Written by Bill Muehlenberg
It would be rather easy – and appropriate – for me to change the name of my website from CultureWatch to PersecutionWatch. To watch Western culture is increasingly to watch case after case of Christian persecution. On a daily basis Christians are being vilified, attacked, persecuted, and targeted by various forces, including secularist governments.
Indeed, as I have documented so often here, the persecution is coming more and more from the state, which seems to have decided that the biggest threat to its existence is biblical Christianity. Christians of course claim a higher loyalty to the only one true sovereign. Thus the state, which has delegated – and limited - authority from God, cannot claim or demand ultimate allegiance.
That is partly why all sorts of laws are being passed to effectively silence the Christian churches. All sorts of cheap excuses are brought up to render believers ineffective in proclaiming their faith. All manner of politically correct foolishness is sweeping the West, all with the intent of muting the Christian voice.
Consider this incredible case in San Diego, California. Here is how one report covers the story: “A San Diego pastor and his wife claim they were interrogated by a county official and warned they will face escalating fines if they continue to hold Bible studies in their home. The couple, whose names are being withheld until a demand letter can be filed on their behalf, told their attorney a county government employee knocked on their door on Good Friday, asking a litany of questions about their Tuesday night Bible studies, which are attended by approximately 15 people.
“’Do you have a regular weekly meeting in your home? Do you sing? Do you say “amen”?’ the official reportedly asked. ‘Do you say, “Praise the Lord”?’ The pastor’s wife answered yes. She says she was then told, however, that she must stop holding ‘religious assemblies’ until she and her husband obtain a Major Use Permit from the county, a permit that often involves traffic and environmental studies, compliance with parking and sidewalk regulations and costs that top tens of thousands of dollars. And if they fail to pay for the MUP, the county official reportedly warned, the couple will be charged escalating fines beginning at $100, then $200, $500, $1000, ‘and then it will get ugly’.”
Imagine that! Now even home Bible studies are becoming illegal. What sort of madness is this? Clearly it is diabolically-inspired madness. We know that there is a very real spiritual power which wants to silence all of God’s people. And this spiritual battle is of course being fought out in our courts, our laws, our cultures and our social policies.
Dean Broyles of the Western Center for Law and Policy said, “I’ve been leading Bible studies in my home for 13 years in San Diego County, and I personally believe that home fellowship Bible studies are the past and future of the church. … If you look at China, the church grew from home Bible studies. I’m deeply concerned that if in the U.S. we are not able to meet in our homes and freely practice our religion, then we may be worse off than China.”
The law group issued a statement saying that it is “troubled by this draconian move to suppress home Bible studies. If the current trends in our nation continue, churches may be forced underground. If that happens, believers will once again be forced to meet in homes. If homes are already closed by the government to assembly and worship, where then will Christians meet?”
Good question indeed. With hate crime laws, anti-discrimination legislation, and all sorts of other nefarious laws, the free proclamation of the gospel is under threat already. Churches are especially being targeted here. And now the powers that be want to clamp down on Christian activities in the home as well.
Perhaps if these trends continue in the West, believers will be forced to meet in isolated forests and deserts, away from the ruling authorities and religious police, just as is happening in China and other nations where the church has been driven underground.
Not long ago Western Christians used to read about the horrible persecution of the church in Communist countries such as the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. We read about the great exploits and sufferings of Richard Wurmbrand (Tortured for Christ), Haralan Popov (Tortured for his Faith), Brother Andrew (God’s Smuggler) and others who ministered amidst great hardship and opposition in Communist lands.
I read these books with fascination and horror when I was a young believer in the 1970s. Little did I realise that within a few short decades some of these Communist nations would no longer be under the jackboot of atheistic Communism, but that the “free” West would quickly begin to take their place.
Sure, the US does not yet have its own Gulag, and Australia has not yet set up concentration camps for those troublesome Christians. But the way things are heading, it may not be all that far off. Increasingly it is becoming very risky indeed to publically proclaim your Christian faith in the secular post-Christian West.
Indeed, the West is not so much post-Christian any longer, but actually anti-Christian. And it is getting more so each passing day. And one sure sign that things have reached their logical outcome is when this website is no longer to be found. One day it may well be forcibly taken down by censorious authorities.
Of course the early church wrestled with all this as well. They proclaimed Jesus Christ as the one true royal master, not Caesar. A clash of royal domains was underway. As Tom Wright says about Paul while in prison: “The reason he was there was that what he had been doing and saying was seen as an offence to the people in power. He was announcing a royal message, a ‘gospel’ which clashed head on with the royal message on which the Roman Empire was built: the announcement of Caesar as Lord.”
We too proclaim a different king. This is the risen Lord who was betrayed and rejected by men. They hated him and they will hate us. There is no getting around this. In the light of all this, every one of us must start asking ourselves some very hard questions.
Are we willing to pay the price for following Christ publically and boldly? Are we committed to our Lord so fully, that we would be willing to lose our jobs, be heavily fined, or spend time in prison for the sake of Christ? Are we willing to give our very life away for the sake of the gospel?
But remember, it is always easier to say we will die for our Lord. It is much harder to actually live for our Lord right now. Will we walk with him along the road less travelled? Will we join him on the Via Dolorosa? Will we take up our cross and follow him as he has called us to do?
Very soon indeed these will not just be rhetorical questions.