The Western church is no longer center stage in modern culture, and as we are shunted aside it seems reasonable to think that becoming more like the world will entice more people into our buildings. Then I come upon Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Hold up, what?! Blessed are who? It might be a small stretch to equate marginalization and persecution, but I am beginning to think that being pushed out of mainstream culture could be the best thing that has happened to the body of Christ today.
In his book The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch points to the church in two different times and geographic areas, the early Christian body and the underground church in China. Both of these groups of believers became vibrant and large communities during harsh and unrelenting periods of persecution. Hirsch sees that “Persecution drove both the early Christian movement and the Chinese church to discover their truest nature as an apostolic people” and it “acted as a means to keep these movements true to their faith and reliant on God.”
But how did these communities turn persecution to power to promote the Kingdom of God? James calls out from the Word, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Think about that for a minute. This isn’t telling us to tolerate trouble or to “grin and bear it”, but instead be joyful in it—have a deep, indescribable emotion welling up in us whenever we face trials because of faith in the Lord Jesus. What if, instead of pushing back as we are pushed aside or fearing persecution for our faith, the Western church opened ourselves to the possibility of being collectively JOYFUL? How much more would we be able to point the way to the Kingdom of God if our joy in all situations shone through? Something attracted millions of converts in the early and Chinese churches. Maybe this joy in persecution promised to us by our living Savior can be the way we truly live into our calling as a missional and sent church. Maybe this strange joy from hardship can revitalize us and help us be the instrument and foretaste of the Kingdom we were meant to be for the world.Kate