jesus Christ. That is the course of evil and it is on the rise.
It is time to prepare, strengthen your faith, learn what is really important and worthy of dying for. And be prepared if it comes to that. Remember that the Lord God has said, “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”[Isaiah 41:10] What power and what comfort to know just that and yet he has promised so much more. He has promised eternal life and if you believe now, you already possess a life that will never end. “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11:25-26]
“It is better to know than to not know,” says Jesse Stone, a character created by Robert B. Parker. I agree. I would rather know that difficult days are coming than to proceed in a dreamy fog of hoping somehow things are going to go back to what they were. They never do. Did we ever get back to the Garden of Eden? Did we ever get back to the days of King Solomon? Did we ever get back to…well, think, is there a time in history, near or far, that we really want to go back to? We can’t go back in any way and if we could it would be to everything that was there, not just the good stuff.
The world that we started with in this blog was, of course the world dominated by Rome. It did experience, a dramatic shift that changed conditions for Christians from horrible to being much better…for a while.
Constantine became emperor after fighting a civil war in which he had marked his soldiers shields with a Cross. His victory after that led him to become a strong supporter of Christianity. In AD 313, he proclaimed that every person was free “to follow the religion which he chooses.” Under Constantine, Christianity rapidly became the dominant religion. It was not long before it became indistinguishable from the power of the state. Boy O’ Boy, the religious leaders had successfully turned their country around. It was a new day dawning. No longer would the Christians be persecuted and killed for their faith. Great, huh? The hand of God has finally rescued the followers of The Way.
Well, not so fast.
Certainly God was in control because He always is in control. Every King, every Emperor, every Prime Minister, every President is in place only because God allows it.
Just 82 years after Emperor Constantine stopped the state backed persecution of Christian, in AD 395, Emperor Theodosius made Christianity Rome’s new state religion. What happened then? Christians, who had so long been on the defensive, out of love and obedience to the example and teaching of Christ, forgave all and lived happily ever after….NOT. Not a chance. Now with a new power and license from the state as the official religion, Christians turned to attacking the pagan religions. They closed temples and banned sacrifices to pagan gods. They even transformed some pagan celebrations into Christian ones. For example, the church changed the birthday of the sun god on the 25th of December into the celebration of the birth of Christ.
Source for historical references: CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS FOUNDATION / Bill of Rights in Action / Fall 1997 (13:4)