There was once a young man who was a lumberjack. He worked chopping down trees in the vast forests of northern Canada. One day he went for a few days leave to a nearby town where a Christian pastor witnessed to him on a street corner and led him to Jesus.
“Now that you’ve asked Jesus to come into your heart, Jake, your life is going to change,” the pastor said.
“How?” asked Jake, leaning over to take a closer look at the Scriptures that the pastor was showing him from his Bible.
“Well, look, it says right here in God’s Word, `If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away, all things have become NEW!’–2 Corinthians 5:17. So I want to warn you, Jake, that when you go back to that lumber camp, it’s going to be very difficult for you!”
“Why’s that, pastor?”
“Because, as you know, most of those lumberjacks are tough, hard, wicked men, and they don’t like Christians!”
“That’s for sure!” agreed Jake, eyeing two of his friends engaged in a drunken brawl at the other end of the street.
“But, Jake, you’ll no longer be the same as you were before, cursing God, speaking foul language and doing evil things!–You’re going to be so different that some of them will ridicule and even persecute you!”
“Oh!” said Jake.
So Jake went back to the camp and a few months passed before he came back to the town for his next leave. He wondered if he’d run into the pastor again, and yes, there he was, standing on a street corner passing out tracts. One could hardly miss him, his happy smiling face seemed to light up the whole street, as he beamed the Love of Jesus on all who passed by.
“Hey, pastor! Nice to see you!”
“Hi, Jake!” exclaimed the pastor, very glad to see the converted lumberjack again. “Tell me, how did it go at the lumber camp?”
“Oh, fine, just fine!”
“I told you it was going to be difficult to live a Christian life there, didn’t I?”
“No, no,” replied Jake, “it wasn’t hard!–Not at all!”
“You mean they didn’t persecute you or make it tough for you?” the pastor asked, surprised.
“Oh, no! You see…they never even found out that I WAS a Christian!”
Part of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians may well have been written for that lumberjack,
“With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter.”
How can you possibly be standing firm and keeping a strong grip on the teachings of Christ without being outwardly changed and without sharing those teachings with others?
Well, here’s the thing; we’ve all been guilty of hiding our faith in some way or another. Not through a lack of conviction in the message and not through shame. Rather, we do it because we are scared of what others will think of us. Will they suddenly see us as weirdos, religious nut-jobs out to convert people to a religion which is on the decline?
In a recent survey organised by Premier Christianity 93% of the 12,000 who responded felt that Christianity was being marginalised in the UK. On top of that, 80% felt Christianity was not given equal respect, 50% said they had experienced prejudice due to their faith and 26% said they were unable to be open about their faith.
Stark figures, which were widely reported at the time.
However, the same survey showed that 63% felt able to share their faith in the workplace, 85% had adequate support to live out their faith between visits to church, 82% said their church was healthy, and 90% said they felt confident enough in their understanding of the Gospels to share them with others.
There seems to be a disparity here. We have a healthy church, which is marginalised, can’t be open about our faith and are persecuted for it but can be open at work and have enough confidence in our understanding to share the gospel? It doesn’t all fit together.
What the survey didn’t look at are the reasons for these feelings of marginalisation, lack of respect and persecution. Now, I don’t want to speak for other people, but I’d like to take a stab at why these feelings come about.
For a start, we all know people whose atheism is bordering on evangelical. They are openly hostile to any form of faith or religion, as well as to those who practise one. And they are entitled to those views and entitled to express them in the public sphere. Not only that, but Jesus himself told us that we would encounter this. If we start complaining about it and saying it’s unfair then, frankly, we haven’t been paying attention to the Bible. And if we can’t live out our faith in the face of vocal opposition of others then did we really have faith in the first place, or just a veneer of faith which crumbles at the slightest resistance? Faith like that can’t hold firm, because it has no substance.
“Ah!”, you say, “but what about all those court cases where Christians have been persecuted by our legal system into going against their faith?”
Well, yes, there have been very many high profile cases like that. I do note, however, that most of these have been to do with denying services to gay couples. Are we really saying that we are being persecuted because we are not allowed to discriminate against other groups? Is that what our faith, what the teachings of Jesus, lead us to see as our role in the world?
Yes, it is a thorny issue, especially if you hold to the view that the Bible teaches that same-sex relationships or marriage are wrong, but claiming that denying services and legal rights to others is an entitlement and an integral part of our faith then I would argue that your faith is in the wrong thing. Stand up for it if you wish, but in the grand scheme of things, in a world of poverty, division, warfare and hatred, that isn’t the particular hill I would choose to die on.
We live in a nation where we have a legally established church, whose leaders sit in the upper chamber of our parliament. We have a national broadcaster who has a legal obligation to broadcast our beliefs on a regular basis. We have a church or two (or ten) in every village, town and city in the country with absolutely no impediment to our ability to go in and worship in any of them.
As far as the freedom to worship, live out and share our faith we have complete freedom to do so.
In contrast with other countries. Only this week “Aid to the Church in Need” released a report on persecution of Christians around the world. The results are beyond shocking.
In Saudi Arabia Christianity is illegal. The state claims tolerance of private worship of non-Muslims, but an Islamic convert to Christianity faces the death penalty.
Over 3,000 Eritrean Christians are in prison for refusing total state control over their churches.
Sudan and China both have state-sanctioned programmes for the destruction of Church buildings and arbitrary imprisonment of church leaders.
The Nigerian state and military have colluded in the slaughter of thousands of Christians and sacking of Christian majority villages.
Father James Channan, the head of the Peace Centre in Lahore, Pakistan, has said that Christians in the country are “experiencing the worst time in their history in this country. Discrimination, suffering and oppression turn too often to outright persecution.”
And then there is North Korea. Christianity is officially designated as hostile to the state. Christians are routinely sent to internment camps, where they experience forced labour, torture, persecution, starvation, rape, forced abortions and murder. The worst examples involved being crucified horizontally over fires, or being run over by steamrollers.
This is the reality of our brothers and sisters in Christ right now in countries all over the world.
And still people convert to Christianity. Still they find ways to worship. Still they find ways to share their faith with others. We face ridicule, or verbal hostility, whereas they face imprisonment, torture and death.
If they can hold firm in their faith, if they can stand in Christ and find ways to live out their faith then we certainly can. We need the support and prayer of those around us (which means offering ours in return), we need the Holy Spirit to fill us and guide us, and we need our own willpower and strength. All three of those thing in order to be able to do something which nobody is stopping us from doing except for ourselves.
So, what’s it to be? Living our lives scared of what others think of us, or living our lives knowing what He has done for us and wanting to live how he wants us to and share that freedom with others?
Doesn’t sound like much of a choice to me.