A new feature began last week at RAAN called “We Persevere”. In my opinion, it’s one of the most exciting new ventures in the Reformed blogosphere, and I hope you’ll start following it. Curated by Karen Ellis, “We Persevere” will highlight the work of the global church and also put forward resources for Christians who want a broader perspective of the work of God in our world.
More than exciting, however, I think this work is vital to the health of the American church for three reasons:
First, “We Persevere” fights back against the myopia that plagues many sections of the American church.
As it happens every election season, American Christians are obsessing about the race for President. During this cycle more than any in recent memory, Christians have feared that the wrong vote cast will inevitably lead to the oppression of the church. Christian thinkers from every side of every debate have weighed in (even I’ve written about it!) But even if the “right” candidate wins (and who exactly would that be?), American culture has – and this is indisputable – pushed Christianity to the periphery and largely ignored its ethical stances on issues of life and death, marriage, and even the human self. So a President will most likely be unable to turn public opinion in such a way that is favorable for the church.
But the stark reality is the American church still has a privilege beyond what most of our brothers and sisters in the world experience. “We Persevere” forces us to recognize the horrors visited upon Christians around the world. In last week’s edition, Karen reports about Suleman Hadayat Masih, my brother and yours, a 14-year-old who was murdered by extremists for his faith. In Uganda, a Baptist pastor was poisoned to death after preaching a sermon that directly challenged Islam. And a book in the “For Your Bookshelf” section describes the plight Iraqi Christians have faced throughout the past decade.
The state of the American church and the challenges she faces are important. But they are not the beginning of persecution and certainly not the worst of it. “We Persevere” promises to give us the global perspective we need to stand in solidarity with our family around world.
Second, “We Persevere” is a tool to prepare teach the church how to suffer.
In The Next Evangelicalism, Soong Chan Rah argues that Christians must ensure they balance a theology of Celebration which focuses on the good gifts and joys of the Christian life, with a theology of Suffering which focuses on a Church who joins Christ in his sufferings (although, of course, not in a salvific way) and faithfully awaits her rescuer. Many of us who grew up in the Evangelical church are well acquainted with the theology of Celebration but need to learn how to suffer. In fact, we need to learn that we are suffering today. When our sisters and brothers are murdered and thrown in prison for the Gospel so are we. We are One Body and One Family of God. When one of us suffers, we all suffer.
The suffering of other brothers and sisters, though, may one day be our own. We who have learned the theology of suffering must approach the global church with humble and teachable hearts, for they know things we do not. We must listen to our brothers and sisters in ethnic churches and immigrant churches here in the United States in order to learn how to suffer well. And we also need to listen to the Church in the nations, the Church that endures the hardships yet to visit American shores. By hearing their stories not only will we grow in our understanding of the global church, but we will grow in our understanding of the mission of God and our place in it. Of course, the best relationship is one in which we can teach each other, but “We Persevere” forces us in the American church to be silent and listen to the testimonies and reports from around the world. To listen and not speak is a quality that I’m not alone in needing to develop.
Finally, “We Persevere” is about hope.
Amid the stories of persecution and violence are stories of God’s grace toward his people. A woman in Pakistan who was charged with blasphemy facing imprisonment or even execution was suddenly aqcuitted of all charges, a turn of events Karen rightly calls miraculous.
And even those stories that end with tears point forward to a King who will one day return and rescue his people. John’s Revelation provides a picture of the justice that God will visit upon the earth for the evil they committed against his people. The persecutors will be punished and the persecuted will be vindicated. So when I read of Suleman’s death, I weep for his family. I am spurred on to stand firm in my witness, for if a 14-year-old would die for our Lord, who am I to cower before a few mean words? And also I rejoice, for he is with our Savior and King. His murderers will not escape justice and one day Suleman will return with Christ to reign in the New Heavens and New Earth with him for eternity. The title is right, our people are a persevering people. We Persevere.
Karen Ellis has served the church well with “We Persevere”. It’s a continuation of the work she’s already done on behalf of the persecuted church and if you haven’t learned from her, I encourage you to start by reading her blog and listening to this message Karen gave a couple years ago at Cru Inner City. I’ve already bookmarked the RAAN page, but now I’ll be checking back every week to hear more stories of the persevering faith of my brothers and sisters. I hope to learn from them, be inspired by them, and be challenged by them. I hope you will too.