What Should The Church Expect In The Years Ahead?

As we witness our culture turning further and further away from God’s Word, I have often wondered what should we, as believers, expect in the years ahead? Will the day come when verbal persecution of believers in America turns to physical persecution as many of our brothers and sisters experience in other parts of the world? Will we be imprisoned for speaking God’s truth? It is certainly possible.

I have been reading through the book of Acts lately and came across a verse that, I believe, answers the question of what we should expect. It can be found in Acts 12:24 but before I give you the verse I want to put it into context. The church was born just a few chapters earlier in Acts and God was moving powerfully. But the Jewish religious leaders and the secular Roman government began to persecute the church. They were told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. They were beaten and jailed. Immediately leading up to Acts 12:24, James the brother of John had been martyred for the faith and Paul was imprisoned.

Yet, here is what we read in Acts 12:24 – “But the word of God increased and multiplied.” During one of the most intense seasons of persecution of believers in the history of the church, the truth of the gospel was preached and it increased and multiplied! I think this is what we should expect in the years ahead. But we must be faithful, as God’s people, to be who he has called us to be and do what he has called us to do.

Take a moment and ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my heart and life? Can I echo with David, the Psalmist, that the word of God is “more to be desired than gold” and “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 19:10)?
  2. Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my family? Am I following the Lord’s command to teach my children diligently the truths of Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)?
  3. Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my other spheres of influence (family, workplace, neighborhood, etc.)? Am I the “light of the world” and the “city set on the hill” that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:14-16?

Many Christians are lamenting where we are as a nation but I’m much more concerned with where we are as believers and as Christ’s church. We may very well face intense persecution in the years ahead, both verbal and physical. But if believers are saturated with God’s word, if the church holds fast to the Scriptures regardless of which way the cultural winds blow, if we see people the way Jesus did as sheep without a shepherd, if we love the lost and boldly proclaim the glorious gospel, then I believe we will experience what the early church experienced. We will see the word of God increase and multiply throughout this world. And God’s promise is that His word will go forth, it will not return empty and it will accomplish what he intends for it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). That is good news!

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The Church In A Secular Society (A Response to Current Events)

Let me say up front that this post may upset you, though that is certainly not my intent. I love our country. We are a privileged people to live in the good ol’ US of A! But, as believers, our ultimate allegiance is not to this country. Our ultimate allegiance is to our Savior and his kingdom.

We are witnessing a major shift in our society. As a student of history, I know without a doubt that our country was founded on Christian principles. It is impossible to study our founding fathers without encountering within their writings a Judeo-Christian mindset concerning government and morality. Some were not believers (this is well documented – just look at the Thomas Jefferson bible) but even the founding fathers who were non-believers argued that the best form of government and society would follow biblical principles. The shift is towards an increasingly secular society. Believers, who were in the majority for much of our nation’s history, have increasingly become the minority on social issues.

Here is what I believe we will see in the coming years unless something changes dramatically:

1. Same sex marriage will be legalized in all 50 states. This week President Obama (who originally personally opposed same sex marriage and then changed to personally agreeing with same sex marriage) has declared that he believes same sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states. Recently, the Supreme Court decided not to take up this issue thereby upholding a lower court’s ruling that same sex marriage was legal in certain states. Currently 24 states and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriage while 26 states have laws against same sex marriage. At some point the justices will have to rule on this issue and I personally believe they or Congress (through enacting a federal law) will make same sex marriage legal across our nation which is approved of by the majority of Americans.

2. Christian businesses will choose to close their doors or face lawsuits, fines and jail time. This week a couple in Idaho who run a for-profit wedding chapel were told that they must conduct same sex weddings or face fines and possible jail time due to violating non-discrimination laws (this previously happened with a baker, florist, and photographer). In my opinion, the courts will rule that the wedding ceremony must be allowed to happen at the chapel but the Knapps will be able to recuse themselves (because of religious conviction) from performing the ceremony. Another person (licensed to perform marriages and who does not have this religious conviction concerning same sex marriage) will be brought in to conduct the ceremony. Christian businesses (bakery, florist, wedding chapel, etc.) operating in the secular marketplace will be increasingly required to abide by secular laws. They can stand up against these laws because of religious conviction but will likely face lawsuits, fines and jail time.

3. Pastors will be removed as agents of the state in regards to performing weddings. Currently ordained pastors operate as agents of the state when it comes to conducting wedding ceremonies. This is why at the end of a wedding service a pastor will say, “By the authority invested in my by the state of ______________, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” While churches are exempt from non-discrimination laws currently with regards to marriage, I believe this will be the next thing challenged. The argument will be made that ordained pastors, as agents of the state, must abide by state laws regardless of religious conviction. The likely result will be that pastors will not be able to act as representatives of the state. They will be able to do Christian weddings in the church but the couple would then need to go to the court to be officially married in the eyes of the state.

Here is how I think we should respond:

1. Pray. Unfortunately, prayer is often thought of as a last result. We attempt to do things to affect change until we feel like there is nothing else we can do…then we pray. Our temptation in this society will be to busy ourselves doing things and fail to pray. However, prayer should be our first response – we need to hit our knees! We need to ask God to move in a powerful way in our churches and in our culture. We should intercede for those lost in their sin. We need to ask God to search our hearts and our motives. Prayer is not the spare tire in our lives; it must be the steering wheel that drives our lives.

2. We, as believers, should seek to defend our religious liberties both in the ballot box and in the courts. We do not need to bow down and retreat at this point. We need to take a stand through both the courts and the ballot box. I believe religious freedoms need to be preserved. Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums up our responsibility, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” We cannot and must not remain silent as religious liberties are stripped away. Houston has given us a glimpse of what is to come and we must be prepared to stand together.

3. Recognize that God may be allowing persecution to come so that his church would be purified and more effective in reaching people with the gospel. I have been preaching through the book of Habakkuk recently. Interestingly, Habakkuk begins the book asking why God has failed to turn His people’s hearts back to him and bring revival. God responds that he is at work but it will not be what Habakkuk expects (God will bring in the Chaldeans to take Judah captive and lead them into exile). He then tells Habakkuk “the just will live by their faith.”

Have you considered that God might be allowing persecution to come upon the church to purify it (when it costs to follow Christ, you find out who the true believers are)? Could it be that this world needs to grow darker so that the light of the gospel can more effectively shine through the church? Throughout church history, the gospel has exploded when Christians were persecuted. We, as believers, are called to live by faith…trusting God is at work to bring about his glory and our good regardless of what happens around us!