So how did the apostles respond? Did they hold a rally in support of freedom of religion and invite all kinds of famous preachers and politicians and use the hashtag #IStandSabbath to bemoan the fact that they were facing persecution for their beliefs? No. They did nothing of the sort at all. Acts 5:41-42 tells us exactly what they did.
“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching andpreaching that the Christ is Jesus.”
Fast-forward nearly two-thousand years. American Christians are all riled up and claiming persecution because the mayor of a city in Texas tried to subpoena some of their sermons regarding homosexuality (See details here, the subpoenas have since been dropped). In response, conservative Christians held a rally in Texas this past weekend called “I Stand Sunday” where Christian celebrities and politicians were invited to speak out against this perceived infringement on religious liberty (see one news story here). Now, to be clear, this is certainly a complex issue both legally and politically but that’s not what I want to deal with here. I just want to put a couple things in perspective.
1.) American Christians have no idea what persecution really is. Christians in the early church understood what persecution was. They went to jail and they were beaten and killed for their beliefs. Modern Christians in some other countries understand what persecution is. There are still places today where Christians are arrested and murdered just for being Christians; where they have to meet in secret at the risk of their very lives. We American Christians insult our brothers and sisters and our forebears when we claim that we are persecuted because a sermon is subpoenaed or a Christian baker has to bake cake for a homosexual couple.
2.) Religious liberty is a luxury, not a guarantee. God never promised Christian’s religious liberty or freedom from persecution. As a matter of fact, God promised the opposite (2 Timothy 3:12; John 15:18-20; 1 John 3:13)! Perhaps, instead of complaining when we face (genuine) persecution, we should be like the early Christians and rejoice!
3.) For the early church, persecution catalyzed church growth. Acts 8 describes how a persecution against the early church caused the believers who had congregated in Jerusalem to disperse to other places. Verse four tells us that those who were scattered went about preaching the word! In other words, our sovereign God was able to use persecution to advance his purposes.
Those are just a few of my thoughts, what do you think?