Sunday, Nov. 3, was designated as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. I hope all churches, like thousands around the world, spent time praying for those who are being persecuted for their faith.
I received emails and physical mail from a number of Christian organizations that support the persecuted church and I understand the persecution is real and expanding. It has been said there have been more Christians killed for their faith in the 20th century than in the entire first 1900 years of the church’s existence.
In many nations each meeting of the church is a risk for arrest, torture and execution. But, unsaved people are coming to Christ and the church is growing. That, in my mind, is quite counterintuitive.
Yet, it is the history of Christ’s church. In Acts, when the church burst onto the scene, there was severe persecution from both religious and civil authorities. But Acts tells us that every time the church met, souls were saved. Our world — and our nation — needs a good turning upside down and a return to morality and righteousness.
The church is waning as each week churches close their doors. Why is it in America, where it is currently safe to be a Christian and active in the church, attendance is significantly dwindling, but in places of severe danger the church is growing? What gives?
A few years ago, I interviewed a missionary from Eastern Europe. At that time, Communism was making it difficult to live for Christ but churches had been growing. When we talked, he discussed the fact that the churches there were no longer growing and vibrant. I asked why and he stated that the worst thing that occurred to the church was that it had become “westernized” as in soft, apathetic and weak.
Why is it that in those places where the church is so persecuted, that others are accepting Christ and the persecution that’s sure to come? Because those who are dying for the Lord are showing, without question, that He is not only worth living for — He is worth dying for. And when onlookers see that, they are sure to want that same Jesus and are willing to give everything to and for Him.
Why is it that the church in America is doing just the opposite? What are we showing to the lost, the sinners and those looking for answers and peace? We’re showing them that Christ is not worth everything. We’re showing them that Christ is worth our leftovers.
We give our leftover time to the Lord and the church. We give our leftover finances to the Lord. We give our leftover energies and abilities to the Lord. When we’ve used and expended everything on ourselves, what’s leftover He gets. And when the lost see that from those who profess to love and serve Him, they don’t see anything in Him they want.
Our church services have dropped off to one or at most two a week. We think the Bible teaches that church cannot last more than one hour, so at 45 minutes, we begin to look at our watches. We bring our phones and tablets into church, pretending to use them to search the Scriptures, but those who sit beside us know different.
Our worship has become programmed, a 15-30 minute worship time led by a worship leader and a worship team. We turn it on and off on cue. We entertain more with videos and YouTube than with simple preaching. We rush in and we rush out and the only contact we have with fellow Christians is via email, text or Facebook.
Pastors don’t study the Word. They get outlines and illustrations online. They omit difficult or culturally unpopular Scriptures and tickle the ears of the few who come to church. Sin and repentance are seldom preached.
Too many churches in the western world have become more like social clubs, nightclubs or gaming parlors than houses for worshipping. And the church in America dies a little more each day and those who could stop that decline seem content to let it happen.
None of us want to suffer. We don’t want persecution in America, even though we see religious rights denied more and more each year. But the only salvation of the American church may be persecution. If persecution comes to America — to South Carolina — then we’ll see the church purified and the church will begin to grow again.
Why? Because under persecution, those who really don’t know Christ will drop out. Those who don’t believe Jesus is worth living for and dying for will stop playing church and the church will be filled with men and women who truly are saved and who love Christ, each other and the lost. And those around will look at their testimonies, often sealed by their own blood, and will want that Christ who is really worth living for and worth dying for.